Missouri sophomore Tre’Vour Simms almost laughed at the suggestion he was nervous for his first career start Saturday against Missouri State.
“I played in many games last year,” he said. “I felt fine out there.”
Coaches and teammates seemed to agree that Simms, who debuted as the Tigers’ starting right guard, and redshirt freshman Trystan Castillo, who made his first career start at center, performed with poise despite their relative inexperience.
“Both were very physical at the point of attack,” junior Paul Adams said. “I’m very proud of how both of them played.”
Simms and Castillo also drew praise from coach Barry Odom, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and offensive line coach Glen Elarbee.
But Castillo, who’d never played in a college game before, admitted to more butterflies than Simms had.
“The first snap I was just hoping I didn’t snap it 30 feet over (junior quarterback Drew Lock’s) head,” Castillo said. “I had a little anxiety going in, but it was a great experience.”
He felt comfortable and confident calling out protections of blocking sets for the line, part of his role as center, but the toughest adjustment was hustling to be on the ball when it was set with the Tigers’ breakneck tempo.
“Everyone’s always got something to improve on and work on, but those guys played great,” said sophomore running back Damarea Crockett, who finished with 18 carries for 202 yards with two touchdowns and was particularly impressed with the duo’s double-team blocks and ability to get to the second level.
Big plays bother defensive staff most
Missouri gave up three plays of longer than 50 yards, which tied for the most by any team in FBS during the first week of the season.
The other four teams — East Carolina, Florida International, Louisiana Monroe and Tulsa — all lost by an average margin of 26.8 points.
“As bad as it seemed on the field, it was that bad on video,” Odom said.
Tackling, eye discipline in the secondary, general focus, a few lousy defensive calls — it added up to a disastrous debut for Mizzou’s defense, which ranked dead last in total yards in the SEC last season.
But Odom, who calls the defense, said his biggest worry was the chunk plays.
“If you’re going to be an average to good defense — we’re not even talking about more than that, but just play good, solid football — you have to eliminate explosive plays,” he said.
The Tigers’ primary goal against South Carolina on Saturday will be forcing the Gamecocks to earn their yards.
“The simple fact we gave up a lot of explosive plays was probably the most disappointing,” second-year defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said. “… Anytime you do that, you’re not going to walk off the field feeling good about anything.”
He said the defense is back to square in some respects after utilizing its base call throughout the entire second half — to good effect, allowing Missouri State only 112 total yards and eight points.
“That did not feel good coming out of that one,” Tigers secondary coach/co-defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “Hats off to Missouri State for playing hard and playing well, but I do not think that was an accurate representation of what we’ve been able to accomplish in practice during spring and during fall camp against arguably the best offense in the SEC.”
Depth chart shifts
The only major change to the depth chart is freshman Tyree Gillespie appearing as fellow freshman Jordan Ulmer’s backup at free safety.
It remains to be seen how much Gillespie plays.
“He’s a kid that does not look like a freshman when he comes into the building,” Walters said of Gillespie. “ … Hopefully, we can get him up to speed, so he can contribute on defense and not just on special teams.”
Junior Cam Hilton was the second-string free safety last week, but he must sit out the first half against South Carolina after a targeting penalty in the second half last week.
SEC Nation coming to Mizzou
Missouri doesn’t kick off against South Carolina until 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium, but the campus will be abuzz throughout the day thanks to “SEC Nation.”
The game will air on ESPN2 — the Tigers are 4-8 all-time in games televised on that channel — but the SEC Network’s traveling pregame show will broadcast from MU’s Francis Quadrangle beginning at 9 a.m.
It is the show’s third appearance at Mizzou.