Practice Report: Best vs. Rest scrimmage

Coach David Cutcliffe praised the defense, felt the offensive execution was the best it's been since last spring and was very happy with the kicking game in a 'Best vs. Rest' scrimmage pitting the top two teams against the rest of the squad, but he wasn't happy with two fumbles by the number one offense.

"First of all, I was very happy we got some hot weather work in the stadium," Cutcliffe noted. "We needed that and need some more before all is said and done. We know we are going to have some hot games, so we need some more hot practices.

"I was also very happy with the defense today. They were around the football all day and we threw a lot at them. We tried to give them everything we suspect Memphis will try to run and they were in the right places at the right times most of the time. Besides two drive-killing fumbles, which we simply cannot have when the games roll around, our offensive execution was excellent - better than I have seen it since spring. (QB) Micheal Spurlock was exceptional throwing the ball and managing the offense. I think he was something like 11-13 passing today. Our kicking game as also crisp - kickoffs, punting, field goals - we were successful in all phases today."

* Certainly, the day goes up as a good sign, but that must be prefaced with an explanation. Most of the guys expected to dress out against Memphis - sans the injured players - were facing the "rest." The rest did have quite a few scholarship players, but most of them are very young and inexperienced. The point of the practice was simple - execution. Even if you are playing against air, you have to execute, and Cut was happy with that. For sure, from a personnel standpoint, it was a mismatch, but the third and fourth-teamers were competitive enough to make some plays and give the top two teams a realistic test.

* The injury situation looked a bit better today and nobody was injured in the scrimmage. . . TB Brandon Jacobs, who hurt his knee yesterday, was very relieved to find it is "just" a sprained medial collateral ligament. "You should have seen the smile on my face when I got the good news," Jake said. "I'm going to try to be back Monday. That is a relief. I'm so thankful it wasn't a tear of any kind.". . . DT Daniel Booth - pulled calf muscle - is still out, but he expects to be back for the opener if he continues improving. . . DT Andrew Wicker - toe injury - was also held out, but he too expects to play against Memphis. . . WR Kerry Johnson - hamstring - is still out, but he's optimistic for a return before the season opener. . . DE Cory Robinson - hamstring - who has missed nearly two weeks of work, practiced today and looked fine. . . Ditto on FB Rick Razzano - concussion - who appears to be healthy again. . . The only surprise in the injury department was that FB Lorenzo Townsend could not go today. He tweaked a hamstring yesterday late into practice. He dressed out today, but could not practice. He believes he will be fine by the Memphis game.

* The Rebs went through game-like pregame warmups and entering the field from the South End Zone tunnel, like they will do for the opener. The Rebs will warm up this year on the South end of the field as opposed to the North end.

* The players who joined the team Monday when classes started are already in pads. We are going to give them a few days to get settled in before reporting much on them. We'll get caught up with them as soon as we are sure as they are going to stick.

* We watched intently on who was dressed in Red jerseys with "The Best." It might be some kind of indication as to which newcomers will play this year and which ones may redshirt. There were two true freshman in Red today were LB Garry Pack and WR Mico McSwain. JUCO transfer Larry Kendrick was also, obviously, in Red. We've been hearing the two frosh DEs - Corey Mills and Chris Bowers - are lining themselves up for playing time, but they were with "the rest" today. We'll see.

* The ones had no changes other than DT Michael Bozeman starting for Daniel Booth and WR Matt Pierce starting for Kerry Johnson in the slot. . . . Jeremy garrett moved up from the threes to the twos to take the load of Wicker and Booth being out along the DL, but nothing else had changed with the twos either.

* The Rest was given a 28-0 lead to start the shortened game. They ended up "winning" 28-21. We scored three out of five possessions, but had those two fumbles that cost us," explained Cut. "As I said, those cannot happen.". . . WR Bill Flowers had one fumble after a reception and a nice hit by freshman CB Terrell Jackson and TB Alan Abrams had the other fumble after an eight-yard pickup.

* PK Jonathan Nichols appears to have kickoff duties locked down and showed why today. He kicked two low kickoffs deep into the end zone and toward the left sideline and one high kickoff to the goalline.

