BOZEMAN - Montana State head football coach Rob Ash put his Bobcats through their first full-contact scrimmage on Saturday and generally liked what he saw.
He says the offense started strong; but when the defense settled in and started playing well, the offense looked a little sloppy.
Let the filling in begin.
The Montana Grizzlies, picked again to win the Big Sky Conference football championship despite the loss of 24 seniors off last year’s team, begin preparation for the 2008 season Monday at the South Campus Fields.
The rebuilding mode is fairly novel for the Griz, who lost 17 seniors off their 2004 team that played for the Football Championship Subdivision title.
Being the league favorite is nothing new: UM has won or shared the last 10 Big Sky championships. It’s just going to be tougher to meet expectations with 10 starters returning, only three on defense.
Jerome Souers’ defense calls for three starting linebackers. If it were up to linebackers coach Andy Thompson, though, he’d throw six players out there.
No, the second-year coach isn’t doubting Souers’ system, he just knows the importance of having quality depth at the linebacker position. “Our goal is to always have a group of guys that can play,” Thompson said. “We don’t really care who starts, but how much depth we have. We want those guys to play really hard and if you play really hard, it’s hard to play for a lot of snaps in a row.”
Thompson’s unit, which returns five players who saw significant playing time last season, still doesn’t feature a senior. Instead, NAU is planning on starting three juniors in Cody Dowd, Zac McNally and Stevon Thomas.
Two plays during the Idaho State football team’s first scrimmage Sunday demonstrated what anyone who follows the program already knows: Eddie Thompson is the team’s unquestioned No. 1 receiver.
On the first-team offense’s first drive, Russel Hill and company faced a third-and-20. The quarterback dropped back, went through his progressions and then finally fired a bullet into Thompson, who was streaking across the middle of the field.
The pass went for only 15 yards – not enough for a first down – but in a real game, it would’ve done wonders in the field position battle.
In the first unit’s third series, Hill threw to the corner of the end zone, and from the west side of the field, only three defensive players were visible around the spot Hill’s spiral would land. As the ball fell toward the earth, Thompson sprinted by the triple coverage and nearly made a highlight catch on a play that looked dead from the start.
POCATELLO – After being behind the offense during last season’s scrimmages, it seems the Idaho State defense has caught up to its counterpart.
Against a cautious, run-first offense, the Bengals’ revamped defense controlled the secondary and allowed just two touchdowns on 12 possessions in the team’s first fall scrimmage on Sunday afternoon, 20 days before the season opener.
“The defense came out and got it going early,” junior guard Lance Cartwright said. “They punished us for our mistakes.”
Indeed, the offense was penalized for five false starts during the first six drives of the scrimmage. The one drive on which they weren’t called for a penalty, second-string quarterback Kyle Blum connected with fellow junior Jaron Taylor for the offense’s lone passing touchdown.
Not even a game-winning field goal could keep Eddie Johnson with the Detroit Lions any longer.
Two days after his 41-yard field goal proved the winning points in a 13-10 preseason victory, Detroit released the former Idaho State punter on Saturday.
“It makes sense,” Johnson said by phone from Los Angeles. “That was the first field goal I’d attempted since high school.”
CEDAR CITY - When their new coach greeted them this past winter, Southern Utah University’s football players were introduced to a conditioning program featuring the grueling “Fight Gone Bad” workout. The timed, circuit-training exercise became a theme for the Thunderbirds, simulating how they would keep competing in a game and make opponents realize they would not submit easily.
It’s their way of trying to overcome an 18-game losing streak, while representing an athletic program that’s fighting to create an identity in its home state. Distinguishing itself is not easy for a school that plays football and basketball in two far-flung conferences - collectively spreading from California to Michigan and North Dakota to Louisiana - and is constantly trying to establish its niche in Utah.
Or, more accurately, to explain it.
