Big 12: scrimmage042009

Missouri's defense steps out in strong spring-game effort

April, 20, 2009
4/20/09
5:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The post-Chase Daniel era was noticeable at Missouri's Black-Gold Game as much for what didn't happen as what did.

With Daniel watching from the bench and helping his old coaches, his replacements sagged in a struggling performance where the Missouri defense largely dominated.

Projected starter Blaine Gabbert completed 9 of 17 passes for 93 yards with an interception. He showed a rocket arm with a 60-yard pass that was barely incomplete. But he was also fortunate that two other passes weren't intercepted.

"Everybody has got to improve," Gabbert said. "We're going to have to work hard all summer just to get better. Overall, we've all done well. I just need to work on the little stuff."

Gabbert could be given a little bit of a mulligan, considering top receivers like Jared Perry, Danario Alexander and Michael Egnew did not see action and top running back Derrick Washington barely played.

"Making completions, that's the big thing," Gabbert said. "Just playing catch. That's what we need to work on the most."

The defense's dominant effort showed up on the scoreboard as it claimed a 68-40 triumph over the offense in a scoring system devised by the Missouri coaches. But even those wacky numbers couldn't diminish an effort where the Missouri offense was limited to a combined 355 yards and one touchdown.

Coach Gary Pinkel was pleased with his defense's performance. Second-string quarterback Jimmy Costello couldn't lead his unit to a single first down against Missouri's No. 1 defense.

"If your defense is playing well, then that's OK," Pinkel said. "There's nothing wrong with that. If you're not excited about the defense after the spring game, then that's not good. We're glad they're getting out there and playing football."

The defense's dominance prompted a quick description from Gabbert about their performance.

"They beasted us," Gabbert told the Kansas City Star of the effort. "Plain and simple they just outplayed us."

All-Big 12 linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, one of only four starters back for the defense, said his unit still has much growth ahead.

"I don't think it's safe to say that we're a dominant defense at the moment, but I think we've definitely made some strides and come far," Weatherspoon said. " I think the offense is still good... don't sleep on that offense."

Pinkel was intrigued with the unit's athleticism and particularly how quickly it has adapated to new defensive coordinator Dave Steckel's schemes.

"I don't like to compare, but this season we have a lot of speed on defense," Pinkel said. "We have a lot of young guys, freshman guys, and they have a lot of ability. We have to get better and we have the coaching and ability to get there."

A crowd of 13,122 attended at Faurot Field -- about half of last year's spring game attendance.

Competitive OSU scrimmage marked by gadget plays

April, 20, 2009
4/20/09
2:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Fans who attended the Orange-White scrimmage at Oklahoma State at least could believe they were watching a game where real stakes were being competed for.

Quarterback Zac Robinson played three series in Saturday's scrimmage and fans got the feeling that opposing OSU coaches were scheming against each other to try and win the scrimmage.

They even got a chance to see tailback Keith Toston throw the first pass of his college career, a 41-yard scoring toss to Justin Horton that might keep any lurking coordinators from around the Big 12 on their toes. That's on top of a couple of throwback passes to quarterbacks that also were cooked up, much to the delight of about 12,000 fans who attended the free scrimmage.

The biggest concern for the Cowboys was their defense. Specific concerns were the development of Richetti Jones and Darius Hart at defensive end. Jones is bouncing back from a hip injury and has been slowly returning to shape. And Hart, a transfer from Pearl River (Miss.) Community College, appears ready to contribute.

This is good news for new OSU coordinator Bill Young, who has dialed back some of the demands for the OSU defense from those of his predecessor, current Toledo coach Tim Beckman.

That obviously will be important for a Cowboys defense hasn't ranked better than 74th nationally in total defense in coach Mike Gundy's tenure -- including 93rd last season. OSU can't afford to play like last season when it allowed 159 points in losses to Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon to finish 2008.

Another question was the backup quarterback behind Robinson. Former minor-league baseball player Brandon Weeden appeared to have pulled ahead early in camp although Alex Cate charged back in the last several practices to keep Gundy from declaring a backup -- yet.

"For a while there, I thought Weeden was gonna step up and take that role, but I'm not sure he did," Gundy told reporters after the scrimmage Saturday night. "We'll probably go through the summer and let those guys compete."

