The 2013 Grove Bowl was different.
Usually the event consists of a full scrimmage with a game-like atmosphere that matches the best of the offense against the best of the defense. However, head coach Hugh Freeze decided to change that up a bit this spring because of injuries.
So instead, the approximately 28,000 in attendance watched the spring game, which consisted of practice-like “periods.”
They started with field goal drills, followed by 1-on-1 drills, then a short scrimmage. They then did some red zone 1-on-1 work before going to punt team drills, then finishing out the practice with a final scrimmage.
As for the game, it was very similar to what Freeze has seen all of spring.
“It’s been the story all spring, the defense is ahead of the offense,” Freeze said. “I don’t know if that’s all bad. We’re headed in the right direction defensively. When we get all of our kids back on offense and get some consistent quarterback play, hopefully, we’ll manage to move the ball effectively.”
Freeze said that while the defense did miss a few chances to have more interceptions, he likes what he saw out of junior linebacker Serderius Bryant.
On offense, Freeze just wants to see more consistency. He noted the day senior wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan had and praised his consistency this spring.
The concern at the quarterback position behind junior Bo Wallace is obvious, Freeze noted, but he feels like he will be able to get something from senior Barry Brunetti when there is a healthy offensive line in front of him because of his athleticism.
Another concern on the offensive side of the ball was the offensive line, but Freeze was pleased with how they handled things Saturday despite having key pieces out with injuries.
“(Senior) Pierce (Burton) played physical, (senior) Emmanuel (McCray) played physical, (senior) Jared (Duke) has to get accustomed to this tempo, and (senior center) Evan (Swindall) is Evan; he’s our leader up there,” Freeze said.
“We didn’t finish a lot of drives, so it’s hard to say I feel tremendous about them.”
Coming into the spring, all eyes were on returning linebacker D.T. Shackelford.
“D.T. is everything you want a student-athlete to be,” Freeze said.
“Took him a little time to get the rust knocked off this spring, and you still see some of that. I’m glad we have him, and it’ll be good to have him in an offseason program.”
While the only knock of sophomore defensive end Channing Ward this spring has been that he needs to let go and play fast, Freeze thought he saw that on Saturday and expects that to only improve with more and more reps. He referred to Ward as a “high-rep” guy, noting reps are what make him better.
Last season, Freeze noted year two would see more of the offense installed, but with Wallace as well as a number of key contributors sidelined with injuries, they didn’t install as much as they originally had hoped.
“I kept it real simple,” Freeze said. “I just wanted us to play fast. Offensively, we stayed very, very basic.”
Freeze noted that the attitude and effort were phenomenal this spring. He said the only thing really lacking to compete is depth, as he has mentioned many times this spring. Freeze noted the incoming recruiting class will help.