April Fool's Day in a Two-Minute Offense

There were some tricks being played out on the practice field Thursday, but it wasn't anything gadget-oriented or schematic-based. Thursday's offensive performance yielded some very good results in the two-minute situational drill that was the focus of the practice, and the results were accomplished even without the slightest intent to deceive.

When a quarterback wearing a green jersey with the number three on it gets set behind the center, one just naturally thinks James Lark is out on the field. However, when Lark goes and stands next to Riley Nelson – who wears the number 13 jersey – and is suddenly shorter, you start to squint a little to see if your eyes are deceiving you. Then when Lark starts running around and throwing the football left-handed, something's just not right and you look a little harder.

It soon became obvious that Lark switched jerseys with Nelson on Thursday.

"Hey, it's April Fool's day today," said Nelson with a smile. "We tried to trick everyone watching practice today and confuse all you guys in the media out here watching today."

It was a nice little trick by the Cougar quarterbacks, but the real focus of Friday's practice revolved around the two-minute drill. The offense was faced with the task of driving 50 yards downfield to score, and given the different skill sets of the quarterbacks, the two-minute drill quickly exposed who was who.

"Well, when it comes to the end of the game you want to be the one that is prepared the best to win if the game is close," said Lark. "We run these two-minute situation drills to help us be prepared and feel comfortable in this situation. If you look back in our recent history, we've had some really close games."

Coach Mendenhall has mentioned in the past that when it comes to team practices, quality – rather than quantity – is most important. The tempo of the two-minute drill naturally increases the pace of practice overall, and with that being the case, Thursday's practice was shorter than normal.

"First and foremost, the thing that really sticks out to me from today is the level of energy that we can go out with," said Nelson. "Obviously when we've been going longer twenty-period practices and then we have a short one, it's kind of refreshing. It's even more so after a day off like yesterday when we just lifted, so first of all I felt the energy was high.

"Then second of all, the execution in our offense under the tempo and stress of the two-minute offense was really good. It could have been that guys were more focused on precision because we didn't have pads on. There wasn't as much to worry about on the physical side of things, and so that could have been why. Once we are able to combine those two sides of things together, we're going to be nasty."

"Bth sides of our team went out and played really well in today's drill," Lark said. "I thought our offense went out and executed well and I thought our defense went out and did a good job as well. It's a little different without pads on and you don't quite get the real look and it's not as physical.

"What it does do is it gets people in a higher-tempo mindset and helps to build chemistry within that tempo. When you speed things up there's an element of pressure there because you don't have a lot of time. Things tend to get a bit out of control. The one thing you can take from this is how well the offense performed in those aspects, and I think we executed those things really well. I think things went great today and our offense executed really well."

Despite a high level of execution on Thursday, there were some miscues from time to time, which is to be expected in spring camp.

"It's just someone getting mixed up on certain plays and usually it's just one guy," said Nelson. "Before it would be two or three guys, but the number of guys that are making mistakes is going down. At the beginning of camp there were a couple of guys making mistakes on every play and it would kind of be chaos. Now it's just one guy here and there that will make a little mistake and it's never the same guy. We just have to focus in on every play every time and then we're going to be real nasty.

"I would say we weren't perfect," Nelson continued. "But I would rate it as one of the best practices we've had. Now, this is as far as execution goes, but we still had our mistakes and we didn't have pads on. With that being said, it was a lot of fun seeing guys flying around and executing at the really high level we did today."

It would have been interesting to see how well the offense would have executed if the practice was live and the reins on the defense were loosened. Despite being held back, the defense can claim victories of its own. The offense was able to convert some fourth downs, while the defense was able to shut down the offense quickly in some series. In the end however, the offense did manage to get into the end zone one time.

"You have to give a lot of credit to our defense today," Nelson said. "I felt our secondary did a great job today and were breaking on balls quicker and sharper. They did a great job of flying around and I think if we had some pads on there would have been some big collisions out there today. That's a credit to our defense for being in the right spot at the right time, so I agree that it was a good day for both sides of the ball."

"I thought both sides looked good and both sides competed," said safety Andrew Rich, who is slowly working his way back into participation. "I thought twelve periods today was perfect to get ready for a couple scrimmages tomorrow."

Friday's practice will be under more realistic conditions, as it will be full-contact. So, the defenders will have more of their strengths at their disposal. The question is, will the offense have as much success when it comes to execution as it did Thursday? Stay tuned Cougar fans.

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