After serving as a weak spot for Gary Pinkel’s first three Missouri teams, the defense has improved and during Tuesday’s first preseason scrimmage sent a message it wants to dominate.
“The No. 2 defense looked good, but the No. 1 defense played dominant and they should be,” Pinkel said. “They are all back and in fact, I think we improved against the run with the No. 1 defense.”
The defense set the tone for the scrimmage from the start when the second unit shut down the Tigers’ No. 1 offense on two possessions before Marcus Woods, a redshirt freshman running back, earned a first down at Memorial Stadium.
The defense earned the right to wear black jerseys for today’s morning practice, with a 39-26 win in the scrimmage.
Woods gained the first down, picking up 8 yards on a screen pass from Brad Smith after a 4-yard run in which he escaped a tackle in the backfield.
Other than a defensive holding penalty, the offense earned 7 yards from scrimmage, Damien Nash’s 4-yard run and a 3-yard pass from Smith to Nash.
Woods said a one-dimensional offensive attack caused the defensive dominance.
“We worked on our passing game a lot and I think that is something we need to improve on,” Woods said. “We have a lot of work to do.
“‘When we have more of a variety and use our runs to keep the defense from getting comfortable, get short yardage situations, we’ll be fine.”
The No. 1 offensive unit scored the only touchdown of the scrimmage, with Smith finding sophomore wide receiver Brad Ekwerekwu behind the defense for a 40-yard score.
In its last series of plays, a strong pass rush forced Smith out of the pocket, and after escaping the defense, Smith found Ekwerekwu at the 5. Ekwerekwu broke a tackle to find score.
Although the No. 1 offense found some life late in the scrimmage, the No. 1 defense controlled the action against the second offensive unit, forcing three turnovers and missing an opportunity for a fourth.
After a holding penalty on Scott Wheatley wiped out Beau Viehmann’s 10-yard run, C.J. Mosley intercepted a Brandon Coleman screen pass intended for Viehmann.
With one turnover forced, the defense turned up its enthusiasm and intensity and quickly gained another turnover.
On the second play of the next series, the defense started flying as James Kinney hit Coleman when he delivered a pass to tight end DeQuincy Howard. Nino Williams II hammered Howard, who fumbled, and safety Jason Simpson recovered.
“The coaches were telling us to be enthusiastic on the sideline,” defensive lineman Atiyyah Ellison said. “I think that helped pick everybody up. Anytime somebody made a play, everybody is screaming at them.
“It’s crazy, enthusiasm will take over anything, you’re tired or whatever and you feel like your teammates are rallying around you, so you want to make a play.”
Simpson later dropped a possible interception after he stepped in front of a William Franklin slant pattern, but the defense recovered another fumble when a snap sailed over Chase Patton’s head and linebacker David Richard chased down the loose ball.
Tyrone Roberson had the biggest play for the offense, for the offensive line sprung him for a 59-run down the right sideline. Roberson was not touched until forced out of bounds at the 2.
After two Roberson runs moved the ball inside the 1, Justin Scott intercepted a Patton pass in the end zone.
OMBOGA OUT: With junior wide receiver Sean Coffey nursing a separated right shoulder, the receiving corps took another hit as fellow starter; senior Thomson Omboga missed the majority of the scrimmage with a rib injury.
Omboga was on the field to begin the scrimmage, but after one series, he returned to the sideline.
“He tried to go and I think that says a lot about him, that he’s a really tough kid,” Pinkel said.
Pinkel said the difficulties on offense were partly caused by switching wide receivers into new units because of injuries.
KICKING GAME: The offensive struggles allowed the coaches an opportunity to get a closer look at the punting battle, for the defense forced eight punts. Brock Harvey consistently outdistanced Matt Hoenes, hitting consecutive 50-yard punts.