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August 15, 2013

Defense wins again



Despite consistent play from the offense, Missouri's defense once again prevailed 14-10 in the second scrimmage of August on Thursday.

-- There's still no official word on the starter at quarterback, and it's looking likely that there won't be a public announcement until the first week depth chart is released in about ten days. But, Thursday's scrimmage was another clear sign that James Franklin will remain atop the depth chart for the season opener.

Franklin completed 16-of-21 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, a 183.22 rating. Those scores came on a short pass to L'Damian Washington in which he broke a tackle and went 53 yards to the endzone. The second touchdown was a short five-yard toss to Jimmie Hunt in the back of the endzone.

His back-up, Maty Mauk, performed solidly mainly against the top defense for the majority of the scrimmage. After the penultimate period, Mauk was 11-for-16 for 135 yards and two touchdowns. His first score came on a 36-yard strike to Eric Waters, who slipped down the seam after Mauk went play-action from under center. His next score came on an 11-yard pass to Levi Copelin in the redzone drill.

However, Mauk struggled in the two-minute drill to end the day. He was sacked three times as the offensive line struggled to deal with the first-team defensive line, and he threw two interceptions -- one to Ian Simon after an overthrow of Jaleel Clark and the other by Kentrell Brothers on a shorter throw to the sideline. Mauk finished 12-of-20 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and the two interceptions for a 136.00 rating.

Once again, most of Mauk's snaps came against the first-teamd defense. But, there in lies the biggest reason for why it seems Franklin will be the starter -- by my tally, Franklin received 31 snaps with the first-team offense and none with the second unit. Mauk, on the other hand, received four snaps with the first-team offense (based on the offensive line) and the rest with the second-team.

-- It was a solid day all around for the quarterbacks, as Missouri's quintet finished with 548 yards on 47-of-69 passing (68-percent), nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Corbin Berkstresser and Eddie Printz each split the bulk of the reps with the third-string offense, and Printz even had a few snaps with the second-string (once again, based on offensive line, as receivers rotate liberally). Berkstresser finished an efficient seven-of-10 for 69 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers. Printz finished nine-of-15 for 98 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He wasn't as clean as he was in the first scrimmage, but it's clear the staff is vetting him for playing time next year as he moves up the depth chart.

Hosick finished 3-of-3 for 47 yards and a touchdown, but didn't receive much action after the first few opening series.

-- One of the big story lines coming out of the first scrimmage was a good number of high snaps. On Thursday, that problem seemed to be rectified. The only bad snap came when the first-team offense went against the first-team offense and Evan Boehm bounced a snap. Other than that, it was clean -- and that includes back-up Brad McNulty, who received more snaps with the top offense, as well.

"Snap-wise, we did much better," Gary Pinkel said. "Evan certainly is the starter, Brad I think is doing a pretty good job overall, but there's a guy who really responded to it. Like I said before, I hang myself out here just telling you, you should go through a season without a bad snap. That's the way it is.

"He worked real hard. He wasn't perfect, he was a little bit off, but for the most part, it was much better."

-- After a relatively no-show performance last Saturday, Missouri's tight ends showed out on Thursday. Eric Waters and Sean Culkin combined for six catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns (Waters -- 3 catches, 80 yards, 1 TD; Culkin -- 3 catches, 48 yards, 1 TD).

"Both (Waters) and Culkin are doing a really good job," Pinkel said. "I think that the freshman Jason Reese is a really good player who has moved up in the depth a little bit, so it's a pretty good 1-2-3 punch.

"Eric did some good things today, made some nice catches, ran with it afterwards, he had some good blocks. Him being a senior, it's good he's doing some of those things."

Waters had an out-of-nowhere performance. With so much fuss over Culkin this August, Waters -- known mainly for his blocking -- was a big-play machine on Thursday and proved to be more than a handful to bring down after the catch. His receptions went for 36 yards (the touchdown), 22 and 22. On his touchdown catch, Waters lined up attached to the line and found open space down the seam for the easy score.

"A guy like Eric Waters, like I said, his confidence was a little bit rattled coming into camp," Washington said about his teammate. "Spring, he kind of got moved down, but you see a guy like that, he didn't give up on himself and he's coming out here competing. You have to cheer for a guy like that.

"Sean Culkin, a young guy, he's learning to adapt to the speed of the number one defense, he's doing a great job. Guys like that, whenever we can switch it up from four receivers to three receivers and have guys come in and make plays like that, it just adds to the offense. It's great."

--Much attention has been paid to Dorial Green-Beckham's presence on the punt block unit. While special teams periods are not truly "live" in these scrimmages, Green-Beckham did break through the end of the protection to block the first punt attempt of the day. It is easy to see his size and athleticism making a major impact from that spot at some point this season.

-- Junior Gavin Otte, a walk-on from Rolla, continued his strong August with seven more catches for 77 yards and three touchdowns. Over the first two scrimmage, Otte has 16 catches for 151 yards and three scores. Missouri is deep at receiver this year, but there's no question that Otte has been a machine working with the third-team offense.

-- On defense, freshmen Josh Augusta and Aarion Penton each worked mainly with the third-team, but both players saw a handful of plays with the second-team. It's looking more likely that both will play this year, but Pinkel talked about the process for making that decision after the scrimmage:

"Next two weeks, we'll make a decision," Pinkel said. "We analyze that today, and we'll analyze it again. We analyze it everyday but we'll keep going until -- final decisions are made on that, generally, after next Thursday. Sometimes we actually went a couple weeks into the season and working with the young players to see if he makes the progress to keep him there. If he's not, we back him off."

QUICK HITS: Darius White rebounded from two early drops to finish strong with three catches for 60 yards, including a tough jumping catch in double coverage along the sideline ... L'Damian Washington was a popular target and he caught five passes for 92 yards and a score ... Ernest Payton saw playing time with the first and second-string defense, and he stepped in front of a pass from Printz in zone coverage for an interception ... Kony Ealy had two sacks and was unblockable during the two-minute drill late in the scrimmage ... Simon's interception ended the two-minute drill for the second-team offense, but it came on a fourth-down heave that the coaching staff usually wants to see batted down for field position ... The battle at WILL linebacker seems over, as Brothers received the large majority of first-team reps over Darvin Ruise.

PLAY OF THE DAY: Mauk forced a throw into double coverage during the two-minute drill, intended for Darius White. A defender nearly picked off the pass, but it deflected into the air and White brought it down for a first-down to extend the drive.

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