I love the spring game for one reason: It is usually the first time I get to do something outdoors after several months of cold weather. Today was the absolute perfect day for it too, with very warm temperatures and morning rain giving way to a sun-bathed afternoon. Combined with the bug bowl, the campus had a definite buzz all day long that I noticed walking around the village later on.
The experience at Ross-Ade was typical for a spring game. The diehard fans came out with lots of families. The Hammer & Rails group had its own section in section 122, but it consisted of me, Mrs. T-Mill, and Ben Cotton. Lot's of football alumni were back including the famous Patrick "Sarge" Murray, a former classmate in multiple communications class back in the day. Kyle Orton was officially inducted into "The Cradle" (and he didn't fumble his jacket). We even had the debut of the new Pete, which received boos, but at least they kept the proper hammer. Now they just need the gold (or black) helmet and the jersey.
The game itself was a low scoring, slightly dull affair that had some definite positives, but some signs of what we needed to work on:
The Defense - I was very impressed by the first team defense, even if it did give up the two touchdowns. There were no big plays and both scoring drives were long, grinding drives. Ricardo Allen had a pick called back by a penalty, but had it stood he was a threat to take it 100 yards the other way. I talked to Ricardo after the game and told him that I was a big fan of his attitude. I also told him he was an exciting player because he looked like a threat to score on every pick. The secondary as a whole looked very, very good.
Kawann Short, another player I talked to after the game, looked solid and will be a major asset on the defensive line. He blew up a running play early an on will be disruptive anytime the ball is near him. I joked with him about his Tweet of playing basketball next year since coach Painter came back and he said, "I will if my coach lets me." Naturally, I envisioned him setting screens and not moving on the low block of someone tried to move him off the glass.
Mike Lee was mentioned several times and will definitely be in the mix at linebacker. Logan Link and Antwon Higgs each had interceptions, but Higgs' came from a ball thrown directly at him by reserve QB Spencer Dawson. With defensive end being the one weakness on the team it was very encouraging to see that Robert Maci and Ryan Russell each had sacks. Sure, to get a sack all you had to do was be in the neighborhood of the quarterback when he had the ball, but both guys were consistently getting into the backfield.
The Offense - The no-contact rule on the quarterbacks limited some things, as both Henry and Caleb TerBush were very mobile and could have broken plays where they were "tackled". Both of them had some solid moments throwing the ball, but a lot of the passes were swingout screens. TerBush connected with Gabe Holmes over the middle for a nice pass. We couldn't get anything going vertical up the sidelines, but I credit the defense for good coverage here.
Rob Henry is going to be the starting quarterback against Middle Tennessee State. He has poise on the field and I just don't see how Marve is going to catch him with all the extra time Henry has been able to get as "the Guy". Sean Robinson and Marve both did not play, while Henry and TerBush played extensively. Henry looked much better as a thrower and his one interception was the result of a tipped ball. Henry's running ability will keep him on the field even if Marve wins the starting job.
We didn't get a lot going on the ground except for running quarterbacks. Gavin Roberts had the best day rushing, but he is not going to pass Ralph Bolden. Akeem Shavers and Reggie Pegram didn't do a whole lot. Antavian Edison had a big run and was probably the best receiver on the day.
Our receivers have a lot of promise. Charles Torwudzo is a guy that I think could be a deep threat up the sideline with his size and he had two catches for 24 yards. Justin Siller had a good day with four catches for 45 yards and a score. I really liked the way we used Normando Harris now that he is on the offensive side. He had the game's second touchdown and could b an asset. Curiously, Justin Sinz started at tight end for the #1 offense. He only had one catch, but he has the look of being a very good tight end in the future. By being with the #1's he has passed Sterling Carter, brought in specifically to start.
Dennis Kelly was in street clothes, as was Peters Drey, so the top offense was missing a good portion of the line. It showed. The #1 defense got four sacks and the #2's got three more. They also didn't generate a lot in the running game.
You can't talk about this without talking about Carson Wiggs, who apparently has adjusted to having Cody Webster as the holder and Kevin Ballinger as the snapper just fine. Wiggs scored the black's only three points on a 42 yard field goal just before halftime. He then put on a show as the clock ran down. He tried from 47 (good), 52 (good), 57 (wide left) and 67 (good) as the clock wound down. Each kick was from a full formation, and the 67-yarder, yes you read that right, not only was good, but it was in the net. It came off of his leg like it was shot out of a cannon. I think he would have tried one from the engineering fountain if there was more time. I talked to Carson and got his autograph in the postgame and he was incredibly personable, giving me some Twitter love as well. I have dubbed him, Ballinger, and Webster as "The Blur 2: Even Blurrier".
Jonathan Linkenheimer and Robert Harris each made extra points while Webster had a good punt even though our dumb punt formation nearly led to a few blocks again. Pencil us in for at least two blocks this year unless we change it.
I think we have the makings of a defense that's going to be pretty good even with Ryan Kerrigan gone. Russell and Maci can cause some havoc in the backfield, while Bruce Gaston and Short are solid defensive tackles. This defense has a lot of talent and it has some depth too.
There still needs to be a ton of work on offense, as we still tend to go too much side-to-side instead of up and down. The return of Bolden and the injured offensive line players will help. Edison, O.J. Ross, and Siller will probably be the top three receivers with Harris, Gary Bush, and Trowudzo also getting time. Don't forget some of the freshmen we have coming in the fall too.
Wiggs has the range of an ICBM and Webster has a big leg as long as we can keep defenders off of him, so we should be good on special teams. Hopefully one of the incoming freshmen can be a threat in the return game, but I know we have two "return specialists" coming.
I was encouraged that one unit didn't totally dominate today, but we still have a long way to go. This needs to be a bowl season, and that means no slip ups in the first three games and we have to beat teams like Minnesota and Indiana too.
Now, let's just work on getting Pete a proper hate and shirt.