In Tom Herman’s first game coaching in front of a crowd and with a scoreboard at Royal-Memorial Stadium, the Orange team defeated the White team, 52-51.
The scoring was peculiar, with penalties taking points off the boards, big plays adding three points for the White or offense’s total, and turnovers or missed field goals adding to the Orange or defense’s total.
While the game came down to the defense making a stop in a situational 4th and goal from the two, there was plenty to glean from this game.
It was ones versus twos for almost the entire scrimmage, and the ones took advantage. The offensive play call began with some trickery as sophomore Devin Duvernay caught a pitch and looked for junior Jerrod Heard down the sideline, but it fell incomplete.
Facing a secondary that could not match up with a lot of the athleticism lined up across from them, sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele looked comfortable finding windows both inside and outside the pocket. Buechele was 23-of-39 for 369 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Chris Brown created the only interception on the day when he made a fantastic play to intercept Buechele in the second half. Both of Buechele’s touchdown passes came inside the defense’s 30 and found sophomore Collin Johnson’s hands. Johnson is thought to be the go to receiver in this program, and he played like it today, leading the team with eight receptions for 117 yards to go along with his two touchdowns.
Freshman Sam Ehlinger was not put in a lot of situations to let him succeed today. Behind the second string offensive line, Ehlinger was constantly under pressure and forced to move outside of the pocket. While he was wearing a black no-contact jersey, Ehlinger received a couple bumps from Texas defenders, and would have been lit up several times if this were live football. However, Ehlinger found space to make several good throws against the defense, including his lone touchdown pass to sophomore Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Stepping up, Ehlinger found Humphrey matched up against junior Kris Boyd. Humphrey went over Boyd to make the catch in the end zone for six more White points. Ehlinger had a chance to match Buechele’s touchdown total when he launched a deep ball to senior Dorian Leonard. However, the ball bounced off of Leonard’s hands and landed in the dirt. Ehlinger ended the day 10-for-31 for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Heard only brought in one reception on the day, streaking down the middle past sophomore linebacker Erick Fowler. Buechele placed the ball perfectly over Fowler’s head for a 37 yard reception.
Freshman Reggie Hemphill-Mapps continued to find spaces to catch the ball. Hemphill-Mapps showed great vision and found holes in coverage, hauling in five balls for 84 yards. Sophomore Devin Duvernay brought in two receptions for 50 yards, and freshman Davion Curtis brought in two catches in for 30 yards. Senior Armanti Foreman, senior Lorenzo Joe, junior John Burt and junior walk on Michael Wilson each had one reception on the day.
Sophomore quarterback Josh Covey was 0-for-4 in limited action.
In passing situations, the first team offensive line, anchored by junior All-American Connor Williams, performed well today and gave Buechele enough time to find receivers. The second team offensive line was a different story. Whether it was sophomore Jean Delance or freshman JP Urquidez at left tackle or sophomore Denzel Okafor or senior Tristan Nickelson at right tackle, the second OL struggled mightily with the pass rush. Much of this can be attributed to the quality of the first team defensive line and pass rush. With linemen like sophomore Malcolm Roach, junior Chris Nelson, senior Poona Ford and senior linebacker Naashon Hughes, whose role asks for a lot of pass rushing, Ehlinger had an orange jersey in his face constantly. Herman spoke at length during spring practices about wanting to have faith in his first seven or eight offensive linemen. Those last two or three need some work.
With freshman early enrollee Toneil Carter as the only scholarship running back available for the Orange-White game, what the running game would look like was somewhat of a mystery coming into today. Carter struggled some with ball security and decisiveness, but did not look to be too overwhelmed by the college game. Carter finished the day with 60 yards on 10 carries.
The lone rushing touchdown on the day came from a one yard rush from Buechele on a read play.
As previously mentioned, the first team defensive line put in a great effort and held the second team offense relatively in check. Roach and Hughes looked strong in their roles, although there was only one tackle between them, a sack from Roach. Nelson lead the team in QB hits (3) while also notching two PBUs. Junior Charles Omenihu had some flashes throughout the day.
The leading tacklers on the day were junior safety John Bonney and freshman corner Donovan Duvernay, each with six. Fowler, Brown, and freshman Eric Cuffee followed them with five apiece.
The depth chart looked about the same as it had late in the spring, with juniors Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler joining Hughes and linebacker. Sophomore Brandon Jones manned one safety position while junior DeShon Elliott held down the other. Juniors Kris Boyd and Holton Hill played well on the outside, and junior PJ Locke manned the nickel spot.
In addition to Omenihu, sophomore Jeffrey McCulloch put together a good performance. He put some great moves on Williams to reach the backfield, and was complimented by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando after the scrimmage.
In one of the series with the twos, junior Jarmarquis Durst, a transfer from Tarleton State, received some action at boundary safety.
