The first spring scrimmage for the 2015 Tech football squad offered a mixed review of the team’s offseason progress last Saturday afternoon at Tucker Stadium.
Following the first two weeks of on-field, organized team drills, the Golden Eagles simulated in-game play in a friendly matchup between both sides of the ball.
As the case in any inner-team scrimmage, the results were conflicting. Head coach Watson Brown said that he gathered signs of optimism but also saw areas that need improvement before the start of the regular season this fall.
“You can never be happy with scrimmages,” said Brown. “When something is good on one side that means it’s bad on the other.”
Brown was quick to note the turnover-heavy performance by the offense, which gave the ball up five times on 75 plays at Saturday’s scrimmage.
“We were seventh in the league (OVC) in turnover ratio last year, and that won’t fly,” said Brown. “When the offense doesn’t turn it over and the defense doesn’t give up big plays, usually good things are happening. We can handle anything else.”
Brown added, “Our defense led the OVC in conference games in getting turnovers last year. So, good by them, bad by the offense.”
Saturday’s effort also saw the latest development in the race for the recently vacant starting role at quarterback, left behind by senior Darian Stone. The top two suitors, Jared Davis and Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College transfer Colby Brown, finished the day with even, yet varying, performances.
While Brown impressed coaches through the air, completing 13-of-17 passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns, Davis showed off his athleticism by adding 18 yards on the ground, including a six-yard quarterback keeper for a touchdown, to a 9-for-15, 102 yard passing effort.
“I thought Colby (Brown) did very well for his first scrimmage,” said Brown. “He’s only been practicing with our system for two weeks. Jared (Davis) was by far, though, the most solid of the bunch.”
Davis’ ability to extend plays would only make sense to impress Brown, whose previous two starting quarterbacks, Darian Stone (2012-2014) and Tre Lamb (2010-2011), were also known for their dual-threat abilities.
Despite limited experience with the team’s offense, Brown said he was impressed with Colby’s passing and poise. However, he also added that the transfer, who often slides before contact after escaping the pocket, still needs time to learn a certain piece of the culture of Tech football.
“We have to get him to run further before he goes down,” said Brown. “Our quarterbacks are important in our system and they have to carry the ball. He’s an athlete, but he hasn’t ran it that much. We want him to get down, but not that quick.”
“I told him, ‘If you’re not far from the first down or the goal line, you lay your body out and go get it. I don’t care. We don’t slide when it’s something like that. We run here,’” said Brown.
Davis, Brown and third QB Ty Jobe (5-for-10 on 35 yards) combined for 27-of-42 for 244 yards with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions. The picks, one from Brown and Jobe, came from safety Bill Dillard and walk-on Blake Lynn, who caught a tipped pass and returned it 51 yards.
With the departure of senior wide out Cody Matthews, Tech will need added stability to its receiving core, a group that’s been riddled with injuries in the past. Brown said he is expecting full seasons from receivers Krys Cates and Jordan Smith, who both sat out the entire 2014 season after suffering injuries early in the year.
Cates led the attack through the skies, posting four catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns, both from Colby Brown. Jordan Smith finished with five catches for 40 yards, with tight end Dametris Watson, another player who missed most of last season with injury, adding 27 yards on three catches.
Deven Sullivan led the running backs group with 36 yards on five carries, with Willie Davis close behind with 33 yards on two carries. Ladarius Vanlier, who finished with a breakout season for the Golden Eagles in 2014 ranking fourth in the OVC in all-purpose yards, totaled 19 yards on five rushing attempts and four catches for 37 yards Saturday.
Although the offense gained 184 yards and three touchdowns on 34 attempts in the showing, the group lost three fumbles in a course of just seven plays. The turnovers were, though, like any team scrimmage, a bright spot for the other side.
Brown and the Golden Eagles returned to the gridiron Tuesday for their biweekly scheduled practice to prepare for their second and final spring scrimmage: the annual “Purple vs. Gold” spring game, April 11 at 1 p.m. Season ticket sales for this fall’s five-game home slate will officially begin at the start of the spring game.
Following the scrimmage, the team will host the 2014 season awards dinner in Roaden University Center. The public is invited to attend at $18 per person.