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Defense Shuts Out Offense In Spring Scrimmage

April 2, 2005 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Whipping winds and a cold, wet morning greeted Middle Tennessee football players and created less than ideal conditions as the Blue Raiders hit the turf at Horace Jones Field for a scrimmage as spring football practice continued Saturday.

Those conditions; however, were not as troubling for the offense as the circumstances created by a swarming blue-clad defense that dominated the two-hour scrimmage at Floyd Stadium.

Middle Tennessee's experienced defense did not allow a touchdown and surrendered just 3.3 yards per play in its most impressive performance of spring drills to date. The suffocating defense not only kept the high-octane Blue Raider offense out of the end zone, but it only allowed the unit to reach the "Blue Zone" just four times in 15 series and all four of those trips came up empty. The unit also recovered a pair of fumbles.

"There are no excuses. I don't want to hear anything about the weather or anything because the defense brought it to us and they are up on us now," Middle Tennessee quarterback Clint Marks said. "Maybe we can get them back next week. We would have some good drives going and get down there and then have drives stall. We have to work on pushing it into the end zone."

The Middle Tennessee defense was concentrating on keeping the offense out of the end zone Saturday morning and the result was more than promising considering the defense came up with five sacks, 11 tackles for losses, four pass break-ups and one field goal block. The Blue Raider offense managed just 12 plays of 10 yards or more in the 94-play scrimmage.

"The number one thing that impressed me today was that we had a cold, windy, rainy day and the attitude and enthusiasm from start to finish, on both sides, was there," Middle Tennessee Head Coach Andy McCollum said. "When the offense would make a play the defense settled down, didn't get down and continued to go after it hard, and that was impressive. They wouldn't get down on themselves and I saw great enthusiasm and very physical play from a number of guys."

Defensive end Erik Walden had three tackles for losses, while Marcus Brandon and Marcel Horne added two each. Five different Blue Raiders - Antoine Owens, Devarick Scandrett, Dennis Burke, Chris Rainey and Chris Anderson - each had sacks, while Anderson also came away with a pass break-up and a fumble recovery.

"We brought pressure and were able to get them out of the red zone or keep them out of field goal range and the big thing is not to give up touchdowns, and we didn't," Middle Tennessee defensive coordinator Mark Criner said. "We are trying to outphysical people and if we can do that it's great."

Middle Tennessee's offense demonstrated balance with 165 yards passing, led by Clint Marks' 81 yards, and 151 yards rushing, led by former Riverdale standout Ralph King, who finished with 64 yards on 15 carries. Cleannord Saintil led the receiving corps with 46 yards receiving on four receptions, both scrimmage highs, while Pierre Ingram finished with three receptions for 38 yards. Chris Henry, Clinton Corder, Brian Campbell and Hunter Birtsch had two reception each.

"Offensively, we still have too many mistakes, too many missed assignments, and too many dropped balls," McCollum said. "The receiving corps is going to have a chance but they have to make plays every chance they get. Offensively, when they all did things right they looked like a good group and we have four more days to work on that."

Middle Tennessee will resume spring drills Monday afternoon.

TAKING CHARGE: Middle Tennessee's defense took control of Saturday's scrimmage from the first offensive possession and maintained it throughout Saturday morning. There were 16 lost-yardage plays for the offense as the defense recorded five sacks and 11 tackles for losses. Five different Blue Raiders had sacks and seven different players had tackles for losses, led by Erik Walden with three. Marcus Brandon and Marcel Horne had two each. Quinton Staton, Devarick Scandrett, Tavares Jones and Anthony Glover each had one. Chris Anderson, Sean Mosley, Bradley Robinson and Antoine Owens had one pass break-up each, while Keon Raymond had a blocked field goal.

"We've had good days and bad days but I thought today, especially with how cold and windy and wet it was, we overcame that and steppup and played well," senior linebacker Dennis Burke said. "That's a reflection of how our defense is starting to play. We pushed through the conditions today and had a great attitude."

BEND, DON'T BREAK: Middle Tennessee's offense drove inside the "Blue Zone" four times in the scrimmage, reaching the 8-, 5-, 22-, and 9-yard-line, but each time the defense stiffened and didn't allow a score. Two of the drives stalled with missed field goals, one stalled at the 22 when Justin Rainey sacked Josh Harris and the other ended after the offense drove to the 9 but came up short when Harris had to throw the ball away.

"We have the bend, but don't break philosophy because we understand the offense is going to have some big plays, but as long as we limit those we have a chance to have a good defense," linebacker Tavares Jones said. "The big thing is we didn't get down after a big play, we stepped up and made plays and that's what you have to do, make them snap it again and find ways to get off the field."

RUN, RALPH, RUN: Former Riverdale High School standout Ralph King, who has been hampered with an injury during the spring, demonstrated the talent that made him one of the state's top tailbacks at the prep level. King led Middle Tennessee with 64 yards on 15 carries in the scrimmage in his most extensive action to date. Terry Jackson added 52 yards on 18 carries. DeMarco McNair had just two carries (for 18 yards) and was limited as he continues to recover from an injury and Eugene Gross was held out of the scrimmage with a lingering injury.

"I thought Ralph King did some good things playing for the first time this spring since he's been hurt," McCollum said. "Terry Jackson was impressive. I saw some good things and some things we can build on as we head into the final week of spring practice."

KICKING GAME DISAPPOINTS: Middle Tennessee place-kicker/punter Colby Smith was a Lou Groza candidate last season and one of the top kickers in the nation, but he struggled with three field goal attempts Saturday. Smith, who was 15-of-17 for an eye-popping 88.2 percent in 2004, was wide right from 39 yards out on his first attempt; however, he got reprieve when the defense was called for running into the kicker. Smith tried again, this time from five yards closer, but his 34-yard-attempt also missed to the right. Smith also missed a 22-yard field goal. Middle Tennessee's only other attempt was a 47-yarder by Paul Wheeler that Keon Raymond blocked.

"We haven't put the group together and I don't think the protection was very good and the conditions were not good, but I'm disappointed in Colby today because he's better than what he showed," McCollum said. "We will work harder this week on extra point and field goal because if there is a negative it was that today. We are going to be in games when the conditions are not very favorable and Colby has to make those. He's very proven but today was disappointing."

PAYNE SUSPENDED: Defensive lineman Bobby Payne has been suspended for spring drills by McCollum and did not participate in Saturday's action. "Until his academics become very important to him he will be out," McCollum said. "He will not practice until he takes care of business in the classroom."

SPRING SCRIMMAGE SATURDAY: The Middle Tennessee football program will conclude spring drills with the annual Blue-White Scrimmage on April 9. The scrimmage will get underway at 10:00 a.m. and will be held at the Blue Raider practice complex.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be fun for the entire family. Fans will be able to watch from the field in order to get a feel for all the action, while plenty of room on the opposite practice field will be available for kids to play on. A spring roster program, ticketing information and BRAA information will be made available; while there will also be tee-shirt giveaways throughout the event. At the conclusion of the scrimmage, the Blue Raider players and coaches will be available to sign autographs and take pictures.

The scrimmage will last for approximately one hour and tailgating is encouraged and welcomed in the Greenland Drive parking lot. Concessions and restrooms will be open at Gate 3, while Lightning's Locker Room will be open from 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. in their facility at Gate 2.

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