NCAA Football

Should Florida State Fans Worry About Jameis Winston's Spring Game Struggles?

Last year, Jameis Winston's stellar spring game set the stage for a Heisman Trophy and a national title. One year later many Florida State fans must be wondering if Winston's spring game struggles signal a sophomore slump? 

Winston's final stat line in Saturday's Garnet-Gold game included 396 yards passing, two touchdowns and an interception while completing just 27-of-56 passing attempts (48.2 percent). Winston's lowest completion percentage in a game last season was 52.6 percent in FSU's third game of the year against Bethune-Cookman, where Winston went just 10-of-19 in the 54-6 rout. 

So the fact that Winston completed fewer than half of his passes on Saturday is somewhat alarming, especially considering he didn't do that once last year. 

But, Winston did improve on his first half numbers from the spring game, which included completed just 13-of-31 pass attempts (41.9 percent) and also included the one pick he threw. 

That interception in the first half was Winston's worse decisions, if not the worst decision, he made all day. He threw into triple coverage deep down the field and was picked off by Jalen Ramsey after the ball was tipped. 

Yes, it's easy to make the excuse that, "hey, it's just the spring game." But Winston's a Heisman winner who's entering his third year in the program. He should know better by now than to throw deep into triple coverage. 

Another thing to consider is that Winston was going up against the first-team defense for the Seminoles, which includes the secondary that led the nation last season in interceptions with 26. 

Winston literally just faced off against one of the country's best defenses, and he threw for nearly 400 yards and won the game. 

Another reason likely explanation for Winston's spring game struggles is good old fashion fatigue.

The darling of Florida State has been running himself ragged this spring. This past week, he either practiced or played in a baseball game every day. That meant he had to sign an NCAA waiver granting him exemption from his mandated day off to even be able to play in the spring game. 

With so much on the young man's plate, including the new federal investigation that Florida State is being subjected to following its handling of the Winston sexual assault allegations, maybe he was due for an off day. 

Saturday didn't go as planned for Winston. But fans shouldn't worry too much about their superstar, as he has a knack for coming up big when he has to. If you need proof of that, just go look at that last Florida State drive in the national championship. 

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Miami Football Recruiting: Dexter Williams and Scott Patchan Commit to 'Canes

Before the Miami Hurricanes took the field for the 2014 spring game, two prospects gave their commitments to Al Golden and the coaching staff at "The U."

Dexter Williams, a 4-star running back from Orlando, Fla., and Scott Patchan, a 3-star defensive end from Tampa, Fla., are now verbally committed to the 'Canes.

According to 247Sports' Composite Rankings, Williams is ranked the 11th-best running back in the nation, but 247Sports has him listed as the No. 4 back. Consequent to his pledge, Williams takes the lead as the highest-rated commitment for the Hurricanes' 2014 class.

Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel notes Williams posted the second-best SPARQ score at the Orlando camp and was invited to Nike's The Opening, an exclusive training event and competition.

Anticipating the departure of superstar back Duke Johnson, the Hurricanes are looking to stockpile talent at the running back position. Sophomore Gus Edwards and freshman Joseph Yearby will contribute during the upcoming season, but Williams would provide another solid option in the backfield in future years.

Patchan, whose father played at Miami, is a top-500 player and the 24th-rated defensive end on 247Sports' Composite Rankings.

The legacy defensive end announced his commitment on his Twitter account, posting a picture with him standing next to Golden and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.

Last season, Patchan accounted for 56 tackles, tallying an outstanding 24 for loss, including 8.5 sacks.

Patchan joins a rebuilding defensive line that is looking to develop into a more consistent unit, especially with the addition of 2014 5-star Chad Thomas alongside sophomore Al-Quadin Muhammad.

The Miami 2015 class now holds nine verbal commitments, and The U currently ranks 13th nationally and third in the ACC, per 247Sports.

 

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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FSU Spring Game 2014: Recap, Highlights and Analysis

The Florida State Seminoles completed their spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium, as the Garnet team surged past the Gold team by a final score of 31-14.

That's not a surprising score due to the fact that reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was at the helm of the Garnet squad.

Winston didn't get off to a fast start, but he quickly regained his form, racking up 396 passing yards and two touchdowns by game's end.

Freddie Stevenson looked good carrying the ball, recording 85 yards and a score on 18 carries. Rashad Greene was targeted early and often, coming away with 11 receptions for 127 yards and one touchdown—clearly, the absence of Kelvin Benjamin was not heavily felt due to Greene's stellar day.

Ro'Derrick Hoskins stole the show on the defensive side of the ball, racking up two sacks and reeling in one interception for a touchdown.

Here's a look at some notable plays, analysis and reactions from Saturdays event.

FSU's Twitter account noted early on that many starters were being held out of action on Saturday:

This isn't a bad thing, as plenty of reserve players got chances to shine.

Winston got off to a shaky start, according to a tweet from Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports:

It was Sean MacGuire that began the scoring for the day, tossing a perfect pass to Rashad Gholston for a 27-yard score. 

Defensively, Matthew Thomas was all over the field early in the game, per Brandon Mellor of Seminoles.com:

Freddie Stevenson tied it up with a six-yard touchdown run for the Garnet.

Winston began to heat up late in the first half. He completed a six-yard touchdown pass to Greene and headed into halftime passing for 259 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Backup Sean McGuire got into the passing action as well. He looked good in the first half, completing 13 of his 19 passing attempts for 162 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

So, what was the deal with the all-out passing attack?

The Seminoles had a bit trouble finding space on the ground, and Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel tweeted why:

The third quarter concluded without any additional points being scored, as the Garnet team led the Gold 24-7.

In the final quarter, another quarterback got into the mix. John Franklin III maintained a steady drive, as noted by Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat:

With Winston done for the day, Mellor tweeted out the starting quarterback's final numbers:

This certainly looks to be a very talented squad heading into the 2014 season. Three quarterbacks combined for four touchdown passes on the day, while a vast amount of speed was seen at the wide receiver position.

The Seminoles look to be a deep, versatile team set to make plenty of noise this year once again.

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Ohio State Spring Game Proves How Important Braxton Miller Is to Buckeyes

Braxton Miller is still recovering from minor shoulder surgery, which prevented him from strapping on his pads and suiting up for Ohio State's spring game Saturday afternoon.

His absence proved just how important he is to the Buckeyes' 2014 season and potential title run.

Without Miller, Ohio State's scrimmage featured the top two candidates for the backup spot—redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett.

While Jones has received a lot of praise this spring, he struggled Saturday, completing just 14-of-31 passes for 126 yards. Barrett was a bit better, connecting on 17-of-33 passes for 151 yards.

