PowerMizzou - Ten Takeaways from the Black and Gold Game
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Ten Takeaways from the Black and Gold Game

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Missouri finished up spring football with the Black & Gold game on Saturday afternoon. PowerMizzou.com offers up ten things that stuck with us after the spring game.

FIVE THOUGHTS FROM MITCHELL FORDE

1. Kelly Bryant's legs will be a weapon. As part of his impressive debut Saturday, Missouri’s new starting quarterback showed that he can extend plays with his dynamic running ability. He’s accurate on the run, too. He made a couple nice completions while rolling out of the pocket or escaping pressure. Barry Odom said after the game his running ability will be even more of a factor when he’s allowed to break tackles, as his size will make him hard to bring down. Bryant may not have the arm of former quarterback Drew Lock, but his legs will provide the offense with an added dimension this season. It appears a former Tiger had the same thought.

Bryant showed accuracy on Saturday, but also an ability to extend plays with his legs
Bryant showed accuracy on Saturday, but also an ability to extend plays with his legs (Jordan Kodner)

2. Nick Bolton is “the guy” at weakside linebacker. Bolton and Cale Garrett were the only linebackers to start the game on the Black roster, suggesting they are head and shoulders above the competition at their respective spots. After the game, Garrett and Odom raved about Bolton’s IQ and the progress he has made during the spring. Odom said Bolton has exceeded expectations. Bolton played well into the fourth quarter Saturday, longer than most of the starters, which Garrett said was important to give him the most possible experience in a game-like setting.

“He’s our starter, he’s our guy,” Garrett said. “He’s a really good football player. But at the same time, he was only a freshman last year, which is sometimes hard to believe, I know. And I think just being able to get more snaps under your belt in live situations can contribute to your development more than anything.”

3. The left guard spot is Larry Borom’s to lose.

Saturday confirmed what spring practices have suggested: Borom has separated himself from Case Cook in the race to replace Kevin Pendleton in the starting lineup. Borom started for the Black offense Saturday, while Cook began the game with the Gold team and only ended up playing with the first-team unit at center, after starter Trystan Colon-Castillo went down with an ankle injury. Certainly nothing is set in stone until fall camp concludes, but the starting spot appears to be Borom’s to lose.

Tucker McCann emerges from spring as Missouri's starting punter
Tucker McCann emerges from spring as Missouri's starting punter (Jordan Kodner)

4. Barrett Banister will play a role this season.

With starting slot receiver Johnathon Johnson out of the lineup due to a sore hamstring Saturday, Banister played with the starting offense, and played well. He led all receivers with eight catches for 73 yards. Newcomer Jonathan Nance complimented Banister, saying he “catches everything.” The slot position is crowded for Missouri, with Johnson and Dominic Gicinto both coming off solid seasons, but Banister, who received a scholarship during the offseason, has produced every time he’s seen the field. Expect the Tigers to find a way to get him involved even if Johnson and Gicinto are healthy.

5. Missouri still doesn’t have a punter.

Placekicker Tucker McCann took the first punt during Saturday’s scrimmage, suggesting neither Josh Dodge or Sean Koetting have shown enough to earn the starting job. None of the three appeared to have a particularly poor punt Saturday, although special teams weren’t played with full teams on the field, but it seems unlikely that the Tiger coaching staff wants McCann to handle the punting, kickoff and placekicking duties this season. Look for the team to bring in a few more walk-ons to compete for the starting punting job during the summer.

FIVE THOUGHTS FROM GABE DeARMOND

1. Jarvis Ware is going to be a breakout player. I'm not sure that the sophomore from Florida is going to start...but I'm also not sure he won't. With Adam Sparks out this spring, Ware is solidly in position as Missouri's third cornerback and seems to have put himself in a position to push starters DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes for a starting job. Ryan Walters told me yesterday that Ware's increased playing time wasn't because of Sparks' injury, but because they just couldn't keep Ware off the field.

"He’s been blessed with some size and measurables that lend themselves to having special traits," Walters said. "If he can maximize his potential, I think he’s got a chance to be a special guy.

Jarvis Ware will see a lot of playing time in 2019
Jarvis Ware will see a lot of playing time in 2019 (Jordan Kodner)

2. Special teams may not be any better...but Saturday didn't prove that. Missouri missed two short field goals. And that's certainly reason to have some pause. But sometimes kicks miss. From what we could tell, the snaps and the holds seemed fine, which is actually encouraging. The spring game is no situation to judge punts, kickoffs, coverage or returns. So, sure, it's possible that Andy Hill's group isn't any better than last year (when it seemingly could not have been any worse). But it's possible the special teams have improved, will improve more and just happened to have a couple of hiccups at the wrong time when fans could actually watch.

