Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is glad there are two weeks left until his team plays Illinois.
He’s just not sure that’s enough.
“We’re running out of time,” Pinkel said. “Two weeks from now the game’s over.”
Pinkel saw a lot of room for improvement during the Missouri football team’s first full scrimmage Saturday. But, then, he always does.
“They did OK,” Pinkel said. “They still did a lot of things wrong. They missed the point of attack a lot, they took some penalties, the defense would lose contain. It’s the little things that don’t allow you to be an exceptional team.”
If the Tigers start the season opener against Illinois like they started the scrimmage, Pinkel’s cynicism might be prophetic.
By the time a Missouri player had earned an “ooh” or an “ah” from the crowd of about 300, the Tigers’ first-team offense had gone three and out, senior Marcus James, the Tigers’ top punt returner, had muffed a punt and sophomore tailback Damien Nash had lost a fumble.
Enter Beau Viehmann.
Viehmann, a junior walk-on tailback, ripped off a 51-yard run and, suddenly, all was right at Memorial Stadium.
Viehmann also had runs of 12, 5 and 6 yards, but his fellow tailbacks didn’t fare as well.
Incumbent starter Zack Abron ran five times for 33 yards, but he hobbled away after a 16-yard run and didn’t return. Pinkel said his injury was no reason for alarm, and Abron expects to be back in practice today.
“Zack’s OK,” Pinkel said. “He just turned his ankle a little bit.”
Pinkel said Abron’s injury is an example of why it is important to have depth at every position and for those players to be well prepared. The top three offensive units played about 40 plays each during the scrimmage, Pinkel said.
“You’re gonna have those things,” Pinkel said. “That’s why you’ve gotta get backup players ready to play at a high level. It can happen at any time.”
Nash, who missed last season with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, made it through the scrimmage healthy, but wasn’t satisfied with his play, especially his two fumbles.
“Things didn’t happen the way I thought they should, but I just have to look at film and get ready for Illinois in two weeks,” Nash said.
Nash wasn’t the only one who had trouble hanging on to the ball. The Tigers fumbled five times and the defense recovered two.
“That’s about five more than I want,” Pinkel said. “That’s one of the things we have to straighten out. You’re not going to play in our program if you fumble the football. The good news is those things can be coached and we can improve those things.”
Senior cornerback Michael Harden saw things a little differently. A minus for the offense, he said, is a plus for the defense.
“Our coaches are always on us to get the ball,” Harden said. “It’s almost second nature to rip for the ball as soon as you tackle. That’s gonna help us get a lot of takeaways this year.”
The defense forced three turnovers: Free safety Nino Williams recovered Nash’s fumble on the second drive, defensive lineman Kene Chukwuanu recovered a David Richard fumble and freshman linebacker Lorenzo Williams intercepted a Brandon Coleman pass.
It wasn’t all bad for the offense, though. Despite having a hard time getting into the end zone, all three offensive units drove the ball effectively.
Quarterback Brad Smith’s second drive, against the No. 2 defense, was the offense’s best, covering 65 yards in 13 plays. Smith was impressive, going 5-for-6 for 37 yards, and junior tailback Tyrone Roberson scored from the 1. It was the only touchdown drive that covered more than 20 yards. The offense scored two other touchdowns, but both came during red-zone drills in which the drives started at the 18. Smith threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Thomson Omboga, and tailback Lee Ewigman ran for a 5-yard touchdown.
The No. 2 offense failed to score, but moved the ball effectively against the first-team defense. Harden said the top defensive unit didn’t live up to its expectations.
“If I was grading us, I’d probably say B-minus, C-plus,” Harden said. “We gave up too many yards. We didn’t give up a score, but still, they drove on us. If we want to be one of the best defenses in the nation, we can’t let that happen.”
RED ALERT: Redshirt freshman Brian Smith, who is listed first at one defensive end, sat out the scrimmage because of an eye infection. He watched from the press box, wearing a red jersey and sunglasses.
Xzavie Jackson, a freshman defensive lineman, left during the first series and didn’t return because of a broken foot. Pinkel said the Tigers will make a decision on Jackson’s status on the 105-man roster today.
“I’m not sure when he’ll be back from that,” Pinkel said.
Tight end DeQuincy Howard, a redshirt freshman, continued to wear a red jersey and did not play. He left practice Thursday morning with a strained medial collateral ligament.
RANKINGS: The Tigers are 34th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll released Saturday. They received 22 points. Oklahoma is No. 1.