Spring Game Roundup: Notre Dame QB spot still unsettled; Florida unveils offense
With spring games occurring across the country, SI.com distills the top news and notes from the weekend’s games.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson (collarbone) was out for Clemson's spring game on Saturday, so all 33,000 Tigers fans in attendance -- a school record -- got to see Cole Stoudt headline the team's offense. Stoudt, who is competing with the injured Watson for the opportunity to replace Tajh Boyd, completed 15-of-23 passes for 158 yards with two touchdowns. His scoring passes went for 16 and 28 yards, respectively, and the passing attack did much of the work as the Tigers' defense shut down the running backs. Clemson failed to score a rushing touchdown thanks largely to senior defensive end Tavaris Barnes, who recorded a school spring game record five sacks.
Offense was the name of the game in Florida's spring game on Saturday. Just under 36,000 fans ventured to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to check out what wrinkles first-year coordinator Kurt Roper had in store. The Gators used a no-huddle attack and ran 111 plays during a scrimmage that utilized a running clock for half of the contest. Quarterback Jeff Driskel returned from last year's broken leg and completed 18-of-32 attempts for 167 yards with one touchdown. The attack rolled up more than 600 yards of total offense, and Roper was happy with what he saw.
“I was pleased with the function of the offense," Roper said. “We got lined up well, we got the ball snapped in a timely manner, and we took care of the football in most instances. Those are the things you look for in every scrimmage, every game you play.”
Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston balanced his spring game responsibilities with a baseball series against Georgia Tech. Winston, who also pitches for the Seminoles, hit the diamond for Florida State on Friday, flew to Tallahassee on Saturday and then traveled back to Atlanta for a series-ending baseball game on Sunday.
While Winston was on the gridiron, however, he went 27-of-56 for 396 yards. He also passed for two touchdowns.
"Physically, there were some days I was drained. I'm a busy man," said Winston, who missed just two baseball games and two football practices. "... I'm always doing something. So I'm going to be tired sometimes. If Jimbo asks me, 'Jameis, are you tired?' I'm going to say 'No, coach,' but obviously he can see it in my eyes. Hey man, I'm tired."
Bulldogs fans' focus might have been elsewhere during their team's spring game this weekend. Just south of Athens, Georgia alum Bubba Watson was on the hunt for another green jacket at The Masters in Augusta. The school posted the tournament's broadcast on the big screen at Sanford Stadium.
Watson would go on to win The Masters on Sunday, but Dawgs coach Mark Richt was likely more focused on his team. Quarterback Hutson Mason passed for 241 yards with one touchdown, and he got plenty of help from receiver Chris Conley, who hauled in 124 yards on six catches, including one 53-yard grab. For Richt, the offense did what it needed to do.
"The tempo of the offense was outstanding," Richt said. "I think Hutson really enjoys the faster pace. He handles that very well. Chris is a very accomplished receiver in my mind. He runs good routes and gets good separation, and Hutson knows where best to place it to give him the best shot of making a play."
The Hurricanes' spring game featured several modified drills in lieu of a standard scrimmage, including more than a few one-on-one and 7-on-7 situations. But fans were able to get a glimpse of quarterback Kevin Olsen, the team's presumed starter after the loss of Ryan Williams to a torn ACL during a spring scrimmage. Olsen completed 7-of-21 passes for 65 yards with an interception. Most of Miami's production came on the ground, where tailback Gus Edwards rushed for 70 yards and fellow back Walter Tucker scored the only offensive touchdown.
The 'Canes used Saturday's spring game as an opportunity to unveil sharp new Nike uniforms for the 2014 season. Miami also honored offensive lineman Hunter Knighton, who suffered a heat stroke in February but announced he plans to continue his football career with the program.
The spring game in Lincoln started out with a bang: Bo Pelini led his Cornhuskers onto the field on Saturday while hoisting a cat in the air, a nod to his @FauxPelini Twitter alter ego. Once the game began, Nebraska utilized a modified scoring system that saw a number of positive moments for both the offense and the defense. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., the presumed successor to Taylor Martinez, attempted only eight passes and compiled 97 yards in limited action, though one of his four completions went for 51 yards to Brandon Reilly. Backups Ryker Fyfe and Johnny Stanton looked sharp, combining to complete 17-of-24 attempts for 224 yards with three touchdowns.
The Huskers' stable of running backs was perhaps the most impressive group. With returnee Ameer Abdullah sitting on the sideline, Imani Cross, Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor displayed the depth at the I-back spot. Cross, in particular, netted 100 yards and two scores on just six carries.
Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora might be known chiefly for his offense, but North Carolina's defense shined in Saturday's spring scrimmage. Defensive end Justin Thomason recorded five tackles and a pair of sacks. Meanwhile, the unit batted down 11 passes and snagged three interceptions. On offense, neither quarterback did much to separate himself, so the battle between Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky will likely stretch into fall camp.
The quarterback situation in South Bend isn't much clearer after the completion of spring practice. Everett Golson and Malik Zaire both had standout moments in the Irish's modified scrimmage: Zaire completed 18-of-25 passes for 292 yards with two touchdowns, while Golson threw for 154 yards and ran for one score. Golson led Notre Dame to a berth in the BCS title game in 2012, but after a year away from the team, the starting job remains in flux.
Coach Brian Kelly said his plans are to center the offense around one quarterback come fall.
"I would like to have one quarterback because they both can run the offense," Kelly said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. "This is not about having one offense for one quarterback and another offense for the other... I should be able to figure this thing out. We should be able to get our players in a position where we can have a starting quarterback. I’ve been doing it long enough that I would hope I could figure it out come time to play Rice."
SI.com's Martin Rickman was in Columbus for the Buckeyes' spring game.
One of the most impressive players in Oklahoma's spring game won't even play in the coming season. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who transferred from Texas Tech in January and must sit out the 2014 campaign per NCAA rules, completed all nine of his attempts for 125 yards and a game-high two touchdowns. Mayfield's performance didn't make the outing by returnee Trevor Knight look stellar by comparison. Knight completed just 5-of-14 passes for 53 yards with an interception.
On defense, linebacker Eric Striker paced the Sooners with sacks on back-to-back plays. Coach Bob Stoops praised Striker's impact in his press conference.
“Part of our structure is trying to be balanced in that we want to create indecision on which edge we are coming from," Stoops said. "It does balance us up more but also Eric is very effective out there in coverage. We loved what we saw of him out there when he is not coming, so we are really excited for it.”
New coach James Franklin has plenty of work to do with his roster's offensive line. The Nittany Lions allowed nine sacks during their spring game on Saturday, and the rushing attack had trouble finding much traction. Aside from tailback Cole Chiappialle (63 yards on nine carries), no player recorded more than four carries or 22 yards on the ground.
The line's lack of depth has been a theme of spring practice in Happy Valley, and those troubles became more emphasized when fifth-year senior guard Miles Dieffenbach was sidelined with a knee injury last month.
"I've been places where when we first showed up, we had challenges in terms of depth and things like that," Franklin told reporters. "I'm not sure that I've ever been in a situation where you don't even have a scholarship two-deep. With that, we're talking about guys that we've moved over from the other side of the ball. We're talking about guys we've moved from one position to another, tight ends that we've converted. I don't know if we've ever been in this situation before, but again, it is what it is, we're going to find a way to make it work."
The Gamecocks' offense looked solid in Saturday's Garnet and Black game in Columbia. Dylan Thompson was the best quarterback on the field, completing 8-of-11 passes for 129 yards with one touchdown. But South Carolina's defense, though limited, was suspect on several drives, making things a little too easy for Thompson and backup quarterback Connor Mitch. That unit loses a game-changer in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, as well as defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, but coordinator Lorenzo Ward sounded optimistic that he can find new leaders by the fall.
"I think we’ve got guys that understand that they’re not going to count on (Jadeveon) Clowney or Kelcy Quarles to make a play," Ward said. "I think we’ll have 11 guys that we can put on the field and play together as a unit. When you get 11 guys that can play as a unit, I think you’ll be ok.”
Cardinal fans were able to watch a familiar name put on a show in Saturday's spring game. Running back Barry Sanders carried the ball 12 times for 68 yards and caught two passes for 19 yards in one of his more effective outings. Sanders will continue to compete with Remound Wright and Kelsey Young for reps, but the son of legendary NFL back Barry Sanders took advantage of Stanford's final spring scrimmage.
“I felt like I ran hard, made some good cuts and made people miss,” Sanders said. “There were a couple plays I felt like I missed a couple holes here and there. But I felt I did well.”
Wisconsin's spring game consisted of structured offense versus defense workouts followed by two 15-minute quarters, but even that was enough time for the Badgers' defense to flex its muscles. Wisconsin kicker Jack Russell knocked in two field goals for the only points of the day as the defense closed out the spring on a high note. Freshman defensive back Austin Hudson (five tackles) and sophomore safety Joe Ferguson (four tackles) were standouts, in particular.
"The defense is a little bit ahead right now," Andersen said. "I'd say that the biggest reason is because there's a lot more injuries on the offensive side of the football or a lot more pieces of the puzzle that I don't allow to be there, two tailbacks that we all know are special."