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Jaguars defense steals the show during SU game
A.W. Mumford Stadium started to empty out.
Most players, splattered with water and mud, retreated to a set of shower heads.
A few others lingered on the field. Southern University’s spring football finale had wrapped up Saturday, and the Jaguars defense had scored a convincing TKO of the offense.
Still, the trash-talking continued.
Defensive coordinator Terrence Graves shuffled to a spot near midfield, where he sized up wideout Juamorris Stewart — the only receiver who, against a revamped secondary, did pretty much whatever he wanted.
Graves offered up a shove. It was payback.
The way he saw it, officials hadn’t flagged Stewart for pass interference all afternoon.
“No one called a push-off,” Stewart admitted, flashing a grin. “Those were some nice refs out there today.”
At any rate, on a gray, drizzly Saturday afternoon at SU, spring practice officially reached the finish line. From any angle, Graves’ unit got the best of the Jaguars offense.
Sixty-four players were in uniform for Southern’s 2009 spring game, and coaches divvied up the team by offense and defense. They devised a scoring system for each unit: The offense, as always, got six points for touchdowns, three points for field goals and one point for PATs, while the defense got three points apiece for third-down stops, interceptions and fumble recoveries.
Final score: defense 38, offense 14.
The defense had a dozen 3-pointers and a safety to boot.
It was, perhaps, a comforting sign to Southern fans, who watched a senior-heavy defense fall apart in crunch time so often last year, when the Jaguars went 6-5 and finished third in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division.
Still, like most scrimmages, the real trick Saturday was to accurately assess the situation. Had the defensive players sparkled because of their talent? Or because a struggling offense had made the other unit look that much better?
“I think it’s more of a case of the experience on the offensive line, and the depth of them,” SU coach Pete Richardson said. “A lot of them are struggling with the system, and we’re going to have to improve up there. ”
Truth be told, the offensive line resembled what the coaches thought it might be — a work in progress, and a slowly moving one at that.
Three probable starters — center Ramon Chinyoung and tackles Chris Browne and Lee Almanza — missed the spring game because of injuries (some serious, some not as much).
Because of all that, the already-thin line was filled with underclassmen such as Rodrell Stewart or Allen Buckner, who haven’t played much, or newly converted players such as Leslie Davis, who split time last season between tight end and tackle.
The result was predictable.
The SU defensive line — led by ends Dexter James, Dion Palmer, Ted Jones and Don Holloway, often had an easy time coming off the corners.
All told, the SU defense had seven sacks and an untold number of hurries, which, naturally, left the offense out of sync.
There were also two interceptions, one apiece by linebacker Marcus Clark and cornerback Justin Foster.
“We wanted our defensive linemen to whip the man in front of them, and we were able to do that,” Graves said. “So that helps us on the back end. Whenever we can get the pass rush up front, then we’ll be better in the secondary.”
Of course, it didn’t help that the offense played without star quarterback Bryant Lee.
Although he missed only one session in spring practice because of the partially torn ligaments in his knee, coaches held Lee out of Saturday’s spring finale.
Instead, Lee wore his red No. 16 jersey and warmup pants. On every snap, he stood behind the offense, presumably charting each play.
In the meantime, his backups played with varying degrees of success.
Warren Matthews, a senior who played in key moments each of the last two seasons, often threw on the run because of a heavy pass rush. When he had time, he was fairly accurate. When he didn’t, he wasn’t.
Matthews completed 12-of-24 passes for 193 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
The No. 3 quarterback, Gary Hollimon, threw for 2 yards on just two attempts.
The pleasant surprise, however, was Jeremiah McGinty, a freshman who enrolled at SU this spring. Often flushed out of the pocket, he displayed some nifty moves in the open field and, ostensibly, gave the Jaguars a reason to feel good about their depth at quarterback. McGinty had 13 passing yards and a team-high 58 rushing yards.
“As you can see, he’s a good athlete, nimble and able to run the football,” Richardson said. “But he’s going to improve, and I think part of that is learning the system. Once he learns that, he’s going to develop into a fine football player for us.”
Stewart was his usual self. He broke loose for two long gains and finished with 131 yards and a touchdown on four catches.
And he wasn’t satisfied.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “We showed flashes at some points, but we’ve got a lot of work to put in, to improve our chemistry. The defense was ahead of us. They were pretty sharp.”
As for the offense, it ranked first in the SWAC last season. Lee and the linemen should return in time for fall camp, and by then, the offense should be back in business.
Saturday, however, belonged to the Southern defense.
And for the moment, practice was over.
For the moment, everyone wore a smile.
No major injuries
Less than an hour before kickoff, players lounged in the ground floor of the F.G. Clark Activity Center, where they may have dressed out for the last time (SU’s new north end-zone facility, complete with locker rooms, is supposed to be ready for the Jaguars’ home opener Sept. 12).
Meanwhile, coaches got their first good look at the playing field at A.W. Mumford Stadium. Thanks to the thunderstorms that passed through Baton Rouge late Friday and early Saturday, most of the field was soaked.
With that in mind, the greatest news for Richardson on Saturday was that no one suffered a serious injury.
“That was a plus for us,” Richardson said. “But we have a long way to go as a football team. Hopefully we get enough of those individuals who were hurt (in spring practice) to take part in fall. Then we should be fine.”
Saturday’s spring game at Southern felt more like a scrimmage, with action jumping from one spot on the field to another. SU coaches ran it that way by design, because the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s annual clinic for football officials was in town, and dozens of them shuttled in and out during the game.
“We had to stop because they wanted to change crews every now and then,” Richardson said. “They had, like, 11 or 12 units they wanted to get on the field. So we made it into a situational thing for them. That helped them out also.”
Play of the game (offense)
On the second series, Matthews unleashed a bomb to Stewart, who slipped two tacklers and stepped out of bounds at the 2-yard line, good for a 68-yard gain.
Play of the game (defense)
Matthews, flushed out of the pocket, threw across his body to Isaiah Nelson, who caught the ball and turned around — only to meet safety Gary Blackmon, who delivered a crunching hit. (Both players were OK.)
Running backs Brian Threat, Silas Gibbs and Jerry Joseph combined for 85 rushing yards on 13 carries Saturday. … Free safety Anthony Wells, who tore his ACL in September, did not practice this spring but should be “ready to go” by fall camp, Richardson said. … Tight end Evan Alexander, who tore a knee ligament in last year’s spring game, has applied with the NCAA to gain a sixth year of eligibility.
* By PERRYN KEYS
* Advocate sportswriter
* Published: Apr 19, 2009