What I liked from Mizzou’s spring game … and what needs work

Barry Odom
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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  • Good summary, but speed has been the primary recruiting criteria for Heupel and Odom and it may not be realistic to expect anybodies secondary to stay in goal side positions.

  • Honestly, not even trying to be mean. Do Mizzou fans even expect or think they’ll win even 2 or 3 S.E.C. games this year? I follow recruiting and have noticed Missou’s classes are way way down there. Like does a realistic Mizzou fan think they’ll even get that 6th win in order to get a bowl game?

    • Wolfman aside, they are a pretty realistic and solid fanbase, at least from what I have seen. I’m not a Missouri fan, but I would think they think they can get to the six wins. They do return most of their offense and they were explosive at times, but mainly against weaker competition. They should have hope.

      • First, thanks for participating in the discussion. Missouri fans know what a fairly good staff of coaches are because they’ve had several good staffs. People who turn over their brain to a handful of promoters trying to guess what a young man will become from age 16 to age 24 based on what he did from age 10 to age 16 will always be in the dark, reference Auburn winning the West and Missouri winning the East in 2013. Both finishing ranked in the top 5. Smart people will never try to predict what a football team will do, It’s really up to the young men and their coaches. We can prove this very easily if LSUMC and b.l.d. make a list of how every team in the SEC will finish this year.

        • “People who turn over their brain to a handful of promoters trying to guess what a young man will become from age 16 to age 24 based on what he did from age 10 to age 16 will always be in the dark…”

          Teams who don’t recruit well always use the JJ Watt excuse, as I call it. Sure there are misses when it comes to predicting how these kids will develop, but there is a reason the teams finishing in the top 5 of these recruiting rankings are the same ones that compete for championships every season. Recruiting is the life-blood of college football and the SEC is the best as usual. It’s hard to get a leg up when finishing with a top 20 recruiting class is only good enough for middle of the pack or worse in your own conference.

        • the cause and effect here are not as simple as you’ve been brainwashed to think. The exceptions are less often “accidents” than you think. The “successes” are more often the result of coaching (independent from the stars) than you think.

        • How bout this: I guarantee that every national champion for the rest of history will be a team consistently ranked inside the top 15 in recruiting. Like I said. You don’t see Bama or Ohio St. trying to make the “Diamonds in the rough” argument for a reason.

      • You still don’t get, or are dodging reality. Very few 16 year olds can carry their position at the college level. Even some of the 5 star rated recruits can’t do it at 18, ie. D.G.Beckum. Teams that win national championships have some combination of the following: great coaching staffs=head, C, positons, strength, fitness, great facilities, well planned schedules, the best training staffs, doctors, surgeons, excellent tutor systems, super NCAA compliance staff, big budget to spend, the best residence halls / dining, and a lot more that has zero to do with star ratings. After all this development fans have little idea how the star rating translated into success or failure.

    • Well – not going to be mean in my response.

      The short answer is “Yes – we expect to win more than 2 or 3 SEC games.”

      We return one of the most explosive offenses in the SEC; dynamic WRs; a 1,000 yard rusher; and a rock solid O-line.

      Defense has junked last year’s idiotic two-gap system and gone back to the same scheme that had us ranked as the #6 overall defense in the nation two years ago. CB remains a point of concern, but overall the group looks much improved.

      Mizzou had a solid recruiting class this year, and filled some holes with JC transfers. I will readily acknowledge we don’t get in the same recruiting neighborhood as Georgia; Tennessee; Florida; and others do – but the fact remains that we’ve won more SEC East titles in the last five years than those programs. Put another way – if all it took is “talented” ranked recruiting classes to win an SEC title in the SEC, Auburn; Ole Miss; Georgia; and Tennessee would be co-champions every year.

      Now – have you figured out a way to beat Clemson yet?

      • not to mention ranked 5th in the nation twice in the past decade’s final poll and beat #4.

      • You have also managed to not sniff a bowl game in the last two years…… Maybe you can protest your way in next season? If you can’t win on the field try a hunger strike or something.

        • And of course, actually it’s 5 division championships in the past decade, with a good record of landing grads in the NFL. And the SEC West you want to believe you get some kind of personal credit for making the cheerleading groupie squad over…. they went 1 win and 1 loss with Missouri in Missouri’s biggest rebuilding year. Thanks for making us laugh, whatever you do, don’t quit trolling Missouri stories.

