Fall scrimmage: With emphasis on game-winning scenarios, defense triumphs again

DEFENSE 12-OFFENSE 8

Thursday’s Tiger football scrimmage didn’t look like a full-game simulation between the offense and defense. Instead Mizzou ran a combination of drills tailored towards finishing games.

Coach Gary Pinkel ran a “four minute drill” for the first time. It simulates the final four-to-five minute period of ball games. The defensive objective: to force the opposition off the field in three downs in order to get the ball back to its offense and to force the opposition to burn its timeouts before the offense takes the field. For the offense, they play as if the team has a small lead in the final minutes; they try to run as much time as possible off the clock while still making progress down the field.

DEFENSE

The starting defense allowed a sustained drive down the field, but prevented the offense from reaching the end zone, instead settling for a field goal.  For a unit expected to be one of the best in the Big 12, Pinkel wants to see more intensity.

“I think they’re doing some good things. That’s the message we’re sending to our football team:  we have to feel the urgency of getting better, because we’re running out of time.”

Trey Hobson (Photo by Nick Gerhardt)

Cornerback Trey Hobson showed off his nose for the ball. He intercepted Jimmy Costello against the No. 2 offense and returned the pick 12 yards for a touchdown. Later in practice he reeled in a poorly-thrown, deflected Corbin Berkstresser pass against the No. 4 offense. Back-up linebacker Tony Randolph–wearing No. 34, the same number as defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson–also had an interception.

Defensive linemen Michael Sam, a redshirt sophomore, and redshirt freshmen Kony Ealy stood out in the trenches, an encouraging sign for an already-stacked defensive line.  Ealy broke up two passes and constantly irritated the offensive line by finding ways into the backfield. Michael Sam recorded a sack, and like Ealy, found himself on the offense’s side of the ball often.

Both should be solid contributors to a sterling defense, either in their current back-up role or as starters if current starters Jacquies Smith or Brad Madison go down.

According to starting nose tackle Terrell Resonno, Ealy’s biggest hurdle isn’t opposing offense players. He can handle them; can he handle the heightened emotional atmosphere of college football?

“When he starts getting into game situations, playing will come easy,” Resonno said.

“That’s my roommate, and I talk to him a lot. I told him, just learn early that you have to be mentally tough. Because in a situation like (Ealy’s on-field confrontation with tackle Justin Britt last week), he has a chance to lose us the game.”

To his credit, Ealy kept his cool on Thursday.

Strong-side linebacker Andrew Wilson didn’t deliver one of his trademark big hits during the scrimmage, but he looked great pursuing the ball carrier. Speedy running back Kendial Lawrence had a wide open field in front of him on a sweep play to the outside, but Wilson tracked him down in the open field and held the running back to a gain of just two yards. Even the best defenses can’t stop the offense for no gain on every play. When the team’s defensive line and linebackers can keep explosive playmakers like Lawrence in check, it’s a good sign with the Tigers set to play each of the ten Big 12 teams at least once this season.

Nose guard Dominique Hamilton consistently popped up as the most impressive player on a given play. He swatted the ball down at the line of scrimmage; he sacked the quarterback; he made his presence known whenever he was the field. His season ended prematurely against Oklahoma last year. Now he’s primed for an elite return.

Back-up interior lineman Jimmy Burge dressed for the first time this week after suffering a concussion on August 13.

Jacquies Smith was seen on the sidelines with the medical staff, but Pinkel said he should be fine.

Overall, the defense has playmakers everywhere, from the starting 11  to the guys listed three or four spots below on the depth chart released in late July (the team promises to release a new depth chart in the next couple of days).

“We’re doing awesome in camps, getting better every day. This is giong to be a very good defense,” Andrew Wilson said.

 OFFENSE

Given the emphasis on clock management on Thursday, it should come as no surprise that the running backs stood out.

RB Kendial Lawrence runs past an offensive lineman in a running drill at Mizzou football practice.

Kendial Lawrence delivered another 60-yard touchdown run, but he wasn’t the most important running back on that play. Junior Jared Culver, a stocky back with a potential niche as a short-yardage runner, lined up at full back. When a defensive lineman broke free into the backfield, Culver delivered a devastating block as Lawrence cut back and hit the gap. Lawrence surely would have been tackled for a loss otherwise.

That scoring run masked an otherwise unimpressive day for Lawrence, who had just 16 yards on his other 10 carries. If he wants to be this team’s starting tailback, he will have to find a way to power through first contact. Otherwise, Lawrence will be a change-of-pace back–no matter how badly the coaching staff wants to avoid labels.

“We need big play guys,” head coach Gary Pinkel said. “But we’re going to play all three (Lawrence, De’Vion Moore, and Henry Josey) of the guys.”

Most of the credit  for that scoring run goes to the defensive secondary, which failed to stay back and keep the running back in front of them to make the tackle. Lawrence just had to do what he did best–accelerate and out-race everyone else on the field.

Freshman tailback Tyler Hunt left an impression. He scampered for 23 yards and a touchdown on four carries. His defining play of the afternoon came when he trucked freshman cornerback Earnest Payton (Payton redeemed himself on the next play, very nearly intercepting QB Corbin Berkstresser).

Speaking of Corbin–what happened? After a lot of hype early in fall practice, Corbin has struggled to run the offense at full speed. His proficiency in 7-on-7 drills remains, but with lineman and linebackers rushing in, his throws have been wildly inaccurate. On a more positive note, Berkstresser has phenomenal pocket presence for a true freshman. And check this stat out–with 22 yards on 5 attempts, he out-rushed starter James Franklin. This kid can run. When and if he assimilates into the college-level spread offense, he could give Franklin a serious push for playing time…in a year, or two.

Starter James Franklin accuracy has improved markedly, but he will need to find a way to come through on third down and red-zone situations. Blaine Gabbert never quite figured that element of the game out, but he bolted for the NFL thanks to his ideal build for a pro quarterback. If Franklin can find that “it” factor on make-or-break downs, Mizzou will be dangerous this year.

INJURIES: Defensive linemen Brad Madison, wide receiver Jerrell Jackson, center Travis Ruth, and safety Kenji Jackson—all starters—were in “no contact” red shirts on Thursday, but Pinkel targeted next Tuesday for their return.

Marcus Murphy and Elvis Fisher remain sidelined for the year.

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One response to “Fall scrimmage: With emphasis on game-winning scenarios, defense triumphs again

  1. Ron Gerhardt August 19, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    Hello Nick — My name is Ron Gerhardt–My dad’s name is Nick Gerhardt and he was a teacher and coach for many years in different places in MO back in the 40’s/50’s/60’s–big stints at St. Joe Lafayette and KC Southeast–Dad passed in 2003 and he closed out his career in Clear Lake, IA retiring in 1984–just wanted to say HI–thought it was cool to see another Nick Gerhardt involved in Missouri sports–Dad was a great track coach and my earliest sports memory was going to the 1960 state track meet in Columbia — of course that area of the campus didn’t look anything like it does now–my e-mail is ron.gerhardt@globegazette.com I’m a dist mgr at a local paper — I’m sure you are busy but would enjoy hearing back from you RON

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