College football spring practice is wrapping up across the country, and there was a huge slate of spring games on Friday and Saturday, including at Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Ohio State. Here are some early overreactions and takeaways from Friday and Saturday’s top games:
In his playing debut as a Sooner, quarterback Jalen Hurts delivered an impressively crisp performance, leading his Red squad to a 35-14 victory over the White on Friday in Oklahoma’s spring game.
Hurts set the tone on his first pass, opening the scrimmage with a 33-yard completion to Nick Basquine rolling to the right, which set up a touchdown. Two possessions later, Hurts came right back and led the Red on another scoring drive, capping it with a 6-yard touchdown to running back Kennedy Brooks off a swing pass.
All told, Hurts completed 11 of 14 passes for 174 yards while adding a rushing touchdown. Not that it should’ve been surprising, but the Alabama transfer was collected, poised and in command throughout the night.
Coach Lincoln Riley has yet to declare Hurts his starter. After Friday, that appears to be mere formality. — Jake Trotter
A year ago, Alabama had perhaps the most overqualified backup quarterback ever in Jalen Hurts. Now that Hurts has moved on to Oklahoma, the question turns to who would replace Tua Tagovailoa in the event of an injury. Mac Jones was the answer on paper entering the spring, given his experience, and on Saturday, he solidified his standing. Granted, the redshirt sophomore threw one bad interception early, but overall, he showed good command of the offense, completing 19 of 23 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
That wasn’t the case for the freshmen. Freshmen Paul Tyson — the great-grandson of Bear Bryant — and Taulia Tagovailoa — the younger brother of Tua — have potential, but as Nick Saban noted during the telecast, they’re lagging behind in terms of understanding coverages and where to go with the football. That will come with time, of course, but for now, it means Alabama’s safety net remains Jones. –– Alex Scarborough
All the particular gears and rods of Ohio State’s offense are not yet in place at the end of spring practice. It’s clear, though, that Ryan Day’s Buckeyes are going to have the athletes and the attack-minded attitude needed to strike quickly. After a sleepy first quarter Saturday, the Buckeyes’ starting group scored five straight touchdowns on its defense. All five scores came on drives of less than three minutes, and three of them came in less than 60 seconds.
Georgia transfer Justin Fields connected with Binjimen Victor for a 98-yard score on one fast drive. Freshman receiver Garrett Wilson showed why folks in Columbus are drooling over his potential by snatching a fade route over a defender’s head to finish another speedy scoring drive. As in all spring games, it’s impossible to say if touchdowns are the sign of a good offense or a bad defense. But it’s clear after Saturday’s game that Ohio State’s offense will be at its best when it’s moving fast. — Dan Murphy
Notre Dame’s post-2016 renaissance has been defense-driven, but the Fighting Irish are primed to flex on offense more this fall. That is, if they can stay healthy.
The drop-off from Notre Dame’s first-team offense to its reserve unit stood out in Saturday’s spring game. Top quarterback Ian Book triggered two quick touchdown drives, completing his first six attempts and displaying the efficiency (16-of-21 passing, one touchdown, no interceptions) that defined him in 2018. He also showed greater patience in the pocket, finding Michael Young for a 12-yard score. “He had complete control of our offense,” coach Brian Kelly said.
There’s more concern about backup signal-caller Phil Jurkovec, who completed 15 passes for 135 yards under constant duress. Kelly said Jurkovec has “too much going on right now” and needs to release the ball more quickly and make things easier on himself. “It was a helpful day. It was terrible for me, but at least it was helpful,” Jurkovec said.
The defense recorded 15 “sacks,” needing only to touch quarterbacks, and 21 tackles for loss, most of which came against the second-team offensive line. Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem showed why they’ll be among the nation’s top pass-rushing tandems. — Adam Rittenberg
Michigan’s spring game was more of a public practice than a game, but it gave viewers a glimpse of the new offense.