Neither quarterback threw a touchdown or completed a pass longer than 35 yards.

Those are disappointing numbers for both signal-callers, who were operating pass-heavy offenses against defenses that didn't blitz. Urban Meyer was hoping to see more from Jones, who has surged ahead of Barrett for the No. 2 quarterback spot.

Finding a safety net for Miller was one of Ohio State's top priorities this offseason. 

When Miller sprained his knee against San Diego State early last season, Ohio State turned to backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, who kept the Buckeyes playing at a very high level for three consecutive weeks.

That was 11 months after Guiton saved Ohio State's perfect 2012 season against Purdue. The Buckeyes were in a world of hurt when Miller got knocked out of the game, but Guiton orchestrated one of the most improbable comebacks of the season when he forced overtime with a touchdown pass and two-point conversion in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. 

Saturday showed that Jones and Barrett aren't the reliable option Guiton was. 

That puts even more pressure on Miller to stay healthy. The senior signal-caller has had an injury-plagued career at Ohio State, and if he goes down this season, Guiton won't be around to save the day.

Miller has spent his spring standing behind the line of scrimmage with a camera strapped to his head, forced to take mental reps during every offensive snap. Meyer wants Miller taking the next step as a quarterback, which would require major improvement as a passer.

According to Ben Axelrod of Buckeye Sports Bulletin, Miller is right on track.

Forced to play without him Saturday, the Buckeyes saw just how much they need Miller to be great.

 

All stats via Ohio State's official website.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Clemson Spring Game 2014: Live Game Grades, Analysis for the Tigers

At halftime of the Clemson spring game, White leads Orange 17-2. Check out the first-half analysis and grades here.

 

First-half analysis for the Clemson spring game

Pass Offense: With freshman DeShaun Watson sidelined by a collarbone injury, the spotlight shifted to fellow quarterback derby competitors Chad Kelly and Cole Stoudt. Stoudt, the senior, held the clear edge, completing eight of 13 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns (one to Mike Williams, one to Jordan Leggett). Kelly completed 10 of 18 passes for 113 yards but threw a pair of interceptions into coverage. Sophomore wideout Mike Williams was impressive, catching two passes for 58 yards and a 30-yard score.

Run Offense: At times, the Tigers run offense struggled to find traction, but three of the top four tailbacks managed to break off big runs. Redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman had a 25-yard run, while senior D.J. Howard had a 35-yard run (and 11 yards on six other carries). Junior C.J. Davidson carried four times for 41 yards, including a 32-yard run. Gallman showed explosiveness with his big run and a 15-yard pass reception, while Howard fumbled a ball away.

 

Pass Defense: Kelly and Stoudt had their moments, but cornerbacks Adrian Baker and Garry Peters both had interceptions, and quarterbacks were “sacked” (they were not live in the scrimmage) a combined nine times in the half. Senior defensive end Tavaris Barnes put plenty of pressure on the quarterbacks, piling up four sacks in the half.

Run Defense: Clemson’s tailbacks have broken their share of runs, but with sacks counted in the equation, both teams have a combined 84 yards rushing for the first half. The Orange team is averaging an anemic 0.3 yards per carry, which would not get it done in a game that counts.

Final analysis for the Clemson spring game

Pass Offense: Kelly did not play after halftime due to what coach Dabo Swinney called a “coaches’ decision” for showing poor attitude on the sidelines following a first-half decision to punt on fourth and short. Stoudt was solid again in the second half, completing seven of nine passes for 60 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Third-team quarterback Nick Schuessler picked up Kelly’s snaps and finished the game seven of 17 for 67 total yards. Tight end Jordan Leggett showed some major athleticism, finishing the game with seven catches for 59 yards and a 16-yard touchdown, and Daniel Rodriguez had five catches for 53 yards.

 

Run Offense: Clemson finished with a total of 200 yards on 65 carries, although those totals were held down by 13 “sacks” piled up by the defense. Gallman finished with 61 yards, while walk-on Kurt Fleming was impressive, breaking a game-long 49-yard run late. D.J. Howard made a tough 13-yard touchdown run and finished with 59 yards on nine carries. With the offensive line split evenly between the teams, chemistry could also have played a factor in the run game’s up-and-down effort.

 

Pass Defense: There were no passing touchdowns in the second half, but also no interceptions. It should be noted that Kelly’s absence might have played a role in that, as he had two first-half picks thrown into coverage.

 

Run Defense: The Tigers’ running offense improved slightly in the second half, as Clemson combined for 116 yards rushing between the two squads. In the end, four backs had rushes of at least 27 yards for the game, but Clemson averaged just 3.07 yards per rush on the day combined, which is solid on any level.

 

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Penn State Spring Game Shows Fans, Recruits Buying What James Franklin Selling

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The wave of momentum that Penn State's football program is riding out of spring camp can't be simply explained.

As the lots around Beaver Stadium began filling up at 9:00 a.m. ET, the buzz around Happy Valley was noticeably different than it has been the last couple years. 

An announced attendance of 72,000 fans poured into the stadium and all but filled the lower bowl, cheering on their Nittany Lions through what was mostly a dud of a football game.

Head coach James Franklin had been asking for 80,000 fans to show up for the Blue-White game but didn't seem disappointed by coming up short.

Those loyal to the cause were kindly thanked just a few seconds into Franklin's postgame press conference:

I really appreciate everybody being here. Great crowd. Unbelievable support from this community, I'm not surprised one bit. I think it was announced 72,000...appreciative of that.

Franklin joked that he had someone take an actual count and there were "82,000," exceeding the threshold he asked for.

During that part of the press conference, he also acknowledged the recruits watching from above.

The Penn State media room has a second-story observation deck, for lack of a better term. After every game, visiting recruits watch the media room fill up to give them a sense of how big Penn State football is. 

 

James Franklin to speak shortly; plenty of recruits/commits waiting to hear what he says, too. pic.twitter.com/Sqm5F44fOi

— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) April 12, 2014

 

James Franklin looked up at the group and nonchalantly asked, "What's up, guys?"

Always recruiting.

In fact, before the players even arrived at Beaver Stadium, Franklin received a verbal commitment from 4-star defensive tackle Adam McLean.

The Maryland native held offers from all over the country, including Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State.

Departed defensive line coach Larry Johnson was expected to be a factor in McLean's recruitment now that Johnson is at Ohio State, but that didn't seem to be the case.

McLean became the eighth 4-star commit in Penn State's current class—a class currently sitting at No. 1 in the country.

The momentum train is on a round course, and James Franklin appears to be the driver.