Weeden was pleased with most of his work this spring learning the offense.

"Overall, I thought I had a great spring," Weeden told the Daily Oklahoman. "By the end, I felt like I knew the offense a lot better.

"I would have liked to have played better [in the spring game], but the sun will come up tomorrow and we'll get it on in the summer."

Gundy also hoped to find another receiver to complement Dez Bryant, who missed spring practice while recovering from knee surgery. Suspended contender Bo Bowling already was out of the mix, leaving Hubert Anyiam and Justin Blackmon with a chance to impress coaches during the spring.

Blackmon did so throughout the spring and Anyiam was the most impressive receiver in the spring game with six catches for 106 yards.

The spring work didn't answer all of Gundy's questions. But he came away with a better picture of his team and a stronger idea if they are really ready to compete for its first Big 12 South title.

"Our goal as a coaching staff is to let a lot of young players that hadn't competed much in a pressure situation in front of a crowd get out there and see what they could do," Gundy told reporters after the scrimmage. "They did a really nice job, and we were excited about some of the plays that those young guys made."

Potts sizzles in Tech's Red-White scrimmage

April, 20, 2009
4/20/09
8:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

All spring long, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has openly discussed how his "rebuilding job" is overrated.

Sure, the Red Raiders lose standouts like Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree and Shannon Woods from last season's team. But Leach saw flashes of promise among the young Red Raiders during the Red-White scrimmage on Saturday that made him pleased as the team finishes spring practice this week.

Backup quarterback Steve Sheffield threw a go-ahead touchdown pass and Cody Davis returned an interception 100 yards for a clinching score to power the White to a 19-7 victory over the Red before about 12,500 people at Jones AT&T Stadium.

Most of the interest in the scrimmage came from the performance of Taylor Potts, who is in line to replace Harrell. Potts completed 20 of 27 passes for 211 yards.

Davis got the pickoff on a tipped pass against backup Stefan Loucks to help ice the scrimmage victory, which came in game-like settings.

Leach typically likes to stretch competition for the quarterback out until shortly before the season begins. But he has shown no indication that Potts won't be the starter for the Red Raiders' season opener Sept. 5 against North Dakota.

"It's really comforting knowing you have the support of your coach and the coach is behind you as well as the other coaches and your teammates," Potts told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "It makes your job a little easier knowing that you're backed by a lot of people on your team, so it's nice."

Among receivers, Austin Zouzalik produced five grabs for 67 yards and Edward Britton had five catches for 43 yards.

But the biggest revelation might have been redshirt freshman running back Harrison Jeffers, who produced 21 rushing yards on eight carries and also snagged seven catches for 45 yards.

Leach and the Tech coaches tried to equalize talent as much as possible in the scrimmage. The Red team had six first-team players from the offense including Potts, Britton and Tramain Swindall and defensive standouts like defensive linemen Colby Whitlock and Ra'Jon Henley and linebacker Brian Duncan.

The White's offensive starters include linemen Brandon Carter and Chris Olson and receivers Detron Lewis and Jacoby Franks. First-team defensive starters included linebackers Marlon Williams and Bront Bird.

Several players played both ways, including running backs Baron Batch and Jeffers, receiver Adam James and defensive end Sandy Riley.

"I thought Potts played well," Leach told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I think we consistently moved [the ball]. But any time you split the teams up, there's going to be breakdowns in execution because you're spread a little thin."

Defensive standouts included junior safety Brett Dewhurst (seven tackles) and sophomore linebacker Tyrone Sonier, who notched eight tackles a sack and broke up a pass.

The offensive execution was a little better than last season, when an angry Leach ordered a difficult practice to finish the spring practice a couple of days after the scrimmage. There's no indication that will happen after Saturday's performance.

But he can't be happy with the performance of kicker Donnie Carona, who misfired on two of three extra-point attempts after struggling last season. Carona also averaged 28 yards on three punts.

Will that mean that kicker Matt Williams will be a revelation after his success last season? We'll see over the summer.

Iowa State backup QB Tiller shines at Cyclones' scrimmage

April, 20, 2009
4/20/09
7:41
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Backup quarterback Jerome Tiller might have had the most impressive day of any Big 12 quarterback in Saturday scrimmages across the conference.

