On the opening drive, and after a first play from scrimmage pass interference that negated an interception, it only took quarterback Chase Daniel five plays to drive the offense the length of the field. The drive was highlighted by a Marcus Woods ten-yard run, and a Daniel completion to senior wide receiver Brad Ekwerekwu for a big gain up the middle. Only a play later, Daniel again completed a 24-yard bomb, this time to wide receiver Will Franklin, for a touchdown. Junior Adam Crossett came on first to kick the extra point, and, for all appearances, the offensive route was ready to roll.
However, after that touchdown, that's when spring football became spring football.
The following set of series became a potpourri of players, with members from the "first/second/with some of the third string" team playing together.
When the starting offensive lineup went out the window, so did the offensive firepower. Despite absences from notable names like left tackle Tyler Luellen (recovering from knee injury) and free safety David Overstreet, the defense would control the rest of the game.
After the game, head coach Gary Pinkel commented on the effort of his defense and the overall lack of effectiveness of his offense. "My biggest disappointment is just not protecting the football. On the other side, we're hitting hard on defense, creating fumbles, making some good plays," Pinklel said. "It was great on the defensive side, and offense…" he sighed, "We've got to get that straightened out." The successes were not exactly widespread over the field. Instead, flashes of improvement came here and there throughout the scrimmage.
Here are some position areas and players who impressed (and some who didn't).
The play of defensive ends Xzavie Jackson and Brian Smith stymied the offensive movement most of the day. Both players were in on almost every tackle. At one point late in the scrimmage, Smith blew past his blocker to strip the ball from quarterback Chase Patton, who was directing the offense from deep in its own territory. Smith simply came from behind Patton and grabbed the ball from Patton's upright, cocked hand. Then, just as it appeared Smith was tackled, he managed to lateral it backwards to a cutting Xzavie Jackson, who ran in for the touchdown.
Jackson did more than score defensive touchdowns on Saturday. He seemed to be in the backfield every single play, sometimes coming off the line totally uncovered. If the backfield was empty and in spread formation, the quarterback was forced to scramble almost immediately. If a tailback was lined up alongside of the quarterback, he was immediately greeted with the challenge of stopping Jackson's 6'4", 275 lb. frame. Jackson also came away with an interception.
"He's more experienced," Pinkel said of Jackson. "He can disguise, he can stay in, he can come out of it (defensive formation) more." Pinkel also noted that Jackson has more freedom to roam this year, allowing him to blitz out of different sets.
Missouri's offensive had better get used to defensive pressure, because that is exactly what they will get huge doses of starting this fall.
So while Mizzou's defense excelled, there were still areas that need to be shored up on that side of the ball. The secondary will need to improve, as Chase Daniel burned it several times for big gains, but as for the rest of the offense…eh, let's just say the Tigers have plenty of work to do prior to the first game next season.
Tailbacks Jimmy Jackson and Earl Goldsmith spent most of the time on the field lined up next to Daniel or senior Brandon Coleman. Goldsmith also lined up with Chase Patton. Both Jackson and Goldsmith were competing in their first real full-contact scrimmage, as both were out with knee injuries for the majority of spring football.
"They've been hurt all spring, and this was their first real time back here," said Coach Brian Jones, who works with the tailbacks. "We wanted to get them back into the scrimmage (environment), and we wanted to see what they could do."
Although Goldsmith was obviously a step slow through the hole, he and Jackson both displayed a good ability to pick up the blitz, follow the line and be patient for the hole to open up. But, neither of them shied from contact and, despite their small stature (Jackson is listed at 5'8", Goldsmith as well), hit the hole in the middle of the line hard. Neither was afraid of the tough, physical straight-ahead running.
"Jimmy Jackson, I think, is really doing well," Pinkel said. "He's probably had a little bit more work (than Goldsmith)." Actually, in this scrimmage, Jackson and Goldsmith had more work than any of the other running backs. Due to a sprained left ankle that came in the later portion of the scrimmage, senior leader Marcus Woods was held out of the remainder of the scrimmage. Even before the sprained ankle, Woods was given very limited action and probably took as many punts as handoffs. That fact, accompanied with Goldsmith and Jackson getting most of the time on the field to rid themselves of any rust, led to a very short appearance by Woods.
"Those are coach's decisions – I can't do nothing about it," Jackson said of the coaches' decision that gave he and Goldsmith the majority of the playing time. ""I just go in when they say."
But when Jackson and Goldsmith did take the sidelines, the so-called "Goliath" of the running backs, Connell Davis, a red-shirt freshman who comes in listed at 6'3" and 205 lbs., was able to showcase his…well, growing pains. Because of his height, he runs in a more straight-up fashion than the other tailbacks. However, that style leaves his midsection wide open for a good "pop" from a preying middle linebacker. Davis took his share of hits during the scrimmage and had a lot of two or three-yard gains. But between his fumbles and missed cuts, Davis would break out a ten-yard gain every once in a while, displaying the power with which he could run if he put on a few more pounds of muscle in the weight room. On Saturday, he appeared outmatched and overpowered for most of his draws, either getting caught in the backfield or stopped for short gains.
