COLUMBIA – At 3:45 p.m. coach Gary Pinkel blows his whistle, the noise echoing throughout Devine Pavilion. All the Missouri football players stop in the middle of their warmup drills. Some run, others skip, but all of them head toward the north end zone, where Coach is standing.
The players yell and scream while they gather in a semicircle in front of their coach. But when Pinkel blows his whistle again, they fall silent.
Spring intrasquad game
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Faurot Field
ADMISSION: Admission: $3 or three canned/boxed food items benefiting the Central Missouri Food Bank; MU students get in free
From a distance, it’s impossible to hear what Pinkel is telling his team. But later the message is made clear.
“Coach Pinkel came up and told the guys whoever wins gets the gold jerseys in the spring game,” senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon explains after practice.
The offense has been consistently winning spring practice scrimmages until Tuesday. But Pinkel’s challenge changes the dynamic. Both sides want to wear those gold jerseys in the Black and Gold game.
“That brought out a lot of competitiveness from everybody,” Weatherspoon says. “Everybody was going hard today.”
The division between the offense and defense is obvious from the beginning. After Pinkel’s brief speech, the offense, donning black jerseys, moves to one side of the field, while the defense, donning white, moves to the other to begin stretching.
At one point in the middle of stretching a shout suddenly rings out from the field.
“Offense is what?”
The reply comes in unison from the players dressed in black.
The offense and defense then split into groups. On the southern end of the field, three different quarterbacks throw to three different receivers, and offensive linemen practice different blocking sets. On the northern end, defensive linemen practice swim moves, linebackers tackle each other and defensive backs sprint and back-pedal at the command of their coaches.
All the while, Pinkel strolls from one end to the other with his arms crossed, occasionally taking a sheet of paper out of his back pocket to look something over.
For an hour and a half, players fluctuate between laid-back and up-tempo. They jog through formations at one point and then sprint through fast-paced workouts at another. Horns signal transitions from one drill to another, with short-yard scrimmages being played throughout.
Each scrimmage is tightly contested. The offense comes out victorious by a couple points in one, only to see the defense respond with a big win in the next. Long touchdown throws garner a roar of applause from the offensive players, while the defense erupts into shouting after delivering rattling hits that are nearly as loud as their shouts.
At 5:25 p.m. a horn sounds, signaling the end of another short-yard scrimmage.
“Defense wins,” is heard subtly from the field. But now it’s time for the scrimmage that matters. The offense sends out its first team to its own 5-yard line and is met by the defensive first team.
Multiple defensive and offensive coaches are barking instructions at their players. The two first teams go through a rotation, then both second teams face off, followed by the third teams, then back to the first teams. All the while, players on each sideline are yelling at coaches who are acting as referees, pleading to them for facemask calls.
On a fourth-and-2, Weatherspoon leads his teammates from the sideline in a deafening chant of “defense.” When the offense converts, the defense suddenly falls silent and now the noise is echoing from the other sideline.
It’s called a scrimmage, but it feels more like a real game.
Ten minutes after the full-field scrimmage began, it’s ended by the sound of a horn. No winner is announced.
Again, those in black jerseys move to one side, those in white to the other. All of them stretch. When they’re finished, they all gather in a circle around their coach at the center of the field. He gives a quick talk. This time, his message doesn’t need an explanation.
All the players donning black jerseys spread out and do five up-downs, while those dressed in white stand and watch. The defense won today’s practice and will be wearing those gold jerseys on Saturday with pride.