The NCAA closed the borders on membership reclassification last summer, shortly after the University of South Dakota - as well as North Dakota - officially started the leap to Division I.
The timing of the moratorium, which remains in effect until after the 2010-11 school year, did not directly affect USD. But it has already played a role in how the school will spend the next four years.
The all-sports version of the Great West Conference that USD joined this summer is partly a byproduct of the moratorium, which also froze the creation of new conferences.
Because the Great West already existed for football, USD and UND were permitted to explore forming an all-sports version of what the NCAA views as the same league.
South Dakota State, having completed the five-year reclassification process, has put together a rolling five-year plan for the athletic department.
Categories include scholarships, personnel, facilities, programming, operations and equipment and capital expenditures - but not wins and losses.
“I’ve always said winning is a byproduct,” athletic director Fred Oien said. “It is not an end goal.”
SDSU made adding scholarships a priority during the D-I transition, and 10 of its 21 teams - including all but three on the women’s side - offer the maximum allowed by the NCAA. Those scholarship numbers will continue to grow, albeit much more slowly, accentuating the need for more support staff.
The two largest universities in South Dakota have not faced off in football or basketball since 2003-04, when South Dakota State began the NCAA Division I reclassification process and the University of South Dakota reaffirmed its commitment to Division II.
But the separation has not exactly killed interest in the rivalry.
“I think that conversation, that question, is out there every day at every coffee shop around,” SDSU athletic director Fred Oien said.
NORMAL – The Illinois State football team has an explosive top returning rusher in Geno Blow, a recent transfer from the University of Illinois in Walter Mendenhall and a hard-running walk-on in Clifton Gordon among its tailbacks.
Senior Parrish Fisher made it clear he’s also in the running to do some running for the Redbirds with 116 yards rushing on 15 carries in an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday at Hancock Stadium.
“We’ve got some good backs. We have four different types of guys, all capable of being productive,” said ISU coach Denver Johnson after a 178-play scrimmage that stretched over three hours. “Parrish had a good day. He’s trimmed down. He was a little fleshy last year. He worked extremely hard in the winter and summer, and he’s very lean right now.”
Fisher, who rushed for 289 yards at Kansas State in 2005, covered 192 yards on 38 carries last fall in his first season after transferring to ISU.
It’s 190 miles from Bentonville to Conway. It’s 270 miles from Vinita, Okla., to Conway.
UCA freshman football players Anthony Blackmon and Trey Lippe have left the comforts of home in those communities on a journey that has taken them down several miles on I-40 into a different world.
“You come in that first day and have to get all sorts of stuff straight,” said Lippe, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive lineman from Venita. “You’re signing all sorts of papers and there’s so much stuff you have to take in and rules to learn. There are a lot of meetings, it’s way different. In high school we never had meetings. That’s one of the toughest things to get used to, is all the meetings.”
Rhett Bomar has four good reasons to be excited about returning under center for the Bearkats following a 2007 season cut short by injury.
The Sam Houston State senior quarterback already had three of his reasons in place, as wide receivers Catron Houston, Trey Payne and Justin Wells bring a combined 100 receptions back to an offense that ranked among the Football Championship Subdivision’s best last season.
The fourth came in February, when coach Todd Whitten delivered 6-5 junior college transfer Jason Madkins to the receiving corps.
The lights are on at Colgate and the Raider football team will play its first two games of the season at night this fall. So to get ready they worked out under their own lights for the first time ever Thursday night. Andy Kerr Stadium got some new turf last year and some new lighting was put in this summer.
Rodney Allison has waited four years to hear the words and see the commitment. Never mind that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach is entering his sixth season. Or that it could be his last season if he doesn’t dramatically improve his overall 16-40 record with the Mocs.
Allison can accept whatever happens after that final game against Samford in November.
What he couldn’t accept was what he saw during his first two years, when a mix of players he inherited and players he recruited on talent alone were making his life miserable.
So he went to Dallas to talk to the Tuna.