COLUMBIA — When Maty Mauk escapes the pocket, he spins away from defensive linemen while trying to keep his eyes downfield.
It’s something Missouri coaches have tried to keep him from doing. For one, Mauk could step up in the pocket instead and try to throw down the middle of the field. Second, that blind turn is a great way to get crunched by a blitzer.
But Mauk spun on Tuesday during the Tigers’ abbreviated scrimmage to prepare for Saturday’s Black & Gold Game. Eyes downfield, he scrambled left and motioned for his receiver to go long, letting fly a heave aimed at Wesley Leftwich, all alone on the five-yard line on the right side.
Plunk. A 50-yard bomb spiked on Faurot Field’s turf and unleashed a small cloud of rubber pellets. Leftwich lay next to the ball.
The Missouri offense is groping its way through spring practice, while new defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s defense has shown itself a juggernaut.
“It’s been like that as long as I’ve been here at Mizzou,” said senior safety Ian Simon. “The defense has dominated, and that’s just what we do. It’s a standard, it’s a mindset, it’s a chip on your shoulder, whatever you want to call it. It’s how we approach the game.”
Through a scrimmage and a half, the defense had allowed one touchdown, a 65-yard dash by tailback Russell Hansbrough. On Tuesday, that finally changed when Mauk hit Leftwich on third-and-goal from the 12 yard-line. Granted, that drive started at the 20 during red zone drills.
The offense is looking for a change come 4 p.m. Saturday. Public intrasquad scrimmages are supposed to be wide-open and loose, filled with fanfare and excitement. Like when South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney came off the bench mid-play in the Gamecocks’ 2013 spring game to catch a touchdown.
Odds are there won’t be those kind of offensive fireworks at Memorial Stadium, but the Tigers wouldn’t mind some big plays. To finish Tuesday’s scrimmage — a play after Mauk missed Leftwich from 50-yards out — Mauk connected with J’Mon Moore in single coverage for a score.
Contrast that play — one that sent the entire offense whooping and hollering in the back of the end zone — with Mauk’s miss a moment before and 10 drops from wide receivers.
During the first scrimmage on April 4, quarterbacks threw seven interceptions. Receivers had eight drops.
“There’s not much continuity there,” said coach Gary Pinkel.
Well, maybe there is continuity, just not the kind Pinkel wants to see.
It’s left observers hamstrung in assessing the Tigers. Is Missouri struggling on offense, or is the defense that good?
All 11 of the Tigers’ defensive starters have earned considerable playing time in years past, including a secondary back in full force and two of three linebackers returning.
Missouri has 10.5 sacks through both spring scrimmages. Defensive ends Charles Harris and Marcus Loud, who both sat behind NFL-bound ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray last season, have 5.5 of them.
“We know how good our defense is and every practice we come out here, we just want to step up and play just as physical as them,” Hansbrough said.
The offensive line returns four starters, plus standout sophomore Clay Rhodes. Junior college transfer Malik Cuellar could also earn a starting spot.
The wide receiver corps is the only unit on the Missouri depth chart that lacks, well, depth.
Sophomore Nate Brown has been injured throughout spring practice. Leftwich and Moore combined only have five career catches between them.
“Any time you have young receivers, you have a batch of young guys, there’s growing pains,” Pinkel said. “You like everything to come out perfect, but it doesn’t work out that way.”
Supervising editor is Wade Livingston.