And apparently, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said, it didn't significantly narrow the gap that starter Austen Arnaud has at the position.

Tiller completed 14 of 24 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns and also scored on a 65-yard run in a strong performance to help lead the Gold (backups) to a 34-16 victory over the Cardinal (first string). The contest was set up where Arnaud played against the starting defense for the entire game and Tiller played against the backups.

Tiller struggled early, but bounced back after the lackluster start. He threw an interception on his second series and had two series of five plays or less before halftime.

Arnaud wasn't bad, as he completed 22 of 35 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown. And the fact he played against the starters was the reason why Rhoads still gives him the edge.

"When you pair them up athletically, Austen still has the edge right now," Rhoads said. "Still, there is no denying that there is something about a game that brings out the best in Jerome."

Other standouts included senior linebacker Jesse Smith, who returned an Arnaud interception 39 yards for a touchdown and notched a game-high nine tackles, and sophomore wide receiver Sedrick Johnson, who produced nine receptions for 100 yards for the Cardinal team.

"I was very pleased with the effort the kids expended today," Rhoads said. "I didn't see any loafing today. I never saw a lack of effort. These kids love this university and wearing the Cardinal and Gold."

About 8,000 fans turned out at Jack Trice Stadium for the scrimmage -- the first under Rhoads.

Tidbits from Texas A&M's spring game

April, 18, 2009
4/18/09
8:28
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Here are some final notes and quotes from Texas A&M's scrimmage this afternoon.

  • Despite running behind a patchwork offensive line that was missing three starters, A&M's running game showed flashes of promise. Redshirt freshman tailback Jay Tolliver rushed for a scrimmage-high 67 yards and sophomore Cyrus Gray accounted for a 22-yard touchdown run.

"I think they played well," A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson said. "They didn't get too much time to be in space, but they did really well. They are going to surprise a lot of people this year. As usual, our running backs are going to be one of the strengths on our team."

  • The patchwork offensive line wasn't as strong in pass protection, making it one of A&M coach Mike Sherman's biggest concerns coming out of Saturday's scrimmage.

"We struggled in the offensive line, I thought," Sherman said. "We're going to try to coach them up and try to get them to a point where they play like we want them to play."

Sherman expects the group to improve markedly once the starters return to the unit after the spring.

"When you take three starters out of a group, it's very difficult going against a starting defensive unit," Sherman said. "We had some try-hard walk-on guys -- God bless them, they did a good job -- but they were no match for Von Miller."

  • Part of the credit for A&M's defensive improvement was given to coordinator Joe Kines dialing back the responsibilities for the team.

Johnson said he's also more comfortable in the offense in his second season as starter after some of the verbiage in A&M's offense was similarly simplified.

"Our plays haven't changed, but how we're calling them has changed," Johnson said. "That's helped me a lot getting out there. It allows me to make more checks at the line because I'm not thinking as much. And I think changing everything up has helped out the offense a lot."

  • Saturday's scrimmage was technically A&M's 13th workout of the spring, meaning they still have two more practices scheduled next week before they end spring practice.

That decision originally prompted some disappointment from team members, but Johnson said the extra work next week will be good for the team.

"We've got a lot to improve on," Johnson said. "We spent a long time in the winter cleaning things up. At first, we were kind of upset we've still got two practices after the spring game, but now we can watch film, go back and correct those mistakes. That will be good for us."

  • The Aggies attracted a large contingent of potential recruits, including many who could help the program because of their speed.

Kines said that he was enthused after hearing about the backgrounds of many of the recruits.

"You ask those linebackers what they are doing and they say running the track -- the 100, the 200 and the 4-by-100 (relays). That's some good words there, instead of 'I'm sitting over there throwing the shot.'"

  • Texas A&M was down to two cornerbacks with true game experience for most of the scrimmage. Justin McQueen and Terrence Frederick got most of the snaps with converted wide receiver Chevar Bryson providing some backup.

"We were down there looking up in the stands," Kines said, chuckling. "We had one little boy up there with a jersey on. We almost got him. He looked like he might play."

That resourcefulness prompted special praise for defensive backs coach Charles McMillian from Kines.

"I don't know how he keeps them out there," Kines said. "He would bring them over, water them up and throw them right back in there."

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