Mizzou held its spring game Saturday, giving fans their first look at what they hope is a new and improved Tigers squad.
Of particular interest was how the defense would look and who would emerge as the top backup for QB Drew Lock.
On a day when the first- and second-team offenses combined for 24 points, there were plenty of positives, but also some issues from last season that carried over to this spring.
Here’s a look at five things the Tigers did well Saturday, as well as two areas that still need more work before the 2017 season kicks off this fall.
5 things I liked
1. The Jack Lowary-to-Emanuel Hall connection
Many expected redshirt freshman Micah Wilson to put his stamp on the backup quarterback position, but redshirt sophomore Jack Lowary put that storyline to rest in the first half.
Lowary found Hall for two long touchdowns — one from 43 yards and one from 38 yards out — showing off some impressive chemistry.
Both scores came off long throws from Lowary, allowing Hall to run under them and make beautiful end-zone grabs.
Lowary still has some work to do if he wants to hold off Wilson, but he can point to the spring game as a big reason he should be the primary backup.
2. The emergence of RB Dawson Downing
The Tigers didn’t give any carries to starting RB Damarea Crockett, so Downing, a former walk-on, got to show what he can do.
In the first half, he received six carries and made the most of them, running for 54 yards and a touchdown against the Mizzou defense.
With Crockett, Ish Witter and Nate Strong providing a strong trio of running backs for the 2017 season, Downing likely won’t see much playing time, but he’s proven he can make an impact when called upon.
3. Tucker McCann made a long field goal
It’s safe to say there weren’t many kickers in the country who struggled as much as McCann last season, when the freshman missed half of his 12 field-goal attempts and four extra-point tries as well.
So seeing him go out in the first half of the spring game and boot a 47-yard field goal likely made many Mizzou fans (and coaches, for that matter) smile.
4. The defense is still opportunistic
Though the Mizzou defense struggled mightily in 2016, the Tigers still managed to force several timely turnovers.
On Saturday, that proved to be the case again, as OLB Grant Jones snagged an interception on a Micah Wilson pass and S Ronnell Perkins picked off a Lowary pass on back-to-back possessions in the second half.
The defense is going to need to play much better in 2017 if the Tigers are going to compete for bowl eligibility, but it’s nice to see them continue to pile up the turnovers.
5. Getting the fans involved
The Mizzou spring game had an atmosphere that was more fun than some of the other business-like spring games other SEC school put on.
Fans and students were invited on the field to participate in contests like kicking a field goal, catching a punt from Corey Fatony and racing S DeMarkus Acy.
The game doesn’t count toward any sort of standings, and after a rough couple of seasons, getting the fans involved in the spring festivities is a good way to show off the improving program and build excitement for the fall.
2 things that need work
1. The drops are back
The Mizzou receivers were plagued by drops last season and the spring game didn’t do much to ease fans’ concerns Saturday.
On one series in the first half, both Dimetrios Mason and Johnathon Johnson dropped passes to stall what was a promising drive.
Lock doesn’t do much to help his receivers, as he is still searching for some touch, but it’s a receiver’s job to catch a ball that hits him in the hands, and the Tigers continue to search for consistency in that department.
2. Too many receivers got behind the secondary
It seemed like every time a Mizzou quarterback attempted a deep pass, the receiver was running free behind the secondary.
Obviously, it wasn’t going to be easy to replace longtime starting CBs Aarion Penton and John Gibson, but it would have been nice to see a better effort from the young defensive backs.
The first things you learn as a defensive back are to keep the receiver in front of you and not to get caught looking into the backfield. The Mizzou secondary did both on multiple occasions on Saturday.