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Blue Raiders conduct game-like scrimmage in stadium

Team plays on new turf for first time

August 20, 2006 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee conducted a full-scale scrimmage complete with officials on the field and in the replay booth, as well as coaches using headsets and calling plays from the booth, as the team was able to work out on the new synthetic turf at Floyd Stadium for the first time Sunday.

First-year Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill said the scrimmage and game-like situations were important not only in preparing the team for competition, but also to send the message that every situation matters.

"When you scrimmage you need to make it as close to game-like as you can and we tried to do that today with the officials, using our head sets, substituting, having the replay booth in operation, and simply making it just like a game," said Stockstill. "Whether it is practice or a game in this stadium when you cross those white lines it is for real and you better be focused, intense and ready to go."

It was a scrimmage in which Stockstill was able to see areas of improvement in all three phases of the game as the offense put together several impressive drives, the defense came away with critical stops and strong individual performances, and special teams play has more positives than negatives.

"I thought the first team offense and the first team defense played better today than the previous scrimmage," said Stockstill. "We did not have as many mental mistakes, missed assignments or offside penalties that hurt us the other day. It was good to see we got that corrected. I thought we ran the ball pretty good and our receivers and quarterbacks did a decent job today. The number one offense had a solid day and the number one defense did okay but can play better."

The Blue Raiders conducted an 83-play scrimmage and completed the early evening workout with a two-minute drill, followed by four series on the goalline.

Middle Tennessee's offense scored on eight of its 18 possessions; however, the defense also had eight three-and-outs during the scrimmage and limited the offense to convert 31 percent on its 19 third-down conversion opportunities.

Defensive end Tavares Jones was a highlight reel waiting to happen during the scrimmage as he set the tone early and never let up. The junior had three sacks, two tackles for lost yardage, one pass deflection and forced a fumble. Linebacker J.K. Sabb also was active with two tackles for loss and two sacks, while linebacker Marcus Brandon added a pair of sacks.

The first-team offense came out strong behind the arm of Clint Marks and a ground attack led by DeMarco McNair, who ran behind holes created by the blocking of center Paul Cantrell and guards Richard Bortner and Mark Thompson. The offense marched 70 yards on nine plays and cashed in when McNair scored from the 3. Marks was 4-of-4 for 47 yards on the drive and finished the scrimmage 12-of-15 for 170 yards and two touchdowns.

The defense stepped up from there and forced three consecutive three-and-outs and then came up with a big stop on fourth-and-4 from the 32 when Marks' pass was deflected by Jones.

Senior kicker Colby Smith provided the highlight on the sixth offensive possession after the defense had come away with another key stop on third-and-5. Smith came on and split the uprights from 49 yards out.

The offense wouldn't score again until its final drive prior to the half when freshman tailback Phillip Tanner capped a nine-play, 60-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge. Sophomore receiver David Raymond had consecutive catches of 17 and 12 yards, respectively, to keep the drive alive.

Eugene Gross provided his biggest spark to start the second half when he scored on a 39-yard scamper and completed his day with 57 yards on six carries. Additionally, McNair added 34 yards on seven carries and the one touchdown. Blue Raider tailbacks accounted for three rushing scores.

Raymond led the receiving corps with three grabs for 45 yards, while Bobby Williams hauled in three receptions for 36 yards. Taron Henry made the most of his two catches as each went for touchdowns - one from 18 yards and the other from 8. Tight end Stephen Chicola also had a touchdown reception of 15 yards.

In addition to Marks' 170 yards passing, Patrick Jackson was 4-of-7 for 51 yards and Joe Craddock was 5-of-13 for 47 yards and one interception. The interception was the only one of the scrimmage but it served as one of the key moments for the defense and demonstrated how far the unit continues to progress throughout camp.

It was an identity check more than anything. The offense, forced to go for a touchdown based on the situation being simulated in the overtime period and facing 4th-and-9 on the 24, received a reprieve when a defender was whistled for pass interference to keep the drive alive. The ball was placed at the 9 where it was first-and-goal. Three plays later Jonathan Harris came away with a diving interception on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1 to turn back the offense and demonstrate the mentality of a defense proving it can overcome mistakes.

The Blue Raiders return to the practice field Monday at 3:50 p.m.

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