3. Larry Rountree III is the most important player on the roster. Rountree carried nine times for 53 yards on Saturday. He showed off a blend of power and speed and looked like he hadn't missed a beat coming off his 204-yard performance in the Liberty Bowl three-and-a-half months ago. Damarea Crockett told us on the podcast last week that Rountree "is going to set some records." We agree. He enters this season with 1,919 rushing yards in two seasons. He ran for 1,216 last year and wasn't even a full-time starter all year. If he can go for just a tick more than that this season, he'll be the second-leading rusher in Missouri history. He currently sits 1,279 yards behind Zack Abron (Brad Smith is 1,100 clear of everyone). Rountree is going to get plenty of opportunity. The Tigers have plenty of weapons on offense, but the RPO and the zone read are going to be staples of this offense and with Bryant as a threat to do damage on the ground, opposing defenses will be in a bit of a pick your poison position. If they pick Rountree, they may regret it.

Rountree is the clear leader in Missouri's backfield
Rountree is the clear leader in Missouri's backfield (Jordan Kodner)

4. Missouri doesn't know who the backup quarterback is. And that's a little bit scary. We've just assumed all spring that Taylor Powell was the No. 2 quarterback and Lindsey Scott Jr. was either No. 3 or on his way to transferring. But Odom said that wasn't the case on Saturday.

"Taylor and Lindsey battled all spring. If you go back and look at the entire body of work, both made a lot of improvement, did some good things," Odom said. "We’ve got to find out which one it is. It wouldn’t be a truthful answer to say today, if we were playing this week, this is our backup."

Derek Dooley told me both did enough during the spring to prove that Missouri was happy to have them on the roster. He said he wasn't disappointed in either one, but that both would probably be disappointed in the way the spring game went.

Scott went 6-for-11 for 38 yards. He did run for nine yards on five carries (which probably could have been more in a regular game situation where he had to actually be tackled). Powell was 10-for-20 for 142 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The numbers alone might indicate Powell had the upper hand on Saturday, but anybody that watched the game would probably disagree. He struggled from the start, throwing a bad interception on his first pass and struggling to find the mark until late in the day. Plus, Powell was facing the backup defense while Scott did his work against starters. Powell should have looked quite a bit better than Scott. He didn't. Powell probably still wins the job...but it doesn't appear to be a slam dunk right now.

5. Missouri fans are willing to give this team a chance. The attendance was estimated around 18,000 yesterday. No, it's not going to rival the numbers of out Knoxville or Lincoln on Saturday, but so what? Spring football has never been a thing in Columbia the way it has in a few places and that's okay. For Mizzou, that was an encouraging number. Not the most they've ever had, but better than most years.

Barry Odom hasn't been shy about saying he likes this team. It's about the talent on the field, but it's also about the locker room and the people he has in the program. Odom said yesterday that Missouri's players have really grown to support each other and pull in the same direction and "that's who we are now." What was left unsaid is that isn't who they were earlier in Odom's tenure.

Now, liking each other and good chemistry doesn't necessarily translate to wins. That's got to be done on the field. Missouri has taken steps over the last three years, increasing its win total every year under Odom. But it hasn't made that breakthrough to the next level. Four to seven to eight is nice, but it feels like this is the year to see an even bigger step. The talent is in place, the coach should be past many of the growing pains and the schedule is relatively friendly.

We've talked for years about how Missouri gets its fans back in the seats. The athletic department has taken some nice steps, lowering ticket prices, reaching out to students, putting together a number of events on campus on Saturday and marketing the game well. But the best advertisement is winning. If Missouri does that a lot this year, some of the fans that have left will come back (or be replaced by new ones). The start is the key. Odom is 6-12 before Homecoming in three seasons. By mid-October every year, fans have known that the Tigers weren't really playing for anything important. That has to change this season. Missouri needs to open with a win at Wyoming. It needs to beat either South Carolina or West Virginia (if not both). The Tigers host Ole Miss on October 12th for Homecoming. It is the last of five straight home games. If Missouri goes into that one 4-1 or better, Memorial Stadium should be full. The fans seem willing to give this team a chance. Missouri can't take away their reason for hope in the first month of the season.