Defense shines for Missouri

Saturday, April 18, 2009

— In the final showing of Missouri Tigers spring football, the defense, not the offense, came away with bragging rights headed into summer workouts.

The gold squad rode a strong showing in the first half on its way to a 68-40 victory over the black squad in the annual Black and Gold game on Saturday at Faurot Field.

"I was really pleased with that side of the ball, especially the (first-string) defense," coach Gary Pinkel said. "Ending the spring with that kind of performance from those guys is really comforting and something to build on."

Quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Jimmy Costello, each vying to take the spot left by former Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Daniel, split most of the first half repetitions behind center with neither signal caller able to find the end zone.

Gabbert had a good start to his second drive, making a costly pass across the field that was intercepted by freshman cornerback Kip Edwards deep into the opposing territory.

"The thing about Blaine is that his arm is so strong that he can make that throw, so I think defenses are going to cheat on that for that reason," Pinkel said. "But that's something he definitely has to work on."

Gabbert, a sophomore from St. Louis, came the closer of the two early in the second quarter. Gabbert completed two of three passes on the drive for 23 yards. The big chunk of yards on the drive came on a wide receiver reverse that sophomore Jerrell Jackson took for 30 yards down the defenses 26 yard line.

After converting a third and two from the six yard line, the gold squad produced three straight negative plays, forcing the black squad to settle for a 37-yard field goal from senior place-kicker Tanner Mills.

"When you get down there in the trenches, coach (defensive coordinator Dave) Steckel really wants us to ‘place that flag,’" defensive end Brian Coulter said. "To him, it's like war and every play is a battle."

With Missouri's special scrimmage scoring system, which awards the offense points for long plays and first downs, Mills' field goal was the only traditional scoring Missouri did in the first half going into the intermission down 40-19.

Costello, a former walk-on, finally got the offense into the end zone on his first possession of the second half, taking a designed run in from two yards out.

Despite leading the offense to its only touchdown, not too much of a dent was made in the depth charts. Having the most on-field experience of any current Missouri quarterback, Gabbert has ended the spring as the No. 1 quarterback.

"Both quarterbacks have really come along nicely this spring and Blaine Gabbert has retained the number one spot so far," Pinkel said. "But bring on the competition. Who doesn't love competition? I know I do."

After winning 10 games in back-to-back seasons, the Tigers have to replace 14 starters, 13 of which are on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

"We have a lot to work on right now. I mean a lot to work on," Pinkel said. "But I think we really have the opportunity to be a really good football team once the opening game against Illinois rolls around."