Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri football team held its first scrimmage of the season Tuesday morning, and while the points didn’t matter, the hits were sure bona fide.
One of the most frequent recipients was freshman tailback Ish Witter, who needed a few minutes to recover from a licking delivered to him by cornerback Kenya Dennis.
“I was on the sidelines sitting down and I heard (the hit),” co-captain Markus Golden said. “After that I had to stand up for the rest of the scrimmage, just so I could see.”
Coach Gary Pinkel added: “Our defense has been doing really well, and that’s good. … There’s some really, really intense hitting. You’re glad that you see that.”
Although, there is still plenty for the team to work on, as is to be expected after the first scrimmage.
“Like I’ve always mentioned all scrimmages, when someone does something good on one side, somebody does something bad on the other side,” Pinkel said.
When Witter wasn’t getting laid out, he and fellow freshman tailback Trevon Walters were busy putting up 148 combined rushing yards. The youngsters showed off the kind of depth that makes it easier for Missouri to swing senior tailback Marcus Murphy to slot receiver where help is needed.
“You know, with our situation with Murph and that whole situation … one or two of those guys is going to probably be playing,” Pinkel said. “Both of them have really had a good camp.”
Junior tailback Tyler Hunt ran for 34 yards and a touchdown. He and Witter split time with starter Russell Hansbrough on the first offense.
“If you give our running backs a hole, they’re gonna make plays, and that’s the cool thing,” senior center and co-captain Evan Boehm said. “We don’t have the big power back. I mean, we have Morgan Steward, who’s 6-foot, 200-and-something pounds, but other than him, we’re not the big power backs.
“They hide and they go. And I think you guys saw that today when you had Russell hide behind the offensive line and all of a sudden take off down the field for 60, 70 yards, and so we’re just going, and if you make the holes for those guys, they improve and they do a let better.”
Hansbrough actually only ran for 54 total yards, but he did play well in the early reps, breaking two long runs. He only had five carries on the day.
Steward missed the scrimmage with a hip injury but isn’t expected to be out for an extended period.
Murphy played mainly at receiver. He had four catches for 16 yards. He appeared to have scored a touchdown on a pass from Maty Mauk across the middle during the two-minute drill, but the referee ruled Mauk had been sacked beforehand. Players did not tackle quarterbacks during the scrimmage.
“(Murphy)’s looked good all camp,” Mauk said. “When you’re coming from running back to receiver, that’s a lot different, and he’s really took into that role. Every night he’s in there watching film. We’re in the same room, right beside each other. So, he’s doing everything he can to make himself fill in there and be a wide receiver and he’s going to continue to do that.”
Pinkel said he plans to put Murphy back to his original postition for a few days.
“Just so he can make it up to the next scrimmage as a running back, just to make sure that he gets back into meetings and stays focused and then we’ll decide how to use him,” Pinkel said. “We’ll probably use him as both when the season starts.”
The first-team offense started off well, capping off a 76-yard drive with Hunt’s 24-yard touchdown run. The running game created most of the production on the first drive. Mauk was limited to short passes but completed them accurately.
On the second drive, however, things got stickier. Mauk turned the ball over twice, once on a botched handoff to Hansbrough and again on an underthrow to Darius White that was intercepted by Dennis.
Pinkel described the first offense as “erratic.”
“The big thing is to come back and make some plays, and (Mauk) did do that. We have a real high expectation level for him, and certainly, there’s a lot of things that happen out there that we don’t know who (is at fault),” Pinkel said. “Sometimes the receiver can be in the wrong spot … and the receiver on the pick’s gotta knock the ball down to save the quarterback, and he didn’t that time. You’d like that back.
“But then what you do is you try to see how he will respond to the adversity, because that’s going to happen. It happens to everybody. … The consistency of execution with our 1 offense, we’ve got a long way to go.”
Mauk did bounce back from the turnovers. He threw a nice 40-yard ball to senior co-captain Bud Sasser. Mauk finished 16-of-24 passing for 191 yards.
The spot behind Mauk is still up for grabs. Junior Corbin Berkstresser and redshirt freshman Eddie Printz are the contenders. Printz edged Berkstresser, 116 to 115 yards. Marvin Zanders and Johnny Eierman also took snaps.
“What we try to do is just see: Are they managing the game right?” Pinkel said of the backup quarterbacks. “Are they getting rid of the ball, not taking sacks, things like that. You can only do what you can do. You can’t be Superman. You can’t create things that can’t happen. So, we’ll see where it goes, but there’s certainly competition.”
The defensive line had a strong showing, especially up the middle. Sophomore Josh Augusta was one of the standouts, consistently pressuring the quarterback and recording a sack and a tipped ball.
“Josh is making a big leap,” Golden said. “That kid’s gonna be something special, and he’s making a big leap. He’s working hard every day. You’ll never hear him complain. And same thing with (nose tackle Lucas Vincent). He’s becoming a better leader every day, and he’s out there competing. And that’s what we ask for him.”
Augusta’s performance thus far and the muscle he has added in the offseason have more observers than Golden betting on a breakout season.
“We’ve seen that before,” Pinkel said. “We’ve seen Michael Sam come in and play at a different level. … Justin Britt is a good player, all of a sudden he’s first-team all-SEC.”
Augusta’s batted ball was one of more than a dozen on the day.
“As soon as the quarterback gets it, he’s getting rid of it, so we know 9 out of 10 times you’re not going to have time to get to the quarterback and get the sack,” Golden said.
The first-team defensive front gave the second-team offensive line trouble, but the first-team offensive line got a chance to gel.
“First time out there, we just wanna look at how we’re doing as a group and how we’re working as a one unit,” Boehm said. “(Offensive line) coach A.J. Ricker told us yesterday that he’s going to keep the 1s together to see how we form and how we roll together, and when we’re getting into that rhythm and everything like that.
“And you know, when we got into the rhythm, we got into the rhythm, and we fought off the ball, and we moved the ball, and we protected Maty.”