Spoilers: Missouri's spring game is this Saturday and this is the only football-like substance we'll have for about the next four months. Ascribing too much meaning to what amounts to a glorified scrimmage is pretty silly, but considering it's the only extended look any fans or media will have had we're liable to do it anyways. Given that, I decided to pre-write my breakdown to see how much I could predict and what narratives might hold up. This is probably the result of an over-indulgence of Red Bull and a twisted sense of humor. Here goes nothing.
Missouri held their first spring game under Barry Odom on Saturday. The Tiger Two squad led by the first team defense won the day 24-14.
Both new coordinators Josh Heupel and DeMontie Cross kept the play-calling fairly vanilla in an attempt to avoid giving away anything to the prying eyes of opposing scouts and obsessed fans. There were a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball as many freshman and sophomores saw action on Faurot Field for the first time. Here are our takeaways:
Drew Lock looked good in his first Spring Game, completing over 60% of his passes with two touchdowns against one interception while Marvin Zanders gained the majority of his yards on the ground or through play-action bombs. Each looked more comfortable than they did a year ago. Newcomer Jack Lowary looked accurate and steady leading a drive that led the Tigers out of their own redzone late in the fourth quarter but ultimately resulted in a field goal.
Missouri's offensive line had fits and false starts, showing its youth and inexperience but also hints of the increased tempo mentioned throughout the last few weeks of practice. Red-shirt sophomore Kevin Pendleton stood out at guard while the massive JUCO left tackle Tyler Howell, who joined the team in January, looked athletic even at a massive 6'8 and 300 lbs. Alec Abeln, the only healthy returning lineman with any experience after Nate Crawford was ruled out for the spring, slid into the center position long held by Evan Boehm and held his own. The snaps were a bit of a concern but they have the rest of the summer to iron that out. The right side of Missouri's offensive line was breaking in several new starters, red-shirt freshman AJ Harris and walk-on Adam Ploudre rotated at right guard while red-shirt sophomore Paul Adams manned right tackle.
Ish Witter, Trevon Walters and Ryan Williams were Mizzou's only available running backs after the departure of Chase Abbington. Last year, Missouri's running backs were often criticized for trying to stretch plays horizontal, but we didn't see many broken tackles today as the Tigers sought to avoid injuries to a thin group. Unlike that time in Athens, the Tigers were able to punch in a score on the goal line, although it came against a mix of the second and third team defense.
Alabama grad transfer Chris Black's debut as the Tiger's primary slot receiver flashed promises of his four star potential. Red-shirt freshman backup Johnathan Johnson was also somewhat of a slot machine, taking short passes and making defenders miss for big gains. Massive receiver Justin Smith was targeted once in the red zone, as was fellow giant tight end Kendall Blanton, each coming down with a score. Other receivers continued to struggle with drops and getting open.
Missouri's defense was missing several key players, including Charles Harris, his backup Nate Howard who are both out for the spring and defensive tackle Harold Brantley who's missed several weeks of practice while catching up with his academics.
The defensive line was led by Freshman All-American defensive end Walter Brady coming hard off the edge and Ricky Hatley and Josh Augusta clogging up the middle, stifling much of Missouri's running game. Promising sophomore Josh Moore had several tackles for a loss and two QB hurries by my count.
Michael Scherer was his usual solid self manning the middle linebacker spot but the real intrigue was the position battle between sophomore Terez Hall and senior Donavin Newsom. On the other side, Joey Burkett showed flashes of the speed that makes him an intriguing prospect but Brandon Lee looked like a natural stepping into the role that Kentrell Brothers vacated - we'll probably see both battles continue into the fall.
Missouri's secondary was led by NFL hopefuls Aarion Penton and Anthony Sherrils and they looked the part except for a few lapses typical of a spring game. Junior Logan Cheadle continues to compete with senior John Gibson at the opposite corner spot in a duel that should continue through the summer. Cam Hilton's effectiveness was limited by a hamstring injury he's been nursing throughout the spring.
There wasn't much to see from Missouri's special teams unit Saturday as Barry Odom decided kick and punt return practice was too risky a proposition. We got to see sophomore punter Corey Fatony, fresh off an 81 punt freshman All-American season, sky some kicks to returners Chris Black, Aarion Penton and Johnathan Johnson. Freshman kicker Tucker McCann's leg seemed up for the job of kick offs and his aim was true on a deep field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter.
That's all we have. What did you think was notable from Saturday's scrimmage? Be sure to check back later this weekend for the full highlights!