April 16, 2011

Fast-paced scrimmage sees 493 yards; Defense forces four turnovers

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Umbrellas in a wide variety of sizes and colors spotted the stands in Tucker Stadium Saturday morning as Tennessee Tech’s most durable football faithful turned out despite miserably cold conditions and rain for the final Golden Eagles scrimmage session of spring drills.

The fans saw an offense that can really move up-and-down the field, piling up 493 yards and 34 points.

They saw a defensive unit that showed it too can rise to the occasion, forcing four huge turnovers and making a spirited goal line stand.

And, they saw a Golden Eagle attack that will certainly live up to the claim as “the fastest 60 minutes in football.”

“I have been really proud of this team this spring,” said coach Watson Brown. “They are learning the pace that we want to play, they understand the pace, and they did the right things out here.”

Brown’s staff ran the team through a total of 67 plays from scrimmage in a little more than an hour – including a “halftime” break – and the Golden Eagles gave the veteran coach plenty of reasons to smile.

“I saw three big positives out here today,” Brown said. “One, we had only one penalty in nearly 70 plays. That’s fantastic. Two, the defense forced four turnovers. And they were critical turnovers, coming out of the end zone or going in. That’s fantastic.

“Three, we had great movement of the ball by the offense, and they looked polished doing it,” he said.

With just one final practice session remaining this spring (Tuesday afternoon), Brown’s staff will work this summer at crafting a squad that can challenge for the 2011 Ohio Valley Conference crown and the NCAA FCS playoffs.

It won’t be an easy task.

“We’ve got some very tough decisions to make,” Brown said. “We’ll be able to watch the films and make decisions on every player on where they will fit into this team when we walk back in the door in the fall.”

The scrimmage began with the punting unit getting in a few tries, and Nick Campbell delivered some impressive efforts. In eight kicks, the rising senior averaged better than 45 yards per kick.

Three quarterbacks shared time running the offense as Brown looks to settle the depth chart behind projected starter Tre Lamb. The three combined to go 16-for-25 for 165 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Those numbers were hurt by four dropped passes.

Lamb was 4-for-4 for 44 yards in limited play. Ryan Tilghman, a rising sophomore from Columbia who was the victim of three dropped attempts, was 6-for-12 for 49 yards with an interception. Redshirt freshman Darian Stone was 6-for-9 for 72 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was charged with the other dropped ball.

Nine different receivers caught balls during the scrimmage, topped by Carter Crutchfield with three for 33 yards.  Charlie Stevens, who’s known for his blocking more than his pass catching prowess, grabbed two passes for 37 yards including a 26-yard touchdown from Stone. Julian Goins had three receptions for 24 yards and Demetrous Garrett caught two for 25 yards.

The ground game generated 328 yards in 42 attempts, reaching the end zone three times including twice by newcomer Adam Urbano.

Zack Ziegler was the top ground gainer with 61 yards in just three tries. Dontey Gay had six rushed for 58 yards and Urbano finished with 56 yards and two scores in six tries. Tilghman was next with 40 yards in five carries, while Cody Forbes added 31 yards on four totes, including a touchdown.

Despite giving up some hefty numbers, the defense had some standout moments, beginning on the opening drive. After Lamb had marched the offense 59 yards in seven plays, they were stonewalled at the goal line on consecutive plays, first by freshman Jordan Johnson, then by the entire defensive line.

That effort brought in kicker Matthew Barker for a 20-yard field goal. Barker finished the day 4-for-4 on PAT kicks and 2-for-3 on field goals. He also kicked a 25-yarder, then narrowly missed on a 46-yard kick on the final play of the day.

The initial touchdown was a two-yard run by Urbano to cap a five-play, 57-yard scoring drive behind Lamb. All of the yardage came on the ground.

On the next series, Stone’s deep pass toward the end zone was picked off at the two by Corey Watson, who outmaneuvered the receiver and made an outstanding effort to earn the interception.

The defense made back-to-back plays as Brown asked the offense to start its next possession at its own two-yard line following the interception. The ball was jarred loose and sophomore Lamar Moore recovered at the two. Forbes crashed over the left side on the first play for a touchdown.

The quickest drive of the day was a three-play, 65-yard explosion engineered by Stone. After a seven-yard strike to Garrett, Ziegler broke free for a 44-yard run to the 14. Urbano got the call on the next play and raced 14 yards to paydirt.

Stone delivered another quick scoring drive, moving the offense 65 yards in seven plays, including a 14-yard pass to Crutchfield and a 14-yard carry by Forbes. The touchdown came on a 26-yard strike over the middle to Stevens.

The third turnover of the day came on a fourth-and-one from the 36. Alden Olverson had picked up the first down with a six-yard gain, but veteran Travis Adkins delivered a tackle that knocked the ball free and Howard Griffin recovered to halt the drive.

Cornerback Dominick Baker claimed the fourth turnover, interception Tilghman’s pass in the end zone. The offense had moved to the 18 before losing the ball.

Stone marched his unit for one more score, this time a 25-yard field goal by Baker after moving 69 yards in seven plays. Gay highlighted the drive with a 25-yard run.

The final possession went to Tilghman and he marched the team 30 yards in five plays, reaching a second down at the 36 when Brown called on Barker for a 46-yard field goal try which had plenty of distance but went wide right.

Whether or not the weather was a factor in Saturday’s outcome is irrelevant.

“We’ve gotten to practice in all types of weather this spring,” Brown said. “We had snow, rain, and one day near 90 degrees. We’ve seen nearly every weather condition we might see in the fall.”

In the photos above --
Top) The defense forced a fumble on this play which set up an easy two-yard tochdown (photo by Nick Burns)
2) Zack Ziegler's grandmother, Jane, and sister, Rebecca, weathered the rain to watch (photo by Rob Schabert)
3) Charlie Stevens had two catches for 37 yards including a 26-yard TD (photo by Thomas Corhern, Herald-Citizen)
4) Ryan Tilghman accounted for 89 yards on 17 plays (photo by Thomas Corhern, Herald-Citizen)