Bend But Don't Break

Saturday's scrimmage, held at LaVell Edwards Stadium, was an even contest between the offensive and defensive units. The offense was, on occasion, able to move the ball, while the defense was generally able to keep the offense out of the end zone.

The first-team offense took the field against the first-team defense on Saturday. Under the direction of quarterback Max Hall, the starting Cougar offense drove drown the field with a mixture of both passing and running. However, the defense stiffened and walk-on freshman kicker Brian Smith, out of Mountain View High School, kicked a 32-yard field goal for the first points on the day. From that point on, the first-team offense faced the second-team defense and vice versa.

"I thought the defense played very well," said Kayle Buchanan. "I think the running game has developed very nicely. We have a lot of physical running backs that can break tackles and gain extra yards.

"Max [Hall] is getting more and more comfortable with his receivers during the scrimmages. I thought Matt [Allen] made a couple of great catches today, and those things will happen sometimes. Max was able to put the ball were it needed to be."

Placing the defense under the microscope, there were some good results that came out of Saturday's defensive performance and some things the unit will be able to take with them for further development. One positive was the second-team defense didn't give up a single touchdown against the first-team unit until the last drive, when Harvey Unga dipped inside but then bounced it outside for a footrace towards the end zone.

"We bent but didn't break," said senior safety Quinn Gooch. "We were very solid inside the 20-yard line most of the time. As the field gets shorter and execution becomes more important, it becomes more important for us as a defense to tighten the screws as we get closer to the goal line, and to make sure we as a defense are doing our assigned jobs."

"The primary thing for the defensive backfield is tighter coverage," said Buchanan. "We have to get our leverage right, and so we'll look at the film and see what we can do to close the routes on the receivers to make sure there's no passing lanes for Max."

While the defense did enjoy some success against a tenacious Cougar passing game, they'll be able learn from their less-than-ideal performance when it came to matching the physical game of the offense.

"The physical nature of the game as a defense - I don't think we're quite there yet," said Gooch. "I think this comes with having some new guys in key spots. That part of the game can come with knowing where you're going, [what are] your assignments and what you're supposed to do. As you get to know those things you're able to play faster and play more physical.

"Where we are as a defense, we kind of know what we're going to do, but there still is room to grow and room to learn. The physical part of the game then has to catch up with the mental part of the game. Knowing where we are going to go and what we're going to do [is the first step], and then you can play more physical, faster and harder."

"A common rule among any defense is knowing where you fit in with your teammates," said Buchanan. "That way you can further restrict the ball carrier. It's about working well with your teammates in order to take away the lanes and to be in the right positions to make the tackle and take away the lanes for the ball carrier. I don't think our defense has played as physical, but [the reason] we play these scrimmages is to get to that point."

The defense may still be gathering their bearings without senior linebackers Cameron Jensen and Aaron Wagner, but one thing is certain: the defense has improved in at least one key area.

"The defense is faster than it was last year," Buchanan said. "This defense has great potential to really blow things up, and that's what we'll do."

However, while the defense is striving towards greater physical play, for some seniors the bend-but-don't-break defensive display of today bent just a little too much.

"I don't want to give up anything," said Gooch. "I don't want to give any first downs. I want them to punt the ball every single time. We just have, and this includes myself, a lot of learning and growing over the next two weeks to know what we need to do to utilize our speed and play faster and harder."

"We would like to bend a little less," said Buchanan. "We want to do this to give our offense better field possession. While we kept our offense out of the end zone for the most part, we want to work on getting our offense better field possession. I think our run fit needs some improvement, but you've seen our improvement in this regards from last week to this week. It just takes a couple of light scrimmages to remember where you're supposed to fit in with your teammates."

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