Spring camp wraps up with ground dominance

Friday was the final day of spring camp. The Cougars gathered for the second time this spring at LaVell Edwards Stadium to scrimmage, as former Cougar players gathered in the stands for Alumni Day. The Cougar defense struggled to contain the offense and the scoring came fast and frequently, sometimes through the air but mostly on the ground.

With Taysom Hill and Ammon Olsen not competing, Tanner Mangum drove the offense down the field with the first-team unit. It was apparent the offense as a whole had learned a thing or two from the first scrimmage that took place at LaVell Edwards Stadium last Saturday.

"I do think we learned from the last time we were here scrimmaging," said running back Adam Hine. "We came out with the mindset that we were going to be physical and try and keep our tempo up till the end. We did alright in that regards but overall it was a good day."

After tight end Devin Mahina caught a pass downfield to set the offense up within the blue zone, Paul Lasike scampered his way into the end zone for the first touchdown of the day. Along with Hine, Lasike received quite a bit of the rushing load on Friday.

"It was fun and we had a goal beforehand that we wanted to come out and push hard," said Hine. "The offensive line was going hard, and when I got the ball – when all of the running backs got the ball – we just saw green and ran."

Later, after Mangum completed a 15-yard pass to Eric Thornton, Lasike took a handoff and busted through the line of scrimmage for an additional 10 yards. It was apparent the offense came out ready to play a physical scrimmage.

"I think the experience from last week really helped us to know what the expectations are when we come out and run a full-on scrimmage," said Hine. "We knew what we needed to do to improve and came out and tried to hit that standard of expectation. I think we did pretty good in matching that expectation."

Meanwhile, walk-on running back Nate Carter showed some flashes out on the field. In the fourth series of the scrimmage, the 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound scatback took a handoff from freshman quarterback Billy Green. Carter juked his way past defenders and then it was off to the races for a 51-yard touchdown.

"The running backs had a really good day today," said Eathyn Manumaleuna, who was playing nose guard. "I thought they did a great job of finding the running lanes. I think they did a much better job today and the offensive line did really good too."

Two series later, Carter would score another touchdown on a 12-yard run.

"We had a few guys have really good runs today," Hine said. "I think a few of us did a good job of running the ball when our numbers were called."

Hine had two rushing touchdowns of his own. One came on a 30-yard run in which he started one way, and then cut back against the defense. On his second touchdown, he burst through the defensive front for a 70-yard run downfield as the defense chased from behind.

"I had two touchdowns today and it was a lot of fun," Hine said. "We were just clicking up front and, like I said, it all started with the o-line. They were blocking really well and we were able to find the holes and head downfield."

"They know where they need to go and they know their assignments," said Manumaleuna. "Today they really progressed and made a step forward. It was really good day for the running backs today."

There has been progress made up front with the offensive line, and much of that is due to the abundance of reps they received due to the offense's new fast tempo.

"With more reps we're definitely feeling more comfortable together," said Hine. "We were just feeling it today. I think we did great and there still is room for improvement, but overall today was a good day."

"It's a matter of stealing the will of our opponent," said Coach Tujague. "We started out okay today but we didn't finish at the energy level that I wanted us to finish, but I'm telling you, from the first day to today it has been awesome. The kids have been working hard and I think the foundation is in place and the will is there. There were some good things done today but we still need to keep going forward and making progress."

The execution of the line has steadily improved over spring camp, and judging from the progress since the first day of camp, the offensive line and the running backs have meshed together.

"There is no doubt that there's been tremendous progress. Everybody's gotten a lot better, but we're not even close to where we need to be," said Coach Tujague. "There have been signs of that chemistry mesh where the running backs know how the line is going to block. I think we saw some of that evidence today, but we still have a long ways to go before we get to where we want it."

Not all the touchdowns on Friday came by way of the ground game, however. During the 13th series, Christian Stewart went to work through the air. He hit Ross Apo over the middle for 52 yards. After a holding penalty was called the following play, Lasike ran twice for about 13 yards. Stewart then hit Thornton for a touchdown from about 35 yards out.

"I thought the offense played really well and I wish I was out there with them," said Cody Hoffman, who watched the scrimmage from the sidelines. "The running backs made some good plays, but I also thought the receivers made some good plays as well. It was a good combination of pass and run from our offense today and we showed that we can score on the ground and through the air."

Overall it was a very productive day, but a day still not up to the expectations of Coach Anae. Anae was critical of his offense's performance when they tried to maintain the pace without having a play call from the sidelines.

"There were times where they were running plays with no call," said Anae. "Imagine that? There were probably five of those because they were so tired, but I give them credit, they tried to maintain the pace. There were probably five or six plays with no call, so I don't know what's going on out there. Neither did they."

However, Coach Anae did see improvements in the offense's tempo.

"I do believe we got better," Anae said. "I do believe we got better. I'm not going to say it was a wholesale great job, but I do believe we got better."

The Cougars will now go into the offseason.

"The goal now is for these guys to continue working in the summer to not let what was gained over spring go by the wayside," said Coach Tujague. "I think these guys will do a great job of learning and growing on their own. We expect these guys to take charge in their progression and we feel we have the leadership and see the individual desire in them where we are confident they'll prepare themselves well for next fall camp."

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