Josh Gattis was hired as the offensive coordinator, and we have heard about his speed-in-space mentality but haven’t actually seen it. The biggest difference, from what was presented in the form of a small scrimmage, was the tempo and no-huddle between plays. Last season, Michigan was often slow to run offensive plays, but that was so evidently different with Gattis that quarterback Dylan McCaffrey talked about making sure his endurance is up to keep up with the new tempo.
The offense lived up to its premise of speed in space, getting wide receivers Ronnie Bell and Mike Sainristil some big opportunities in the passing game. If this is what Michigan’s new offense will look like during the season, it will be a big change from what we saw last season. — Tom VanHaaren
Tom Herman has hauled in consecutive top-10 recruiting classes the past two years, and even though weather disrupted the Longhorns’ spring game to the point of making the offense nearly nonexistent, there were enough flashes from some of the freshmen and sophomores to give Texas fans some excitement headed into the fall.
Jordan Whittington, the ESPN 300 athlete from Cuero (Texas), showed some potential at running back, being productive as a runner and receiver. Defensive backs Kobe Boyce and Jalen Green made plays (Boyce had an interception; Green had a big-time hit on Whittington), and redshirt freshman quarterback Casey Thompson used his speed to rush for 47 yards and a touchdown as he assumes the backup quarterback job behind Sam Ehlinger. The freshman and sophomore classes are certainly poised to contribute this season. — Sam Khan Jr.
Don’t get too carried away with what you saw Saturday. When it’s the first-team offense going against the second-team defense, you have to grade on a curve. That said, the play of the quarterbacks has to come under close inspection. Malzahn said it was a wide-open race to replace Jarrett Stidham, but it doesn’t look that way now.
Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix are clearly a cut above Malik Willis and Cord Sandberg. Nix, in particular, looked sharp, especially when you consider that he’s a true freshman. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 155 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in his first live action in front of fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Don’t sleep on Gatewood, though. He has the edge in terms of experience, with a year already in the program, and he played well, too, with 123 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on 7-of-10 passing. –– Alex Scarborough
Dan Mullen delivered on his promise of a trick-filled spring game, with cameos from Gators legends Lito Sheppard and Chris Doering. But what really stood out was the continued growth of Feleipe Franks, who looked sharp and poised and played with a different energy now that he is the definitive starter at quarterback. It is always hard to read too much into what amounts to a scrimmage, but Franks is light-years ahead of where he was at this time a year ago.
In one half leading the Orange team, he went 13-of-18 for 327 yards with four touchdowns. His lone interception was a pick-six to Sheppard, on which the receivers were told to let Sheppard have it. Trevon Grimes (195 yards receiving, two touchdowns) and Kadarius Toney (94 yards receiving, 40 passing yards, one receiving touchdown) had big days, too, and given all the skill players the Gators return at running back and receiver, this offense could get back to the days when it averaged 40 points per game.
“Feleipe, that’s what you’ve seen out of him this spring. Using the offense to make plays, knowing how and when to make plays,” coach Dan Mullen said. “It’s good to see him do that in a game setting.” — Andrea Adelson
With several new faces on Tennessee’s offensive staff, not to mention some staff shuffling, the Vols looked a bit different on that side of the ball Saturday in their spring game. Coach Jeremy Pruitt liked what he saw for the most part, especially the way quarterback Jarrett Guarantano spread the ball around.
Senior receiver Jauan Jennings looks as healthy as he has been, and junior receiver Josh Palmer is making more contested catches. Jennings, coming off knee surgery a year ago, had two touchdown catches Saturday. Palmer was named the Vols’ most improved player this spring.
It’s still pretty obvious that Tennessee has to get better in pass protection. Guarantano was sacked four times, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Vols could start two true freshmen at the tackle positions. Look for new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to use junior running back Ty Chandler in a number of roles and get the tight ends involved. Dominick Wood-Anderson caught four passes Saturday, including a 7-yard touchdown. — Chris Low
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