Notes from weekend Big East scrimmages
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
With training camps winding down, Saturday was a big day around the Big East. All eight teams held scrimmages and found out important things about themselves. Here's a brief recap of some of those developments (Note: not all scrimmages were open to the media):
Defense ruled the scrimmage that took place in the final hour of Saturday's practice. As Bill Koch reports in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the offense had only one touchdown, which the defense equaled with a 75-yard interception return.
Coach Brian Kelly said he emphasized the running game with Tony Pike and the starters in, but he said the offense needed to be better.
"Our defense was running around and did some pretty good things," Kelly said. "We are not as good as we think we are [on offense]. We are not as good as our press clippings. We are not as good as some of our guys think we are and we've got to do a better job coaching them because we've got good enough players."
Freshman running back Ray Graham was the talk of Saturday's scrimmage after he had 14 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns and also turned a screen pass into a score. Fellow freshman Dion Lewis still looks like the No. 1 tailback, but Graham is making a strong case for himself and appears to have the most big-play ability.
"It was not a passing emphasis," coach Dave Wannstedt said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Kevin Gorman. "We ended up trying to make some evaluations on a couple of these young backs and our offensive line. We took the ball the length of the field, basically running the ball every play on our defense and we put the ball in the end zone."
In what appears to be a theme, the Scarlet Knights' offense struggled against its own defense on Saturday. But the ground game performed well, with Joe Martinek rushing for 76 yards and two scores on 10 attempts.
Of course, everyone wants to know about the quarterbacks. Dom Natale went 5-of-15 for 42 yards and had two interceptions, not exactly inspiring from the potential starter. Jabu Lovelace, who Greg Schiano has said will play in the opener, was used almost exclusively as a runner and attempted two throws. D.C. Jefferson was 5-for-11 for 78 yards, while Tom Savage finished 3-of-9 for 16 yards.
While Savage's numbers weren't great, he saw time with the first-team offense and led a scoring drive. He even had an 11-yard scramble that had people making comparisons to John Elway. Seems like the kid is moving up the depth chart.
The Bulls' scrimmage was closed, but Jim Leavitt came away impressed with freshman running back Lindsey Lamar, who had a 30-yard touchdown run against the No. 1 defense. Senior quarterback Matt Grothe didn't play because of a sore hamstring and because Leavitt knows what he can do.
Things were a little bumpy for the Mountaineers' final scrimmage, which was marred by penalties and kicking mistakes. The offense moved the ball but did so against a defense that was missing Reed Williams and Scooter Berry, who sat out with minor injuries.
Freshman Tavon Austin continued to impress by catching seven passes for 71 yards.
The biggest news was that freshman Geno Smith was named the No. 2 quarterback by coach Bill Stewart. Smith has played well, even after his summer foot injury, and his performance will allow the Mountaineers to keep Bradley Starks at wideout except for an occasional snap at quarterback in practice.
"Competition is going to really pick up this week," Stewart said. "I am going to find out who can do the mental part. I've seen who can do the physical part.
"Penalties like holding in the red zone. Unbelievable. I'm not pleased at all with that. Three holding penalties in the red zone takes you out of scoring. Facemasks by a defensive player in the red zone. ... They did that because they were being lazy. I am going to find out who is mentally tough this week. Physically, we found out who is going to hit. Now I am going to find out who can conduct themselves in the Mountaineer manner."