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Fans, coaches, players and parents mingled together on the practice fields, following the scrimmage.[/caption]
This year's Spring Game looked a lot different than the last two, but just because the experience was different, doesn't mean it was worse.
Instead of packing Commonwealth, thousands lined the sidelines to watch the new, and much improved, Cats. Even though many may have had to stand behind giants like Josh Krok, it was an atmosphere they made you feel a part of the practice. Some fans played a big part. Late in the scrimmage on a 3rd and long, a wonderful group of rowdy ladies went wild behind the defensive sideline. With the play clock winding down, Barker was forced to call a timeout. Give the ladies all the credit in the world. After the scrimmage, fans roamed around the practice field, interacting with their favorite players and coaches.
Even though there wasn't 50,000 strong in the stadium, the wonderful weather and big play football made for a fantastic day to be a part of the action. Now let's get down to it.
Patrick Towles was Money in the Mid-Range, with a Few Beautiful Deep Balls Too
Last year on 3rd down and long, you might as well have told Landon to get his leg ready. This year is a completely different story. C.J. Conrad is a great weapon in the middle of the field, Jeff Badet gets space easily because of his speed, and Garrett Johnson might be the most fun player on the most fun person to watch on the football field after he catches deep comeback routes.
After practice, Towles attributed the success to being more relaxed in the pocket. Dawson is more laid back, emphasizing calm feet, using Tom Brady as someone to emulate in the pocket. With things simplified, he was extremely efficient in the mid-range game.
Not every deep ball was hit, but none of them were intercepted. On Blake Bone's birthday, he made the first big play of the day
with a 50+ yard catch down the sideline to setup a score. Thaddeus Snodgrass may have out done him, catching deep passes from Towles and Barker. The tight end might have been the one with the last laugh, catching a beautiful one-handed post over Ryan Flannigan late in the scrimmage.
Consistency is Key
After the scrimmage, Stoops was most pleased with the consistency his Cats brought to the practice field everyday. At the beginning of the week, he challenged them to carry over their efforts from each practice, and it worked. There were minimal mental lapses on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, it was refreshing to see the team make routine plays
. When the defense gave them an 8-yard cushion in man coverage, the receiver would plant his foot and come back as soon as the defender opened his hips for a deep route. Easy plays like that open the offense up for more big play opportunities.
Defensively, they made the offense earn everything. With injuries accumulating, they rarely get a chance in practice for live tackling. The coaches were pleased with their performance today, limiting Boom from busting anything big. It was also encouraging to see the DBs make open field tackles near the first down marker, making the offense earn it every single time.
Injuries Played an Important Role
A big reason Stoops didn't want to do a traditional-style drafting of a Blue and White team is because he was running short on players. Jojo Kemp
's illness and Mikel Horton
's ankle sprain left the offense with only two running backs
, Boom Williams and William Mahone. The run game was limited, but there were also a lot of injured receivers. I'm not going to make a list, but they looked like a different group without guys like Dorian Baker, Ryan Timmons and Alex Montgomery. Stoops liked the efforts from the "watered-down" group, but he believes the receivers will make a huge step forward once the guy return from injury.
Screen Passes Never had a Chance
The fan base never gets more discouraged than a 3rd and long screen because it signals a sense of defeat. Nonetheless, they're an important part of the Air Raid, an aspect that had been very successful earlier in the Spring. Not today.
The defense sniffed out every screen pass before the quarterback could even attempt to make the throw. The outside linebackers never let their man sneak away, disrupting the rhythm of the offense. Defensive end Farrington Huegenin made more than one great play batting down passes . You can call it bad offense, but it looked more like great defense.
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This guy's favorite player is Drew Barker, with Pat Towles a close second. Needless to say, he's a QB in the making.[/caption]
Players that made you say "WOW"
Snodgrass had a great Spring as an early enrolle, but his lack of physicality in Fall Camp caused the coaches to put a redshirt on him. He's used that as motivation, not allowing DBs to dictate his deep routes. He caught two of the most impressive passes of the day, deep balls over 30-yards. With a couple of outside receivers out with injury, Snodgrass has took advantage of his opportunities today.
Comparing him alongside Drew Barker, Pat doesn't get the quick passes out of his hands quite as fast, but he excelled at everything else. He got "sacked" maybe once, compared to three or four times by Barker; he didn't turn the ball over once, compared to the two picks and fumbled snap by Barker; and most importantly, Towles converted on third down. After forcing his team to kick field goals the first two drives, the offense started posting touchdowns and never looked back.
West had arguably the best hit of the day. After Cameron Fogle broke one tackle on a slant, he was met by West. The booming hit caused Fogle to fumble it, with a recovery by the defense. West will earn some time as strong safety, and more importantly, he'll put pressure on Marcus McWilson to play more consistent.
Forrest was exceptionally great today in pass coverage, picking off the only two interceptions of the day. His height and skill set make it difficult for quarterbacks to complete passes in the middle of the field. Stoops praised him after practice, but said that he still has to be better in the run game, missing a tackle on Boom that went from a 5-yard gain, to a 15-yarder.
Nobody is more exciting to watch after the catch than Juice. He explodes when he gets the ball, requiring his defender to get help to bring him down. He didn't have as many catches as I would have liked to see, but every time he gets in the middle of the field, there's a threat for a big play.
When big #66 comes into the game at fullback, just watch him prey on the sour souls that lie ahead. The only thing you can do is laugh when he pancakes his opponent into the dirt.