Throwing the entire defensive package at the offense, the unit held the first-team offense to just three points in the scrimmage portion of practice while the second-team unit managed two touchdowns. Coach Al Borges said the day was a tough one for his unit trying to match up with a speedy defense bent on getting some revenge in the last practice of the spring.
"It was probably a great day for the defense," Borges said. "I'm going to tell you something, we've got a good defense. There are some young guys over there and today it came together for them a little bit and they came to play. They are a talented group and extremely well-coached and they did what they are capable of doing. We didn't get in sync and a lot of it is because of them."
Unlike past scrimmages when starters like Bret Eddins, Travis Williams, Junior Rosegreen and Carlos Rogers were held out of much of the action, Thursday they were turned loose and made plays all over the field while quarterback Jason Campbell and the first-team offense struggled to move the ball consistently. Linebacker Antarrious Williams led the way defensively with 10 tackles, including two for losses. Travis Williams also had two sacks on the day.
A.T. puts a hit on Tre Smith during Thursday's scrimmage.
Campbell finished the day 5-11 for 86 yards with one interception. Carnell Williams ran the ball 10 times for 45 yards and caught one pass for 34 yards while Ronnie Brown added five carries for 12 yards.
The second units led by Brandon Cox and Kelcy Luke fared somewhat better early in the scrimmage, but didn't explode on the day. Cox was again adept at passing the ball with a 8-9 day, but struggled to get the offense into the right plays from time to time. Luke was 4-9 for 58 yards and ran the ball one time for four yards. Coach Tommy Tuberville said it was good to see the defense answer back after being pushed around in recent scrimmages.
"We had a good scrimmage today," Tuberville said. "There was a lot more enthusiasm on defense and we played with a lot more determination. Obviously running a few more blitzes and things makes a difference, but they competed hard. Offensively we finally responded. We ran 100 plays and it wasn't a very pretty first half for the offense, but defensively we were consistent. We still gave up a few big plays that we shouldn't have. We tackled a little better. It was good to see the defense step up."
The first offense went three and out before turning the ball over to the second offense led by Cox. The unit moved the ball on a 14-play drive that resulted in a six-yard touchdown pass to Cole Bennett for the first score of the scrimmage. The big play of the drive came on an acrobatic catch from Courtney Taylor on a ball that Cox should have throw away. Instead he threw it up for grabs and the athletic Taylor came down with the first down and kept the drive alive.
After both offenses turned the ball over on downs the defense made its big play of the day when Junior Rosegreen was the recipient of some good luck on a pass thrown by Campbell. On a deep route over the middle Campbell hit an open Taylor on the numbers, but the ball bounced away right into the waiting arms of Rosegreen who sped downfield for what would have likely been a touchdown.
Running back Carl Stewart dives for yardage in between A.T. Williams and Kevin Hobbs in Thursday's scrimmage.
Cox again led the second offense on a scoring drive just moments later as a nine-play 56-yard drive ended in a 40-yard field goal by John Vaughn. Moments later the offense would again score as a 13-play, 50-yard drive engineered by Cox ended with Kenny Irons going over from the two-yard line for a touchdown. Campbell finally got his troops on the board in the second half with a 9-play, 86-yard drive that ended in a 35-yard field goal by Vaughn. Vaughn finished perfect on the day and both he and Philip Yost received compliments from Tuberville.
Tre Smith ran the ball 12 times for 54 yards while Irons added 29 yards on 12 carries. Taylor led the way in receiving with 66 yards on three catches while Devin Aromashodu added 48 yards on two receptions.
In addition to the veterans making plays, Thursday was a day when young players again stepped up on the defensive side of the ball. Noseguard Josh Thompson, defensive end Stanley McClover, linebacker Karibi Dede and cornerback Courtney Denson all got a lot of work in scrimmage situations and came up with big play after big play. Tuberville said of the three that Thompson is the one that had the most impact with seven tackles and because they weren't sure what kind of player he would be in the middle after missing a lot of practice time last fall with injuries.
"There are a lot of the young guys that made a lot of strides like Josh Thompson," Tuberville said. "We really found out, he's ready to play on this level. That's the bottom line. He played hard and made big plays against the first-team offensive guys that were blocking him. He's going to be a pretty decent pass rusher although he doesn't have a lot of height. Guys like him stepped up."
Like last season when the offense struggled to handle blitzes from teams and eight and nine men in the box, they got a taste of that for the first time this spring and struggled to handle it at times. Coach Borges said that the offense got exactly what the needed to see on Thursday and he's glad to get it now instead of in October when it matters the most.
"It's the 15th day so this is the day to get the blitzes because we've got all our stuff in now and there's no excuses for not handling it because people are going to do it to us," Borges said. "We as a staff would rather see it now than get into the third game of the season, have somebody throw the kitchen sink at us, and us not know what to do. I would rather take my pain now than get later in the season and take my pain then."
Despite the performance of the defense on the final day of spring practice, one person left the field still doubting how good of a performance it was. Always the harshest critic of his group's performance, Coach Gene Chizik said that he's still a long way from being ready to put this defense on the field and face next year's schedule.
"We've got a long way to go," Chizik said. "We're below average I would say. Without a doubt I think we're below average and we've got five months to correct that."