Spring Football Practice: April 6

STILLWATER – If the Cowboys' final spring scrimmage on Saturday is anything like the shortened Wednesday version then fans will leave Boone Pickens Stadium having been entertained and with a good feeling about their football team. Wednesday's full pad practice - the 13th of the 15 allotted by the NCAA - was dominated by scrimmage action. It featured a dominant defense early, a big play offense late, a successful simulated overtime for the offense, a couple of massive hits, and plenty of emotion.

"I was disappointed early with the effort of the offense. We weren't in sync, weren't functioning very well, struggled with some snaps," said head coach Mike Gundy of the early practice. "We started to run the ball better. Julius Crosslin was a difference again running through tackles. I'm not sure we blocked very well, but he ran through tackles and made some plays and got the momentum picked up in the scrimmage. I felt good about the way the offense ran the ball late, and I was very excited about the way both sides of the ball played down by the goal line."

The disappointing start for Gundy saw the offense go two series without a first down. The first big play came on a pass over the middle from third quarterback Al Pena to tight end Paschal Smith that covered 24 yards. That was the only substantial gain for the offense in the first 27 plays of what turned out to be a 76-play scrimmage that included a simulated overtime period and nine plays of goal line work at the end.

The defense was a big reason for the lack of success early by the offense as linebacker Roderick Johnson, linebacker Grant Jones, and defensive tackle Ryan McBean all had sacks early on. The defense really caught fire on the first of two huge hits as cornerback Andrew Alexander came flying up and busted receiver Errick McCown right as he caught a wide receiver screen from Jamie Beeghley. The play resulted in a two-yard loss, but the emotion of the big hit lasted for a good amount of time as the defense played revved up causing several skirmishes after plays for the coaches and officiating crew to break up.

During one series linebacker Lawrence Pinson made three tackles in a four-play span that included a two-yard loss when he took down Julius Crosslin.

The offense put together two first downs before the defense struck its next big blow when Mike Hamilton took a handoff only to get blasted by mammoth defensive tackle Walter Thomas as he tried to turn upfield. The play resulted in a one-yard loss. The positive was that Hamilton's head was still attached to his torso.

"It's exciting to see Walter finish," said Gundy. "He's lost some weight and feels better about himself. Our big guys are fighting up front and they are playing hard."

The real change for the offense took place when the scrimmage shifted from the scripted format to putting the ball on the 30 and letting the offense drive. Donovan Woods quarterbacked the first drive and the offense covered 70 yards in seven plays. The biggest chunk came on a 48-yard run by Crosslin. The 250-pound sophomore-to-be running back broke through a hole on the left side and then rumbled down the field before being caught at the one. Crosslin finished the day with 118 yards on nine carries. Two plays later Mike Hamilton finished the drive as he plowed in from the one-yard line.

The final three plays near the goal line featured a lot of talking and two skirmishes between offensive and defensive linemen. After the score quarterback Donovan Woods ran to the sideline yelling that the offense had opened "the door." Woods went on to yell at the offensive linemen, "Ya'll are responsible. You guys did it," as he congratulated the offensive line.

"All of them want to put the ball down and play," said Gundy. "There are certain times that we have to work on situations in order to get certain things practiced. Early in our scrimmages we work on things last year we weren't very good at and we still aren't good at but we're better than when we started. Then from the midway point on we put the ball down and let them (coordinators) do anything they want. We're still a better running football team now than we are a throwing football team, but we have to continue getting better throwing the football."

Offensive coordinator Larry Fedora says, "Right now I feel like we can run the football and we'll just have to see where we go with the passing game. We're still going to throw the ball and spread it out, but it is a big plus to be able to run it."

Bobby Reid quarterbacked the next drive and after suffering a tipped ball interception by Alexander came back to hit Tommy Devereaux for eight yards, a swing to Greg Gold for 24 yards, and a slant pass to Errick McCown for eight more. However, the drive stalled just outside the red zone.

Both quarterbacks performed well in limited passing duty as Woods finished 3-of-5 passing for 36 yards and a touchdown. Reid had the one interception but completed 5-of-9 passes for 50 yards.

The one touchdown pass came on a simulated overtime period. The ball was placed at the 25-yard line just as it would be in an overtime period during a game. Woods was the quarterback as the first offense went against the first defense. On the first play Woods hit Luke Frazier for a five-yard gain. Julius Crosslin then took a handoff and went off right tackle for seven yards. The next play D'Juan Woods ran a fade route in the right corner of the end zone and caught the perfectly lofted ball from his younger brother for the score.

"Offensively, I really would have expected our defense to stop us there," said Gundy. "We made a play with the fade to Woods which is something we've done here the last three or four years. That's exciting to me to see those guys hook up again, but obviously, defensively we've got to stop those guys there."

The dilemma of a head coach, you want to score with your offense but you want the defense to stop the offense. The practice concluded with a hotly contested nine plays of goal line work that saw both sides enjoy some success.

The Cowboys will practice in shorts and helmets on Thursday and then conclude spring practice with a major scrimmage Saturday at noon. Gundy is hoping for a huge turnout that will also include former Cowboy players.

Larry Reece will be on the PA describing the action and the scrimmage will be broadcast on Double Play Sports with Dave Hunziker and myself. That can be heard on 1020 AM, 1580 AM, and 105.1 FM. It can also be heard on the internet at eteamradio.com

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