May 12, 2016
Spring football is never what you want.
Sure, it is college football after several months without, so fans are ecstatic. They debate non-stop about who will start at quarterback or which linebacker will lead the team in tackles. But coaches are tight-lipped about key information and many first-line players are held out of scrimmages.
So what did we learn during spring football?
In Provo, not a lot. Fortunately for you, though, the Daily Herald has compiled some nuggets from Cougar opponents’ spring practices that should keep you fueled for the long summer ahead.
Spring Game: None (Open scrimmage March 4)
Spring Story Lines: The Wildcats wanted to start spring football earlier to give the players a little more of a break between finals and summer workouts. Head coach Rich Rodriguez is breaking in a whole new defensive staff, led by two coaches who faced BYU last season: defensive coordinator Marcel Yates (Boise State) and cornerbacks coach Donte Williams (San Jose State). The Wildcats are coming off four straight bowl games for the first time in Arizona history.
Spring Story Lines: At quarterback, junior college transfer Troy Williams was injured and wasn’t available for most of spring camp. That left junior Brandon Cox and freshman Tyler Huntley battling for the coaches’ attention during spring. Huntley led the White team to a 14-7 victory over the Red in the Utah spring game, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Repp. Huntley finished with 233 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns.
“Huntley was poised from start to finish, made some good decisions out there … and looked like he felt completely comfortable out there,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Spring Game: April 23 (Spring Showcase)
Spring Story Lines: The Bruins are replacing some big names, including linebacker Myles Jack, running back Paul Perkins and four-year starter at kicker Kai’imi Fairbairn. But a dynamite recruiting class and the return of freshman All-American Josh Rosen has Bruin fans excited for 2016.
“It’s always important that you maximize the talent and the abilities of your players,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “We have a unique quarterback right now and a chance to really tap into his greatness, so we are going to do things that we think will help him be successful.”
Spring Story Lines: The Gold-Blue Spring Game was played at Greenbrier Sports Performance Center, which is the summer home of the New Orleans Saints.
“The players and coaches had a great experience at The Greenbrier last year,” West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen said. “The facilities are excellent, and the staff went out of their way to make sure everything went smoothly.”
In the spring game, the offense topped the defense 49-46 with senior quarterback Skyler Howard throwing three first-half touchdown passes. Howard finished 18 of 26 for 270 yards.
Spring Story Lines: A former Utah product — Taylorsville’s Mufi Hunt — has made quite an impression on Michigan State coaches since enrolling early. Hunt (6-6 260) was planning on an LDS mission but suffered a knee injury on a hiking trip that required surgery. After his recovery he decided to enroll at Michigan State and has played well enough where he could work into the rotation at defensive end.
The White team defeated the Green team 14-11 in front of an announced crowd of 51,000 at the spring game. Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor is first on the depth chart at quarterback, with junior Damion Terry and freshman Messiah deWeaver providing competition, as the Spartans look to replace Connor Cook.
Spring Game: April 9 (cancelled due to snowstorm)
Spring Story Lines: While weather won out in the spring in Toledo, the Rockets have been pretty busy in other areas. Toledo added graduate transfers from Florida (linebacker Jeremi Powell) and Miami (defensive tackle Earl Moore) to bolster the 2016 defense.
In addition, the Rockets will install a new artificial surface at the Glass Bowl ahead of the 2016 season.
After spring practice concluded in April, the installation began for a FieldTurf surface called Revolution 360.
Spring Story Lines: All eyes are on the quarterback position, where Dak Prescott’s eventual replacement has yet to step forward. Earlier scrimmages were a disaster for Rebel quarterbacks, which threw six interceptions during one session. All three quarterbacks — sophomore Nick Fitzgerald, junior Damian Williams and freshman Nick Tiano — continue to improve.
“They are young guys that are getting opportunities and taking big steps forward,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “All of them are taking giant steps forward because they have an opportunity to really learn. They are getting opportunities for the first time and they know what they are doing and making some plays.”
Spring Story Lines: The offense won the spring game 49-48 as sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien was 20 of 37 for 234 yards and two touchdowns.
“That’s been kind of the theme all spring. We’ve been back and forth with the defense; you don’t really want one side of the ball to be dominant,” Rypien said. “Today, we got them a little bit more, but our defense has been doing a great job all spring. That unit, there was a lot of questions about them coming into spring, but they’ve been doing a really good job.”
Ryan Finley — who figured to be Rypien’s main competition — has left BSU as a graduate transfer.
Spring Story Lines: Fans were treated to an interesting innovation at the spring game: Helmet cams to show first-person shots of the game from the player’s perspectives.
The Bearcats are focused on finding the right guy at quarterback. The competition is between Gunner Kiel, Hayden Moore (7-18 81 0-2) and Ross Trail (12 21 157 1-1). Kiel was held out of the spring game due to a pulled muscle. Moore was 7 of 18 for 81 yards and two interceptions in the spring game and Trail finished 12 of 21 for 157 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Spring Story Lines: The spring game — won by the defense 53-52 — wasn’t decided until a special “challenge” scenario that featured three offensive linemen, three defensive linemen and a running back. The defense held on with a stop.
Meanwhile, upgrades are in the works for the program. In December, SUU executive associate athletic director Erik Book discussed a future project that involved upgrading the football staff’s offices. And while nothing has been finalized, the T-Birds are also hoping to build a new weight room.
New coach DeMario Warren is looking to a former BYU quarterback to make his first year a success. Former Cougar McCoy Hill — along with former Lone Peak standout Tannon Pederson — will compete at quarterback.
Spring Story Lines: With two-year starting quarterback Blake Frohnapfel graduating, redshirt sophomore Ross Comis is the front runner at that position and will have competition from JC transfer Andrew Ford.
The spring game didn’t bring much light to the process, consisting of just three field goals as Team White topped Team Maroon 6-3.
“It’s a work in progress but they’re going in the right directions,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “They’ve competed on both sides. It’s been our best spring. They’ve come to work every day and had some fun. There’s been a lot of improvement, a lot better communication.”
Spring Story Lines: Defense dominated spring game despite the 75-73 final score. The Blue team scored a two-point conversion on the final play for the winning margin.
Tonny Lindsey led the rushing attack with 89 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Jordan Love and Damion Hobbs each threw touchdown passes but the defense also had its moments, including eight sacks, 15 tackles for loss and nine pass breakups.
“The defense did a lot better today,” junior linebacker Alex Huerta said. “Obviously there’s still room for improvement, and we’ll get there, but overall, I think the defense played way, way better (than USU’s previous scrimmage). We’re progressing to where we want to go.”