Each quarterback had flashes and miscues in today’s Orange and White game, but no one quarterback took a decisive step to claim the starting job into spring and summer. The Orange won 19-14 with the two more experienced quarterbacks in Bryant and Israel.
All of the quarterbacks showed a functional level of athleticism necessary to maneuver in and out of the pocket, limiting the defense to two sacks total (one per team).
Kelly Bryant was dynamic on the ground with 12 carries for 66 yards and a score but was anemic in the air, with a stat line of 4/13 (43 yards, 32 on a pass to Ray Ray McCloud) with one interception. While Kelly Bryant has consistently struggled with passing the ball, he did hurt a finger tendon in the first quarter and returned shortly thereafter.
Tucker Israel asserted his spot in what should be a four man race for the starting job. He displayed good accuracy and decision making skills despite his lack of size and average athleticism. He completed 13 out of 19 passes for 94 yards and one 14-yard touchdown to Trevion Thompson over the middle of the field.
Zerrick Cooper showed off his strong arm and size, and had a solid outing after struggling early on. He finished 11 for 18 with 81 yards an an interception.
Hunter Johnson showed both flashes and freshman moments in his debut despite his mediocre stat line of 5 for 13 for 48 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. His touchdown was a beautiful 24 yard pass to Diondre Overton that probably was the best play of the day.
Both offensive lines struggled because they were split up, and the nature of an offensive line requires continuity and communication. This makes it hard to read into their performance. It is worth noting that Cooper and Johnson were running for their lives, making it harder to effectively run the offense.
No running back had a spectacular day, but Fuller, Choice, and Feaster all showed that they can help the Tigers at the positon. This position battle is tight and someone will need to emerge as a feature back over summer and fall camp. All of the players have previous experience in a backup role and all have talent, so fans should not be concerned regardless of who wins the job.
What was concerning were the numerous botched snaps from both of the competing centers, Falcinelli and Cervenka. There were timing issues, placement issues, and communication issues all around. The defensive lineman convert Cervenka surprisingly looked a little better than Falcinelli in this department, but both will need to drastically improve if they want to start this year.
Ray Ray McCloud was electric with the ball in his hands, while Deon Cain struggled with a case of the drops. Hunter Renfrow was excellent as always, and Coach Swinney quipped “Renfrow Nation is growing.” The younger receiving trio of Overton, Powell, and Chase made some great plays and should give the Tigers great depth this year.
No tight end stood out with only Smith, Greenlee, Bell, and Chalk making one catch apiece. This position is still a mystery heading into the summer.
The defense looked spectacular all around, displaying the athleticism necessary to continue to be an elite defense. Trayvon Mullen looked good at cornerback while Denzel Johnson made several good plays at safety. Linebackers JD Davis, Shaq Smith, and Chad Smith made their presence known on the field. With the combination of Coach Venables’ coaching abilities, the returning Tigers’ pedigrees, and the athleticism of the entire defense; the Tigers have nothing to worry about on defense in 2017.
Will Spiers has a big lead for the punting job as he passed both the eye test and the test of the stat sheet. Spiers averaged 39.9 yards per punt (including a 59 yarder) against Carson King’s 33.8 average and long of 39.
In the return game, Ray Ray McCloud had a 48-yard kickoff return, but he also bobbled a punt return. Feaster returned four kickoffs for 102 yards with a long of 35.
The most important statistic of the day is serious injuries: zero.
The spring game is a fun time that shows off future stars and highlights individual players, but one cannot draw massive conclusions from the results of today’s outing. What we do know is that the position battles will be tight, there is no clear cut starting quarterback, and the full picture is far from coming together.