* Freshman QB Paul Eck showed some poise today in directing the offense of the Rest. While his numbers weren't good, he was under the gun of pressure all day and was running a facsimile of Memphis' offense. He had two or three very nice throws for completions and two or three more that were very close. He's got some style.

* Spurlock was on fire today, regardless who he was throwing against. He was 11-13 with no interceptions for 128 yards and one TD. He also ran for 39 yards on three carries, including a 20-yard TD when he was flushed from the pocket. The best we've ever seen Micheal throw the ball. No tough catches had to be made - all the throws were in the bread baskets of receivers.

* TB Vashon Pearson ran the ball with authority today through some big holes provided by the OL, which was machine-like in its precision. Pearson gained 63 yards on eight carries. Abrams gained 53 yards on 7 carries, but had the one blemish with the fumble. Abrams had a TD run of 21 yards straight up the middle where he displayed his immense skills and vision. He's just a natural in the open field - he always seems to make the right moves at the right times.

* The first drive of the day for the one offense was precise and effective. 71-yards in nine plays capped by Abrams' TD jaunt. The Rebs showed a patience and an execution level that was, well, quite a thing of beauty, despite who they were running against. Spurlock had total control of the offense, mentally and physically.

* WS Charles Clark registered a sack on a safety blitz to thwart the next drive by The Rest. But on the ensuing punt, S Jamarca Sanford let everyone know The Rest meant business when he nailed Mike Espy on a punt return. Leveled him.

* CB Trumaine McBride had an interception in the end zone on nice coverage of a fade route. He was behind the receiver and in great position. Want to see more of that.

* On the next possesion by the ones, Spurlock found Mario Hill for 20 yards and Flowers for 24. Perfect downfield passes hitting both in stride.

* Something real different today popped up. We didn't get an opportunity to ask if it was a permanent move or not, but S Danny Bell played wide receiver for The Rest and had one nice catch of 10 yards. Hmmmmm. . . We'll keep our eye on that situation tomorrow.

* WR Mike Espy had a 28-yard TD reception today and he also had a 55-yard return on a kickoff. Mike has been kind of "invisible" in the other scrimmages, but he was much more involved in the offense today.

* Nichols ended practice with a 43-yard field goal that split the uprights. Dead solid perfect.

* Have any of the backup tackles made a move? OC/OL Coach John Latina said "yes." "Darryl Harris has done an excellent job and is the leader of the backup tackles right now. Had he not missed most of last year, I really believe he'd be far enough along right now to play. He's getting there, but he still has some catching up to do," Lats noted. "We're hopeful that later in the year we can rely on him. Tony Sanders is not far behind Darryl. Marcus Cohen needs to be patient and just keep coming on. He'll be fine in time, but right now Darryl is ahead in that race for being the third tackle.". . . If the first game were tomorrow, however, and a third tackle were needed, RG Marcus Johnson would move outside to RT and one of the backup guards would move up to Johnson's spot - most likely Tony Bonds or Ryan Jones. Still waiting on a surge from James McCoy too.

* DB Coach Jay Hopson got a pick from McBride today and his guys had an opportunity to pick off two more passes. FS Eric Oliver dropped a wide open interception right in his hands.

* Flowers was the leading receiver with four catches for 46 yards. Hill was next with three for 26 yards while Espy and Taye Biddle had two catches each. . . Biddle, by the way, returned one punt and made some nice moves on a 25-yard return.

* The leading tacklers today were LB Rob Robertson with 4, Bozeman and SS Kelvin Robinson with 3 each. The Rebs played a little over a half. . . On the other side of the ball, LB Reterio Brown had seven hits and was the leader of The Rest with a good showing.

* Robertson said he feels "OK" with the defense right now. "We are getting closer to being able to go 10 plays or so without a bust. We aren't there yet, but we are getting there. The busts have been spread out throughout the defense, but we have to stop them. It's mostly little things that we are correcting one by one. We'll get there. I'm not happy where we are, but we're getting closer. I think everyone knows what we are supposed to do. Now it's just a matter of executing," the senior LB/Captain explained.

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