What to watch for in the Missouri football 'Black and Gold Game'
Missouri football takes the field for its annual Black and Gold Game on Saturday.
Apr. 11, 2016
Missouri football’s annual Black and Gold scrimmage Saturday will provide a glimpse of what fans can expect heading into the next season.
Barry Odom and his staff know they are under pressure to improve upon the team’s dismal 5–7 2015 performance. Here are four things to watch out for when the black and gold take the field:
Most Missouri fans gave freshman Drew Lock a pass for last season’s lackluster performance. After all, Lock took over following Maty Mauk’s suspension, had to throw to an inexperienced receiving corps, was under tremendous pressure from opposing defenses almost every down, and was part of a football team caught up in campus issues that boycotted for one practice day.
But Lock is coming into this year knowing that the starting position is his to lose, and he has had all offseason to work with his offense. There will be no more excuses for the No. 6 quarterback from the 2015 recruiting class.
This season, Lock is working with Josh Heupel, a former Heisman runner-up and the former offensive coordinator for quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones at Oklahoma.
Lock will also benefit from having redshirt senior Chris Black, a graduate transfer from Alabama, running out of the slot while redshirt sophomore J’Mon Moore and sophomore Nate Brown are expected to grow in their second season as starters. Meanwhile, redshirt junior Sean Culkin and redshirt sophomore Jason Reese return at the tight end position.
The turnaround from being the Southeastern Conference’s worst offense must start at the quarterback position, and all eyes will be on Drew Lock to see if he is the man to do it.
It often seemed that there were no open receivers for Lock to throw to last season. That is expected to change this season with the addition of Black and the return of Moore, Brown, Culkin and Reese.
Heupel’s offense calls for shorter routes so that the quarterback can get the ball out quicker. That is a drastic switch from last season’s offense, in which long out routes and deep routes were the staple of Missouri’s passing attack.
Shorter routes often make it easier for receivers to create space, as they give defensive backs less time to recover and create traffic that confuses defenses. This strategy should give Lock more options to throw to.
An outlier to watch in the Heupel offense is redshirt freshman wide receiver Justin Smith.
Smith stands at 6-foot-7, making him the tallest player on Missouri’s roster. Although Smith did not play last season, the former Georgia high school all-state receiver showcases abnormal speed for his size and has obvious physical ability.
Add that to the growth in experience with the other wideouts and Heupel should have a lot to work with.
Missouri returns only redshirt sophomore Nate Crawford to an offensive line that was repeatedly torched by SEC defenses last season, making it one of the biggest question marks on the team.
The good thing is, this group opposes one of the SEC’s best defensive lines in the country each practice. Even with that, though, it will be interesting to see if the offensive line’s performance improves under Heupel.
The Tigers’ line struggled in all aspects of blocking last season, most notably in the run game. Missouri averaged only 115 rushing yards per game and scored the ball on the ground only five times during its 2015 campaign.
The Missouri offensive line will face possibly its toughest opponent of the season on Saturday in its counterparts on Missouri’s defense. However, the test will give Missouri fans a good idea of whether or not they will be watching the same dismal performance of last season or if the line has figured itself out.
While Kentrell Brothers is a major loss to one of the SEC’s top defenses, Missouri’s secondary suffered the most losses when it came to graduating players.
The Tigers will need to replace both Kenya Dennis and Ian Simon, two of Missouri’s top defensive performers on the 2015 team. While both redshirt sophomore Anthony Sherrils and junior Aarion Penton should have similar production to last season, the other two starting positions do not have any clear front-runners.
The most experienced secondary players are redshirt-junior cornerback John Gibson and sophomore safety Thomas Wilson. However, both players did not see significant playing time in the 2015 season and neither started a game.
Freshman Cam Hilton, who was featured as a slot receiver in last season’s offense but came to Missouri as a defensive back, was switched back to the defensive side of the ball for spring practices. Hilton’s athletic ability gives him as good a chance as any to start on Missouri’s depleted defensive back corps.
The Black and Gold game will kick off 5 p.m. Saturday at Faurot Field. Mizzou fans will get the chance to see the new-look offense, defense and what kinds of improvements the players have made this spring.
Edited by Alec Lewis | firstname.lastname@example.org