Back to Basics
JoJo Smith grabbed the first INT of the day (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)
Blue Team 30 White Team 28
Today's spring football game, played under sunny skies and increasingly warmer temperatures, had a little something for everybody. But mostly it was a clear sign that Columbia's 62 returning sophomores, juniors, and seniors need to spend plenty of time in the offseason concentrating on the basics.
The contest was played more like an actual game than I expected. Quarterback sacks were allowed, and running time was only used in the second half. The biggest changes were no blitzes or kickoffs, and punt returns were fair catches only. Head Coach Norries Wilson was patroling in the middle of the field the entire game.
Another thing that looked familiar was that for the most part, the defense dominated. There were three defensive touchdowns, and neither quarterback came close to throwing for 200 yards.
With some exceptions, the blue team was made up of Columbia's first team offense and second team defense, while the white team was the first team defense and second team offense. But in the first half, it was the white team offense that looked sharper with two sustained drives for touchdowns to go with two defensive scores and a 28-14 lead at the break.
At times, rising sophomore QB Jason Pyles looked very sharp at QB for the white team. He had a big weapon in tight end Troy Evangelist, who emerged as one of the biggest stars of the game. On the first scoring drive of the game, Pyles found Evangelist for a pair of 14-yard gains, the second one for a TD.
With the score 21-14 white team, Evangelist did it again with a 23-yard catch and run on a 3rd and 12 to set up another score before the half.
Another nice development for the white team was the play of Ray Rangel, who looked good running and catching the ball out of the backfield. He brought an injury-free quickness to his game this afternoon that we didn't get enough of a chance to see in 2006.
M.A. Forces It
While he ran the ball extremely well, M.A. Olawale's first chance to really show what he could do as a passer was a disappointment. His first pick was actually not a forced pass but a floater in the endzone that JoJo Smith grabbed to end what had been a decent blue drive. His next two interceptions were balls Olawale never should have thrown, and they both resulted in white TD's, the first on a 32-yard INT return by Andy Shalbrack, and the second a 23-yard pickoff return by Mack Loughery for the score.
The Turning Point
With the white team leading 28-14 early in the second half, Pyles found Evangelist for a big 26-yard pass to get out of a hole at their own three yard line. But a personal foul penalty negated most of the gain and the white team offense never seemed to get it going again. Three plays later, the white team snapped the ball over Pyles head out of the end zone for a safety to make it 28-16.
The blue offense finally got into the groove two possessions later when Austin Knowlin busted a reverse down the west sideline for 28 yards and first and goal at the four. Two plays later Jordan Davis scored and the PAT made it 28-23 with about 30 minutes of running time left.
The two teams traded a couple of punts before Olawale went to his bread and butter running abilities to win the game for the blue team. Starting at his own 48, Olawale ran the ball four times on the drive, getting the final four yards for the winning TD. The 52-yard march did feature a nice 14-pass to Jordan Davis and an 11-yard toss to Jamal Russell, but Olawale clearly felt more comfortable running the football.
You have to be careful not to put too much positive or negative stock in the spring game. The players are coming off just a couple of weeks of practice after a five-month layoff and the game is not for keeps.
Craig Hormann looked like he was getting around pretty well during the day. He used crutches some of the time, but not the whole time. I'm beginning to believe that he will be ready to play by the start of the season.
Justin Masorti was not in spring practice, but I was told he will be back in the fall.
That said, it's clear the Lions need to work on the basics. Both teams were penalized too much, and comitted costly turnovers. M.A. Olawale needs to be allowed to run most of the time and work more on his passing and decision making in practice.
But one offense, I was mostly impressed with the play of Evangelist, Jordan Davis and Ray Rangel. Austin Knowlin only caught one ball, but he was the victim of a number of errant passes thrown by Olawale. He did have a big presence on the field with that big run on the reverse and the crowd he drew on almost every play.
Defensively, a number of last season's backups looked good. Conor Joyce was in on a number of plays, along with Eli Waltz, Corey Cameron, Lou Miller, and Drew Abeyta.
Pyles threw the ball pretty well, and should be at least considered as a backup after today.
Bayo Aregbe played well, with four solo tackles.
Ryan Mettee did not play.
David Brekke looked good in his new role at linebacker, making a key interception for the blue team and a few other nice tackles. He also seemed pretty happy with his performance when I eavesdropped a conversation he had with his dad after the game.
Jon Rocholl missed a tough 49-yarder that had the distance but was wide left. He was a monster punting the ball though with 3-out-5 kicks inside the 20 and great hang time on every boot. He looked ready to play.
Some of the rules were manipulated by Wilson to get a better look at certain game situations. He took a "coach's mulligan" a couple of times in the final few minutes by stopping the running clock. Those moves just served as a reminder that this was still practice and everyone is ultimately on the same team.
Both offensive lines looked pretty tired by the end of the game. Without any real backups, and the weather getting warmer, it was a struggle. Overall, the conditioning situation still seems good.
Two different sources are now telling me the incoming freshman class boasts a whopping 37 players! That would put the roster at 99 players, which should make it a lot easier to keep 90+ players on the squad for the entire season.
147 days until opening day!