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Missouri offense struggles, defense shines in Black & Gold Spring Game

The Tigers returned to Memorial Stadium for the first time in 2018 on Saturday for the annual Black & Gold Spring Game.

Mizzou Football is back. Well, kind of.

The Tigers took to Faurot Field in front of fans for the first time this year in the glorified scrimmage known as the Black & Gold Spring Game. Nothing about the contest was more striking than the huge patches of dirt and gravel sitting where the Memorial Stadium South End Zone used to be.

It was the first look at offensive coordinator Derek Dooley’s offense, though, along with Missouri’s youthful secondary. The results were a mixed bag, as expected.

The Tigers evenly mixed in run and pass plays with mostly short and intermediate routes, displaying a much more methodical and slower attack. They were also without projected No. 1 receiver Emanuel Hall, who hurt his shoulder on Thursday.

“It’s definitely a little more playing the momentum of the game,” Drew Lock said when asked about the pace. “Kinda settling down if we need to [and] attacking, but with a winning mindset.” He completed seven of 13 passes for 58 yards and a score in two series of play.

“I want him to play better than he did last year,” Barry Odom said of Lock. “Better doesn’t mean better stats. It means to play smarter football, to lead your team to wins, and for him to play at the highest level that he’s able to play.”

Lock shares his coach’s sentiment. “The last thing I’m worried about are stats this year,” he said. “If I throw 500 yards all season and three touchdowns and we win 10+ games, I’m gonna be the happiest man in the world.”

After two unproductive drives, Dooley opened things up on the third possession, running a looser offense that brought success. The offense engineered a 14-play, 88-yard drive that chewed up 7:48 of game clock.

It was highlighted by a Damarea Crockett stiff arm on a 10-yard run and a six-yard touchdown pass from Lock to Johnathon Johnson in the second quarter. That was it for Lock, as Jack Lowary and other backups took over. He looked strong, completing five of his first six passes and finding Harry Ballard III in the back of the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.

Lindsey Scott Jr., on the other hand, struggled. He threw four consecutive incompletions over two possessions, missing a couple open receivers due to inaccurate passes. Taylor Powell had better luck, as his first throw was an intermediate pass over the middle that Dominic Gicinto turned into a 65-yard touchdown with his legs.

“It speaks a lot for (Gicinto),” Lock said. “He comes in, obviously doesn’t know anyone on the team, picks up spring ball and does amazing. He’s a little guy, but he’s out here flying around making plays, which is huge.”

Scott’s trials carried over into the second half, and the secondary took advantage. He lofted a wobbly deep ball down the field that was easily picked off by Acy. Scott Jr. finished 1-for-8 and threw two picks. Powell wasn’t much better in the second half, going 3-for-14 after a decent start.

Micah Wilson played just one possession in the first half but returned in the third quarter. He finished with 46 yards on five completions while rushing six times for 16 yards.

The Lock-led drive that went 88 yards is probably what Dooley envisions for the offense in the long run, but it still faced some of its old issues. Missouri seemed reliant on big plays to get things going and had several quick three-and-outs.

There are clearly some kinks that still need to be worked out, and that’s okay, as there’s plenty of time from now until the fall for Mizzou to get it together.

On the opening play of the game Terry Beckner Jr. reached up and swatted down Drew Lock’s pass at the line of scrimmage.

His deflection set the tone for the drive, as DeMarkus Acy came up with a swat of his own and the Black team was forced to punt around midfield.

Both of the first two drives resulted in punts for the offense, as the secondary clamped down. Out of four first downs allowed, three of them came on runs.

This strong play carried on throughout most of the game as the defense forced 12 punts and had seven pass breakups and two turnovers. Outside of breakdowns on the Gicinto and Ballard III touchdowns, the safeties did an excellent job containing the back-end.

The defense only got better as the game went on. After allowing 274 yards and 21 points in the first half, it allowed just 185 yards and held the offense to nine points in the second.

Terez Hall, however, had a few critiques of the defense’s overall performance.

“The safeties have to stop being too aggressive,” he said. “We [were] playing Cover 2 [with] safeties all down in the flat route, and Gicinto caught a crossing route and scored. Just simple stuff. The offense went out on a drive where we didn’t have a d-tackle in the game, we [had] 12 players on the field. [The offense] kinda exposed that. That’s why we got the whole summer to fix these problems.”

Another area where the defense didn’t get much done was in the trenches. The Tigers recorded just one sack and one quarterback hurry. Tre Williams’ absence aside, Missouri’s front seven is going to have to get more pressure in order to protect its secondary.

Aubrey Miller showed the promise that coaches had raved about in practice, compiling a team-high 10 tackles and a tackle for loss.

He was everywhere and has a knack for getting to the ballcarrier as quickly as possible.

“Aubrey can play, man,” Hall said. “He ain’t gotta be a third man, he can come in and take one of our roles. I ain’t gonna let him take my role, but personally I want him to compete to the level to where he can get a role. He can be a starter if he wants to be a starter. They’ll get him on the field.”

Acy is known for his tackling and physicality, but he played great coverage on Saturday. He still recorded three tackles to go along with his aforementioned interception and pass breakup. Adam Sparks, Ronnell Perkins, Tyree Gillespie, Antar Thompson and Cam Hilton had deflections as well.

Lowary had the most efficient evening out of all the quarterbacks, completing five of six passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. Lock and Powell both accumulated more yards, but were less consistent, combining to go 12-for-31.

Much has been made about the duo of Larry Rountree III and Crockett so far this offseason, but it was Dawson Downing who stole the show in the backfield, just as he did in last year’s spring game. He had the most carries and yards with 13 and 50, respectively. He also hauled in a team-high three receptions for 16 yards.

While the scoreboard didn’t show it, the defense definitely won this one. All of the players on both sides of the ball, though, have much higher aspirations for this season.

“We’re looking to give this state, give our team, our coaching staff something that’s a little more memorable than a 7-6 season,” Lock said. “It was a good season, we set cool records, and that’s awesome, but I don’t have anything I want to hang my hat on just yet. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish this year.”