Young Defenders Show Promise In Scrimmage

Led by a number of young players, the defense won the battle in the first scrimmage for the football Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--The first scrimmage of the spring featured mostly running and was a "typical scrimmage," according to head coach Tommy Tuberville.

"Our offense knew today that they were going to run the ball," Tuberville said. "Defensively, we didn't tell them that, but I think they caught on as the game went on. Offense had the upper hand early, the defense had the upper hand late. That's a typical scrimmage."

The scrimmage matched the offensive starters versus the defensive starters and the offensive reserves against the defensive reserves. In usual spring form, the defense won the overall battle allowing just one touchdown in 20-plus series.

The first-team offense moved the ball on its first possession by handing the ball off to Kenny Irons and Brad Lester, who was sporting his new No. 1 jersey.

Irons carried the ball for the first four plays and gained 23 yards. The offense moved the ball from its own 30-yard line to the defense's 31, but John Vaughn missed a 48-yard field goal short and wide left, his only miss on the day.

Kenny Irons looked quick and had a solid day running with the football.

The second-team offense, led by Blake Field, used a ground attack and a 12-yard pass play from Field to Cole Bennett to move 24 yards. On third and 11 Field found Montez Billings deep on a crossing route, but the ball bounced right off his shoulder pads and fell incomplete.

To get work on the kicking game, the ball was placed on the 25-yard line for field goals, where Vaughn hit a 42 yarder and backup Zach Kutch missed from the same distance.

The first-team offense went back to work at midfield and drove down to the 16 where a slant pass from Brandon Cox to Robert Dunn failed to gain enough yardage to keep the chains moving. Vaughn and Kutch were both good from 33 yards out.

Cox completed just 2-8 passes for 11 yards with an interception by Jonathan Wilhite, which came near the end of the scrimmage on a fourth and one fade route to Courtney Taylor. Taylor was held without a reception, as was starter Prechae Rodriguez.

From there on, the offense had a difficult time moving the ball. Calvin Booker, who wasn't as sharp as Field on the day in the race for the backup spot, came in as well as freshman Benjamin Tate.

The offense failed to pick up a first down in the next two series, but had some success through the ground and air on the next possession. Booker found walk-on Jim Reed open on the sideline for a 17-yard gain, the longest pass play of the day.

Tate then showed his toughness and power with back to back carries of 11 yards and 20 to move the ball down to the two. Vaughn and Kutch then nailed a pair of 26-yard field goals on first down.

"Ben's done a good job," Tuberville said. "He's got a lot to learn. The players are behind him and they know his situation. They've been very encouraging."

Tate finished as the game's leading rusher with 61 yards on 13 carries.

With Field and Booker alternating series, the offense started from its own three-yard line for the next seven series and had a difficult time getting anything going. Young players like Octavious Balkcom, Pat Sims, Tez Doolittle and Antonio Coleman were in the backfield to break up several plays, as well as veterans Josh Thompson and Quentin Groves.

Josh Thompson was one of the more impressive defenders and was credited with six tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. He also got his hands up in the face of the quarterback to break up a couple of passes.

"We just looked for leadership and Josh is going to be a good leader for us," Tuberville said. "He's practicing hard, he's lost weight and he looks good. Again this was a pretty good indication where we're at so tomorrow we'll look at the film and see what we need to work on."

The number one offense got some more action near the end of the series and went to ground attack, but with little success.

The biggest play calling surprise of the scrimmage wasn't a trick play. It was seven handoffs to the fullbacks. Mike McLaughlin carried twice for nine yards, Stephen Gowland rushed twice for seven yards and Andrew Turman three times for six yards.

*Other notable rushing statistics: Irons 9-54, Lester 14-39, Carl Stewart 12-32, Billings 2-20, Tre Smith 9-16.

*Passing stats: Cox 2-8, 1 interception and 11 yards; Field 3-7, 25 yards; Booker 2-9, 24 yards.

*Kicking stats: Vaughn made field goals of 42, 44, 26, 36, 37 and 32 and missed from 48; Kutch made from 44, 26, 36, 37 and 32 and missed from 42.

*The leading tacklers, tied with seven, were Groves, Eric Brock, Sims, Kevin Sears, Courtney Harden, Balkcom and Tray Blackmon.

*Balkcom, who has played really well in the first week of spring practice, had three tackles for a loss.

*First-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said that redshirt freshman Blackmon stood out to him with his nose for the football.

*Karibi Dede showed up late wearing a No. 3 jersey rather than his normal No. 21. He was in Montgomery earlier in the morning taking a teaching certification test for his major and grabbed the No. 3 jersey in a hurry to get on the football field.

*Sears got most of the snaps with the first team at the middle linebacker position in Dede's absence. Sears said it was good experience playing in the middle in case he is needed there during the season.

*There were a few injuries during the scrimmage, but none appear to be serious, Tuberville said. Merrill Johnson (ankle), McLaughlin (knee and ankle) and Lorenzo Ferguson (bruised shoulder).

The Tigers are scheduled to return to the practice field for a lighter workout at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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