He's using recruiting to get the fans excited and is then using the fan support as a recruiting tool:

I think when you have '82,000' show up...they always do some statistics out there after spring ball and look at what everybody had as attendance at their games, I don't think there's any doubt that we're special. One of the big reasons we're special is because of the support that we get from the community. I was very impressed. Running in that stadium was an unbelievable emotional experience for me.

He didn't hesitate to admit that having a full house for games is a big tool for recruiting, pleading for "107,001" fans to show up at every home game.

From the looks of it, they're hooked and will do whatever he asks them to when it comes to helping. And if the cycle continues on, recruiting stands to benefit greatly from that relationship.

As one tailgater eloquently said this afternoon, "Can you guys believe we got James friggin' Franklin as our head coach?!"

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Miami Hurricanes Unveil New Nike Football Uniforms

As college football teams around the country continue to get new gear for the 2014 season, the Miami Hurricanes have officially unveiled their new Nike uniforms.

Nike released four new Hurricanes jerseys, and they all look pretty awesome. You can see a few pictures of the jerseys below:

The Hurricanes also released a video of the players' reactions to the new gear:

Head coach Al Golden had some positive comments about the new uniforms, saying via NikeInc.com:

The innovative look respects our tradition but perhaps more importantly, represents the future and our current Canes. We have one of the most iconic logos in college sports and Nike has combined that with its latest performance technology to produce a sleek, dynamic new uniform for The U.

 

[YouTube, Nike]

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Ohio State Spring Game 2014: Recap, Highlights and Analysis

The Ohio State Buckeyes were one victory away from playing in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game against Florida State last season, so there was a lot of focus on the team's spring game on Saturday afternoon. 

Of course, the main focus of the day was pass defense. Urban Meyer's secondary got lit up down the stretch, allowing 1,133 yards and 12 passing touchdowns to Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson. 

The Buckeyes are lost their best cornerback, Bradley Roby, who will likely be a first-round pick in the NFL draft next month, star linebacker Ryan Shazier and No. 1 running back Carlos Hyde, so this game was more than just an exhibition to show off the new toys. 

Also absent from the game was starting quarterback Braxton Miller, who had shoulder surgery earlier this year. His presence, or lack thereof, certainly left a void that gave the whole affair an incomplete feel. 

Always loyal and passionate, Ohio State fans came out in full force for this spring game, as Jerry Emig of OhioStateBuckeyes.com provided the attendance numbers. 

Those 61,058 fans were treated to a look at the incoming crop of talent, as well as a 17-7 victory by the Gray side over the Scarlet squad.  

ESPN's Joe Schad noted that Meyer planned to open up the offenses today in order to see where the secondary is at right now. 

There were some positive developments on defense. Freshman linebacker and 5-star recruit Raekwon McMillan made a brilliant play down the field that most players at his position wouldn't be able to. 

Eli Apple, Meyer's prized 5-star cornerback recruit last year, also made his presence felt in the game with a nice play to shove Michael Thomas out of the corner of the end zone to save a touchdown. 

Marcus Hartman of Buckeyes Sports Bulletin was very pleased with the play of Apple in the game. 

Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash also raved about Apple's improved performance days before the spring game, via ESPN's Big Ten Twitter feed. 

On the offensive side, sophomore running back Warren Ball had a nice game with a touchdown and almost seven yards per carry, via Eleven Warriors. 

Of course, not everything goes perfectly, even in an exhibition game. Urban Meyer was not pleased with the performance of the offensive line, also via Eleven Warriors. 

Who knew that Meyer had such a wicked sense of humor? He kept the laughs coming after the game was over, providing this quote about how the game played out, courtesy of Land-Grant Holy Land. 

That about sums up the afternoon in Columbus. It wasn't always pretty to watch, though it certainly wasn't indicative of what fans can expect to see from the Buckeyes in 2014 because Miller was unable to play. 

At least Meyer was honest about what he saw, understanding that there is a lot of raw talent on the field that has to start playing disciplined in games.

Ohio State is going to be at the top of everyone's Big Ten preseason rankings because Meyer is such an excellent recruiter of talent. He's also done well to go 24-2 in his first two seasons with the program, but the end of 2013 was an eye-opening experience for everyone. 

The Buckeyes are losing a lot of high-end talent to the NFL, so this upcoming season will likely tell us about Meyer's ability to recruit star power and depth. 

Get excited, Columbus, because Ohio State football took its first steps toward building on last season's Orange Bowl appearance. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

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Georgia Spring Game 2014: Hutson Mason Shows He's Ready to Lead

ATHENS, Ga.—Replacing a legend is never easy, but Hutson Mason made it look easy in Georgia's spring game on Saturday afternoon between the hedges at Sanford Stadium.

The redshirt senior signal-caller was sizzling on Saturday, completing 18 of 27 passes for 241 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions, leading the Red team to a 27-24 win over the Black team in front of a record spring game crowd of 46,073 fans at G-Day.

Mason's touchdown came on a beautiful 10-yard, back-shoulder fade to Reggie Davis in the second quarter. That's a trait that is consistent with virtually every quarterback of the Mark Richt era, and something that Mason has worked on quite a bit while he sat behind former quarterback Aaron Murray for four years.

"The kind of coverage they were playing down there in the red zone, it was kind of tough," Mason said. "We were going to have to throw it up or do a back shoulder. With Reggie being 5'10", I didn't want to throw it up. When I saw the corner playing over the top, I just did a back shoulder."

But it wasn't just the back-shoulder fade that Mason has mastered. The 6'3", 202-pounder had nice touch on several deep balls, including one to Chris Conley and another on what would have been a sure-fire touchdown to Reggie Davis had Davis not been interfered with by cornerback Shaq Wiggins.

"Hutson's definitely a guy who, if he sees a matchup that he likes, he's going to let it go early," Conley said. "When he throws the ball, he definitely puts more air under it. He's still adjusting to playing with all of these receivers. He's an extremely hard worker, a great leader, and this offense is going to be just fine with him."

Mason didn't just light up the stat sheet. He impressed his coaches with his pre-snap reads and the ability to handle the offense like a veteran.

"He did a nice job like he's been doing all spring long," head coach Mark Richt said. "Finding the open targets, getting us in the right plays, right protections. I think he stood in the pocket very well and bought some time back there and made some plays. I thought he did a nice job overall."

As Edward Ascoff of ESPN notes, Mason has the right mentality and will be an exciting player in 2014. 

But can he lead this team to a championship?

With receivers like Conley, Michael Bennett, Davis already comfortable with him—and Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley both coming back this fall—he certainly has the weapons around him to be successful.

Mason isn't your average first-year starter. His experience with the program and familiarity with his teammates and the system allows him to step into the full-time starting roll with little-to-no hiccups.

