By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – As the Tennessee Tech football team concluded its final scrimmage of the fall at Saturday's Gathering of Eagles event, it certainly wasn't perfect or pretty. But the important p-word was progress.
In just a week's time since the previous outing on the Tucker Stadium turf, things had improved on both sides of the ball.
"When you're doing intrasquad scrimmages, we've gone 20-plus days Golden Eagles vs. Golden Eagles," said Tech head coach Dewayne Alexander. "It does get monotonous, it does get old because college football doesn't allow you to scrimmage against another opponent. Some of these O-linemen and D-linemen have been battling each other on inside drills, one-on-ones, team (drills). It does get monotonous.
"It's good to see plays on both sides. We made some big plays on offense, we made some big plays on defense. The great news is we have the ability to do that. We can score on defense -- we have the ability to create turnovers and score. I've seen that throughout the preseason camp. On defense, we have a lot of guys who can make plays with the football."
It's not just the defense that has been impressive.
"On special teams, I think we're going to be very good on the kick return game," Alexander said.
David Gist, in his first scrimmage back in action, broke off a nice kick return that could have been an 88-yard touchdown had the play not been whistled dead.
Alexander continued, "We've got really good cover guys, we've got really good depth at skill positions."
"It was great to see Justin," Alexander said. "Metrius made two or three huge catches out here. They've just been battling nagging injuries. We wanted to make sure they were healed up before we got them back out there. Day Day was coming off of a season-ending injury at Jacksonville State back in February – can't believe I just said February when talking football. We got him back out here without a red jersey on. He needed some live work. He got in there, got hit and held up well. He provides a spark. He gave us some big plays in the two-minute situation."
Gist, in addition to his returns, also had two catches for 21 yards and 12 carries for 23 yards.
The offense struck in the second series of the day as Willie Miller and Jordan Brown moved the ball past midfield. A pass interference call, then a Fleming catch put Tech at the defense's four-yard line. After the defenders pushed Brown back a yard, Miller lobbed a floater to Fleming in the top left corner for six on the four-yard pass.
The next series didn't start well for Miller as Jamaal Singleton intercepted a pass on the first play. Gist had four consecutive carries, then Miller completed a 21-yard strike to Oden, then another seven-yarder to Quinton Cross to get to the defense's 16-yard line. The drive ended there as Hayden Olsen connected on a 33-yard field goal.
Snaps foiled the next series as Tech's offense was stranded at the defense 46, then Shanley's final pass of the drive was batted and intercepted by Tavian Johnson.
Going into red zone work, Brown had a couple of carries, then Miller completed mid-size pickups from Tanner Shiver for five, D.J. Moyers for six, Shiver for seven more, then a nine-yard touchdown to Shiver following an offensive penalty.
With some long-field situations starting at the offense's four-yard line, the defense shined. The first series pushed the offense back to the 1, then had two straight tries result in a safety.
With the next drive starting from midfield, Shanley nearly hit paydirt with Oden, connecting for a 34-yard pickup. Two plays later, Shanley threw to Brown for the 10-yard score.
Two sacks ended the next series, but Lem Wash made a splash with his first throw of the day – a deep 64-yard touchdown strike to Oden.
It wasn't like last week's scrimmage where the weather forced an early end to the day as the event took all 90 scheduled minutes and was constant action.
"We got just about every situation you could cover in there," Alexander said. "We were backed up on our own 4. We had a short field going in, a minus-25 like after a fair catch or kickoff return, a two-minute situation, we put the ball in some different places to try to challenge ourselves offensively and defensively.
"We're going to play complementary football. Offense feeds off of defense, defense feeds off of offense. We have to take advantage of each situation. If defense creates a short field for us, we have to score touchdowns. Defensively, if we get our backs against the wall, we have to create turnovers or score or at least hold them to a field goal. I was really impressed with what I saw out here today. We've gotten a lot of work done. Having the officials out here was big."
Alexander added, "Right now, the biggest thing is we need some rest. School has started, they've been through the grind at camp. They'll get some rest, watch the film tomorrow, have team photo day. Monday will be lift weights and Tuesday, we'll start on Samford."
With just a week-and-a-half until that first game, the Golden Eagles look to be in a good place for that matchup.
"We are," Alexander said. "We have a lot of guys back getting healthy, We had a couple we held back from major reps, but our team is coming together at the right time. There are some big football practices coming up this week, so we're excited."
The regular season opens Thursday, September 2, as the Golden Eagles travel to Samford for a 6 p.m. tilt. Tech returns to Tucker Stadium on Sept. 11 for the home opener against Furman, then hits the road to Knoxville to take on Tennessee the following week.
Tickets for Golden Eagle football – including season tickets – are on sale now. Call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUsports.com to order.
Photo | Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information