Defense shines early, offense gets untracked as Golden Eagles hold second spring scrimmage

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – On paper, it might appear the offenses were rolling Saturday when the Tennessee Tech football team went through a two-hour scrimmage under bright, warm sunshine in Tucker Stadium.

Behind four quarterbacks, three offensive units combined for 644 yards on 107 plays, including 319 yards on 60 rushing attempts with five touchdowns. The passing game netted 325 yards and one touchdown.

Pretty decent numbers on paper.
But, on the field, it was the defense that gained a verbal pat on the back from head coach Watson Brown after holding the offense out of the end zone on the first nine possessions.

“The defense played better, finally,” said Brown whose brother, Texas head coach Mack Brown, watched from the stands. “Maybe now I can sleep a little. Up until today, the offense has really had the upper hand, but today the defenses controlled the line of scrimmage. It really showed in the red zone. The offensive line couldn’t take over when they got close to the goal line.”

The Golden Eagle defense held the offense to two field goals – and three missed field goals – on the first nine possessions of the day. It was performance that pleased second-year defensive coordinator Billy Taylor, as well as Brown.

“We still have a long way to go,” said a reserved Taylor. “We’ve taken some baby steps, but we need to be walking faster than that right now. I thought we had a great attitude, and we came out with a lot more confidence. Our leadership is getting better all the way around, and some of the younger guys are starting to take on a little more leadership.”

Veteran defensive lineman Justin Hilliard led the front line, while the defense also got some big plays from freshman inside linebacker Howard Griffin. Kelvin Quarles, a transfer from UAB who enrolled at Tech in January, also provided some outstanding play from his outside linebacker position.

Eventually, the offense got things together and scored on seven of the final eight possessions, including six touchdowns.

Freshman Tremaine Hudson rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns, Henry Sailes scored twice and Alden Olverson grabbed four passes for 76 yards including a touchdown to pace the offensive effort.

Before the ball was put into play, the Golden Eagles worked a little on the punting game, and freshman Nick Campbell looked impressive. He started with kicks of 56 and 61 yards, and then angled one toward the sidelines for 40 yards. His final two kicks came with the ball at the 42, and he kicked the first 41 yards to be downed at the one. His final kick took a perfect sideways bounce before trickling into the end zone. In all, he had five kicks and averaged 48.0 yards per punt.

The offense was held to three-and-out on its first two tries, before senior Lee Sweeney directed a 16-play, 53-yard scoring drive that ended with a 34-yard field goal by Justin Kraemer out of the hold by Dustin Dillehay.

The defense held on the next possession, and Kraemer missed wide right on a 42-yard attempt.

On the first play of the next possession, Dillehay intercepted a Sweeney pass for the only turnover of the day.

Once again, the defense held and on fourth down, Kraemer kicked a 41-yard field goal. The secondary had sensational coverage on OVC Freshman of the Year Tim Benford, forcing another three-and-out by Sweeney and the No. 1 unit.

Redshirt freshman Tre Lamb led the No. 2 offense to the 24-yard line, highlighted by a 20-yard completion to Corey Watson, but the defense forced two incomplete passes at the 24 and Kraemer’s second attempt from 42 yards went wide right.

Sweeney moved the offense to the 29, but Dillehay knocked down a third down pass attempt, and Tim Donegan’s 36-yard field goal try hit the upright.

A 43-yard run by Hudson seemed to loosen the defense, and two plays later he rambled 18 yards for the first touchdown of the day.

Quarterback Jeremy Woods, third signal-caller into the game, led the offense to a touchdown in his only possession. Woods broke free for a 60-yard run on the first play, down to the five-yard line and three plays and two penalties (one each way), Sailes cross the goal line from the one.

The defense came up with one final stop, thanks to two dropped passes near midfield.

Junior Cass Barnes, moving back to quarterback after a season at wide receiver, led the team on an eight-play, 51-yard scoring drive capped with a 10-yard TD by Hudson. Carnes hit Benford for an 18-yard completion and Watson for a 12-yard pass to keep the drive moving. The TD run pushed Hudson over the 100-yard mark.

Sweeney opened the next series with a nine-yard completion to Benford, then hooked up with tight end Brandon Harris for as 40-yard gain. The offense earned a first-and-goal at the five, but the defense made it tough, twice catching Sailes in the backfield.

A pass interference penalty moved the ball to the two, and the No. 1 defense, led by Hilliard, rose to the occasion. The forced two incomplete passes and two penalties before the “O” settled for a 35-yard field goal by Kraemer.

Barnes drove his unit 65 yards in six plays, hitting Olverson for a 14-yard gain before finding the rookie wide open over the middle for a 41-yard touchdown.

Lamb and Sweeney each drove their units to touchdowns after that. Lamb’s group went 65 yards in six plays, including a 48-yard run by Ronquez Beech to the nine. Sailes scored from the one for the final yard after Lamb took it to the one.

Sweeney used fullback Charlie Stevens for some big plays on the final drive of the day, a 14-play, 65-yard march. He hit the junior three times in the possession including an eight-yard pass to the two to set up the two-yard touchdown by Sweeney. Hudson and Watson had catches in the drive, and Olverson made two catches for a combined 21 yards.

Sweeney was 19-for-31 for 207 yards with one interception. Barnes was 4-for-5 for 85 yards, while Lamb – who had four dropped passes – finished three-for-11 for 33 yards.

Olverson had the best numbers among the 11 players who had receptions, finishing with 76 yards on four catches. Sailes had six catches for 51 yards, and Watson had three catches for 46 yards.

Hudson had 13 carries for 102 yards on the ground and finished with 122 all-purpose yards. Beech had nine carries for 69 yards, while Woods was next with 60 yards on his one carry. Sailes had 10 carries for 20 yards, and finished with 71 all-purpose yards.

Tech returns to practice mode next week, and wraps up spring drills next Saturday with its annual Spring Game, beginning at 1 p.m. in Tucker Stadium.

“We have got to have a great final week,” Brown said. “We need to see little things get better at each position, and we need to see little things get better with each player.

“We’re starting to make progress, and I’m just now beginning to see a little of the ‘attitude’ that I want to see. We want to take pride in being the toughest team in the league.”

Brown said it was a treat having his brother in the stands, and might ask Mack for some advice.

“It was neat to have him come up for a day,” Brown said. “We don’t get to see each other very often.

“I don’t think he’d be scared to play us,” Watson kidded.