While Mason was solid during G-Day, he could be—and has been—better.

"The other two scrimmages were even better than today, and I thought today he did well," Richt said. "He's just very knowledgeable. Very comfortable. I think he's accurate. I think he's a competitor. He's ready for all of his challenges."

Georgia's offense—which finished fourth in the SEC (484.2 YPG) last season—shouldn't miss a beat with Mason taking the snaps.

 

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and spring game statistics were obtained firsthand.

 

 

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Florida State Spring Game 2014: Live Game Grades and Analysis for the Seminoles

The defending national champion Florida State Seminoles held their annual Garnet-Gold game on Saturday afternoon in Tallahassee. Seminoles fans got their first look of the calendar year at Heisman winner Jameis Winston, who took a break from the baseball diamond. 

Check out the grades and analysis from the game here. 

 

First-half analysis for the Florida State Seminoles spring game

Pass Offense: Winston, who went up against the first-team defense, looked like he had plenty of cobwebs to shake off before he gets to fall camp. He completed fewer than half of his passes, although he did have six completions go for 20 or more yards. But he also threw two interceptions, one of which was in double coverage. He finished the first half just 13-of-31 on his pass attempts.

The story of the first half was actually the battle for the backup job between Sean Maguire and John Franklin III. Maguire, who played all of the first quarter for the gold team as well as some of the second quarter, was probably the best quarterback on the field during the first half. His best play was a 27-yard dart to Rashad Gholston for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Rush Offense: There wasn't much to Florida State's rushing game in the first half. The team's top back Karlos Williams was held out of the game. So that left Freddie Stevenson, who's listed as a fullback, to carry the load on the ground. 

Stevenson didn't look half bad, scoring Garnet's first touchdown of the game on the ground in the second quarter and showing good speed. However, he did fumble on what was looking like a promising drive for Garnet in the first quarter. 

Pass Defense: The only quarterback who had any sort of consistent success against this pass defense was Maguire, who was going against the second-team defense. Against Winston, the Seminoles secondary picked off the Heisman winner twice and limited him to just one touchdown pass. The secondary also picked off Maguire at the end of the second quarter and took it back to the end zone to give Garnet a 24-7 lead.  

Rush Defense: There were hardly any rushing attempts during the first half by any squad. But for the first-team defense to give up chunks of yards to Stevenson, who is a fullback on the roster, is concerning. Granted, it's the spring game, and the defense has just five returning starters, so everybody is learning how to line up correctly and communicate. 

Special Teams: If there is one focal point that the Seminoles need to work on this summer, based on the spring, it's the punting game. Three punts in the first half went for less than 40 yards, and none went for 50 or more. While punters seldom saw the field last year in Tallahassee, the defending national champions have to be able to win the battle of field position, and punting is a huge part of that. 

Coaching: There's not much to coaching in the spring game. Jimbo Fisher, who's in the first year of his new contract, held out plenty of players to avoid injury, didn't allow punt returns and prohibited the quarterbacks from being tackled. Plenty of other players donned green "non-contact" jerseys, including star wide receiver Rashad Greene. So Fisher was playing it plenty safe to keep his team healthy in this game. 

 

Final Analysis for the Florida State Seminoles

Pass Offense: With a running clock that didn't even stop in between possessions in the second half, not much changed from the first half to the second half across the board. 

Winston got more comfortable as the game went on, finishing with 396 yards while completing 27 of 56 passes. Maguire all but locked up the backup job with a strong showing. Franklin III looked impressive on a late two-minute drill that ended in a touchdown. And Troy Cook saw minimal playing time as Winston's backup on the Garnet team. 

Rush Offense: Fisher held out all four scholarship running backs from the spring game, so the rushing attack wasn't much to write home about. Again, Stevenson looked impressive as a fullback who was playing running back. That could set the stage for an interesting one-two punch in the backfield this fall. 

Pass Defense: The secondary started to struggle a bit in the second half as Winston began to find his receivers. Still, the secondary played well throughout the game, especially with Fisher almost calling exclusively pass plays. This unit led the nation in interceptions last year with 26, and it looks like it'll be among the country's elite again in 2014. 

Rush Defense: It's almost impossible to judge the rush defense of this team considering that none of the scholarship running backs played and the backups who did get carries were few and far between. A concern, though, was that Stevenson was able to have the day he had. But with a young unit on defense that is still learning one another's tendencies, you have to think that come the fall, this unit—led by Mario Edwards Jr.—will be swallowing up running backs. 

Special Teams: The punting game improved in the second half a little bit with one punt going for a touchback. But still, special teams had a rough day. Three punts went for less than 40 yards in the game, and Roberto Aguayo, last year's Lou Groza Award winner, went just 1-of-2 on his field-goal attempts. 

Coaching: Nobody got seriously injured for the Seminoles in the Garnet-Gold game, and that was due primarily to Fisher's precautions. Plenty of guys were either held out altogether or wore green "non-contact" jerseys. A coach's only real job in the spring game is to walk away with his team healthy, and Fisher accomplished that. 

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South Carolina Football: Steve Spurrier Not Giving Anything Away in Spring Game

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Black team beat the Garnet team, 28-10, in South Carolina's annual spring football game, but don't take it seriously.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier certainly doesn't.

For Spurrier, it's all about putting on a good show for the fans, avoiding injuries and having a little fun along the way.

Spurrier's casual approach was highlighted by his "off the bench" play.

This year, it was women's basketball coach Dawn Staley who stepped off the sidelines and into the end zone to catch a 30-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson.

"I think the best play of the spring game had to be the catch made by wide receiver Dawn Staley," Spurrier said. "Dylan had to put up about a 45-yard throw. We were on the 30-yard line. I was hoping that we'd be on the 10 or 15, but that was all we had. He put it in the air, and Dawn made a great catch. That was probably the highlight play."

When the highlight play is a throw to the women's basketball coach, it tells you all you need to know about Spurrier's approach in the spring.

He remembers the spring before his first season as coach at Florida when Emmitt Smith carried the ball 31 times.

"We don't do that here," Spurrier said.

Case in point. South Carolina's starting tailback, Mike Davis, rushed 203 times for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Saturday, he carried the ball twice for 13 yards.

Davis used one word when asked how his spring practice had gone.

"Relaxing," he said.

Even so, Davis said he put in plenty of work and got better.

"I didn't get a lot of reps," he said, "but I got a lot of mental work done. I definitely improved. I also was able to help the younger players get better."

Even playing 12-minute quarters with the clock running continuously in the second half, the Gamecocks piled up 496 yards of offense on 83 plays.

