Running back James Williams (pictured above) was electrifying at times, even though the Cougar D mostly won the battle on the scoreboard. Williams rushed six times for 25 yards with 1 TD and caught six passes out of the backfield for 42 hashes. He served notice early by vaulting over a would-be tackle from safety Jalen Thompson to pick up a few extra yards.
Big plays were made by newcomers and household names and the combination of the two provided a barometer of where the Cougs stand with one last spring practice to come on Tuesday.
QB Luke Falk took the field for the opening drive of the game, but it was redshirt freshman defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo who made the first big play as he got to Falk for a sack on the opening snap.
Falk and the Gray squad offense could not get the job done on the first drive and were stopped after only one first down. The Crimson defense came out excited after taking the first drive but as we have learned with Falk it is not necessarily how he starts that counts, but how he finishes.
The Crimson offense took over for the first time with quarterback Peyton Bender at the helm. The drive started well for the offense as Bender found running back Jamal Morrow on a pass that gained 15 yards. Williams picked up the next first down with a great run on fourth-and-two.
The defense then took control of the drive and after back-to-back sacks by interior defensive linemen Garrett McBroom and Ngalu Tapa, and the drive was over.
Coming into the spring the Cougs knew that they must have a couple of defensive lineman step up and play well to have a complete defensive line rotation. It has been very encouraging to watch these two guys, who have improved all spring and both played well Saturday.
Falk and the Gray offense then took over for the second time and this drive turned out much differently their first.
The offense gained momentum on the first play as running back Williams hurdled a would-be tackler that had the fans cheering. In my book, Williams continues to impress this spring and is well on his way to earning his way in the running back rotation this fall.
Linebacker Frankie Luvu got the defense as close as possible to a stop as he came flying into the flats to drop running back Gerard Wicks after a short completion that forced a fourth down.
Luvu continues to improve and should help fill the void left by graduated senior Jeremiah Allison. However, the offense converted the fourth and short and marched all of the way down the field for a score when Falk threw a touchdown pass to Gabe Marks from 10 yards out to give the Gray squad a 6-0 lead.
Quarterback Tyler Hilinski then took the field with the Crimson offense for his first drive.
Hilinski and the offense did some really good things on this drive. But after a nice completion on a post-dig route for a first down deep in the defense's territory, mistakes killed the drive. After the offense committed two consecutive penalties, a near interception by linebacker Paris Taylor was followed by Hercules Mata'afa getting to Hilinski for a sack and the drive was over.
The defenses then took over the scrimmage for the next few drives -- starting with a three-and-out for Falk and the Gray offense.
The fact that Falk and Marks were on the field and the defense did not give up a single first down shows how god they can be.
When Bender and the Crimson Offense came back out, nose tackle Tapa took over. He got to Bender on the first two plays for sacks that forced a third-and-very-long. Bender took a shot down the middle against the stingy Cougar secondary and paid the price as he was intercepted by ballhawking safety Shalom Luani.
The Crimson defense then had a short field to defend but did so beautifully as they gave up yards, but no points to Falk and the Gray Offense.
Hilinski finally had some luck against one of the difficult Cougar defenses, despite the efforts of linebacker Peyton Pelluer and nickel back Parker Henry. These two both made nice tackles in space on this drive and have grown into real leaders for the Cougars. But Hilinksi found a way to get the offense to the seven-yard line and Williams burst into the end zone to tie the game 6-6.
The Crimson offense did a nice job tying the game but they left too much time for Falk and Marks as they got the ball with 1:42 on the clock. The Gray offense marched right down the field and Falk hit Marks in the back of the end zone on the last play of the half to cap off a drive that was eerily similar to last year's trip to Pasadena.
This was Falk’s last action of the scrimmage. His performance today was the typical Luke Falk performance. He completed a high percentage of passes (82 percent), did not make any big mistakes and showed up big in the clutch.
The second half started with Bender leading the Crimson squad down the field for his first scoring drive to tie the game up. He had a great completion to Y receiver River Cracraft who jumped up and made an incredible grab for a 23-yard gain over the middle. He then completed the drive by hitting X receiver Tavares Martin in the back of the end zone, who skied high to make another great catch.
The Gray squad then took over the scrimmage as Hilinski led them down for scores on their next two drives that included a two-yard touchdown run by running back Gerard Wicks and a three-yard touchdown pass to H receiver Robert Lewis, who had a team-high 11 grabs.
Hilinski really had a nice day and although Bender has had the edge in the backup quarterback race this spring, Hilinski really helped himself out today.
The clock ran out and the Gray Squad secured a 24-12 victory, but it was then time for some of the young guys to get reps.
The defense dominated this session for the most part and that was in part due to the play of defensive end Nick Begg. Begg recorded three sacks on the day and batted down a ball at the line of scrimmage. Begg has not gotten a ton of reps with the 1’s and 2’s this spring, but every time he has gotten a chance he has made plays.
Linebackers Kameron Powell and Nate DeRider also had good showings in this period. They both found their way to the ball and made tackles on several plays and Powell even intercepted a Justus Rogers pass.
A couple of guys also showed up big for the offense for the reserves. Running back Alijah Lee is another Cougar back with talent. He was very explosive and scored the offense’s only touchdown. Walk-on receiver Curtis Russell also had a couple of impressive catches.