Missouri football answers some questions in Black and Gold game

Josh Heupel on Ish Witter: “I think he, maybe as much as anybody, has transformed his body.”
Head football coach Barry Odom talks to a few reporters at the end of a press conference he held at the end of the Black and Gold annual spring football game on April 16. This spring game was Odom's first time on the field with his team in a game-like situation.

There was a new head coach pacing the field, and there were new offensive and defensive coordinators manning the sidelines, but the Missouri football team looked and sounded very similar to those in years past after Saturday’s Black and Gold game.

In front of 24,473 fans — more than the Tigers had in 2014 after winning the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division championship the year prior — Missouri’s gold team, which was made up of the first team offense led by offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and returning quarterback Drew Lock, showed signs of promise.

On the other hand, so too did Mizzou’s new-look defense led by defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross. Ultimately, as the coaches put it, Saturday was a success.

“I said a little bit earlier, (today) was about page one of the playbook and I’m excited that we could line up and do some things,” coach Barry Odom said. “You know, everybody wants to make football much more difficult than it is. We needed to line up and run the ball, we need to be able to defend the run, block, tackle, and at the end of the day, that’s what I wanted to see today more than anything else.”

Coming into this spring, the questions were pretty clear-cut. Who’s going to block the quarterback on the offensive line? Who’s going to step up at the receiver position? And who is going to fill in on a defense that lost guys like linebacker Kentrell Brothers and cornerback Kenya Dennis?

On Saturday, some of those questions were answered as the Tigers took the field.

In offensive line terms, many questions were answered early as redshirt sophomore Samson Bailey took the center spot with the first team offense.

“When I first got here, I knew I was going to redshirt because I was undersized,” Bailey said. “I feel like that’s helped me a lot develop better as an offensive lineman. It’s been good for me.”

Also starting on the offensive line were junior left tackle Tyler Howell, sophomore left guard Kevin Pendleton, junior right guard Alec Abeln and sophomore right tackle Paul Adams.

In full, the offensive line held up for Lock, redshirt sophomore Marvin Zanders and junior quarterback Jack Lowary, but Heupel says much improvement still remains.

Asked if he’d be ready to trot out this offensive line for a game tomorrow, Heupel said: “No. Absolutely not.”

“Obviously, the kids that are coming in are going to have to be ready to go out there and compete,” Heupel said. “These guys have gotten a ton of reps and it’s helped push them to get better fundamentally, so it’s been difficult (for these guys), but it’s going to help them in the long run.”

Regarding the wide receivers, many Mizzou fans longed to see Alabama transfer Chris Black. Unfortunately, as Odom stated postgame, Black was dinged up with an ankle injury and only played one snap.

In his absence, though, was redshirt freshman Richaud Floyd. Unexpectedly for the fans and media members alike, Floyd’s performance ranks up there on this Saturday, as he caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Lock.

“We’ve had some injuries, and I’ve worked in with the one’s and have kind of thrived with the offense,” Floyd said. “We have a lot of depth. The young guys are going to have a big opportunity this year to excel on offense.”

Floyd was referring to a few others, specifically Justin Smith, the 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman wide receiver from Dublin, Georgia. He’s been known as a big body and potential talent for quite a while around the Missouri athletic complex, but after Saturday’s 20-yard touchdown catch from Marvin Zanders, many fans now see that potential.

On the field, post-game and even here in this story, much has been talked about with Mizzou’s offense. Why? Because the Tigers are expected to duplicate much of the success last year on the defensive end.

And though Brothers and Dennis are gone, players like freshman TJ Warren stepping up confirms that sentiment. Out of all surprises on Saturday, Warren starting with the No. 1 defense might take the cake.

“(TJ) competes and I’ve made sure that everybody on this roster understands that every job is open,” Cross said. “And when you’ve got a guy (like TJ) that hasn’t played at all that starts with the No. 1s, that’s proof enough of it.”

From a fan’s perspective, Saturday wasn’t wowing or even that encouraging. And yes, the questions within many of the position groups still remain — just as they always do.

Other notes

  • Asked if Drew Lock was the No. 1 guy, sophomore wide receiver J’Mon Moore said: “Yeah, I would say so. Definitely.”
  • Junior running back Ish Witter was talked highly of postgame. Heupel said: “I think he, maybe as much as anybody, has transformed his body and because of that he’s competed in a much more confident fashion. I think he saw himself doing things he couldn’t do and he’s running with a great physical presence.” I

Edited by Theo DeRosa | tderosa@themaneater.com

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