South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward was OK about it. He knows the deal. The Gamecocks were not allowed to blitz and were limited to three coverages.

“It’s probably harder on my assistant coaches," Ward said. "They don’t really understand. This is my sixth spring with Coach Spurrier. I understand what it’s about. The guys understand. I understand what the game is about, and we want to make sure our fans are happy when they leave. They like to see points on the board."

It's what Spurrier likes to see also.

“It was set up for the offense to move the ball,” he conceded.

Spurrier's approach obviously works. The Gamecocks are 33-6 over the last three seasons.

“It’s hard to say how important spring practices are," he said. "I just feel like you let players play and practice who have not played a lot. The older players practice their position, but they don’t need a lot of scrimmaging.”

If it all translates to another good season remains to be seen.

“We had more players in spring practice than I can ever remember," Spurrier said. "We’ve got 22 fourth- or fifth-year players. That doesn’t mean we’re going to beat a lot of teams. We can go bad, or we can go good. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

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Georgia's Defense Making Improvements but Still Has a Long Road Ahead

There’s good news for the Georgia Bulldogs’ revitalized defense led by new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.  That good news is that the regular season is still several months away.

Based on what the unit displayed on Saturday at G-Day, the Bulldogs’ annual spring game, Pruitt will need every minute of that time.

To be fair, there were noticeable improvements on display for the Dawgs on Saturday, but there's still a long road ahead.

 

Noticeable Improvements

Aside from the change in scheme and personnel, sound open-field tackling and a premium on forcing turnovers appear to be the two most prominent differences between Pruitt’s defense and those of years past under Todd Grantham.  In that regard, Pruitt’s arrival in Athens has already resulted in drastic improvements in two of the defense’s weakest areas. 

Last year, the much-maligned Georgia defense seemed to employ a bend and break mentality to deep passing plays.  Time and time again, the Bulldogs missed opportunities to make plays downfield in the secondary, and forced turnovers were few and far between.

On Saturday, a number of players came up with big-time interceptions.  Although the majority of these takeaways came against backup quarterbacks, it was encouraging to see defensive backs deflecting balls, interfering with passing lanes and playing aggressively.

Equally positive was Georgia’s open-field tackling—particularly in the secondary—which seemed to benefit from Pruitt’s emphasis on swarming the opposition.  Most notably, Georgia defensive backs and linebackers had tremendous success in limiting wide receiver screens and routes in the flats.

 

Long Road Ahead

And yet, G-Day left fans with plenty of causes for frustration—or at the very least, concern.

For Georgia fans, the image of an opposing receiver running open deep into the secondary was a memory they hoped to forget along with Grantham's departure.  The new-look defense, however, had the same old problem.  Far too often, the secondary showed its youth as receivers streaked open for big games. 

Starting quarterback Hutson Mason seemed to complete passes at will as he connected with open receivers on nine of his first 11 pass attempts.  Backup signal-caller Faton Bauta, who in the past has been known more for his mobility and elusiveness than his arm, was equally impressive throwing the football—an indictment of the secondary.

Interestingly enough, Georgia also struggled at times against the run.  Despite returning the overwhelming majority of its two-deep depth chart among the defensive line and linebackers, a number of unlikely offensive players found significant running room against the strongest part of Pruitt's defense.

Of course, the usual suspects like Todd Gurley and Brendan Douglas had success on the ground, but it was the significant yardage surrendered to the likes of Mason that was most frustrating.  Several times, in fact, too many defenders dropped into coverage (presumably to compensate for poor defensive back coverage) and in doing so, surrendered the middle of the field—and often first down yardage—to the quarterback.

 

Where Does the Defense Go From Here?

The success of this defense will depend on its ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks.  That’s not an overly bleak scenario given Georgia’s wealth of talented pass-rushers including Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Ray Drew.

With Mason and two backups (Brice Ramsey and Jacob Park) wearing no-contact jerseys during the intrasquad scrimmage, it was hard at times to accurately gauge the effectiveness of Georgia’s pass rush.  But Floyd found his way into the backfield several times, and that bodes well for this team, as it seeks a defensive identity.

Also encouraging was Pruitt’s utilization of middle linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson in rushing schemes.  The two linebackers led the Southeastern Conference in tackles last year and boast the skill sets to disrupt quarterbacks in the passing game, and by the looks of things, Pruitt is going to allow them to do so.

The less time Georgia allows opposing quarterbacks, the better for Georgia’s still-developing secondary.  Pruitt’s expertise is in developing defensive backs, but the vast majority of contributors at the cornerback and safety spots are still plagued by youth, inexperience or a combination thereof. 

A reduced reliance on advanced schemes should prompt accelerated maturation in the secondary, but there is still a lot of work to be done.  Fortunately, there’s still time for Puritt and his new staff.

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Orange and White Game 2014: Live Game Grades, Analysis for Tennessee Football

The Tennessee Volunteers closed spring practice with the annual Orange and White Game on Saturday, and fans were able to get their first look at a slew of newcomers who will contribute this fall.

From the four-man quarterback race to the introduction of 14 mid-term enrollees, everybody was on display Saturday—and many got a chance to prove themselves in team and individual drills, all of which contributed to a modified scoring system.

Let's take a look at the first-half grades for head coach Butch Jones' Vols.

First-half analysis for the Tennessee Volunteers

Pass Offense: Tennessee's talented receivers were clearly the most impressive group on the field, even though they feasted mostly on the Vols reserve defenders. UT had 10 pass plays over 10 yards in the first half, and five of those went for more than 20 yards. Freshman Josh Malone shined with two touchdowns, and Marquez North scorched Cameron Sutton for a 50-yard score in the only touchdown drive against the first-team defense. Joshua Dobbs and Justin Worley were the two best quarterbacks throughout the first half.

Run Offense: Though the Vols had 151 rushing yards and a 4.7-yard average, the stats were boosted by Dobbs' 59-yard touchdown run following a poor snap. Senior Marlin Lane finally got going against the first-teamers on the touchdown drive, but freshman Jalen Hurd led the way with 48 yards on nine carries.

Pass Defense: The best news for the members of the Vols secondary is they don't have to go against the Vols receivers once the season starts. After the starting cornerback duo of Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, there is a serious talent drop-off, and even Sutton struggled lining up on North. Having Curt Maggitt and Corey Vereen rushing off the edge will help the Vols, but the quarterback pressure still wasn't where it needs to be.

Run Defense: The only thing missing from Dobbs' touchdown run for the defense was circus music. It was a lesson of what not to do fundamentally, as players out of rush lanes led to the 59-yard score. Other than that, the rush defense was solid. After struggling much of the spring, UT's starting defensive line got the best of the rebuilt O-line much of the half.

