Spring Game Roundup: Brandon Harris shines for LSU, Baylor running backs impress
With spring games occurring across the country, SI.com distills the top news and notes from the weekend's games.
Bryce Petty completed 10-of-15 passes for 135 yards and scores of 38 and 40 yards in his first spring game as Baylor's returning starter. But much of Saturday's spotlight fell on the running back position in Waco, where the Bears are looking to replace the outstanding Lache Seastrunk. Expected starter Shock Linwood received just two carries - for 32 yards -- in the scrimmage, and Devin Chafin ran the ball only once, as coach Art Briles gave opportunities to freshman running backs Johnny Jefferson and Terence Williams. Briles said both Jefferson and Williams, who combined for 43 yards on 10 carries, will be needed in the fall.
"Those guys are good, and they're going to have to be good," Briles said. "Because we've got four running backs. That's not a situation we're proud of; it's just the reality of where we're at. And one of them is a true freshman (Williams). It's a concern right now, without question. But they can play. That's a good thing. Every one of them can play and help us win."
Eagles fans got their first look at quarterback transfer Tyler Murphy in Saturday's spring game. Murphy, the former Florida quarterback and Boston College's expected starter in place of the departed Chase Rettig, threw for 78 yards to pace coach Steve Addazio's offense. The biggest void for the Eagles is at running back after the departure of Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams. Likely successor Myles Willis was one of the more impressive 'backs in the scrimmage. He returned the opening kickoff 99 yards and also scampered for a touchdown on the ground. Willis totaled 75 yards on the ground along with his kickoff return. On defense, senior linebacker Sean Duggan capped a big day with eight tackles, including one for a loss, and one pass breakup.
Gunner Kiel might just have the decided edge in Cincinnati's starting quarterback battle. In Saturday's spring game, Kiel connected on 17-of-22 passes for 300 yards and one rushing touchdown in only one half of action. Coach Tommy Tuberville praised Kiel's control of the offense after a rough week of practice for that unit. For Kiel, it was his final chance in the spring to show what he'd learned after sitting out last season and studying the offense.
"I came out with a chip on my shoulder to get better and compete and have fun and play fast, because that's what we're good at," Kiel told the Associated Press.
Most assessed that Fresno State's defense put together a better spring than its offense, and it looked that way in Saturday's spring game. The defense appeared stout in the Bulldogs' 73-play scrimmage, and coach Tim DeRuyter said the unit, which returns eight starters, gave him just what he was looking for.
"All in all there were some good plays back and forth like you would expect in a scrimmage," DeRuyter said. "I think a lot of guys improved [this spring]. I thought defensively as a unit we are playing much better with that first group and I thought our secondary improved a ton."
According to Fresno State's athletic department, the Bulldogs' defense only gave up two third-and-long conversions in 12 tries early in practice. Defensive back Jamal Ellis even picked off quarterback Zack Greenlee and returned it for a touchdown.
Plenty of chatter surrounds Fresno State's quarterback competition, as the Bulldogs will be without departed star Derek Carr this season. Brian Burrell, who backed up Carr last season, appears to have the early edge over Greenlee and Myles Carr (no relation to Derek).
If you aren't familiar with Brandon Harris yet, you may be by fall camp. LSU's freshman quarterback stole the show in the Tigers' spring game Saturday, completing 11-of-28 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns to go with 75 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Harris is competing with redshirt sophomore Anthony Jennings to replace Zach Mettenberger as LSU's signal-caller. That race is now a lot tighter than many expected after Jennings rescued the Tigers from a home loss to Arkansas last season.
LSU coach Les Miles said, for now, the program has two very viable options at quarterback.
"We think that both guys are pretty good, and we would like to think that they would continue to improve and be well beyond where they are today," Miles said after the game. "I think both guys are good enough to be our quarterback."
On defense, meanwhile, linebackers Deion Jones and Kwon Alexander both recorded touchdowns on interception returns in the first half. After the game, Miles enjoyed a little company from Rob Ryan of the New Orleans Saints.
Rob Ryan and Les Miles after #LSU Spring Game. #Saints pic.twitter.com/zIoi2Trp7c
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) April 5, 2014
Michigan's offense was a little shaky in its spring finale, which culminated the program's first spring under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. But Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said it isn't unusual to see a defense grab the spotlight during spring workouts.
“Most of the time defenses are ahead of offenses, especially in the spring, especially in fall camp,” Hoke said. “Part of that is some familiarity. Some of that is we’ve got some older guys on defense who have played a lot of football. The other part of it is, there’s no doubt about the overload you can get from a new system.”
More than a few struggles came at quarterback, where Michigan's returning starter, Devin Gardner, completed only 2-of-10 passes on the day, though one went for 44 yards to Freddy Canteen. Coming off a toe injury, Gardner finished with a mere 53 yards while fellow passer Shane Morris connected on five of his 11 pass attempts for 73 yards.
The Wolverines' offensive line, which was inconsistent last year, played a role in Saturday's subpar offensive outing, according to Hoke. Right guard Kyle Kalis was the only member of Saturday's first-team line that started in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Consequently, the defense netted five sacks, and defensive end Frank Clark and cornerback Jourdan Lewis (two picks) headlined a unit that produced a successful day Saturday.
In lieu of an official spring game, Oklahoma State held a modified practice this weekend dubbed the "Orange Blitz," which included position drills and a light scrimmage.
Depth concerns have been a theme for spring practice in Stillwater as the Cowboys return only nine starters across a roster that graduated 28 seniors. Gundy said the progression of his quarterbacks, especially junior J.W. Walsh, has been solid, but inexperience on the line has made it tough for the passers to find a rhythm.
"We're really inexperienced on the offensive line, especially at the twos," Gundy said. "We just don't have much depth. We have two starters who aren't out there with us. For that reason, when the twos are out there, it can be tough on a quarterback. Those five guys are giving us everything, but they've never played at this level."
Rebels coach Hugh Freeze praised his team's effort after Ole Miss' spring game Saturday, and it was easy to see why after a few stellar outings from both sides of the ball. Junior running back I'Tavius Mathers reeled off 121 yards on just four carries, including a 96-yard run that Freeze called "phenomenal." Senior quarterback Bo Wallace completed 10-of-21 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown. On defense, senior safety Cody Prewitt recorded 10 stops and forced two fumbles.
Freeze said his roster, which returns 15 starters, is his most experienced group since arriving at Ole Miss.
"I just think our young kids are so mature," Wallace said. "They're mature beyond their years. It has a feel of a very veteran group. A lot of those young kids got to play a lot of games last fall. Our chemistry's as good as it's ever been since I've been here. You can tell in practice and the way we compete."
The Horned Frogs' spring game on Saturday belonged to the defense. TCU's defense kept its offense from scoring a single touchdown while safety Kenny Iloka picked up a fumble and returned it for the game's only score. The Horned Frogs' attack turned the ball over four times, and coach Gary Patterson admitted things could have gone better on the offensive end.
“I didn’t feel really good about today as far as offensively,” Patterson said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “We’d have liked to have a lot more success, but we’ve got to get some bodies back. We were pretty physical, which is why we’re depleted. At the end, we were down to no scholarship running backs.”
There was plenty of good news on the defensive side of the ball, however. Defensive end Devonte Fields looked like the same stopper who earned Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors in 2012 and picked off a pass Saturday from sophomore quarterback Tyler Matthews. Patterson said Fields is "a lot farther than we were a year ago."MANDEL: James Franklin bringing new energy to Penn State