Hard to believe that I have been covering Spring Football games since 2011. I was thinking about how time has just flown and how I have seen the evolution of a program from Conference doormat to conference champions, to national champions, to national powerhouse, and not to Division I, all in the span of a decade. Anyway, lets get to it and major props and hat tip to Russ for his great notes. One thing I have to say about him is when he is in the box, he is in his own zone taking down formations, coverages, and personnel all while forming thoughts about what to convey on here. Also, major thanks to Dr Clay Bolton, a professor at TAMUC for the tailgate hookup and good food and company to go with it.
- Quarterbacks-This was the position that was by far the most frustrating to watch last year. Our star player was on one good knee, our primary backup and early season starter was trying to learn the offense, and our promising Freshman had to basically learn his job when he was called in to play emergency back up. This year, we have one of the best and deepest quarterback rooms in the entire country on the FCS level and all of them were pretty impressive. All of them exhibited thing that were lacking in 2021. Great pocket presence, quick decision making and quick releases, eyes downfield, good throws, and a whole lot of confidence. Jagger LaRoe is probably QB1 for now, but do not sleep on Jaive Magalei and Texas A&M-Kingsville transfer Zadock Dinkleman. Both LaRoe and Dinkleman had outstanding touchdown passes against a very tough defense. Rodriguez earned his stripes last year while Tyson Oliver and Brock Nellor got quality time as well. All the things that were missing last year in QB play was there Saturday.
- Backs/Receivers-First, we got good news that two guys who did not play will be coming back for the fall. EJ Thompson is still rehabbing an injury, while JT Smith did not play as he is still in Track Season and getting ready for Conference, Regional, and National meets. He has a national title to defend the 4×100 relay. We already know that EJ is a gamer and if you ask Russ and others, he is the second coming of the great Cary Noiel, and one of the few remaining guys left from the 2017 National Championship team. Also, I tell everyone this, y’all better RECOGNIZE JT Smith. He is one of the fastest guys in the country and a good football player. I feel like the offensive staff is going to get the ball in his hands more. Overall the receivers played pretty. Yeah, they dropped a few passes but that was not the theme of the day. Receiver of the day goes to Dallas product Andrew Armstrong, who had a terrific day.
- Offense overall-At first the offensive line kind of had to find their footing but once they did, they played pretty well considering they were facing a lot of guys coming back from the # 2 defense in the country, and we will sign a lot more guys for the O-Line. Overall, the offensive unit was SO MUCH better than last year. The improvement was marked and with all the depth we have and the transfer portal being quite nice to us, Lion nation has EVERY reason to feel very good about the offensive unit.
- Coaching/Playcalling-We will admit that we were pretty rough on the offensive staff last year. The unit last year just looked lost and completely ineffective, but what we saw on Saturday was the total opposite of that. One thing I noticed was a tremendous intensity from the offensive staff in playcalling and execution. OC Billy Reibock was calling the plays from the sidelines and I have never seen him as intense as he was on Saturday. He was communicating with his quarterbacks and getting feedback from the sideline and one wonders if he might be calling plays from the sidelines next year instead of the press box. I have no idea and yes, you do need eyes upstairs but the new faces on staff are promising. The play calling was full of Air Raid offense staples such as the flanker tunnel screen, the Y-Flip pass, diamond trips formations, and shallow cross patterns that attacked the middle. You also saw a lot of tight ends running in the middle to go along with good screen plays from the backfield and outside receivers running good, crisp routes. Again, much improved and a lot to be excited about.
- Defense-The defense, which finished ranked 2nd in the country for 2021, was outstanding. Yes, they allowed some points, but they did everything right. They broke up passes, made tackles with good steady hits. They were VERY disciplined on coverage schemes and played with great cohesiveness that you have to have for an elite defensive unit. They brought a tough pass rush along with great downfield coverage on long balls and caused a couple of turnovers via interception. Looks like the beat goes on with this unit. The defense has a new defensive coordinator in Kyle Williams, who has been with the program since 2019, so he is familiar to the players. Xavier Adibi went back to his alma mater at Virginia Tech and of course, we wish him the absolute best.
- Kicking-It was odd to go out there and not see Jake Viquez taking the extra points, but if you wanna talk about a guys who has been biding his time, Emmanuel Adagbon from Mesquite has been doing that. He was perfect on PAT tries and while I did not get to see him do any kickoffs or long field goals, he seems to be very capable of hitting long kicks. We also saw Josh Vogel and Efrain Rizo make their debuts on the kicking unit, but it appears that Adagbon is the man for now.
- Punting-The wind was certainly a factor on Saturday, it usually almost is on the Blackland Prairies, but Saturday was really rough. That being said, Mitchell McGarry was terrific punting the ball and really he has no serious competition for the job. He has come a long way from the CSU-Pueblo game and he has learned to how to kick in the wind. Having an effective punter is something all good teams have, and McGarry has certainly been that since the middle of last year to now. There is a psychology to punting and kicking, and the fact he is kicking his confidence is a great sign. He is only going to get better and look to join a many Aussie punters that are taking over college football. One season in Division I and he will be one that a lot of talk about when it comes to punting.
- Coach Speak-We got a few words to HC David Bailiff after the game, and he seemed very pleased with the scrimmage and said the entire team had a great spring overall. He talked about the improvement that the entire team has showed and seemed very happy with it. One reason that sticks out is because in all the times we have seen Coach Bailiff talking about his team, he always has a measured and thoughtful response, somewhat of a inbetweener, someone neither too high or low. This was the most excited I have seen him in a while and based on what we saw, he has every reason to be, and so do the fans.
- Overall Notes-Offense is new, expect and Air Raid type attack………QB’s stood strong in the pocket and were very decisive………….were patient and made great decisions…….Jagger LaRoe is who we thought he was and looks to be the man for now…….Defense is picking up where they left off from another championship level performance last year…….Game was much cleaner on both sides…..massive improvement from the offense regarding procedure and pre-snap penalties……..more disciplined……offense utilizing the tight ends more and attack the middle of the field…..all positions are getting touches……balanced play calling…….San Diego State Transfer BJ Busbee was terrific on a touchdown catch courtesy of Zadock Dinklemann…..A lot to look forward too in just 4 short months.
David Bailiff post scrimmage presser-