Special Teams: There's still too much inconsistency in the punting game, as Matt Darr got off to a poor start with a 36-yard punt but followed it up with a 53-yard boomer. George Bullock started the scoring with a 41-yard field goal that had plenty of room to spare, so the kickers looked better than anticipated.

Coaching: Everybody wanted to see Hurd run more against the first-team defense in the first half, and the situational scoring system made the game impossible to follow from a team standpoint, but Jones put his players in every situation imaginable, which is exactly what you're looking for in a glorified scrimmage.

Final analysis for the Tennessee Volunteers

Pass Offense: Worley separated himself from the pack with the best day in team action against the first-team defense. After leading two first-half scoring marches, the rising senior carried a 70-yard touchdown drive to open the second half. Dobbs led four touchdown drives in the game, but all were against the reserves. It was nice to see Riley Ferguson rebound with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Cody Blanc to cap a long drive against the starting D. The only real mistake of the day was Malik Foreman's late interception of Ferguson.

Run Offense: There simply weren't any "wow" runs from the Vols running backs. Though Dobbs and Worley had long scrambles, it would have been nice to see Lane or Hurd break free for a big gain. The offensive line continued to struggle run blocking, even though UT wasn't bad in short-yardage situations. Hurd had a better day than Lane.

Pass Defense: The Vols clearly sputtered on the back end of the defense without safety and leader Brian Randolph, who has missed the entire spring. The corners continued to be beaten routinely by Malone and North in the second half, and UT desperately needs the incoming freshmen to be ready to provide quality depth. There isn't any currently.

Run Defense: After the coaching staff rode the defensive line throughout the spring, they really showed up at times Saturday. Even with A.J. Johnson playing limited snaps, the Vols starting linebackers were sharp as well. Jalen Reeves-Maybin was stuffing runs all over the field, and Kenny Bynum was solid backing up A.J.

Special Teams: Bullock didn't have anymore opportunities to kick field goals, and Darr shook off the first poor punt to hit a couple more solid ones in the second half. There will be the occasional clunker from the rising senior, but if he punts the way he did on Saturday, the Vols may not have as many issues replacing Michael Palardy as they'd originally thought.

Coaching: Whether it was set up or not, Jones keeping Hurd and Malone in for most of the day against the reserves really helped fuel the hype surrounding them. Both had memorable first spring games, and it should be a huge momentum boost for them going into the offseason. Jones also did a cool thing by bringing out moving screens set at certain distances downfield for a live skills challenge for his quarterbacks that sent a buzz throughout Neyland Stadium.

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Nebraska Spring Game 2014: Live Game Grades and Analysis

On a beautiful afternoon in Lincoln, Neb., the Cornhuskers hosted the annual spring game. In front of an official 61,772 fans, the red team and white team showed off what they've been working on for the past few weeks.

A major difference during this year's scrimmage would be the breakdown of teams, which also affects the scoring system. The starting offense would be the red team, while the starting defense would be the white team. The scoring system would be as follows:

 

Offense (Red)

Touchdown: 6 points

Field Goal: 3 points

Extra Point: 1 point

2-Point Conversion: 2 points

Plays of 20 Yards or More: 1 point

3 Consecutive First Downs within a Drive: 1 point

 

Defense (White)

Interception/Fumble Recovery: 6 points

Defensive Touchdown: 12 points (6 for TD, 6 for takeaway)

Sack: 2 points

Three and Out: 1 point

Missed PAT by Offense: 1 point

Unsuccessful 2-Point Conversion Attempt: 2 points

Missed Field Goal: 3 points

 

Red Squad 55, White Squad 46, Final

 

First-half analysis for the Nebraska Cornhuskers

Pass Offense: It was a rough start for Tommy Armstrong who threw an interception on the first play of the game. The offense seemed to recover a bit from there, until Zack Darlington was picked off a bit later. Ryker Fyfe has appeared cool and collected at the quarterback position, passing the ball nicely. He was 7-of-8 for 53 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

Rush Offense: Keep an eye out for Imani Cross in 2014. Both have had a big start to the spring game. Cross has 100 yards on six attempts for two touchdowns. He is averaging 16.7 yards per carry.

With Ameer Abdullah sitting out, Cross has shown what this group is capable of in 2014. If it's anything like the first half of the spring game, the rush offense looks tough.

Pass Defense: Two interceptions should really say it all. At this point, the Blackshirts look confident at stopping the pass. Nathan Gerry and Anthony Ridder recorded the interception.

The only note would be the major bust for the defense where Johnny Stanton connected with Kevin Gladney for a touchdown. That will be something that the defense needs to learn from.

Rush Defense: The Blackshirts did a decent job of stopping the run at the beginning of the scrimmage, but the offense seemed to find its rhythm as time went on. Zaire Anderson did record a sack on Armstrong, but beyond that, not much else has happened. Cross is proving to be a difficult force to stop for the Blackshirts.

Special Teams: It's hard to get a good read for this position with the new spring-game format. With no opportunity to see punt returns (minus one drill), it's tough to call. However, Mauro Bondi and Grant Schumacher have done their part with field goals. Both have been as consistent as Husker fans have grown to expect. The only hiccup was the missed field goal by Spencer Lindsay.

Coaching: It all started with Bo Pelini carrying a cat out during the tunnel walk.

From there, it was clear the coaches intended to have fun with the spring game. From a goal-post throwing contest to announcing players' Twitter handles before drills, the coaches have kept the game interesting. From a scrimmage, the staff deserves a lot of praise for showing off but for also not giving too much away.

 

Second-half analysis for the Nebraska Cornhuskers

Pass Offense: Armstrong redeemed the first-play interception with a 51-yard pass play to Brandon Reilly. That definitely helped boost the passing game's confidence. In the end, he was able to keep from adding any additional interceptions to his day.

However, Tyson Broekemeier did throw a pick, making the Huskers' total three on the day. It's something that will need to be addressed before fall.

Rush Offense: Terrell Newby got a chance to shine in the second half, proving it’s not just Abdullah and Cross leading the way. He ended with 51 yards on 16 attempts and one touchdown. He may have only averaged 3.2 yards per carry, but he proved that between him, Cross and Abdullah, the Huskers are going to be tough at rush offense.

Pass Defense: Three interceptions on the day isn't bad. While the group is far from perfect, it was a shining spot for the Blackshirts. Even Pelini acknowledged their improvement.

"I think our secondary came a long way in the spring," Pelini said. "Not the finished product but we’re going to have some really talented guys."

