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August 15, 2009Middle Tennessee donned full pads Saturday and cranked up the intensity as the Blue Raiders played a full contact scrimmage inside Floyd Stadium for about an hour and a half.
Both sides of the ball had plenty of highlights and head coach Rick Stockstill felt like a lot of positives came from it.
Read on for reaction and analysis.
Stockstill still looking for higher gear
While he was pleased with the offense's overall performance in Saturday's scrimmage, Stockstill still wants to see the unit progress in its ability to run the offense at a faster clip.
The Blue Raiders worked on their no huddle attack during the scrimmage, but there is another gear to hit over the next few weeks before the season opener at Clemson.
"We've got to do a better job with our tempo and the pace of our offense," Stockstill said. "The tempo wasn't as fast as I would like for it to be. Really that is the first time we've been out here with officials and having them get the ball set before the snap, but for the most part I was pleased with the offense."
Being able to more fully simulate the game environment the way the Blue Raiders did today with officials on hand will help get the offense's tempo where Stockstill wants it in time for that trip to Clemson.
With a few more weeks of work, Stockstill expects the group to be moving at a desired pace.
"I think we can (get the tempo right before the season opener)," Stockstill said. "We've only been practicing for six days. We'll be where we want it to be. We've got three weeks to get it where we want to be and I'm not worried about that. We'll get there. I'm very pleased with where we are after six days so I am not worried a bit. I just think (tempo) is an area that we can improve on."
The offense certainly wasn't without its highlights, particularly a couple of great hookups between Dwight Dasher and Desmond Gee, the second of which went for a 25 yard touchdown on a beautiful catch on the edge of the endzone.
Defense comes up with big plays
The defense forced three turnovers in the scrimmage and two of them went for touchdowns as linebacker Cam Robinson and cornerback Rod Issac returned interceptions for scores on back to back plays about midway through the scrimmage.
Issac's interception return went for more than 50 yards, and his return included a nifty cut back move across the field to escape Dasher, who was the last man to beat.
"We were calling out a play," Issac said, "and I was going to get the flat route and I was telling Jeremy before the play that we have one out here kind of wide and I was going to help him out on the fade. If it was a run I was going to take off right away. It ended up being a little pass play so I sunk some and I guess the quarterback thought I was going to come up but I just sunk some to play the fade and help Jeremy out. He ended up throwing the ball and I got it to the house."
Issac joked that he was extra motivated to get to the endzone after the interception so that Robinson wouldn't get too cocky after his big play one snap earlier.
"I knew if (Dasher) threw the flat route I was going to intercept it and I was hoping he would throw it and he did. My eyes got real big and I got the ball. I was happy to get a touchdown because I can't let my teammate Cam beat me out on touchdowns," he said with a laugh.
Dasher credited Issac with a good play but said it was a pass that never should have been thrown.
"It was a bad throw," Dasher said. "I was trying to lead (the receiver) up and outside. It was supposed to have been an outside throw and that was all my fault, so I will take the blame for that."
Robinson's interception came off a slant route throw by backup quarterback Brent Burnette.
Time to step it up
Stockstill said before Monday's opening fall camp practice that he was going to take a week-by-week approach to fall camp and with Saturday's scrimmage in the books the first week of camp is nearly over.
Issac feels like the course of the next week will reveal a lot about what the Blue Raiders will look like when they take the field for the first time at Clemson.
"The first week was really about conditioning and competition," Issac said. "This week will be more about knowing your assignment and really getting into the mix of things. We are getting ready to put this team together with our one and two deeps so we are really competing. In this next week, it will be time for these young guys if they want to come on to come on in and step up. It's time to battle for the spots."
Freshmen make an impression
Stockstill said he wanted plenty of reps to go to inexperienced players and freshmen and what he saw from some his young players impressed him.
He mentioned running backs Benjamin Cunningham and David Jones as having some quality carries, and he liked what he saw from receiver Richard Drake, as well as Tavarres Jefferson.
Defensively, Kenneth Gilstrap and Sammy Seamster were each active in the secondary and Stockstill liked what he termed "hustle plays" from them.
At receiver, where Middle Tennessee has been hurt by the offseason dismissal of Eldred King and the season ending injury to Michael Cannon, Stockstill said right now Drake has a slight edge over fellow freshman receiver Arthur Williams.
"It looks like Richard is probably a little ahead. Arthur had a couple of drops out there today," Stockstill said. "He's had a good camp but it looks like he's had just a couple of nervous drops, but it looks like Richard is probably a little ahead of Arthur right now."