Eight days into the fall season, Missouri scrimmaged for the first time and the results were a mixed bag. As a whole, the defense dominated an offense that struggled to move the ball consistently, both on the ground and through the air, grabbing a 39-26 victory.
The offense turned the ball over four times, including three interceptions. In about two hours of scrimmaging, the offense could only find the end zone once.
Coach Gary Pinkel said the top defensive unit performed well, just as he expected.
"I think that, without question, the 1 defense was pretty dominant," Pinkel said. "And they should be, they're all back. In fact, I think we've got to get a little bit better against the run with the 1 defense."
The defense mostly shut down the top two tailbacks on the depth chart, junior Damien Nash and freshman Marcus Woods. Woods made a few nice plays on screen passes, but seniors Beau Viehmann and junior Lee Ewigman--players who project as blocking backs—and senior Tyrone Roberson, were the most dangerous on the ground.
Roberson had the longest play of the game, a run off right tackle that he took untouched to the five-yard line for a 58-yard gain. The offense could not convert from there, as junior S Justin Scott intercepted freshman QB Chase Patton in the end zone on third down after Roberson was stuffed twice.
The front four controlled play, no matter which unit was in. The top group of sophomore DE Xzavie Jackson, senior DE Zach Ville, senior DT Atiyyah Ellison and junior DT C.J. Mosley was overpowering. Both Mosley and Ellison recorded sacks (a questionable statistic, as quarterbacks were sacked when they were tagged, not tackled) and Mosley intercepted a screen pass from sophomore QB Brandon Coleman.
The Scott and Mosley interceptions and a fumble by sophomore TE DeQuincy Howard, forced by senior S Jason Simpson and recovered by senior S Nino Williams, all came within five minutes of each other.
Obviously, it wasn't the prettiest day to be on the offensive side of the ball. Pinkel gave the defensive line its due after the scrimmage.
"Certainly, they have a chance to be an exceptional front four," he said. "A lot of experience there, and there's some size and they can run. Let's face it, good defense, that's where it starts."
That's where a lot of it stopped for the offense Tuesday. Unable to sustain a consistent running game, the offense repeatedly relied on its quarterback's arm to attempt to convert first downs, with little success. Only three passing plays went for more than 20 yards, with just one coming from the second and third team combined.
One of the few highlights for the offense was the connections made by junior QB Brad Smith and sophomore WR Brad Ekwerekwu. Matched up against the second-team defense, the pair twice burned junior CB Calvin Washington, who could not keep the taller Ekwerekwu from pulling down the ball. Two Smith-to-Ek receptions racked up 78 yards, including the only touchdown of the day, when Smith found Ekwerekwu behind the defense for a 40-yard score.
There were a few unfortunate moments as well, the most obvious a 28-yard loss when the snap from junior C Scott Wheatley floated over Patton's head. Roberson attempted to fall on the loose ball, but was unable to. The whistle blew when the ball was still loose, and sophomore LB David Richard actually recovered it, but the ball remained with the offense.
The coaching staff will rearrange the depth chart for the first time this afternoon, with changes taking effect in practice tomorrow. Here is a closer look at how some of the position battles developed in the fall's first scrimmage.
Tailbacks: Woods had the better morning of the top two backs, as Nash struggled to establish himself. Woods made several nice plays on screens; if the play can get set up and the timing is right, Woods can hide behind the pulling offensive line and get to the sideline and downfield.
Nash and Woods have split reps with the first team throughout fall practice, and Pinkel hinted that that concept might carry over to the season.
"We'll play two tailbacks a lot; that's gonna be a normal process," Pinkel said. "(Woods) has good quickness…(there were) some blocking issues that maybe you don't see that weren't very good, but he's a good athlete and he's gonna make some plays for us."
Wide receivers: Besides Ekwerekwu, the receivers were mostly invisible. Sophomore WR Greg Nutter made a nice catch and run off a pass from freshman QB Mack Breed late in the scrimmage, picking up 29 yards. Besides that, nobody established themselves and none of the talented freshman class stepped up.
"We didn't really see too many things," Pinkel said. "(Junior WR Chris) Crosby did some things at the end. Throughout the whole week now, (freshman) Will Franklin is a guy that has been making some plays...
"It'll be interesting to see how we sort the receiver position out, but that's something that's got to come around. There's no question about that."
Tight ends: Besides Howard, who drew negative attention with his fumble, only freshman TE Martin Rucker stood out in a group that appears to be in flux. Rucker has worked with the first team in two tight end sets the past few days and it paid off Tuesday. Rucker had two catches, including one for a first down. Rucker seemed to be Patton's favorite target, as the Columbia native continually looked his way.
Rucker was one of the few players that Pinkel identified by name as having a strong scrimmage.
"I think T Rucker stood out today," he said. "He's a guy that, for 10 days, he's been looking good. He shows up every practice as a guy that can make some plays."
Senior TE Victor Sesay, the likely starter, made one catch on the day. He came up favoring his arm after the catch.