During every punt play, there were three players on the field; the snapper, the punter and the returner. Herman practices punt at every practice and did not want to put anything on film for other teams to study, as other teams have also done during their spring scrimmages. Junior Michael Dickson, now wearing No. 37, spun several good punts and even the bad one ended up being pretty good. Heard and Foreman were the returners, and while Foreman made some odd decisions, like catching a ball inside the five, Herman likely won’t let those things continue into the fall.
Junior Josh Rowland, another member of the class of 2017 that saw action today, was 3-for-4 today, only missing one 49 yard field goal that had the distance but was just left.
Opening statement: Excited that we came out of it injury free. That’s fairly unusual for a spring game, so I was happy to see that and really excited to see our guys flying around and respond. Sometimes different sides of the ball were down by quite a few points and the other side responded. That was not rigged to be a tight game. The Orange team was comfortably ahead with the first defense out there against the second offense. Sam Ehlinger threw a touchdown to LJ Humphrey that kind of put the White team back in it, so it was good to see them respond with the twos. I thought the first drive by the first offense set the tone not just offensively, because there were a couple big plays and obviously scored a touchdown, but defensively, too. We had guys flying around with some big hits. Chris Brown had a big hit, even though it was an explosive play for the offense. IT was really good to see guys flying around and going to the echo of the whistle. I was happy with that, pleased with the progress we’ve made throughout the entirety of spring practice.
On adding a quarterback or if Buechele is the starter: We need more than two scholarship quarterbacks, that’s for sure, and we’re going to try to do that. You can’t wave a magic wand and one shows up. The circumstances have to line up. And as far as Shane being the starter, no way. I think a healthy fear of losing your job is just that – healthy. Shane knows we have a lot of confidence in him, and Shane did a lot of things really, really well this spring, but to say that he’s won the job in 12 padded practices when he doesn’t even get hit, that would be premature.
On the pass rush: Really throughout the spring pleasantly surprised with the first team defensive line. You can win with Malcolm Roach, Chris Nelson and definitely Poona Ford – he’s the hardest playing guy we have on our football team. You can win with those guys. The problem is defensive guys can’t play 70 to 80 snaps a game. They get worn down, they get tired. The pass rush becomes non-existent at the end of the game, so you have to develop your second group. A guy that’s come along in the last week or so has been Jordan Elliott. He’s playing a lot tougher, a lot more physical, but we need the rest of those guys to be able to give us 20-30 snaps throughout the course of the game.
On Toneil Carter: Well, he put the ball on the ground. It’s hard to ignore that, and he missed a protection on third down with a guy that sacked. But beyond that, for a kid that’s supposed to be picking out his tuxedo and thinking up crazy ways to ask his girl to the prom, he’s going to be a really good player if he stays on this course. But being the only scholarship guy, obviously we set unbelievably high expectations for him because otherwise who are we going to play? A couple of the negative things certainly stand out in my mind, but if you take a step back and realize where he’s at, he’s played college football for not even 12 padded practices because he was hurt for a couple, the future is bright if he stays the course.
On the new lockers: It just says that we’re committed to providing our student athletes with the best training facility in the country or as possible. We’re a bit constricted from a landlocked standpoint at times, but we’re going to make this facility as state-of-the-art and as first-class as we can. There will be no reason, from a facilities standpoint, for a recruit to want to go somewhere else.
On the reason behind the personnel groupings and Ehlinger’s play: It’s just how we’ve been running through practice for the most part, so we just kind of kept it the same as we’ve been doing. Sam had gotten some [first team reps] earlier in the spring. We had been able to do that. I thought Sam played well. I don’t evaluate his performance based on the other people. I’ll evaluate what Sam did based on what I need Sam to do. I thought for the most part he played pretty well. I know of a couple mistakes that he made. Just systematic mistakes but he’ll correct them
On Buechele: I saw growth in him. The things we require our quarterback to do and to be is different for him and for what he was asked to do and to be last year. It is a process and he is in that process right now. He hasn’t arrived by any means but he is growing as a quarterback and what we need him doing.
On linebacker: I’d like to see more. Honestly, I’ve been accustomed to having guys that dominate that position and we are a work in progress. They care, they want to be good, but there are some things we have to clean up. It’s going to take some time.
On McCulloch: Jeff is a natural pass rusher. Jeff kind of gets fancy at times with some of the stuff. I’d like to see him be a little big grittier, but he’s had a nice camp. He’s had his moments, a stretch here and there of days that he’s lost his focus a little bit, but overall been very, very happy with him.
On the cornerback depth: Those guys [Donovan Duvernay and Eric Cuffee] are a work in progress, too. From a standpoint of their height, it’s a little bit of they’ve got to play exact. The taller guys can make a bad step or they could be behind the ball, but they can use their arm length to catch up. They have to be technically sound, but they’ve been doing a good job. They’ve been working their tails off. Obviously, we will consider anybody going in there to add depth. We play specialty packages where there will be multiple corners on the field. I think that thing will go into the summer time. I think those kids will get better, and I think we’ll figure out during the second week of fall camp where they’re at.