On March 12, Mizzou Football held its first spring practice and began its pursuit of the SEC Championship. Here we are, a month later, and less than a week a way from the Tigers’ annual Black and Gold Spring Game.
On Saturday, April 19, fans will be able to get their first look at the 2014 Mizzou Tigers. A barrage of rising stars are ready for the season to start. A solid mix of proven veterans, experienced underclassmen and talented newcomers will look to keep the momentum rolling.
Mizzou returns 11 starters in 2014: four on offense, five on defense, and both specialists. Overall, there are 19 Tigers with starting experience, so this squad has a seasoned feel to it.
Here’s what fans have to look forward to from the defending Cotton Bowl Champions.
Mizzou had one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the nation in 2013. The Tigers ranked 13th nationally in scoring at 39.1 points per game, and 16th nationally in total offense, averaging 490.7 yards per game.
The four starters that are returning, coupled with the talented mix of newcomers and experienced veterans, will provide plenty of offensive firepower.
Sophomore Maty Mauk will take over as quarterback. Mauk helped secure a win at Georgia last season when James Franklin was forced to leave the game with a separated shoulder. He then started the next four games, leading Mizzou to a 3-1 mark in that span. In those five games, Mauk had an outstanding 11-to-2 TD-to-INT ratio, including a school-record tying five TD tosses in the win at Kentucky.
Junior all-SEC candidate center Evan Boehm, senior Mitch Morse and junior Connor McGovern return in 2014 to protect Mauk up front. Boehm will be in his third year as a starter, Morse has started all but one game in the past two seasons, and McGovern started all 14 games in 2013.
Senior Anthony Gatti and junior Brad McNulty also have starting experience. Other names to watch out for include junior tackle Taylor Chappell, sophomore guard Jordan Williams, redshirt freshman tackle Clay Rhodes, and true freshman Mike Fairchild.
Much of Mizzou’s explosive offense in 2013 came from its three-man tailback crew. NFL-bound Henry Josey led the way, rushing for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns, but senior Marcus Murphy and junior Russell Hansbrough packed a formidable punch as well. Both rushed for more than 600 yards and averaged more than 6.0 yards per attempt while also finding the end zone 13 times between them. In 2014, the veterans will be joined in the backfield by talented sophomore Morgan Steward.
Mizzou also has plenty of seasoned veteran weapons who are ready to step up and take over right where they left off. Seniors Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt, who each had more than 20 catches last season, are big play threats and will provide leadership to a group of youngsters looking to make their mark as well.
Senior Darius White, a former Texas transfer, is also ready to make an impact. He played in all 14 games in 2013, and is a prime contender to start in 2014. Others who could see significant playing time include junior Wesley Leftwich, sophomore Levi Copelin and redshirt freshman J’Mon Moore.
At tight end, Mizzou returns sophomore Sean Culkin, who appeared in all 14 games a year ago, making one start. He wasn’t used much in the passing game in 2013, but look for his role in the downfield attack to increase in 2014.
As spectacular as Mizzou’s offense was in 2013, the defense was equally stellar. Perhaps most importantly was the ball-hawking aspect of the defense, which led to 32 takeaways (20 interceptions, 12 fumbles) that helped MU rank 5th in the nation (1st in the SEC) in turnover margin (+1.10 per game). Mizzou will enter the 2014 season with an active streak of 44 games with a takeaway, the longest in the nation.
Mizzou is quickly becoming known as Defensive Lineman U, and they lived up to that reputation yet again in 2013. Michael Sam and Kony Ealy both earned 1st-Team All-SEC honors, and Sam won unanimous 1st-Team All-American honors and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
This year, senior Markus Golden and junior Shane Ray return to build off their impressive 2013 campaigns. Golden led all Mizzou linemen with 55 tackles last season, including 13 TFLs, 6.5 sacks and 8 QB pressures. Ray was second on the team with 11 QB pressures, and got loose for nine TFLs and 4.5 sacks.
