Missouri held its first scrimmage of fall camp on Faurot Field Saturday morning. The defense came out with the win, 16-12 in Mizzou's modified scoring system. But more importantly, Gary Pinkel was pleased with the work put in by the first units on offense and defense.
"Anytime you come out of scrimmages and you're playing against yourself, one side makes plays and the other side sometimes makes mistakes," Pinkel said. "Too many penalties, typical for first scrimmages, but I thought the hitting was good, I thought we were competitive.
"Overall, one offense and one defense had a pretty good day overall. I think your'e always encouraged by that."
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The Tigers' top defense didn't allow a touchdown all day. The bigger story for many Mizzou fans, though, will be the performance of James Franklin. In his first live action since the Independence Bowl, Franklin completed his first nine passes for 111 yards and finished 18 for 22 for 228.
"Offense, of course, we always want to do regular scoring so when we score a touchdown we get seven points, things like that," the quarterback said. "Overall I thought we did great today, we competed on both sides of the ball."
Franklin showed no lingering effects from spring surgery to repair a torn labrum. He had a couple of passes running left and throwing across his body that were completed for nice gains and used his full complement of receivers in leading the offense to a 26-yard field goal at the end of practice in the two-minute drill. But it was what he wasn't able to do that Franklin wanted to talk about.
"Defense, we're in the red zone, they look for the Tank to run the ball," Franklin said thumping his chest. "I give them a hard time, I was talking to Will (Ebner) over there and I was like, 'Yeah, you're lucky the tank wasn't out there.' I said they have the little running backs, but once I come in it's a different story. I was giving them a hard time, we're in the red zone, I'd like to be able to get hits so it's kind of like a game situation where we could run it in."
"He always jokes around about that," Ebner said. "He thinks he's got the upper hand because he's a pound or two heavier, but that ain't got nothing to do with it."
Franklin was chipper after the scrimmage, joking with reporters about his doppelganger, U.S. Olympic decathlete Ashton Eaton, who won gold in London earlier this week.
"You know, I was really focused on my gold," he said when asked about his performance in the scrimmage. "I think it's a nine thousand dollar tax on the gold medal. They said I'd have to pay that probably."
Who is this kid? The most polite quarterback in America joking with reporters, thumping his chest and referring to himself by his own nickname? Is this a new Franklin?
"No, sir," he said with a laugh. "I was just messing around."
Same James Franklin. Off the field and, where it counts, on it.
Forget Me Not
There has been plenty of focus on Franklin, and on the offensive line where injuries had only center Mitch Morse and left tackle Elvis Fisher at their projected pre-season positions on Saturday. A lot of buzz surrounds a receiving corps that has loads of potential. But perhaps the forgotten man in fall camp has been tailback Kendial Lawrence.
On Saturday, Lawrence reminded everyone what he can do. On Mizzou's first series, he caught two passes for 23 yards and had a nice eight-yard scamper. He ended the drive with a one-yard plunge for a touchdown. On the day, Lawrence had 37 yards and a touchdown rushing and 50 more yards receiving.
"I like being involved in it all," the senior tailback said. "I love this team and I love this game. Any chance to help my teammates out, I'm willing to do anything."
"He's got good hands. I don't know if you remember his freshman year we played at Nevada and he ran like a 23-yard out route on third and 15 or something and he jumped in the air about as high as you can jump," Gary Pinkel said. "Here's a young tailback out there making a catch like a wide receiver. he just has got really good hands. In our scheme, our running backs, the acceleration and speed is hugely important and also the ability if we get you on the perimeter we can throw you the football to be able to catch the ball and he certainly can do that."
Lawrence came out of fall camp as Missouri's starter last season, but broke his leg in practice the week before the game at Arizona State. Henry Josey took over the starting job and ran for 1,168 yards before a season-ending knee injury against Texas. Lawrence again became the starter and flourished. He ran for 106 yards against Texas, 94 against Texas Tech, 63 against Kansas and 108 and a touchdown in the Independence Bowl against North Carolina.
"I was really confident," Lawrence said. "Pretty much the whole season that I played, I was still injured and I couldn't be my best, but coming to the bowl game I was pretty much almost healed and I felt good about myself. I gained a lot of confidence off that."
As a senior, Lawrence's role as the Tigers' top tailback seems to be much more secure. But he is taking nothing for granted.
