That was apparent from the six sacks from six different players — that usually would have only counted in two-hand touch but, nonetheless, tallied 12 points for the defense — to the three fumble recoveries.
Through the first half of the scrimmage and spring practice finale, the margin was close. Thanks to a different scoring system and solid play, the defense led 18-8. But with less than a minute to play, the offense was in smelling distance of the end zone and hoping for momentum. On first-and-10 from the 13-yard line, Paul Dombrowski scrambled, chucked a spiral across his body and down the sideline.
Linebacker and Oñate graduate Richard Glover plucked the ball and dashed 95 yards untouched for the TD. That play seemed to fuel the defense and stifle the offense. The outcome was never in doubt after that point.
The NMSU defense seemed to outperform the offense in two of the three spring exhibitions, including Friday's Crimson and White game but Aggie coach Tony Samuel said don't be fooled. "I don't really look at it that way," said Samuel when asked about the perceived dominance of the defense. "You always look at both sides of the ball.
"I know the defense had some turnovers and did some things they wanted to do, but I thought the offense threw the ball well. But on same hand, we did turn the ball over a few too many times." Mayfield graduate and sophomore receiver Tim Tolbert snatched four of those spirals for 84 yards, including a diving 39-yard TD catch in the corner of the end zone.
"He's comin'," Samuel said with a nod and a grin. Tolbert said his performance boosted his confidence. "It is nice to have a scrimmage like this because it puts you in a game situation," he said. "Although the offense made some mistakes, you cannot take anything away from the defense. We just have some minor problems to work out. Between this year and last, I think we are playing better than last year."
Quarterback Joey Vincent showcased his arm and feet, completing 9-of-11 passes for 137 yards and one TD. He also toted seven carries for 24 yards. Preston Williams performed well again, hauling in four spirals for 72 yards. Defensive end Chase Spicer and Glover both felt the defense is coming together.
"Compared to last year, the defense stepped up amazingly," Spicer said. "Having more starters coming back is great. We are playing a lot better than last year, but the season has not started yet. I had a lot of fun this year in spring practice with my teammates. When one person is dragging, everyone else picks you up."
James Staley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.