Black and Gold Game takeaways: Defense dominates unusual spring game
Steve Wilks’ defense picked up a victory in a glorified scrimmage that gave fans a first glance at the 2021 Tigers.
Mar. 25, 2021
Missouri football stretched the limits of what could be considered a “game” during Tigers coach Eli Drinkwitz’s first Black and Gold Spring Game on Saturday.
For all intents and purposes, it was a continuation of Missouri’s spring football schedule with several periods of drills before a scrimmage of primarily two-hand touch football commenced.
Instead of two teams with an offensive and defensive unit, defensive players suited up in black practice uniforms while the offensive players suited up in gold. Points were not handed out by touchdowns — though touchdowns were still worth six points — but rather by an arbitrary system where points were awarded to either side if that team made a good play, though the rules were never formally announced.
The Black Team won 61-58 in a unique spring game that functioned more as a spring practice but with more fans at Faurot Field, as multiple players and units stood out on Saturday.
Defense stands tall in the red zone
While the Black Team won by a narrow margin, it did not look as close as the score indicated on the field.
The defense dominated at all levels, as the run defense shut down outside runs before offensive lineman could get to the outside. In the secondary, key returning defensive backs flummoxed the trio of redshirt sophomore Connor Bazelak, redshirt freshman Brady Cook and freshman Tyler Macon.
Before opening up to full-field drives, the offense and defense went at one another in red zone situations, where the defense held strong and didn’t allow a touchdown in five red zone drill attempts.
The front seven, headed by grad student lineman Akial Byers, grad transfer EDGE Daniel Robledo and redshirt junior linebacker Chad Bailey, forced anyone who received snaps to scramble outside the pocket. The tenacity of the Black Team’s pass rushers continued into open-field play, where the quarterbacks rarely had a clean pocket despite an experienced offensive line.
“I was really thrilled with where the defense started off in the red zone,” Drinkwitz said. “That's always a very difficult situation, and those guys really responded with their backs against the wall. The offense got a first down and then wasn't able to capitalize.”
Even on the first two red zone drives in the open-field scrimmage, the defense hunkered down and got stops. One of them was an interception by redshirt sophomore cornerback Ishmael Burdine in a goal-to-go situation.
Skilled secondary work
Speaking of the Burdine interception, the spotlight performers of the afternoon came from the defensive backfield as Burdine and sophomore cornerback Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. shut down the outside all day.
Rakestraw made one of the most impressive plays of the day in the one-on-one receiver versus defensive back drills. Lined up against grad transfer receiver Keke Chism, Rakestraw jammed Chism as he tried to run a speed-out and broke in front of the ball at the last moment for a leaping interception and let the world know how excited he was.
“Throughout camp, those guys have really done a nice job forcing interceptions, forcing tip balls,” Drinkwitz said. “Really impressed and pleased with the progress that those guys are making.”
Junior safety Martez Manuel said the strides he and his teammates in the secondary have made come from a new mentality instilled by Drinkwitz and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
“Coach Drink preaches every day a ‘this play’ mentality,” Manuel said. “Last year, we kind of got caught up in what happened last play. We're really focused on this play, and every play has its own potential to be great.”
Michael Cox impresses in third-team reps
Outside of the wide receivers, redshirt freshman running back Michael Cox was one of the few offensive players to break through the defense on Saturday.
The former walk-on ran reps primarily with third-string signal-caller Macon at the helm, but he made the most of his opportunities on the field. Cox ran in for the first touchdown of the afternoon after a long drought and earned praise from Drinkwitz.
“Really pleased with the way Michael Cox finished the scrimmage right there running the football,” Drinkwitz said.
Cox rushed for two touchdowns of the afternoon and burst through the holes in the offensive line with ease, picking up big chunks of yardage toward the end of the day.
While senior running back Tyler Badie and sophomore running back Elijah Young should get a bulk of the carries this season, don’t be surprised if Drinkwitz features the redshirt freshman in some first-team action this fall.
Eight Tigers earned their numbers before the spring game as Drinkwitz’s first full recruiting class continued to its stripes.
Among the transfers to receive their numbers were Oklahoma transfer offensive lineman EJ Ndoma-Ogar, who wore the No. 70 jersey for the first time Saturday afternoon. Former Texas Tech cornerback Devyn Butler earned the No. 45 jersey, while his secondary teammate Jadarrius Perkins got the No. 1 jersey after he transferred from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Five freshmen also earned their numbers prior to Saturday: tight end Ryan Hoerstkamp, offensive lineman Connor Tollison, defensive back Darius “DJ” Jackson, defensive back Daylan Carnell and defensive lineman Travion Ford.
Saturday afternoon concluded not with the players deciding the outcome of the spring game, but rather the offensive and defensive coaches.
The score was tied 59-58 as Drinkwitz brought his coaches together to run two-point conversions in the south end zone as players formed a bowl around the action.
“We've finished every scrimmage with some sort of coaches competition, so just figured it'd be great to see a two-point play,” Drinkwitz said.
The offensive coaches had the first crack at the end zone and the play was over before it began, as the snap missed the mark wildly.
“The offensive staff must have had some sort of heads up because that play looked a little bit too organized,” Drinkwitz said. “Really disappointed with the bad snap.”
Linebackers coach DJ Smith slipped out of offensive graduate assistant Matt Linehan to score the 2-point conversion to cap off the bizarre afternoon.
Edited by Jack Soble | firstname.lastname@example.org