        • Look – we get it. Alabama is a great football program with one of the best teams money can buy. In comparison, Mizzou doesn’t stack up … but then again, few programs can or would. Clemson, for example, went through decades of mediocrity until they got the right guy at the helm … and then they proceeded to *gasp* beat your ass in the National Championship game.

          Point is, college ball runs in cycles. Alabama is on an incredible ‘up’ cycle due to one man – Nick Saban. Nick Saban is a fantastic college coach, and, unlike most of the rest of the SEC, can take a top recruiting class and turn out a top football team.

          The thing to remember is Alabama floundered for over a decade prior to Nick Saban … or have you forgotten Bill Curry; Mike Dubose; Dennis Franchione; Mike Price; Mike Shula; and Joe Kines? Saban’s 67 this year. Sooner or later, he’ll retire; or have a performance slip; or the boosters will fall in love with the latest ‘new guy’; or just leave. At that point, you get the joy of rebuilding …

        • HJtiger you must be wolf man jr. you both talk out the side of your face like car salesman. You
          Pretend to compliment while trying to make a back door insult. Bama had more NC, more wins, more Conf titles, and a winning record over every team in the SEC prior to Saban joining Bama. So sure they had a down period but to act like Bama wasn’t one of the top programs in the nation or that they can’t replace Saban is silly. Don’t you have a hunger strike to attend?…… Congratulations wolfman you beat Arkansas. You still managed to not play in a bowl and how bad did the east champ get beat in the SECCG? Nobody in the SEC cares you won a division title in the Big 12 and nobody but Missouri fans brag about winning division titles in the SEC.

        • BamaTime … I’d hate – just hate – to have you go away with the wrong impression, so hang with me here while I pull out those pesky facts and illuminate what I said.

          What I said:
          1. Alabama is a great football program – that kind of accounts for all the SEC championships and National Championships and gives credit where credit is due. Since you don’t like that statement and seem to think I’m talking out of the side of my neck like a car salesman, let me help you further. You’ve had four great coaches – Wallace Wade; Frank Thomas; Bear Bryant; Nick Saban. The rest? Meh …

          2. Alabama has the best team money can buy.
          – Nick Saban is the highest-paid college coach in the USA.
          – Alabama has the most expensive coaching staff.
          – Your university has poured millions of $$ into weight rooms, dorms, stadium and facilities
          … in other words, you have the best team money can buy.

          3. Nick Saban is the reason you are winning, and he’s the best coach in college football. Hard to argue with seven SEC championships and four national championships in nine years – not to mention he’s the only coach in FBS history to win a National title with two schools.

          4. It’s hard rebuilding, and Alabama is in for some fun when Saban moves on. In the years AFTER Bear Bryant and before Nick Saban, 1983 – 2007, Alabama won three SEC championships and one National title … Doing the math for you that’s roughly one SEC championship every eight years. Taking it further, the six coaches during that time compiled an overall winning percentage of 62% – impressive.

          HOWEVER, make the cut line after Gene Stallings retired in 1996, and from 1997-2007, Alabama compiled a winning percentage of 48% with no SEC championships and no National titles. Now, I know you don’t like the word “floundered” but a .481 winning percentage over a decade of competition encompassing six coaches fits that word pretty nicely.

          “There are lies; dammed lies; and then there are statistics.” Look it up, do your research … and then get back to your ill-informed trolling and juvenile name calling. In the meantime, go away little boy … adults are trying to have a conversation here.

        • Just try to keep your identity clear and everyone else’s identity clear. You have nothing to do with Nick Saban or AL. You say you live in Missouri… And you think that other bloggers win / lose football games and attend protests. You need some help. Your history of comments attempt to insult everyone, You zero out your own credibility (and some people at you) when you say things like “nobody wants a team they follow to win a division”.

        • *some people laugh at you

        • Saying a college team is the best money can buy is not a compliment….. Car salesman….

        • Wolfman… You’re a dumba$$. I said nobody in the SEC except Missouri brags about winning their division. I haven’t seen a Florida fan mention it once but you’re still stroking that ego from how many years ago?….. Your history of comments shows how stupid you are. Nothing you post ever applies and you make up $hit as you go. Missouri is an embarrassment from ferguson to the hunger strike that cost the University its leadership….. Stupid and gullible is a Missouri trait it seem.

        • once again you can only confirm what I just wrote

        • Once again you have nothing you can say….

        • always same m.o. for you, drink heavily, grab at straws, nobody cares

  • Hj… After actually reading what you wrote you can add your post to the lies category as Bama won the SEC In 1999….. So even when posting a wall of text you still can’t get it right.