While Golden and Ray will be manning the outside, seniors Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent will be plugging the middle. Hoch had 41 tackles, four TFLs and three sacks in 13 games a year ago, and Vincent had 34 tackles, 5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks of his own in 14 games (nine starts). Sophomores Harold Brantley (30 tackles, five TFLs) and Josh Augusta (nine tackles, including three TFLs and two sacks) also gained valuable playing time a year ago and will see more in the 2014 season.
The linebacker core was extremely solid behind the defensive line in 2013, led by graduated three-year starter Andrew Wilson. Junior Kentrell Brothers is back though, and is looking to build on a standout 2013 season in which he ranked fourth on the team with a career-high 70 tackles and three interceptions. Senior Darvin Ruise, who had 44 tackles and an interception a season ago, is the only other upperclassmen in the mix for playing time. Sophomore Michael Scherer, who appeared in all 14 games in 2013, is in line to challenge for a starting job at the strongside spot, while Ruise is working to win the starting weakside role. Sophomore Donavin Newsom, junior Clarence Green, and redshirt freshmen Joey Burkett and Eric Beisel will also factor into the depth, and are hoping to establish themselves as playmakers who can be counted on.
At cornerback, there are some very talented youngsters who are waiting to step in and make their mark. Sophomores Aarion Penton and John Gibson are battle-tested, as they both got extensive snaps in 2013. Penton started two games in place of the injured Gaines and appeared in 14 games overall, making 16 tackles and snagging an interception. Gibson had 14 tackles in 12 games, and added an interception and three pass break ups of his own. They’ll be joined by newcomers Kenya Dennis, Anthony Sherrils and Logan Cheadle.
The last line of defense in the Mizzou secondary will be led by senior all-SEC candidate Braylon Webb. Webb enjoyed a breakout year in 2013, putting up career-best numbers with 89 tackles and three interceptions. Junior Ian Simon will be looking to lock down the starting job at strong safety. He started eight games a season ago, making 42 tackles, grabbing one interception and breaking up five passes in all. Senior Duron Singleton, who made 23 tackles in 12 games last season, will help out at the position as well.
Baggett finished the 2013 season 18-of-25 in field goals, including 6-of-8 from 40 yards and further, 66-of-69 in extra points, and his 120 points scored were the 4th-most in Mizzou single-season history. He also was a huge weapon in the field position battle. His 62 touchbacks were the second-most in the nation. Brinser was solid in his first year as a starter, averaging 41.0 yards per punt, while placing 26 of them inside the opponents’ 20-yardline.
Game Day Details:
The 2014 Black & Gold Spring Game will start at 1 p.m. Admission is $3 or three canned food items, which will benefit the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri. Tailgating space is available on a first-come, first-served basis, and parking is free all around the stadium.
In addition, fans can pick up one of 5,000 commemorative 2013 Mizzou Football posters on the way to the exits at the end of the game.
Find more details and a full schedule of spring game activities here.
Spring Game Activities:
Football isn’t the only thing on the agenda for April 19. Check out the Tiger Team Store/Equipment Room Spring Sale from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the north parking lot of Memorial Stadium, where you can pick up Mizzou gear for 25-75 percent off normal prices. Plus, check out the SEC Tennis Championships happening April 16-20 at the Mizzou Tennis Complex, the softball doubleheader vs. Ole Miss on Friday night, or the baseball series vs. Mississippi State on April 18-20.
April 19 special events:
10:30 to 11:15 a.m. — Big Brothers.Big Sisters Football Clinic at Faurot Field
11:30 a.m. — Former Football Player Reunion in Devine Pavilion
11:30 a.m. — Stadium gates (1, 2W, 3W) open to general public (admission $3 or 3 canned/boxed food items benefiting the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri)
11:30 a.m. — Family Fun Zone, including inflatable games, face painting, a balloon artists, photo ops with the Cotton Bowl trophy, live DJ, KTGR radio remote, and more in the north concourse of Memorial Stadium.