Big plays but few answers on spring football Saturday
With hoops over and months to go until football media day in July, Saturday's five spring games on Pac-12 Networks came along at just the right time.
While it wasn’t quite game-like intensity on the field, it was football - five teams in full pads is a welcome sight for fans who haven’t seen their teams in action in months and won't again for a while. Here are a few thoughts from watching all five games from the Pac-12 Networks control room in San Francisco.
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As Mike MacIntyre rebuilds the Buffaloes, finding Pac-12 caliber playmakers will be key on both sides of the ball.
He’s got one in receiver Paul Richardson, who looked rust-free coming off an ACL injury last year. The speedster was able to get behind the defense, showed great quickness and burst, and hauled in a long touchdown late in the game to finish with 169 yards and the score. The running back group looked solid too on Saturday, but it’s clear Richardson will be the Buffaloes' featured player.
[Related video: Colorado spring game highlights]
Who will throw Richardson the ball remains a question. With Jordan Webb tearing his ACL in practice earlier in the week, the race to be the starter was shaken up on short notice. Nobody really separated themselves on Saturday but Connor Wood looked the sharpest by going 11-of-15 for 205 yards and a touchdown. Nick Hirschman shined at times and Shane Dillon had some flashes, but it was a day where nobody broke through.
The defense, with a good mix of freshmen and guys who saw some playing time from last year, had some tackling issues. There were some positives of course but it might be another tough year on that side of the ball.
The defense, as expected, was good. The unit will be right there atop of a number of statistical categories in the Pac-12 with guys like Will Sutton back for a South Division run.
[Related video: Arizona State spring game highlights]
After 100+ plays the tempo for the offense was where Todd Graham wanted it. Quarterback Taylor Kelly was sharp with a plethora of weapons like Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and Chris Coyle. Backups Michael Bercovici and Michael Eubanks also impressed and never stopped competing.
All in all, the Sun Devils did nothing to dissuade folks from thinking they’ll be the team to beat in the South Division if they can get over the hump of a tough early schedule.
All eyes were on the quarterback position Saturday, and it was a mixed bag. Max Wittek struggled during his first few series and threw two interceptions to Demetrius Wright. He showed a solid grasp of the offense and had a much better 2nd half as he got into rhythm. Cody Kessler had the best day with three touchdowns in his first four series including a nice deep ball to Marqise Lee. Freshman Max Browne needs to develop pocket awareness but did show off his big arm.
[Related video: USC spring game highlights]
Attention on the QB position aside, Saturday belonged to Lee. The unofficial kickoff to his 2013 Heisman campaign produced several highlights. He hauled in three touchdowns and had his way with any defender that came across him. He caught deep balls, jump balls, and pretty much everything thrown his way. Lee will be a terror for defenses to cover this fall.
Clancy Pendergrast’s defense was tough as expected as fans got their first look at his new 5-2 alignment. Though the cornerbacks had issues, the front seven were in midseason form with 10 sacks. They shut down the USC run game as Morgan Breslin teamed with Leonard William to give the offensive line nightmares.
[Related video: Breaking down USC's three QBs]
With no tackling and many players out with injuries, the game was far from a meaningful display of how the Trojans will turn out in the fall. But fans were likely pleased with some of the on-field progress they saw on Saturday.
The biggest news to come out of Tucson on Saturday was off the field: Rich Rodriguez confirmed that Austin Hill had torn his ACL in practice earlier in the week. Otherwise it was plenty of fun in the sun for the Wildcats on Saturday.
[Related video: Arizona spring game highlights]
B.J. Denker looked sharp throwing the ball in his bid to become the starting quarterback. He was the most consistent of the signal-callers and that will likely go a long ways for the coaching staff. But this might be a battle that stretches into fall camp. Jesse Scroggins showed off a big arm but was erratic at times.
[Related story: Arizona receiver Austin Hill tears ACL]
The play of the game was Tyler Slavin hauling in a 97-yard score that brought the fans to their feet. The defense had a few plays where they looked improved from last season but that wasn’t one of them.
The defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champions wrapped Saturday with some crisp play on a gorgeous day at The Farm. Kevin Hogan was efficient and we saw more of the vertical passing game that the Cardinal staff has been working on this spring.
[Related video: David Shaw postgame interview]
Tailback was done by committee and it was a blue-ribbon panel of players grabbing yards here and there. The offensive line up front was stout and created some nice holes. Ty Montgomery had a nice afternoon as the primary receiver ahead of Michael Rector, who also had a few nice plays. Walk-on Jeff Trojan, receiver Kodi Whitfield and tight ends also contributed to a productive passing game.
The cornerbacks were physical but had a few problems when they allowed receivers too big of a cushion. James Vaughters looks great at linebacker and several players got reps at defensive tackle to give the Cardinal even more depth.
Stanford ran a bit over their allotted time on Pac-12 Networks but with only so many practices and a long wait until that first game in the fall, I doubt anybody was complaining. Football was back.