Rush Defense: The starters definitely looked the most improved after this spring, but those behind were a bit off. Cross showed the Blackshirts where they need to improve. It's not perfect, but the group is young. The positive side is that they're also learning.

Also worth noting, the linebacker group is as deep as it's been in awhile.

Special Teams: Nebraska has had great kickers over the last few years, but today seemed to be a bit of a mess on that front. Bondi ended up missing a field goal wide left, which was disappointing. Pelini acknowledged the issue in his presser, saying it may be time to look forward:

"The bottom line with the [kickers] we have right now, they are capable but none of them are consistent. So enter Drew Brown, so we’ll find out."

What started out OK, ended up being a bit disappointing. This will be something the group will have to focus on before fall.

Coaching: In his post-practice presser, Pelini admitted the coaches wanted to have a little fun. That's exactly what they did. The coaching staff didn't show off too much, but if the attitude showed anything, it's that this team is less tense than last season.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Georgia Spring Game 2014: Recap, Highlights and Analysis

The Georgia Bulldogs played their annual G-Day spring football game on Saturday, with the Red team earning a 27-24 victory over the Black squad between the hedges at Sanford Stadium.

Highlights of the action can be found on GeorgiaDogs.com:

Fans were able to get their first glimpse of the 2014 UGA football team and did not come away disappointed. A number of players made their debut for the Bulldogs, while plenty of others stepped up into new starting roles.

The complete depth charts for each team can be found here, courtesy of The Red & Black.

No player had more pressure to perform on G-Day than Hutson Mason, the Red team quarterback who guided his side to a win with a sterling performance.

The 22-year-old threw for 188 yards and a touchdown on 17-of-25 passing in one half of play, a statline that Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report tweeted out:

One of those touchdown passes went to senior Michael Bennett, who made a spectacular grab to put points on the board:

Bulldawg Illustrated pointed out that Bennett’s one-on-one battles with sophomore cornerback Shaq Wiggins were one of the highlights of this game:

Mason, a redshirt senior, has been patiently waiting in the wings for four years and finally has his chance to take over for Aaron Murray as a full-time starter. He’s surrounded by weapons and could carry the Dawgs to a national title for the first time since 1980.

The players are working hard to accomplish that goal, and head coach Mark Richt revealed that he is getting on their cases to show improvement, as per Tim Tucker of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “We’re pushing them hard,” he said. “And most of them are getting better.”

The future looks quite bright for Georgia beyond this coming season, as Faton Bauta showed off his skills and wound up as the top passer in the contest. The redshirt sophomore had a big day, showing the dual-threat skills that will make him extremely dangerous when he finally gets on the field.

Bauta was vying for the No. 2 job on the depth chart and might have earned it after passing for 231 yards and earning another 39 yards on the ground.

Fans turned out in droves to watch their team, a spectacular showing you can see courtesy of Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald and fan Noel Couch:

Darren Rovell of ESPN noted that the official attendance number was 46,073, by far the highest of any spring game played this year:

Georgia football’s official Twitter informed us that it was the biggest crowd in G-Day history:

Considering the Masters were being played at nearby Augusta National, it’s an even more impressive turnout. Fortunately, the organizers of this game put a live feed of the prestigious major on the big screen at the stadium.

Sallee posted a photo of the crowd erupting for a Bubba Watson eagle:

It was a fitting end to a great game that has the Bulldogs set up for success in 2014. This team has plenty of talent and a lot of weapons, many of which were on display during G-Day.

Make sure you keep an eye on the Dawgs as they look to make a surge back to the top of the SEC this coming campaign.

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Ohio State Student Beats RB Dontre Wilson in 40-Yard Dash at Buckeye Spring Game

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer was curious to find out who the fastest student on campus is that isn't on the football team, and he got quite a surprise.

After letting students run the 40-yard dash in recent weeks, the Buckeyes finally found Malcolm Branson. Branson got a chance to race several players, and he didn't disappoint, beating running back Dontre Wilson and tying defensive back Doran Grant.

[Vine, h/t College Spun]

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Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini Brings Cat to Huskers Spring Game

With the Nebraska Cornhuskers getting ready to go out onto the field, head coach Bo Pelini decided to have his cat help lead the charge.

Along with leading the team out onto the field, Pelini raised his cat in the air during the spring game in a "Circle of Life" moment. 

The team's Twitter account posted a picture of the cat as well.

The cat was in honor of the Fake Bo Pelini Twitter account that features a fake picture of Pelini with a cat.

[Twitter, BTN.com]



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Brandon Winey Arrested in Connection with Shooting of LSU LB Tahj Jones

Former LSU and NFL offensive tackle Brandon Winey was arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder Saturday in connection with the shooting of former Tigers linebacker Tahj Jones, Sulphur County Police have confirmed.

Chief Lewis Coats released a statement to Renita D. Young of The Times-Picayune Saturday afternoon verifying Winey is currently being held on charges, and bail has been set at $1 million.

According to the police report, Winey shot Jones late Friday evening following an altercation at a local apartment. Witnesses say Jones arrived at the apartment uninvited to visit a friend, which later led to he and Winey getting into a fight. It's unclear why the situation escalated, but Winey allegedly shot Jones during the altercation and fled the scene.

"Winey produced a handgun and shot Jones in the abdomen," police said.

Winey was later arrested at his home.

Jones, who finished his last year of eligibility in Baton Rouge last season, is currently in serious condition at Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria, La. He underwent emergency surgery to remove the bullet and is now resting. Neither the severity of Jones' injuries nor his long-term outlook are known at this time.

"We are aware of (the shooting) and obviously we're praying hard for him and hoping he pulls through," LSU football spokesman Michael Bonnette told Young.

Winey's charge of second-degree attempted murder is a felony that comes with a maximum 25-year sentence in a federal penitentiary. The 36-year-old was a standout offensive tackle for the Tigers in the early 2000s and drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2001. He played a total of 24 games in the NFL (three starts) over two seasons, most recently with the New York Giants in 2004.

His relationship with Jones is unknown at this time.

Jones, 24, spent four years at LSU playing mostly reserve linebacker and on special teams. He was expected to start at one of the outside linebacker spots as a senior, but managed to start only three games due to myriad issues. He recently participated in LSU's pro day, though it's unlikely he would have been drafted in May regardless of the incident.

For his career, Jones tallied 47 total tackles, two sacks and one interception. His best season came as a sophomore, when he compiled 27 total tackles, a sack and his lone interception, standing out as a menace on special teams.

Police have indicated their investigation is still ongoing. Winey has not released a statement, nor is it clear whether he has hired representation. He will be held pending bail.


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Penn State 2014 Spring Game: Live Game Grades, Analysis for the Nittany Lions

The Penn State Nittany Lions closed out their spring camp on Saturday with the annual Blue-White scrimmage, and fans came out in droves.

