Last time the Pirates scrimmaged, the defense allowed the running backs to average eight yards a rush. Freshman Marquez Grayson ran the ball seven times for 58 yards and a touchdown—an average of over eight yards per carry. On Saturday, the running backs only averaged two yards per rush attempt.
The linebackers had a huge impact on shutting down the running game. They often found themselves stopping the rush in the backfield before the running backs could even get started. They also notched four sacks on the quarterbacks.
"Defensively, the leaders are those backers," said head coach Ruffin McNeill. "Montese [Overton], Maurice Falls, Zeek Bigger and Brandon Williams—those four will be four of the best we've had here. They've got a chance to be four of the best."
Outside linebackers Montese Overton and Reece Speight co-led the defense with four tackles apiece. Overton notched three tackles for a total loss of 19 yards—two of which were sacks totaling 15 yards. Speight added another sack that cost the offense 11 yards.
"As a group, I feel we did good today," said Speight. "Of course, we're going to have a few things to work on. It is spring ball. We got a lot of guys rotating and working in. I'm one of them, so I'm trying to get in and learn as much as I can as fast as I can."
Defensive lineman Ty Anderson notched the team's fourth sack, which was a six-yard loss, and another three tackles. Bigger, Crishon Rose, and Josh Hawkins all added three tackles each, too. They'll be entering roles left by graduating players, but stepping up like that isn't something unfamiliar.
"I feel like I have to do the same thing I have been doing since last year," said Bigger, who amassed 77 tackles last season. "When [Jeremy] Grove and [Kyle] Tudor went out, we had to step up and fill in some big roles and some big shoes. From then on, we had to start being leaders. So nothing's changed today."
Even with the incredible performance of the rush defense, the running backs weren't completely ineffective. Chris Hairston, who ran four times for 25 yards in the first scrimmage, had no rush attempts in Saturday's game in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. He did, however, make his presence felt in the passing game by making two catches for 15 yards. Breon Allen also had a three-yard reception.
After getting three interceptions in the first scrimmage, the secondary was unable to force any turnovers this last time out. They also allowed, on average, two more yards per reception on Saturday. With all the shifting done in the secondary, it's expected that they struggle somewhat through the spring. Even so, they're taking advantage of these game-like situations as an opportunity to solidify things.
"That backend group of Josh Hawkins, Detric Allen, Domonique Lennon and Lamar Ivey are really gelling together," said McNeill. "That's all due to [defensive coordinator] Rick [Smith] and his teaching philosophy and coaching."
The defense, especially the rush defense, will look to build on this performance in the Spring Football Game. The Pirates will participate in their third scrimmage Saturday afternoon in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.