"You always want to separate yourself," he said. "Me feeling like that as of right now, no, because I want to practice harder and focus on the small things and get better. I'm still working to be the best that I can."
Healthy Ebner Shining in Camp
Will Ebner lost all of last season to injury after suffering a concussion in the opener against Miami (OH). It has been a common theme throughout his career. After playing in every game as a freshman, Ebner missed action in both 2009 and 2010 (a season in which he played less than full strength throughout due to a foot injury) before sitting out last year. But he is healthy and performing at a high level through the first dozen practices.
"He's practicing every day, I'm real happy for him. Just knock on wood, he can stay healthy," Pinkel said. "That kind of experience and we also know how physical he is. You get him and Andrew Wilson on the field at the same time, you've got two really physical linebackers and if he can stay healthy, that'd be great."
For inspiration, Ebner doesn't have to reach far in the memory bank. Luke Lambert, who also played middle linebacker for Mizzou, battled injuries for most of his first five years on campus. As a senior, he finally stayed healthy. Lambert finished second on the team with 82 tackles including a team-high 11.5 for a loss.
"Luke's one of my good buddies and it was great being able to see him do that. That's something that I would like to do. Obviously nobody expects or wants to get hurt," Ebner said. "It was great to see Luke be able to do that, come out and have a great season. I'm looking forward to having a great one as well."
Ebner is known for his helmet-jarring hits. But it is his work in pass coverage that has perhaps stood out through camp. On Saturday, that aspect of his game was on full display. First, he covered wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham 20 yards downfield. Ebner was right with the high school all-American and the attempted pass bounced off his back and into the hands of safety Kenronte Walker.
"I felt it. I didn't feel it very hard. It hit my low back," Ebner said. "I turned around and saw Kenronte pick it off and I was like 'Did that just happen?'"
Later, Ebner had coverage on Kendial Lawrence on a swing pass out of the backfield. The linebacker stayed right with the tailback, dragging him down for a minimal gain. Ebner finally is healthy. Perhaps he can follow Lambert's path and make his senior season in black and gold rather than red one to remember.
Odds and Ends
There was plenty of action during the longest scrimmage of camp. Here are a few things that stood out:
*Green-Beckham and Levi Copelin both had "welcome to college football" moments courtesy of E.J. Gaines and Daniel Easterly, respectively. Those two were the biggest hits on a day where Pinkel praised the physicality.
"There were some great hits out there and that was good and the good news is the guys that got hit just popped back up," Pinkel said. "I look for that. They didn't lay around the ground, they popped up and at least one of them had the ball in their hands when they did it. You like the physical play."
*Cortland Browning had a couple of near takeaways. He laid out for a diving interception on the sideline, but landed out of bounds. Later, he nearly recovered a Marcus Murphy fumble, but the ball squirted out of bounds again.
*Evan Boehm spent plenty of time with the first-team offense at left guard. Offensive linemen are generally most noticed when they don't do well and it didn't appear Boehm had many problems.
*Jimmie Hunt, Kerwin Stricker and L'Damian Washington all had plays of more than 20 yards. The first two caught short passes and broke multiple tackles. Washington went up high and fully extended to haul in a long pass down the seam from Franklin in the two-minute drill setting up a field goal.
*Kony Ealy had another strong day, picking up a sack and making second and third-down stops on a goal line stand that started at the two-yard line.
*The Tigers did not miss a field goal. Andrew Baggett and Trey Barrow were each 5-for-5 and Brad Clements made both of his attempts. Baggett is currently atop the depth chart, but Barrow will push him all camp.
*The final play of the day drew an audible gasp and then a groan from the crowd. On fourth down from near midfield with only six seconds left, Maty Mauk had to heave a Hail Mary. The target was Green-Beckham, who created room between two defenders. He bumped one, but had the ball in his hands. The defensive back fell down and it briefly appeared the Tigers would have a 50-yard touchdown on the final play of the workout. However, Green-Beckham couldn't hang on and the ball fell to the turf. Green-Beckham did have four receptions in his first scrimmage as a Tiger.
Mizzou will not practice on Sunday. The Tigers will be back at it on Monday at 7:15 for the first of two practices. PowerMizzou.com will have a full report including any potential depth chart changes after the scrimmage.
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