"Y'all have watched enough football to know, that absolutely stunk," Croom told reporters, who could only nod agreement. "It was absolutely bad."
How bad? Saturday made the spring game, a 7-0 event, look like a Fourth of July fireworks show. The #1 offense started eight series at their 35 yard line, and only three times did the #1 defense allow the chains to move. The first team only got as far as the defense's 30-yard line and stopped right there. And for the record, nobody came close to scoring a touchdown all day.
So is the first offense that bad, or the first defense that strong? Croom can't say any more. "I tell our defense right now I think they're pretty good, but we won't know until we play somebody else because our offense is so bad right now we can't even judge that.
"Thank God we don't have to play today. But if Murray State had seen this today they'd be chomping at the bit, they'd probably stop practicing the rest of two-a-days and wait for us."
If any ‘defense' could be made for the offense, it was the absence of Jerious Norwood. The all-SEC halfback strained a knee Wednesday morning and will be held out of contact work the rest of camp. Croom also pointed to other hurting and presumed playmakers, as flanker Will Prosser and wideout Keon Humphries are either injured or limited at the moment.
"Hopefully when we get them back out it will change some stuff," Croom said. "And definitely with Norwood. I tell you, without Norwood it's an ugly, ugly offense." Without the starter the rushing stats were not pretty at all; Brandon Hart had 29 yards in eight carries; Brandon Thornton 22 yards on 12 tries; and Derek Ambrose 15 yards on five tries. The best run of the day was a dozen-yard dash by converted wideout Jonathan Lowe for the first first down, on the third series. He finished with 20 yards on four runs.
Asked who will be Norwood's backup, Croom shook his head. "I've got some bad news. I thought we had some, we haven't got any. We've got two already committed and I wish they were here because they have to be better than what we've got."
The offense might have done a bit better if Omarr Conner had played more than the first four series. Or maybe not since the #1 quarterback was 0-of-8 passing in his short day's work. It did not help that the first defense, which Conner took all his turns against, put the heat on almost at will and Conner had to unload his throws before starting wideouts Tee Milons and Joey Sanders, and third-wideout in multiple sets Jamayel Smith, could get into open positions.
Redshirt freshman Mike Henig got in a lot more series' worth of work, and while he did have stats the end results were no better. Henig was 7-of-21 for 68 yards. His first three series, in twos-vs.-twos, produced no first downs, so Henig was put behind the #1 line. It didn't help much. Freshmen Tray Rutland and Ty Evans got some turns with the #2 group. Evans completed a heave, which probably should have been intercepted, for 35 yards with two missed throws; Rutland was 1-of-1 for seven yards.
Smith (two catches, 42 yards), Milons (two, 22) were the only wideouts with multiple grabs.
The defensive damage was done by nearly everyone on any unit that lined up. MLB Clarence McDougal, DE Michael Heard, and DT Andrew Powell all had four tackles, while DT Corey Clark and DE Titus Brown each had two tackles for losses out of the 14 overall stops behind the line of scrimmage. The red-jersied quarterbacks could not be actually tackled but there were whistle-sacks credited to Brown, Heard, DE Charles Burns, DT Avery Hannibal, and OLB Jamar Chaney.
"I feel sorry for our defense," Croom said…a strange sentiment considering it is the offense that seemed to need sympathy most. "They have to challenge themselves to get better each day because the offense is not even giving them any competition."
It's not news that the Dog defense is ahead of the offense in camp, as was revealed during spring training. It's how this stopper-unit does it that catches the coach's eye. "We don't have a single individual that just intimidates you, but as a group the speed and intensity they have they can be intimidating. Like a bunch of bumblebees."
"But," he added, "I've got nothing to go on, offensive line is not even challenging them. I don't know if we got two first downs the whole day." As noted, it was three, but Croom wasn't counting and didn't really care about exact numbers. The situation is all-too-obvious after ten days of fall camp.
"Jerious Norwood is good, (fullback) Bryson Davis is a good player, Omarr Conner is playing well. (Center) Chris McNeil is doing some things right. But beyond that we don't have a consistent player on offense."
Nor a consistent offensive line. Freshman Calvin Wilson and junior James Redmond were sidelined again for injuries, so right tackle remains a void. Senior Avery House started there and struggled. Roland Terry was on the second team, and freshman Craig Jenkins, just moved from guard, took a few turns at RT until he banged up his right knee.
McNeil was allowed to take off many snaps so Royce Blackledge—wearing a Maroon jersey—could practice with the first team at center. He had a number of low snaps working that Henig had to scramble after. The second line, left to right, was usually freshman Chris Spencer, freshman Anthony Dunning, Dio Herrera, freshman Johnny Carptenter, and Terry.
There were no changes to the #1 defensive lineup from practices all week. But junior transfer Antonio Johnson now not only wears a starting-team white jersey but he is the top backup to both Powell and Deljuan Robinson at each of the tackle positions. Brown is in a similar role, dressing in white and subbing for both Willie Evans and Michael Heard. The blue-shirted second line scrimmaged with freshman Quinton Wesley and Burns at ends, with Corey Clark and Hannibal the tackles.
Though also in blue jerseys, freshmen Fitzhugh and Derek Pegues took many turns at cornerbacks with the first defense. Chaney got his own snaps with the varsity as well at OLB, showing that the defense not only has a good lineup but the makings of real depth. "We've got 14, 15 on that side that can play," Croom said. "But we can't get 11 on offense right now."
If there was anything encouraging by a non-defensive unit, it came in punt return where Jonathan Lowe, Derek Pegues, and Jonathan Hill took turns. Brooks Crabtree averaged 38 yards on his punt and rookie Blake McAdams hit his only punt 43 yards and bounced it out at the five-yard line. "Crabtree punted well, and McAdams has punted well in practice, we'll check him out in the next scrimmage," said Croom.
Jonathan (Lowe) is going to be a good returner and I think Pegues will give us that middle kickoff returner. But (Adam) Carlson and (Andrew) Gambrell it's obvious we haven't got but one placekicker and that's Keith Andrews. The other two just aren't good enough right now." Brett Morgan and Crabtree did the place-holding.
Besides Jenkins, the only practice incident came on the last play when safety Mario Bobo stayed prone after a tackle. It was nothing of concern, Croom said. "He's fine, he just made a real hard hit. He bounced back up." The coach hopes several red-crossed Dogs bounce back soon and are able to practice next week. Those confined to the sidelines included Norwood (knee), Prosser (stress fracture foot), Wilson (knee), Humphries (knee), wideout Tay Bowser (hamstring), linebacker Gabe O'Neal (knee), offensive tackle Michael Gates (ankle), and Redmond (back). Nobody wore a limited-yellow jersey Saturday. H-back Dezmond Sherrod returned to action after a week sidelined by a hip flexor injury; and rookie LB Jimmy Miller (concussion) was able to scrimmage.
The Bulldogs will have one more scrimmage, next Saturday, and it will be closed even to media. Croom can only hope he and the coaching staff see a better overall effort than what the first day at Scott Field revealed. For that matter, the coach pondered aloud if that might have been the problem.
"Maybe it's something about coming in Davis Wade Stadium that intimidates them, and there wasn't anybody in here. If we had the stands full maybe they wouldn't come out of the dressing room, I don't know. These aren't even the same guys. Maybe the game is too big for some of them, that's all I can assume."
After taking Sunday-off the Bulldogs will have their last two-a-day session on Monday.