One thing I love about watching these underclassmen scrimmages, the young defenders always load up for the big hit. Not that the hits are illegal or especially dangerous – I haven't seen anyone try to spear a teammate or lead with the helmet or anything like that – but with their older teammates watching and commenting from the sideline it's apparent the defenders want to assert themselves.
Follow the jump for more on today's scrimmage and the rest of practice.
During today's practice by far the most assertive youngsters were linebackers Frankie Luvu and Dylan Hanser, who each punished a couple receivers during practice. Luvu stonewalled John Thompson on a slant route, although it was arguably more impressive that Thompson still made the catch. Hanser had a couple nice hits near the sideline.
"They just got to wrap up and finish but they're not scared of contact," defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. "They just have to finish the drill."
The young offensive line struggled during the period, particularly in the run game. They actually started off playing pretty well in pass protection, but broke down toward the end of the scrimmage. Kingston Fernandez took advantage, collecting back-to-back sacks late in the session.
"We've had some good Thursday Night Football, kept it pretty generic on defense for them and as that continues to get better we'll start bringing the house at them like our defense does and we'll see how they do when they get to those points," said offensive line coach Clay McGuire.
Backup quarterback Luke Falk took the first series and started off with a 50-yard pass that landed perfectly over Drew Loftus' shoulder as he streaked down the left sideline but the receiver dropped the pass, preventing a sure touchdown. He acquitted himself later however with a nice sliding catch for a 20-yard gain.
Falk finished the period five of 10 (all stats are unofficial). His completion percentage would have been higher but for a pair of nice pass breakups by walk-on safety Dakota Sinchak, including a prevented touchdown in which he perfectly timed a hit with Gabe Marks in the corner of the end zone to stop the completion.
Freshman quarterback Peyton Bender took the next two series and completed about 12 of 17 passes, including a 40-yard touchdown pass to Drew Loftus, who shook off a defender and then caught up to the ball, reeling it in with his fingertips. He emulated New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham by defying the NFL's silly new rule and dunking the football over the field goal upright after the play.
Perhaps Bender's most impressive completion, however, came on a five-yard pass to Marks. The play started with the offense on the left hash mark and then went further to his left because of pressure from Luvu (who had a few QB pressures on the day), he then found Marks on the opposite side of the field, spinning the ball to the right sideline, making a short completion on a very long throw.
Before the underclassmen scrimmage the Cougars held a two-hour practice. Here are some of the highlights:
-- Erik Powell took some field goal attempts at the start of practice and was just a little off. In fact, he hit the uprights twice.
-- Linebacker Cyrus Coen was limited today, as was cornerback Jeff Farrar. Mitch Petersen and Charleston White replaced them, respectively.
-- Safety Isaac Dotson made a couple nice interceptions and appears to be fully recovered from whatever caused him to be limited for most of fall camp.
-- Speaking of safeties, don't be surprised if you see former running back Teondray Caldwell start on Thursday. Caldwell's been seeing a lot of time with the ones lately.
-- Muffs are still a problem for the punt returners. Marcellus Pippins had one today and River Cracraft dropped a pair of punts.
-- Today is defensive coordinator Mike Breske's birthday. The starting defense celebrated by serenading their coach with an extended version of "Happy Birthday."