Spring Practice Report: Day Eight

The pads were popping hard Friday during the first full-contact practice of the spring. The defense showed a lot of intensity, while the offense struggled. Poor execution along with undisciplined play plagued the offense during the penalty-ridden scrimmage.

"I thought that it left a lot of room for improvement," said head coach Bronco Mendenhall when asked about Friday's scrimmage. "It certainly wasn't clean and it was great to have the officials out there calling everything they saw. That was probably the greatest learning tool of the day."

Indeed, it seemed as if most plays run by the offense were whistled dead or brought back due to penalties. The sloppy play was understandable, seeing as how it was the first full-contact scrimmage of the spring. But on the other hand, such play was viewed as unacceptable by most players.

"We were sloppy out there, really sloppy," commented running back Manase Tonga. "We can't play like that, and hopefully we use today as a wakeup call. We weren't ready and we let our emotions control us just a bit too much. We did some good things today, but man, we need to get going."

The first set of reps saw Jordan Pendleton lay a huge hit on tight end Andrew George, which sort of set the tone for the entire scrimmage. Big hits were also made by Scott Johnson, who picked off a Brendan Gaskins pass, and the defense began to assert itself.

"They came to play today," said Collie about the defense. "Our defense has come a long way and I think they're a very great squad, especially in the secondary. They have a great core. As far as I'm concerned, the defense is just as good as last year."

The offense meanwhile took a while to adjust to the physical level the defense brought, but slowly the offense caught up and dealt out its own brutal hits. On one occasion, Collie de-cleated cornerback Brandon Bradley during an open-field block.

"It took us a while to match their intensity," said Tonga. "They came out much more ready and much more focused than we probably were on offense. We have to make sure that doesn't happen. Fortunately we caught up and matched their intensity, but we need to be the ones to set the tone."

Keeping composure was the next issue that arose, as the physical play led to some loss of composure on both sides of the ball.

"I think in general that the composure element of it, when they put on the pads for the first time, that they lost some composure," said Mendenhall. "We need to do a lot of work on that."

One aspect of Friday's scrimmage that was positive for the offense was the running attack. While the passing game saw problems, most of the running plays saw success with Wayne Latu and J.J. DiLuigi getting most of the carries.

"When they ran the football they were clearly effective," commented Mendenhall. "When we had to throw it I think we struggled with pass protection and with clean blocking."

"We ran the ball well," said Tonga. "We didn't have Fui [Vakapuna] and Harvey [Unga] in there for the most part, but guys like Wayne Latu and J.J. DiLuigi, they did well. The offensive line blocked very well today I thought."

Latu had consecutive runs with good gains - 9 and 11 yards - before being stopped for a loss on a great play by linebacker Grant Nelson, who shot the gap and wrapped up Latu for a loss. DiLuigi got started a bit slowly, but started to gain some good yardage as the day went on with consecutive runs of 10 and 4 yards, respectively.

Fui Vakapuna meanwhile was slated to get more play, but had his practice set short on a hit that required stitches. Vakapuna looked very live and aggressive on his 12-yard off-tackle run, which brought back visions of 2006, if only briefly.

The two big offensive plays came from a 30-yard Kurt McCuen pass to Kaneakua Friel, and a Max Hall pass to Andrew George in the flat that went for about 80 yards. Terrance Hooks was able to run down George just short of the end zone on the play.

"Like I said, we did some good things," said Tonga. "We just need to get going quicker and set the tone. As the practice went on we started to make plays, but we need to be making those plays starting out."

The first two weeks of spring practices have generally seen an offensive dominance with the defense trying to catch up and match the offense's play. Friday saw a struggling offense try to match the physical tone set forth by the defense.

"I think maybe we were a little overconfident going in," said Tonga. "We feel we're really good on offense and maybe we needed today to realize that we still have a lot of work to do. It doesn't matter how good you are; if you're sloppy and don't come ready to play, then you're going to get beat."

Indeed, the level of frustration on offense was very apparent as players yelled at each other to be in the right place. The usually affable Hall avoided reporters and made a beeline for the locker room, as he was clearly frustrated with the play on offense.

"We expect perfection and we believe that we can come out here and dominate, and today we didn't show that," said Collie. "We were a little immature as far as our level of play. Max getting frustrated, that's what a quarterback is going to do when the offense isn't working out. He's not to blame for that. We need to keep his composure and I need to keep my composure, but it's just frustrating when you come out here and don't play up to your expectations."

On the day Hall was able to complete 5-of-8 passes for 120 yards, but all in all, the offensive execution was no here near what it needs to be and where players feel it should be.

"We'll get it," reassured Tonga. "We have great guys who know what it takes on offense. This was the first contact scrimmage and we got smacked in the mouth a bit, but I have no doubt that we'll respond and maybe smack the defense a bit in the mouth next time. We needed what happened today I think, and we'll use it to our advantage."


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