The "game" placed the Blue squad, made up primarily of first- and second-string players against the White squad, which included everyone else.

Blue won in a blowout, but the score wasn't relevant.

How did James Franklin's crew do in their public debut?

 

First-half analysis for the Nittany Lions

Pass Offense: Christian Hackenberg looked good on some intermediate routes but just missed Geno Lewis when he got behind the defense. D.J. Crook was average with a decent supporting staff. Looks like the running back screen might be a part of the offense again. Michael O'Connor might have the backup quarterback spot locked up.

Run Offense: Cole Chiappialle and Dom Salomone have looked like the best two running backs so far. Ton of wildcat formations today. 

Pass Defense: DaQuan Davis just missed a pick-six on a screen pass attempt to DaeSean Hamilton. Blue team (first string) has been getting steady pressure. C.J. Olaniyan (2.5) and Anthony Zettel have recorded sacks. Ryan Keiser had a big pick late off of Crook.

Run Defense: Staunch on both sides. Zettel is as disruptive as advertised. Could have an all-conference type season.

Special Teams: Sam Ficken made a short field goal. All kicks and punts are being played with no opposition. Chris Gulla is getting good hang time on his punts.

Coaching: Bill Belton lined up in the Wildcat on the second play of the game. Doubt we'll see that much in the UCF game, but it gives George O'Leary and company something to think about. Franklin led a "We Are!" chant between first and second quarters, and the crowd went nuts.

 

Final game analysis for the Nittany Lions

Pass Offense: The biggest pass play of the day was a 56-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Geno Lewis to wide receiver Matt Zanellato. That pretty much sums up the passing game.

Run Offense: Cole Chiappialle had a strong showing, rushing for two touchdowns. Lynch, Belton and Zach Zwinak totaled three carries.

Pass Defense: Ryan Keiser, Trevor Williams and Matthew Baney each had interceptions, and none of the quarterbacks got into a rhythm. Give credit to the D.

Run Defense: Hard to judge the run defense as a whole when the top two ball-carriers were Chiappialle and Jack Haffner. They did their job, though.

Special Teams: Ficken made a field goal but missed an extra point. No pressure was put on the kickers by the defense.

Coaching: Not much to judge them on today. Fans showed up in droves today, and everybody will probably be healthy tomorrow. That's all you can ask for.

 

Game will be aired at 6 p.m. on BTN.

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Notre Dame Spring Game 2014: Recap, Highlights and Analysis

With several longtime Notre Dame contributors moving on to the NFL or graduating, a new era of Fighting Irish football began on Saturday in the form of the Blue-Gold spring game.

Irish mainstays such as quarterback Tommy Rees and defensive linemen Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt won't be leading the way for Notre Dame this fall, but the spring game has to have Irish fans excited about the 2014 season.

The game pitted the offense (in blue) against the defense (in white). Both sides of the ball could score points even without reaching the end zone, and it was ultimately a tale of two halves.

As seen in this tweet courtesy of Notre Dame Football, the Blue-Gold game featured a complicated scoring system that essentially made every play count for something:

In the end, it was the Blue team that prevailed over the Gold team by 11 points, according to Daniel Malone of MassLive.com:

The offense had a natural advantage since red jerseys prevented the quarterbacks from being hit. They made the most of that fact by moving the ball with great efficiency during the first half.

Also, when asked about the defensive gameplan at halftime, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly admitted that the team was purposely keeping things fairly vanilla, according to Andrew Owens of Blue & Gold Illustrated:

There were plenty of intriguing position battles worth watching throughout the day, but there is no question that most observers were focused on the quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire.

Golson entered the game as the odds-on favorite to win the starting job after leading Notre Dame to the National Championship Game two seasons ago, but Zaire looked superior early on, particularly in the opening quarter, per ESPN's Joe Schad:

The red-shirt freshman made headlines in March when asked about his chances of beating out Golson. According to the Associated Press, Zaire said that he expected to be the one under center in the season opener against Rice.

"Without a doubt. There will only be one guy starting on Aug. 30 against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium, there will only be one guy out on the field, and I believe that will be me," Zaire said.

Zaire looked good in rolling out of the pocket and completing throws on the run, but he also excelled at taking shots down the field. He connected on a deep ball to wide receiver Chris Brown that very nearly led to a touchdown:

Golson was quite solid in his own right as he picked up a rushing score, but Zaire's numbers really stood out after one half of play, per Irish Illustrated:

Zaire, Golson and the rest of the offense combined to give the Blue team a huge lead heading in to the locker room:

As important as the on-field action was, perhaps the biggest revelation related to the field itself. Notre Dame's natural grass field has infamously created some major problems in recent years, so athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced the school's intention to install field turf, according to NBCSN's Alex Flanagan:

Although Swarbrick's preference was to keep the traditional grass, he felt like it was time for a change: 

After the offense looked so smooth in the first half, the defense clearly made some adjustments and performed much better for the remainder of the game. Neither Zaire nor Golson were able to match the production that they put up to start the game, so the quarterback battle remains unsettled.

The defense's sudden surge allowed it to come back in a major way and make a game of it. Even with a running clock in the second half, the defense racked up plenty of points and pulled to within 10 points of the offense in the fourth quarter:

Even though the quarterback play dropped off considerably, Notre Dame's offense was able to stem the tide thanks largely to running back Greg Bryant. The red-shirt freshman looked spectacular in the second half, and he seemingly made something happen with every touch, per Justin Kenny of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel:

His most impressive play came in the middle of the fourth quarter when he ripped off a 51-yard run to end a stagnant period for the offense:

Keith Arnold of NBCSports.com compared the run to something that one of football's all-time great running backs would have pulled off in the past:

Notre Dame has an interesting stable of running backs that should give Kelly plenty of options in 2014, but there is little doubt that Bryant has put himself in position to potentially be the bell cow of the group.

Bryant's late heroics allowed the offense to preserve its lead and come through with a victory, but that was far from the most important part of the game. Kelly was able to learn a lot more about his offense, particularly in the first half, and he also had to be happy with the defensive showing in the second half.

There is clearly a lot of work left to be done on both sides of the ball before September; however, Notre Dame looks like an extremely talented—albeit inexperienced—team.

The Irish also seemingly escaped the game without any injuries of note, and that is always the goal when it comes to glorified scrimmages.

Expectations may not be as high for the Irish this season as they have been in recent years, but the pieces are in place to surprise prognosticators.

The Blue-Gold spring game was a great step for Notre Dame football as it prepares to write the next chapter in its storied history.

 

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