The defensive line set the tone Tuesday during Missouri’s first scrimmage of training camp at Memorial Stadium.
It didn’t matter whether it was the first-string offense against the second-string defense, the second-team offense versus the first-team defense or threes taking on threes, the defensive line made its presence known.
That either settles a lingering question about the Tigers’ defensive line depth, after reigning Southeastern Conference co-defensive player of the year Michael Sam graduated and Kony Ealy declared for the NFL Draft a year early, or it raises red flags about the offense.
“I can’t remember the last time the defense has won the first scrimmage,” senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said. “I always remember the offense winning the first scrimmage, be it spring ball or camp.”
Officially, the defense won 14-12 in the modified scrimmage scoring system, but it didn’t seem particularly close most of the morning.
Senior defensive end Markus Golden recorded one of six sacks on the day, including three by the second string against sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk.
“It’s a competitive room,” Golden said. “Once I make a play, those guys are like, ‘Oh, Markus I’m going to make that play tomorrow’ or ‘Good play, Markus, but I’m going to get a better play than you.’ That’s what we want to do, but all the young guys are competing. It’s good, and today I saw those guys take a big step.”
Sophomore defensive tackle Josh Augusta and both backup defensive ends, redshirt freshmen Marcus Loud and Charles Harris, sacked Mauk. Sophomore Justin Grava added a sack against junior quarterback Corbin Berkstresser.
“We’ve shown a lot of improvement,” Vincent said. “Seeing Charles and Josh and Harold (Brantley) and Marcus all develop, it’s been miraculous what they’ve done.”
Vincent was a constant presence in the backfield. He had a sack wiped away by a penalty, but he added another tackle for a loss and sent sophomore tailback Miles Drummond spinning like a helicopter along with senior safety Duron Singleton.
“They call me The Savage, and he’s been trying to make himself a Savage, too,” Golden said. “I told him, ‘You’re in Savage training.’ But it seems like he turned on a switch this camp. Lucas Vincent is a beast.”
Junior defensive end Shane Ray, a Bishop Miege graduate, didn’t record a sack, but he led a parade of quarterback hurries along with Harris and Augusta, while sophomore Ricky Hatley recovered a fumbled exchange between Mauk and junior tailback Russell Hansbrough.
Two plays after that lapse, Mauk was intercepted on a deep ball down the right sideline when junior cornerback Kenya Dennis undercut Darius White and outmuscled him for a leaping interception.
Dennis also laid out freshman running back Ish Witter when he caught a third-down swing pass in the red zone.
Senior linebacker Darvin Ruise, who finished with a team-high two tackles for a loss, also smashed Witter on a fourth-down pass into the flats.
Coach Gary Pinkel called the first-team offense’s performance erratic, but he was pleased to see the group finish strong by netting a field goal in a two-minute drill on its final drive.
“(This scrimmage) was something that we needed,” said Mauk, who completed 16 of 24 passes for 191 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “We started out fast and finished strong, but we’ve got to get better in between and keep being consistent.”
The first-team offense also had the scrimmage’s only two touchdowns, a 24-yard run by junior Tyler Hunt early in the day and a 29-yard touchdown from Mauk to senior Jimmie Hunt on a skinny post later in the day.
“The main thing is it’s not scripted, so we’re not going out there knowing what’s going on,” Mauk said. “It’s more game-like, and that’s what you need.”
Mauk said he and the offense knocked off some rust and expect a strong showing Saturday in the second scrimmage of camp.