Offensive line: The defensive front-four dominated the offensive line, so little could be determined here definitively. Freshmen C Adam Spieker and T Tyler Luellen did not make any serious noticeable mistakes, besides one holding penalty called on Luellen. Spieker and Smith had no problems with the center-quarterback exchange, and despite the inability to set up the rushing game, the offensive line looked serviceable, for now.
Kicking game: A mixed bag here, as well. Sophomore K Alex Pettersen had the best morning, including a 48-yard field goal that sailed through with at least five yards to spare. Pettersen made four of the six field goals he attempted, missing from 39 and 41 yards. He also made all five extra points he attempted.
The kickers all attempted several kicks before the scrimmage began and all looked very strong. That didn't carry over to the scrimmage for everyone, however. Sophomore Adam Crossett struggled the most, missing two field goals and an extra point before hitting a 41 yarder to end the day. Junior Joe Tantarelli hit three of the five field goals he attempted, and freshman Scott Russell made four of five.
Pinkel said that decisions on the kickers would be made soon. He said it would not benefit the team to continue using four kickers on field goal tries, so one or two could lose that designation by Wednesday morning.
The punters saw their first live action kicks before the scrimmage, with the first kick of the morning, by sophomore Matt Hoenes, blocked by the defense.
It was not the best note to start on, but the punters improved in the scrimmage. Hoenes kicked eight times, with an average of 34.3 yards per punt. Senior Brock Harvey bettered that, averaging 41.9 yards per boot.
"I feel optimistic on both sides that we'll be OK," Pinkel said. "Hopefully we'll be better than OK."
Safeties: As noted above, Simpson and Williams, the likely starting safeties, combined to force and recover a fumble. Simpson also contributed a crushing, yet confusing, block on Hoenes during a punt drill.
Sophomore David Overstreet made several big hits. He has been worked into the first team defense on occasion, but he will find it difficult to overcome the two starting seniors. His contributions might come in nickel and dime packages.
Scott's interception was also a strong play, as he stepped in front of Rucker and stole the ball away from the bigger and stronger receiver.
Defensive ends: Sophomore Brian Smith did not do much to convince the coaching staff he deserves to leapfrog Ville or Jackson, but he was a consistent, if not flashy, performer.
Freshman Stryker Sulak made an athletic play for a sack. Freshman Lorenzo Williams also had a strong morning with the second team.
Linebackers: Senior James Kinney and sophomores Dedrick Harrington and David Richard had consistent scrimmages, with Richard recovering a fumble that was not to be. Sophomore Emmett Morris intercepted a ball late, and sophomore Marcus Bacon turned in the hit of the day.
Freshman quarterbacks: Patton was the most apparent, due to the plays detailed above. Darrell Jackson struggled to do much with the third-team offense, but was much more apt to stay in the pocket than Pocket and Breed. Patton converted a fourth-and-short with an impressive play action bootleg that went for 13 yards.
Breed continues to struggle with his reads, often bringing the ball down and running or scrambling to the sideline and throwing it away. In a span of two days, he has been surpassed and lapped multiple times by Patton and Jackson.
Injury update: Senior WR Thomson Omboga participated in the first few series of the scrimmage, then sat out the rest. He suffered a rib injury Monday and attempted to play through the pain, recording one catch for one yard on the day.
Pinkel said Omboga was taken for an MRI. His status is unknown, but it is not expected to be serious.
Crosby and freshman TB Earl Goldsmith sat out the scrimmage with leg injuries. Freshman LB Van Alexander, who has been bothered with a hamstring injury, returned to full strength and made several nice plays.
Catch of the day: Smith found Ekwerekwu on the sideline, but Washington had blanket coverage. Fortunately for Ekwerekwu, he had three inches on his defender, allowing him to sky for the ball and come down with it, neatly staying in bounds. The play went for 38 yards.
Hit of the day: Bacon popped Nash hard as he attempted to fight through the second layer of the defense, sending the tailback careening to the ground and his defensive teammates on the sidelines into the air in excitement.
Quote of the day: "There will be some personnel moves in the next day. We're gonna start moving people around a little bit." --Pinkel, on the imminent movement of players on the depth chart.
Audibles: Based on their performances Tuesday and throughout the first week of practice, Pettersen and Tantarelli seem to be the leading candidates for the kicking job. Pettersen is the lone scholarship player of the bunch and Pinkel singled him out as the leader Sunday, but all of that could change between now and the next scrimmage Saturday. ... Punts were neither rushed nor returned in the scrimmage Tuesday. This aspect of special teams is still very much in the air, and the punt protection team might be an adventure this season. ... Junior DT Earl Stephens stripped a ball, which was recovered by freshman LB Aaron O'Neal, from Roberson late in the scrimmage. Besides his one big run, Roberson really struggled. ... Simpson is dangerous on blitzes. He was effective in that role as a whip in previous seasons, and it would make sense to continue that tactic this season. ... Only 18 days until the Tigers welcome Arkansas State to Memorial Stadium.
Looking ahead: The Missouri offense will attempt to mend itself in two-a-days on Wednesday, starting at 8:15 in the morning and continuing at 3:45 in the afternoon.. The Tigers will scrimmage again Saturday afternoon.