Due to injuries, the annual BancorpSouth Grove Bowl Saturday was not a traditional spring game, but instead took on a practice format with three scrimmage periods.
Offensive coordinator Dan Werner had mixed impressions of the Grove Bowl and the spring as a whole.
“Early, I was happy with how we were protecting the football and moving it, but we weren’t putting it in the end zone, which bothered me, then later on, we got very sloppy, and I thought we lost focus,” Werner said.
It had been an up-and-down spring practice for senior quarterback Barry Brunetti and sophomore quarterback Maikhail Miller in place of injured junior quarterback Bo Wallace, and it continued Saturday.
Brunetti was 3-of-11 for 55 yards with an interception, and Miller was 7-of-11 for 46 yards and led all rushers with 60 yards on 13 carries.
“I was really hoping that the two quarterbacks would compete really hard, which they did,” Werner said.
“One would have a good day, and the other one would the next day. We’ll have to study it, and I will go through and study the whole spring and see who’s actually in the lead right now.”
Wallace, who missed all of spring practice with offseason shoulder surgery, could be cleared to start throwing softly in the coming weeks and is expected to be fully recovered and ready for the start of fall practice.
Werner said the position group that really stepped up in the spring was running back. Sophomore running back I’Tavius Mathers was named the most improved offensive player, and Werner also singled out freshman running back Mark Dodson and sophomore wide receiver Cody Core as guys who have stood out this spring.
“He is so hard to tackle,” Werner said of Mathers.
“The first tackler is not going to make the tackle. It’s nice to know when we hand the ball off to him, we’re going to get some positive yardage.”
Building depth, looking ahead to the fall on defense
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack was similarly pleased with the progress and effort of his unit.
“With the guys we have out injury-wise, I still think we made a lot of progress in the spring, including today,” Wommack said.
“There are some obvious spots that we have got to improve at, and we will. We will get better.”
Wommack called the linebackers position group “the nucleus and leadership of our defense,” and with the return of senior linebacker D.T. Shackelford, there’s added depth and flexibility to run a 4-3 defensive formation.
Individually, sophomore defensive back Chief Brown, who was named most improved defensive player, sophomore defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton and sophomore defensive back Carlos Davis were all singled out by Wommack for stepping up this spring.