Adrenaline surged through Missouri walk-on running back Dawson Downing’s veins as the Black & Gold Spring Game kicked off Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
A few hours earlier, Tigers running backs coach Cornell Ford told Downing — a Bishop Miege graduate who scored 42 touchdowns as a senior for the state champion Stags — that he would get the starting nod for the intrasquad scrimmage, which drew an estimated crowd of 16,457 on an idyllic mid-Missouri afternoon.
It took Downing 4 minutes to find the end zone, capping a game-opening 75-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown burst.
“I didn’t really know until today I’d be starting, but I knew (senior) Ish (Witter) and (sophomore) Damarea (Crockett) weren’t playing, so I knew I’d get quite a bit of time,” said Downing, who finished with nine carries for 47 yards. “It was a great feeling being the first one out on the field to start the game … so I was pumped and ready to go.”
The whole offense was.
Missouri’s gold-clad offense — which would have had Witter and Crockett for a regular-season game, second-year coach Barry Odom said — notched a second straight touchdown against the black-clad defense when sophomore Jack Lowary led the second unit to another 75-yard scoring drive.
Lowary burned junior Finis Stribling IV and sophomore safety Ronnell Perkins for a 42-yard bomb to junior Emanuel Hall down the visiting-team sideline for a 14-0 lead.
“It’s a good feeling when you come out, make plays, and score on your drive,” senior wide receiver J’Mon Moore said. “That helps your offense get some confidence.”
Pride kicked in after that and the Tigers’ defense, which was forced to use a patchwork front four because of injuries and attrition, allowed one field goal on the next seven drives before pitching a second-half shutout.
“The offense came out ready and beat us at the beginning, so you’ve got to give them props,” said junior safety Kaleb Prewett, a Kansas State transfer and Blue Springs graduate. “They’re a helluva offense with a lot of good players.”
Prewett helped turn the tide and finished with a game-high six tackles — all solo, including one for a loss — and one pass breakup.
Perkins, sophomore linebacker T.J. Warren and junior defensive tackle Rashad Brandon all added five tackles, including one apiece for a loss.
The Tigers were thin along the defensive line entering the scrimmage, especially after Spencer Williams transferred and senior defensive end Marcell Frazier suffered a broken arm during the last week.
Mizzou already was short two defensive tackles, with junior Terry Beckner Jr. and sophomore Markell Utsey still rehabbing after knee surgery.
“We did pretty good,” senior defensive end Jordan Harold, who started with the first-string defense, said of the front four’s performance. “We came out kind of slow, but we definitely progressed throughout the game. … It’s tough with all the injuries and stuff, but I think like we held up pretty good.”
Sophomore Tucker McCann delivered a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter off a drive engineered by redshirt freshman Micah Wilson, who finished 7 of 15 for 68 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
The game’s only other points came on the final play of the first half.
Lowary, who finished 7 of 11 for 113 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, lobbed another long TD pass to Hall, picking on Stribling again for a 38-yard score.
The defense got revenge in the second half when junior linebacker Grant Jones picked off Wilson and Perkins victimized Lowary for the game’s only turnovers.
Mizzou’s defense also tallied five sacks, three of Wilson and two of Lowary, led by junior defensive end Nate Howard’s two-sack performance.
“The ones … only got scored on once and that was the first drive,” said senior safety Anthony Sherrils, who finished with three tackles. “After that, we buckled down. We were as sound as we could be. One touchdown is good, talking about our offense that puts up a lot of points and runs spread.”
Junior starting quarterback Drew Lock finished 8 of 14 for 63 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but he also didn’t throw an interception and wasn’t sacked.
“I was frustrated,” Lock said. “The ball’s in my hands every play. I’ve got to be able to do something about it. I didn’t make the best decisions on a couple of our quick-game routes. I wasn’t me today and that wasn’t how I normally do and how I wanted to come out and play. That’s not what I was doing all spring, but I’m going to fix it and wipe that away.”