Explosive Vandal offense on display

DURING A RELENTLESS 3-HOUR MARATHON SCRIMMAGE Friday afternoon, the Vandal O put up stats that were impressive by just about any measure. Time will tell how far this offense has come since last fall, but Friday they were potent across the board. Tailback KRIS OLUGBODE rushed for 200 yards; wideout Dezmon Epps gained 218 yards on 17 catches; and SOPH Deon Watson went for 170 yards and two TDs.

Coming off a season in which coach Petrino's primary objective was to teach this team how to work day-in-and-day-out, it would appear he is now focused on the next phase of this team's development -- endurance. Friday night's scrimmage was not one for the light-hearted; a nearly three hour session that didn't break for "halftime" until two hours in. Players were constantly rolled in based on situation and down-and-distance, while each string (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) got their shots. If the staff wasn't happy with the performance of a unit on a particular drive, they went back to the beginning and started over. This went for the 3rd teamers as well as the 1st teamers, and there was precious little time for standing around for anyone.

The goal for every drive Friday was scoring, and there were no field goal kickers involved.

The defense was a little short-handed, particularly on the interior DL where Max Martial, Glen Antoine, and Matt Neal were unavailable, which affected the DEs as it forced Marius Burgsmueller to focus almost entirely on DT for the day. Despite the increased reps for some of the biggest guys on the field, and younger guys running with the ones from time-to-time, they continued to line up play, after play, after play.

Below are some of our observations from the scrimmage, as well as noticing some of the new players that will be battling for playing time this fall.

Vandal D-Line running through drills with Litehouse Center in background

JC transfer IRVING STEELE played extensively with 1st unit defense
NEW FACES IN THE CROWD AT LINEBACKER: With middle linebacker Juan Martinez apparently out of Friday's scrimmage, JC transfer Irving Steele saw significant playing time with the No.1 defensive unit at middle linebacker, sharing top duties with junior Broc Westlake throughout the scrimmage. A physical specimen (6-foot-1, 218, 4.60-40), Steele led the Vandal D with 18 tackles on the day. Steele isn't the only newcomer making an impact either as freshman Tony Lashley (6-foot-1, 233, 4.50-40), another inside linebacker, also made his presence known with five tackles in the scrimmage, and registered the marathon session's only pass interception on the day. With three returning starters from 2013, led by Idaho top tackler, junior outside linebacker Marc Millan and senior weakside 'backer Eric Tuipulotu, plus the continued development of the rest of the depth chart, this is shaping up to be a strong unit this fall.


Senior tackle NICK VON ROTZ (70) and senior center MIKE MARBOE contain senior defensive tackle QUAYSHAWNE BUCKLEY.
Sophomore KATO FAWKES, a JC transfer, ran with the No.1 offense for most of Friday's scrimmage.
OFFENSIVE LINE: This is one of the main units we came to watch Friday afternoon. We were pleasantly surprised by the outstanding performance of the rest of the offense, but our original intention was to focus here because, as the saying goes, this is where a potent offensive attack will begin. Along with a group that developed noticeably as last season progressed, there are several new athletes in for spring. We also knew that the Vandals are giving several linemen looks at different positions this spring, searching for the top five combination of linemen that are the most productive.

For instance, two year starting quick tackle Cody Elenz moved inside to quick guard and ran most of the scrimmage with the second unit before switching back to his quick tackle position near the end. Additionally, JC transfer Kato Fawkes (6-3, 305) worked with the No.1 unit at quick guard next to 6-foot-9 sophomore Mason Woods for most of Friday afternoon. For the rest of the top five (for this day at least), the strong side was manned by true sophomore Steven Matlock at guard and senior Nick Von Rotz at tackle. Senior center Mike Marboe ran with the No.1 unit throughout practice, and doubled up with the 2nd unit as the scrimmage progressed.

Senior Sione Maile ran with the No.2 unit at center for most of the scrimmage, then later moved over to guard. Junior Dallas Sandberg ran with the twos at strong guard across from Elenz, with JC transfer Jeff Travillion at quick tackle and sophomore Calvin White at strong tackle.

The line was solid throughout practice and paved the way for a punishing ground game and an aerial attack that was potent. With senior Jesse Davis expected back this fall and Jerett Olson arriving this summer, it is a safe bet that this group will continue to shuffle to find the most effective lineup heading into fall.


Sophomore wide receiver DEON WATSON on his way to a 51 yard touchdown reception, outrunning everyone (with a few key down field blocks along the way).

Sophomore tailback/receiver speed demon RICHARD MONTGOMERY.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Impressive effort all-around by this group in Friday's scrimmage. The entire unit was effective, doing a nice job of hanging onto the ball and making big gains after the catch. But one thing definitely stood out though, and that is that this group – for the first time in a very long time that we can recall – gets after it when blocking down field. Plays were extended because these guys moved bodies down field. Aside from the developing physical style of their play, it was dizzying keeping up with the routes – bodies burst off the line and got into the secondary quickly across the board. Everyone ran their route as if they were getting the ball.

QB-turned-WR Joshua McCain definitely stood out Friday, going up and fighting for a catch while tangled with a defender, showing explosiveness on several open field runs, and not shying away from a little contact or putting in the extra effort to fight for yards. But the gaudy numbers went to speedsters Dezmon Epps (218 yards on 17 receptions and four touchdowns) and sophomore Richard Montgomery (part time tailback, part time receiver, full time rocket, finishing with 104 yards on just four catches), flashing their speed on several occasions (including Montgomery's dazzling 65 yard TD reception). Deon Watson (9 receptions, 170 yards, two touchdowns and a long of 51 yards) continues to develop into a weapon with his 6-foot-4 frame and elusiveness in the open field, while redshirt freshman Jacob Sannon is coming on strong.

This group is going to get a healthy boost with the arrival of JC transfers Jermaine Johnson and Kenny Torrance in June, but for now this group is already flashing some weapons that should make them a potent attack in the fall.

Senior strongside defensive ends MAXX FORDE (40) and ANTHONY RICE (5) get ready for their next drill before the scrimmage.
Defensive tackle QUAYSHAWNE BUCKLEY rushing hard around the end.
This group was undermanned Friday with JC transfers Max Martial (6-3, 305) and Glen Antoine (6-3, 325), as well as sophomore Matt Neal (6-3, 260), all on the sidelines and unable to compete. Despite the setback, there were some strong performances put in by several on the line. In particular, true sophomore noseguard Tueni Lupeamanu (three tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup) stood out Friday with his disruptive play against the No.1 line and ability to flush the QB out of the pocket on several occasions.

For most of the afternoon Lupeamanu ran with the ones along with Quayshawne Buckley - who also had an impressive afternoon - on the inside, with senior Maxx Forde at strongside defensive end and bookended by junior Quinton Bradley on the rush end side. Junior Ryan Edwards saw extensive time with the ones as well. Having Buckley back in the fold for one more season will pay obvious dividends this fall, but getting the line healthy again ( Martial, Antoine, Neal, and incoming linemen Alfonso Hampton and Kaylyn Ayers, being ready to play) is going to be crucial to defensive success this fall.

RUNNING WILD: Runningback Kris Olugbode was unstoppable Friday. The line was opening good holes, but Olugbode was hitting them hard while running north-south, not going down on first contact, and regularly finding a way to slither between tacklers for more yards. He was in a groove in this scrimmage and came out with 200 yards rushing on 23 carries, with a little over 8 yards per carry and two touchdowns along the way. There's a long time to go between now and the season opener at Florida, but this was a statement performance for the junior.

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