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May 8, 2014

Defense owns the day

By: Jimmy Robertson

There was little scoring in the annual Maroon-White game, as both defenses controlled the line of scrimmage and left fans optimistic that the Hokies have reloaded on that side of the ball heading into the fall

At the conclusion of last season, Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster thought the Hokies had a championship defense, but coming into this spring, he fretted over the loss of four very good defensive linemen and two outstanding linebackers.

If spring practice was any indication, the Hokies are returning to form rather quickly on the defensive side of the ball.

Showing perhaps more speed than a year ago, Tech’s defenses bottled the offenses in the annual Maroon-White spring game, holding them to a combined 10 points in a 7-3 affair captured by the White team at Lane Stadium on April 26. The game wrapped the Hokies’ 2014 spring practice.

The game continued a trend of stellar play by Tech’s defense. After a shaky second full scrimmage on April 12, that unit dominated play culminating with a great spring game performance. In that one, the defenses recorded five sacks and 15 tackles for a loss to go along with interceptions by Kendall Fuller and Donovan Riley. The two offenses combined to go 0 of 17 on third-down conversions.

Chuck Clark and Detrick Bonner led the White team with six tackles each, while walk-on Sean Huelskamp led the Maroon squad with nine tackles. Dadi Nicolas and Dewayne Alford each had a sack and walk-on Jeremy Haynes recorded 1.5 sacks.

“I think we answered questions about the front seven,” said defensive tackle Luther Maddy, who recorded two tackles and half of a sack. “The two linebackers, Chase [Williams] and Deon [Clarke], definitely stepped up. Corey Marshall is probably an All-ACC player, Dadi improved … we all just got better. We were all trying to get to the quarterback and make plays. The competition is there. I think we’ll be one of the top defenses again next fall.”

The offenses combined for 306 yards in the spring game, though one-third of that came on the first drive of the game. The White team got the ball first and got into scoring position thanks to a 52-yard gain by Demitri Knowles on an end-around that got the White squad to the Maroon 25. Two plays later, tailback Joel Caleb burst up the middle and took it 27 yards to the end zone. Remington Hinshaw’s extra point gave the White squad a 7-0 lead with 7:05 left in the first quarter.

Caleb’s run capped a five-play, 87-yard drive. The rising redshirt sophomore from Midlothian, Va., was the most productive tailback in the game, finishing with 43 yards on six carries. He will be one of seven tailbacks vying for playing time next fall, a group that includes injured players Trey Edmunds (broken leg) and freshman Shai McKenzie (ACL), both of whom sat out this spring while rehabbing their respective injuries.

“I feel it was a great spring for the running backs,” Caleb said. “We took a lot of big steps. I feel like I’ve got a lot of things I can do and a lot of things I need to improve on. We’ve got a lot of talented guys, and all we can do is put in the work that the coach asks us to put in, and then let the coach come out with the end result.”

After that initial drive, the offenses combined for just 219 yards and an average of just 3.1 yards per play. The only other score in the game came toward the end of the first quarter.

Taking advantage of good field position following a short punt by A.J. Hughes, the Maroon team moved from the White 37 to the White 11, but on third-and-8, quarterback Mark Leal completed a 3-yard pass to Carlis Parker. The Maroon squad settled for a 28-yard field goal by Eric Kristensen to cut the lead to 7-3 on the final play of the first quarter.

That marked the end of the scoring for the game. In fairness, the offenses played without potential starters Edmunds, offensive lineman Augie Conte and tight ends Ryan Malleck and Kalvin Cline (depending on the offensive set).

Also, the staff split the roster into two teams, which doesn’t allow a unit much of an opportunity to get into rhythm. And the quarterbacks weren’t allowed to be hit, which took away the opportunity for making big plays after escaping the pocket.

“The last scrimmage, we wanted them [the quarterbacks] to handle pressure and so forth,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “Sure enough, we got a lot of pressure, a little more than we wanted, and we got both of them nicked up. I was still hoping we could let them go live [in the spring game], but both of them are still gimping around. I thought if I put a gimpy guy out there against some of those Corey Marshalls and Dadi Nicolases, I might have a lawsuit on my hands [laughing].

“Nah, I wanted the guys to finish the game. I wanted to see them play. I was concerned if we made them live, then they would play a little bit and not finish the game. So both of them finished, and that part was good, and we only blew the whistle [to stop the play] a couple of times.”

Despite the stats, the offenses actually had some opportunities. Brenden Motley scored on a 19-yard run that ended up being called back because of a holding penalty. Also, Motley overthrew tight end Bucky Hodges for what might have been a touchdown, and Leal’s Maroon squad couldn’t punch it in after having first-and-goal at the White 2 late in the first half. The White went for it on fourth down, but Leal couldn’t connect with Parker in the end zone.

Leal and Motley put up similar numbers. Leal completed 10 of 18 for 90 yards, with an interception, while Motley completed 6 of 11 for 72 yards, with an interception.

Neither came out of spring practice as the starter at quarterback, as Tech’s staff plans on evaluating Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and incoming freshman Chris Durkin before making a call. Both of those guys arrive at Tech in late May.

“We’ll talk [as a staff],” Beamer said. “Both of our new quarterbacks will be here the first session of summer school, and they’ll have a chance to throw to our receivers quite a bit.

“I think we’ve got to take a direction pretty quickly in the fall. Whoever it is going to be needs to get a lot of reps in preseason practice and whoever is second needs to get a lot of reps. So we’ll decide on those two, and those are the guys who will get the reps.”

Tech’s fortunes next fall probably hinge on how much the offense improves, and in particular, young players like Hodges, Parker, Marshawn Williams and Deon Newsome. Hodges led all receivers with three receptions in the spring game, while Parker caught two and ran once for 26 yards on an end-around play. Williams rushed for 11 yards on six carries, while Newsome caught a pass for 37 yards and ran once for 18 yards.

Given their improvement, Beamer remains optimistic about his team heading forward.

“I like the way we practiced this spring,” he said after the game. “I thought the effort was good today. When you divide the team up, you don’t get the execution that you want a lot of times. But I think we’re an up and coming football team.

“We’re going to go through some growing pains probably next year, but we’re going to go through them full speed. Those are the kind of kids we’ve got, and I like that. We’ve got some questions, and certain parts of our football team need to get better, but we’re going in the right direction.”


Paul Torgersen Award (the top up and comer during spring practice)

Offense: Marshawn Williams

Defense: Deon Clarke

President’s Award (players who demonstrate the most outstanding leadership during the offseason program and spring workouts)

Offense: Sam Rogers

Defense: Luther Maddy

Dr. Richard Bullock Award (players who show the most improvement during spring workouts)

Offense: Augie Conte

Defense: Desmond Frye

Frank O. Moseley Award (players who exhibit the most hustle during offseason and spring workouts)

Offense: J.C. Coleman

Defense: Derek Di Nardo

Coaches Award (players who had an exceptional spring)

Offense: Bucky Hodges

Defense: Dadi Nicolas

Don Williams TEAM UNITED Award (players who put the team first during spring workouts)

Offense: Caleb Farris

Defense: Kendall Fuller

George Preas Award (most valuable performers of spring practice)

Offense: Joshua Stanford

Defense: Corey Marshall