COLUMBIA - Through the Missouri football team's first two preseason scrimmages, the Tigers' unproven passing game displayed great improvement, racking up 10 passing touchdowns without allowing an interception.
The defense got its comeuppance Thursday. In Missouri's final scrimmage of fall camp, Tiger defenders recorded three interceptions, seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
"I think today we made great strides as a defense," said Charles Harris, who had a sack and another tackle for loss. "... I think our defense, for the most part, we're starting to really mesh. We're starting to really come together and fuel off each other and play off of each other."
The defense nearly matched its totals of nine sacks and 17 tackles for loss from the previous scrimmage, despite playing 51 fewer snaps.
"I think we've done some good things on defense," coach Gary Pinkel said. "I think we're really strong. I think we had some defensive front concerns coming in, and I think we've kind of answered some of those."
The defense's wait for an interception ended abruptly when safety Anthony Sherrils picked off an Eddie Printz overthrow on the third play of the scrimmage. Sherrils returned the pass, intended for receiver Thomas Richard, 22 yards.
"I just broke on it, and it fell in my hands," Sherrils said. "I should have scored, but it was all right. Next time."
Redshirt freshman Tavon Ross got the second pick on a forced throw by freshman quarterback Drew Lock, and capped it off with a 26-yard return. Marvin Zanders threw an interception as well when a pass intended for Kendall Blanton was tipped skyward in the middle of the field and corralled by freshman linebacker Terez Hall.
"That's really kudos to the secondary," Harris said. "... Without turnovers, we're not going to win. For them to actually step up and make them turnovers, it just speaks volumes to how great they can really be. I think we have one of the best secondaries in the country."
Sherrils is the only new face in the Tigers' back seven, as he replaces team captain Braylon Webb. He said the defense wasn't concerned about the lack of turnovers the first few scrimmages.
"We know what we're capable of," he said. "We have a talented secondary, a talented defense, so we really weren't pressed about it. ... With the pressure that we apply, the coverage that we have, we knew interceptions were coming."
The Tigers began the scrimmage with more of a traditional back and forth between the first and second teams. Both offenses failed to score on the first seven drives before kicker Andrew Baggett knocked a 34-yard field goal, having previously missed a 43-yarder.
Missouri didn't score a touchdown until its 13th try, when Zanders found tailback Chase Abbington for a 4-yard score. A play after his interception, Lock set up the touchdown with a 56-yard strike to Ray Wingo, who finished with a team-high 74 receiving yards.
Printz and freshman receiver Richaud Floyd connected for a touchdown on the final offensive play of the scrimmage, a 30-yard score that saw Floyd run nearly that far sideline-to-sideline while turning a corner upfield.
Lock finished with scrimmage bests in completion percentage (9-of-12, 75 percent) and yards (177) for the second straight scrimmage, though he and Mauk were the only quarterbacks without touchdown. The freshman, who got significant snaps on second team, finished camp with a statline of four touchdowns, one interception and 484 yards on 38-of-51 passing (74.5 percent) in scrimmage play.
"He's done some real good things, ain't no question about that," Pinkel said. "He's a very accurate thrower, and he's a young guy, too. ... So we have to make a decision on that. That's going to be made, and I think we'll see where it goes and we'll announce that Monday."
Mauk praised the Lee's Summit product.
"He's a great quarterback," Mauk said. "That's why he's here, and he's just going to keep getting better. And it's going to be a process but for him, how he's came from Day One to right now is unbelievable, and he's going to keep getting better, he's going to take strides week by week and he's going to be ready to play."
Sherrils added: "He makes good decisions. If everyone's locked up on the deep end, he checks down. He doesn't throw the risky throws, so that's just good, just him being a freshman and knowing how to take his passes here and there."
Pinkel said he and his staff will review tape of the scrimmage today and let the players know Saturday what the depth chart looks like.
The Tigers open the season Sept. 5 at home against Southeast Missouri.