Sophomore linebacker Leyon Azubuike, with his helmet stripped from his head, screamed in celebration after recording a tackle for a loss late in the football team’s Cherry and White Game on Saturday.
The Defense was having that type of game.
Azubuike’s stop was one of several tackles for a loss that the Defense made during its win over the Offense in the Owls’ annual spring scrimmage, played amid rain at Edberg-Olson Hall. The game pitted the Defense, adorning cherry jerseys, against the white-jersey-wearing Offense.
Though the heavy rain put an early end to official scoring, points were awarded based on a variety of different outcomes, including touchdowns, field goals, first downs, interceptions, fumbles and sacks. The Defense held the Offense without a touchdown until late in the game, when the teams practiced goalline formation plays.
Sophomore defensive tackle Alston Smith led the Defense with three sacks. The defensive pressure, which was aided by the linebacker corps, increased as the game progressed.
“We feel like the defense can’t work if we don’t work,” Smith said of the defensive line. “So we just take that into consideration and just try to ‘ball out.’ We work real hard. We got good camaraderie. We just make sure we have each other’s back every play and hope from there it happens, like it did.”
Coach Al Golden was impressed with the defensive line, too.
“The defensive line really rallied around today and did some good things,” Golden said.
The offensive line, however, was playing without Elliot Seifert, who owns three letters, and redshirt freshman Carl Spitale, who sat out the game due to injuries. Golden said a few other linemen played the game with nagging injuries.
“Our offensive line is probably depleted,” Golden said. “So, I’ll have to go back and look at the film and see when a lot of the plays occurred. Was it against our best offensive lineman? We’ll determine that with the film.”
Freshman quarterback Jarrett Dunston, who is competing with three others for the starting job, said he could feel the defensive pressure amplify as the game went on.
During one of Dunston’s drives midway through the game, linebacker Andrew Coleman and Smith sacked him on consecutive plays.
“I could feel them getting to me,” Dunston said. “I was having to go through my reads and progressions a little bit quicker to get them the ball. But they were getting to me a little bit, so they were doing a good job on that.”
Early in the game, Dunston had enough time to find the open receiver. He completed six of his first eight passing attempts, as he drove the offense down to the 11-yard line. But the Defense held, forcing two incomplete passes. Junior kicker Danny Murphy missed an 18-yard field goal attempt and the Offense’s drive ended.
Dunston said he turned in one of his best performances of the spring because he was able to relax.
“If I get too uptight and start thinking too much, then our whole play goes to dirt,” Dunston said. “You just have to be relaxed out there and be comfortable and once you do that, it just comes to you.”
Dunston was one of three players from Golden’s first recruiting class to play in the game. Dunston, running back Jason Harper and safety Wilbert Brinson are currently taking classes at Temple.
“Obviously, it’s an advantage to come in midyear if you want to play early,” Golden said. “I think those guys all had productive springs.
“To the naked eye today, I don’t know if anybody would come in and say ‘Yeah, these three guys made an impact.’ But I think throughout the spring, those three players – and most particularly, Jason -had a really solid spring.”
The game concluded the Owls’ spring practice schedule. Golden said the team will hold three lifting sessions next week, which will be followed by having the next few weeks off to concentrate on final exams.
The first-year coach said he was pleased with the progression his team had made since spring practice began four weeks ago.
“As I say to them all the time: It’s not a function of doing it for one or two days, it’s a function of [saying] ‘All right, does that become our culture and do we always do that every time we come out to practice?'” Golden said. “So, that’s what we’ve really got to get down over the next three and a half months.”
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.