Missouri football's defense on display in first scrimmage

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 | 7:35 p.m. CDT; updated 7:01 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 13, 2014
The Missouri football team had its first scrimmage of fall camp Tuesday at Faurot Field. A second scrimmage is scheduled for Saturday, and the Tigers will hold their final scrimmage of fall camp on Aug. 21.

COLUMBIA — Missouri defensive back Kenya Dennis pumped his fists and let out a yell after his big hit. His teammate Ish Witter, the recipient of the blow, lay curled up in a ball on the sideline.

Dennis continued to celebrate while Witter stayed down. After a minute or so, Witter got up and shook off the hit. It was the first of several strong shots the freshman running back would take during the Tigers' first scrimmage of fall camp Tuesday.

10 things we learned Tuesday

The Tigers' scrimmage provided the first glimpse of this year's team in game scenarios. Here's what we learned from watching Missouri football in action:

1. The defense can hit: Compared to the spring scrimmage, Tuesday's affair had plenty of hard hits — like Kenya Dennis' hit on Ish Witter.

2. The D-line is a presence: The linemen batted balls, broke up plays, sacked the quarterbacks and were generally disruptive inside and out.

3. Freshmen tailbacks can play: Trevon Walters and Ish Witter got plenty of playing time and were the top two rushers of the day.

4. Marcus Murphy will continue to play two roles: Gary Pinkel said Murphy would be spending more time with the running backs this week, even though the running back was featured in the slot Tuesday.

5. There are several faces in the return game: In addition to Marcus Murphy, John Gibson, Aarion Penton and Lawrence Lee were seen fielding kickoffs and punts.

6. Andrew Baggett basically breaks even: The kicker made a 45-yard field goal but missed from 32 yards out. On the day, he was three of five.

7. Gavin Otte has a high ankle sprain: The receiver left the scrimmage after he was tackled out of bounds — he was later seen wearing a boot on the injured foot.

8. Sean Culkin's a beast: At one point, it took six defenders to bring down the 6-foot-6, 245-pound tight end.

9. Sorry snaps: There were three particularly wild shotgun snaps that troubled quarterback Marvin Zanders.

10. Eierman has some zip: The former minor league baseball player didn't throw too much, but he showed some shortstop velocity on a five-yard completion over the middle to Levi Copelin.

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Missouri's defense outplayed the offense Tuesday at Memorial Stadium and won the scrimmage 14-12. The offense dealt with fumbles, interceptions and bad snaps — it played inconsistently at best. But the defensive intensity illustrated by the Tigers defensive backs set the tone for the scrimmage.

The Tigers defensive line looked like it was playing volleyball, spiking several attempted passes to the turf. Markus Golden, Eddie Serrano and Josh Augusta all had batted balls. And when the linemen weren't deflecting passes, they were pressuring and sacking Missouri's quarterbacks. It was rare to see a passer have a lot of time in the pocket — there were plenty of forced throws and scrambles.

All five Missouri quarterbacks saw time Tuesday, including John Eierman, who received some coaching by Maty Mauk before his first and only series. Mauk looked good at times, going 4-4 to lead the offense's first scoring drive that ended in a 24-yard touchdown run by Tyler Hunt. Mauk also threw a touchdown to Jimmie Hunt and drove the team into field-goal range during a two-minute drill.

But Mauk also got picked off, and he threw dangerous, underthrown balls on a couple of occasions.

The other quarterbacks didn't fare much better. Corbin Berkstresser and Eddie Printz were inconsistent at best, and Marvin Zanders had to play some shortstop — trying to plug the hole as errant snaps went over his head and off to his right. There were some botched handoffs, too, and Russell Hansbrough fumbled at one point. On the whole, the offense looked out of sorts.

The Tigers were most successful running the football or checking down and passing to one of their tailbacks. Freshmen Trevon Walters and Ish Witter broke some nice 10-plus-yard runs and both caught some passes out of the backfield. But when Walters, Witter or another back would break free, there was a good chance he would be met by a Missouri cornerback or safety.

The Missouri defensive backs made their presence known, picking off two passes and batting down several more. And they hit hard. Tight end Sean Culkin said he didn't want to name the Tiger who got hit the hardest, but he remembered a "couple of DBs making some nice plays on some running backs," among other hits.

Running back Tyler Hunt had more vivid memories of some of the blows. He took a  lick from linebacker Kentrell Brothers, and he said Ish Witter "took a couple of good hits."

Indeed, Witter did — the 5-foot-8, 195-pound freshman seemed to have a target on his jersey. He was sandwiched on a run play and twice popped hard after catching dump-off passes. There were some cringes on the sidelines and in the stands.

But Witter's collision with Dennis was the most dramatic dust-up. Just ask Markus Golden.

"Kenya — KD — he got out there and made a big hit," Golden said. "I was on sideline sitting down and I heard (the hit) and after that, I had to stand up for the rest of the scrimmage just so I could see.

"A big hit is always going to get the team going."

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.

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