Hundreds of fans got their first look at the Georgia Southern Eagles in full pads today as Paulson Stadium hosted the first full pads scrimmage of the football season. Up to today, the team had been practicing in shorts and shoulder pads, and seemed to be excited for (close to) game speed and contact.
The day started with a period of special team warmups as the punters came out in formation and made their attempts at coffin corners and downs inside the 20. Once they had their chance, the kickoff teams took a couple of reps, then it was time for the offensive/defensive scrimmage to begin.
The first drive showed the fans the familiar starting backfield and a fresh offensive line with junior quarterback Kevin Ellison at the reins. After a run up the middle by Ellison and an incomplete pass, the junior hooked up with sophomore receiver Myles Campbell on a long touchdown pass off of a beautifully thrown ball landing in his hands.
Junior Favian Upshaw took out the offense and had similar results. The team work quickly with a huge pass down to the ten yard line but were unable to punch the ball in the end zone. It is important to note that most of the run plays were whistled dead before the runner was down to avoid injury to players on both sides of the ball.
Upshaw came back out with the starters for a second drive and they used the opportunity to show off the short passing game. Campbell caught another pass for 14 yards near the left hash as the offense marched towards the Ted Smith Football Family Center. They were held by the defense on fourth and nine at midfield when senior linebacker Antwione Williams intercepted a pass over the middle from Upshaw and returned it past midfield before being whistled dead.
Ellison was back on the field for another drive following the interception and had freshman running back Wesley Fields alongside him. Fields was given a handoff up the middle and stayed on the field for a few plays before being substituted for sophomore Chaz Thornton who also picked up a carry. On a second down pass junior safety Robert Brice II picked off a pass after a deflection over the middle.
Junior quarterback Vegas Harley took the field at the five yard line with the starting offensive line and a few back up skill players. Harley easily walked in with great blocking up front by the fresh offensive line led by senior Roscoe Byrd. The offense set up again with redshirt freshman Monteo Garrett and was immediately brought to the turf by junior defensive lineman Tre Griffin. Griffin also made a stop on the goal line to keep the offense out of the end zone on fourth down.
Upshaw took the field again, deep in his own territory and completed a long pass to senior receiver BJ Johnson. After a few successful short runs and completions the offense started over again from their own 20 yard line with Ellison back behind center. Throughout the day there had been a lot of swapping between the offensive linemen, trying to figure out where everyone preformed the best and this continued for the rest of the scrimmage.
The end of practice featured the third and fourth strings going full contact and they gave the fans quite a bit to be excited about. Garrett came out swinging with a big touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Malik Henry. Sophomore running back Demarcus Godfrey took a run over 60 yards to the house with help from great downfield blockers. The defense answered by returning freshman Hampton McConnell’s first pass to the end zone by way of interception from redshirt freshman safety Jacob Schofill.
Overall, it was an impressive scrimmage from both sides of the ball on this early Saturday morning. The offense showed flashes of how great the passing game could be, with a few minor mistakes and drops sprinkled throughout the day. The young offensive line is still finding their groove but showed a lot of promise on pass protection and were able to allow some solid runs up the middle and around the edges.
Nearly every running back saw action today and most got to run behind the starters on the line. It was hard for any back to really shine but they showed great ball security and awareness on their runs without too much east and west movement. Upshaw and Ellison were able to get in some quality reps and more importantly were able to get live experience with their center and get comfortable with receivers on a wide variety of routes.
Defenses always play to a bit of a disadvantage in these scrimmages as they face several drives, and doing their jobs of stopping the offense goes unnoticed by most. They did manage several stops including the three interceptions at the hands of Brice, Schofill and Williams. The defensive line did a great job of getting in position up front and securing their gaps, slowing down the running backs and forcing them to put their head down or change directions.
The defensive backfield was encouraging to watch as they flew around the secondary and were able to break up several passes and cause several coverage sacks. They have definitely improved from last season on drops and footwork but did allow a few big plays downfield.
All in all, Eagle fans should be excited of what’s to come this season. If you weren’t able to make the scrimmage there will be another opportunity to catch the team next Saturday at Paulson stadium. This will be the last scrimmage before September 5th when the Eagles head off to Morgantown to face the West Virginia Mountaineers in the first game of the season.