Spring Practice Report: Day Four

The team donned full pads on Friday for the first time in spring camp. It was an opportunity to get out and do some hitting, which was just what the defense did at times, stifling the offense's running game. The defense however also took some blows, namely in the form of a few big passing plays. All in all, despite some execution issues, Coach Mendenhall said he generally likes what he sees.

"I think it was very even today," said Coach Mendenhall about the battle between the offense and defense on Friday. "There was a couple situational things that went the offense's ways and a few situations in the end that went the defense's ways, so I think it was about even."

The pads were popping early on Friday, as the team generally focused on the running game during the first scrimmage. Riley Nelson got the first series of reps but did not attempt any passes. Instead, Harvey Unga ran for 3 yards and then 9 yards before J.J. Di Luigi got to the corner on a nice 14-yard run.

Despite the offense getting a first down, the coaches opted to then put in the second-team, and James Lark got the call at quarterback. Getting yards on the ground proved to be more difficult, as Malosi Te'o ran twice for a loss of 3 yards and Joshua Quezada ran twice for a loss of two yards. On the second of his two runs, Quezada was met in the backfield almost immediately by Riley Nielsen. Quezada broke that tackle but was then brought down for a loss of 3 yards by Robbie Buckner. Di Luigi accounted for the only notable offensive play that series, an 11-yard reception.

Blue Zone

Later during blue zone drills Jake Heaps worked with the first-team. After a 1-yard run by Bryan Kariya and an incompletion on an intentional throw-away, Heaps connected with B.J. Peterson in the corner of the end zone for a 19-yard score. Peterson was just able to get a foot down in bounds for the touchdown.

Nelson then took the field with the second-team, but their drive was hampered by a holding call, an incompletion on Nelson's only pass attempt, and a sack by Thomas Bryson. Nelson scrambled on third down but was stopped short of the marker.

Lark then went 1-of-2 on his blue-zone drive, completing a 6-yard pass to J.D. Falslev. Runs by Unga and Di Luigi got the offense knocking on the door, but Unga was tripped up just short of the goal line on his final run, preventing the touchdown.

Final Scrimmage

Heaps got the practice's final scrimmage off to a good start offensively right off the bat, throwing a 34-yard pass down the middle of the field to Luke Ashworth. Ashworth got sandwiched between two defenders in midair as he turned to make the catch, but was able to hold on to the ball. After a short completion to Ashworth on the next play, however, the offense stalled thanks to a dropped snap and a sack by Vic So'oto.

Things got even worse from there, as Nelson struggled to hold on to a bad snap on the first play of the second-team's final drive. Jadon Wagner was able to recover the fumble for a defensive touchdown.

Lark and the third-team closed out practice, gaining 9 yards on a 2-yard pass to Di Luigi and a 7-yard pass to Cody Hoffman before Quezada was stuffed on third down and Lark's fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

"Their momentum shifted a couple of times during practice, and just like the first day in shells they were anxious to play and so execution wasn't quite as clean," said Mendenhall. "I think those continue to improve as they get more accustomed to banging into each other at full speed, but I like the eagerness and I like their competitive spirit and I like that they want to play football. Execution could still improve."

Mendenhall's Assessment

With four practices now having been completed, Mendenhall said he could tell his team was well-prepared coming into spring camp.

"It's apparent they've done a lot of work on their own, meeting with each other and upperclassmen leading younger classmen, getting them prepared for what spring is gonna be like and what our program expectations are like, so that's clear," he said. "The assignments are much further along than what I expected them to be, especially with the number of new faces."

As for those new faces, they have impressed Mendenhall.

"I think I wasn't expecting our brand new freshmen that came midyear to be able to show as effectively as they are. I expected them maybe at the end of spring to be able to show some competency in assignments and making plays, and yet they've come in like they've been in our program for a year already."

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