Gary Pinkel is looking forward to the summer.
Not for a chance to work on his tan, after a dreary and wet day at Faurot Field, rather for a chance to watch his defense more than he did during Saturday’s Black and Gold scrimmage that signaled the end of spring practice.
Pinkel spent one-third of his time talking with past players and the rest watching the scrimmage in which the defense beat the offense 60-49.
“You come out of spring and you’re playing real solid defense, as a head football coach going into summer, that’s very good news,” Pinkel said. “Head coaches do not like to be worrying about their defense all summer long, like I had to the last few years.”
Atiyyah Ellison, a senior defensive lineman who was named a team captain Friday, made the defense’s biggest play of the day, intercepting a Brandon Coleman pass and returning it for a 47-yard touchdown. This gave the defense a 17-3 lead.
On the Tigers’ next offensive possession, the defense extended its lead to 24-3 when defensive back Brandon Massey intercepted a Brad Smith pass.
“I think we played well for the most part,” Ellison said. “Stuff is starting to really click. People are solidifying in their positions and knowing what they’re supposed to do helps everybody else.”
Pinkel said the linebackers, Dedrick Harrington, Marcus Bacon and David Richard, have adjusted well to their new positions, reinforcing the Tigers’ defense.
Harrington, who has moved from outside safety to inside linebacker, had a sack.
Bacon and Richard moved from outside safeties to outside linebackers. Bacon had a tackle for a loss and Richard forced a fumble.
“That’s a real good move for our program; a good move for our defense,” Pinkel said. “Those are high level guys.”
The Tigers also received high-level play from tailbacks Damien Nash and Marcus Woods, who proved rushing is Missouri’s strong suit even after it spent most of the spring developing its passing game.
Nash, who is ahead of Woods on the depth chart to replace Zack Abron, had nine carries for 92 yards and a touchdown.
Woods added 11 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown.
“They’re both quick,” Harrington said. “They may not look it, but they’re pretty powerful runners. If the holes there, they’re going to hit them.”
In the second quarter, Woods burst through a gap in the middle of the line and then slashed to the left for a 25-yard touchdown run.
Nash scored in similar fashion in the third quarter. After going up the middle, Nash cut right and scored easily.
“I think they are even harder to tackle than Zack was because they are so elusive,” Ellison said. “They got all the moves and stuff like that, and Nash can bruise too a little bit in there.”
Both runners said they continue to learn when to pick their moments to juke and when to be more powerful.
“I can’t run over everybody and I can’t make everybody miss,” Nash said. “I have to know when to do it and when not to do it.”
The passing game continued to show signs of rust. Smith was 4-for-8 for 46 yards. Coleman was 12-for-27 for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Missouri’s longest passing play came in the fourth quarter when Coleman found Greg Bracey for a 31-yard completion. Later in the drive, Coleman threw to Jason Ray for a 4-yard touchdown.
“For the most part, I think we did some good things,” Pinkel said. “It’s obvious that our passing game still, even though we made progress, needs improvement and there’s a lot of other things depth-wise and kicking game-wise that certainly need to get taken care of by going into two-a-days.”
Missouri’s kicking game continued to struggle. Matt Hoenes’ six punts averaged 28.5 yards. Derek Randall had three punts averaging 36 yards.
On a 43-yard field goal attempt, Alex Pettersen’s kick was short, Adam Crossett’s barely made it across the goal line and Pat Velten’s hit the crossbar.
“It’s very similar to most springs,” Pinkel said. “You get some things taken care of, you make progress in a lot of areas, but we’re certainly not there and we need to do a lot of work in order to be the kind of team we need to be next year.”
CAPTAINS NAMED: In addition to Ellison, senior linebacker James Kinney, senior tailback Beau Viehmann and Smith, a junior quarterback, were named captains Friday.