"Connell Davis, [he]'s learning the plays and being able to think, like all those young guys out there, and react, turning it into reaction," Pinkel said. "He's out there thinking a lot."
"Connell – he's coming around slowly," added Coach Jones. "He's still very young, he's still a freshman and he's got a long ways to go, but he's very talented."
But the tailbacks weren't without their flaws – Jones cited their tendency to fumble the football as one of the many areas that needed work, but on the whole - "The list is too long, to be honest with you," he joked.
Well, the most hyped and publicized position on the Missouri football team failed to really showcase any startling surprises during the scrimmage. The intrigue wasn't so much about who would play themselves into the spot; it was more about who would play themselves out of the position competition. Daniel started the game behind center, then barely saw the playing field until the end segments of the scrimmage. When he was taking snaps, he appeared in control and comfortable in the pocket. He showed the ability to scramble and throw on the run (as did Coleman), which, at least in this scrimmage, was almost a necessity.
Much like Woods, Daniel saw comparatively little action while his competitors, the sophomore Patton and senior Coleman, took the majority of snaps. For the most part, the two split time, but while Coleman had a decent showing, Patton hurried many of his passes and was intercepted multiple times (once by Xzavie Jackson, once by Mack Breed) throughout the scrimmage. Even when his passes weren't intercepted, they were knocked down or potential interceptions dropped by the defensive secondary. To his credit, Patton did complete a pass for a touchdown on the second to last series of the scrimmage.
Coleman's play was not light years ahead of Patton. Coleman himself was almost picked off twice. But, unlike Patton and even Daniel, Coleman showed a willingness and ability to tuck the ball under and run into the secondary and displayed the best ability of all the QBs to toss the pitch.
"I think he made some plays with his feet, which is good," Pinkel said of Coleman's play. "He likes to do that, that's kind of part of the way he is."
Perhaps the difference in playing time was in part due to the efficiency of Daniel comparative to Coleman and Patton. With Daniel at the helm, the offense was, without debate, at its best. Daniel found wide receivers, tight ends and even the running back out of backfield. His only mistake came on a pitch that he tried to force to the tailback who was surrounded by defense. Other than that lone negative, Daniel separated himself from the others by completing the long ball to burn the defensive secondary, complimenting the short passing game common to Missouri's spread offense.
A dominant passing game like Missouri wants to develop needs dominant receivers who can continually run precise routes and continually get open on those routes. Two particular players displayed the ability to find opening in their routes.
Will Franklin and Brad Ekwerekwu both had a good scrimmage. Franklin caught the first touchdown from Daniel on the first drive of the game, a 24-yarder. Ekwerekwu also caught a 39-yard TD pass from Daniel. But perhaps the most newsworthy note was not the play of those two but the actual plays Missouri ran for those two out of the huddle.
Pinkel has been adamant whenever asked about change at the quarterback position. Without the running of Brad Smith, Missouri must figure out a way to advance the ball if their running game is struggling. However, again, Pinkel has repeated that trick plays or new twists in the offense will not be any more common.
But on Saturday, several times throughout the scrimmage, the Missouri offense lined up Franklin and Ekwerekwu on the same side of the field and isolated them there. On the count, Ekwerekwu went in motion behind the line of scrimmage and got a quick hand-off from the quarterback. Both times the play was called, it succeeded for gains of 7 or 8 yards.
"We actually put that play in at the start of this week. It's a new look," Ekwerekwu said when asked if that play was different from what Missouri had in the playbook last year. "It's a different look in the offense, getting guys in motion."
Wide receiver coach Andy Hill took a little bit different perspective.
"Springtime is a kind of experimentation," he said. "Sometimes those (plays) don't work out as well. If you show the defense - they've seen our plays so many times if you do a different play - it's kind of like throwing a new fishing lure. You catch fish a little bit quicker."
Adam Crossett was the first out to kick extra points, field goals or kickoffs. Both Crossett and Matt Hoenes punted well, but the distances depended greatly on the direction, as it was blustery and cold for the majority of the practice. No real surprises there.
Chase Coffman was almost nonexistent except for a couple of catches for short gains. Martin Rucker faired better, catching several balls for first downs.
Tony Temple is still out after preseason surgery on his left arm.
Although the offense wasn't fully functioning or firing on all cylinders (if you will), one wide receiver stood out from the rest of team. Adam Casey, a sophomore who is listed fourth on the depth chart at the X-Wide Receiver, had a stellar day, catching a touchdown pass from Coleman and several passes for first downs from both Coleman and Patton.
"We're still trying to establish our depth," Hill said of the wide receivers. "We need some guys to keep stepping up and keep improving their game so we can get some depth because it takes a lot of receivers to run this offense."
"That position itself – the X (Wide Receiver) position – seems like it, with the guys down there, has some opportunities and really, when you have opportunities, you show that you can make plays or you show you can't," Hill said of Casey. "And today, he did a good job."
The Black and Gold Game is at 2 p.m. at Memorial Stadium, on Saturday, April 15th. It will be Missouri's last opportunity to work out the offensive kinks this spring.