TROY – After giving up too many big plays last week, Troy’s defense struck back in the Trojans’ second scrimmage on Saturday.
“We see how the offense was going, so it hyped us up,” Troy nickel or “spear” defensive back Tyler Murray said. “We’ve got a lot of new things that we did right that we did this week than we did last week. It’s improvement – and we’ve got a lot more room for improvement.”
Body language on both sides – if not head coach Chip Lindsey’s post-scrimmage assessment – indicated much of the roughly two-hour, 100-play scrimmage belonged to the defense.
“We started off great offensively, got a touchdown drive, had a couple good series and I think the defense responded well,” Lindsey said. “I think, if you look back, they won the second half of the scrimmage, for sure. I thought they did some good things.
“Brandon (Hall, Troy’s defensive coordinator) has got those guys flying around. Those coaches are pushing them. Hopefully, we’ll learn from our mistakes today and offensively, we’ve got to respond next week.”
After a long pass was overthrown for another incompletion, wide receiver Khalil McClain came to the sidelines.
“I just want to touch the ball,” the 6-foot-4, 227-pound junior college transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College said in frustration.
He spotted somebody holding a football, ready to throw it in for play, and took it out of his hands.
“Ball!” McClain said.
It was a good response by a Trojan defense that was just as frustrated a week ago.
“The defense, we really improved today,” cornerback Will Sunderland said. “Everybody did their assignments, making tackles. We started off slow. They scored two TDs on us. We had to regroup and just stick to the game plan. Once we did that, the offense couldn’t do nothing. We did pretty good today.”
The scrimmage started with quarterback Sawyer Smith leading the first-team offense down the field for a touchdown. Running back D.K. Billingsley got through a hole quickly broke loose on a 40-yard touchdown run.
Billingsley later scored on a 1-yard run that started the second half of the scrimmage, capping a long drive that was kept alive on a pass interference penalty.
“We had the penalty and they were able to get into some tempo,” Hall said. “There for a minute I thought we were about to get boat-raced. We came out a little flat, our tackling wasn’t real good. The thing I’m most proud of today is how those guys responded.
“The biggest difference today for us was all the turnovers that we were able to create. With our offense, they want to go fast and want to get into a rhythm. Because of the turnovers today we didn’t allow that happen.”
Orlando Lacey had a pick in seven-on-seven work before the scrimmage. Murray caused a fumble the defense recovered on a jarring hit on Zacc Weldon. Safety Kyle Nixon picked off a pass by Smith.
Even players not expected to start this fall also created some turnovers. Shon Spralling picked off a pass by Gunnar Watson and returned it for a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Pat Richardson, a bandit or edge linebacker, deflected a pass that went up in the air and came down with the football for the interception.
“That was Job 1, get more turnovers,” Murray said.
Tempers flare: With one side dominating on a hot day in full pads, frustration grew. It spilled over when receiver Reggie Todd, who starred in last week’s scrimmage, and cornerback Jawon McDowell got into a fight either during or at the end of a play late in the first half.
They were separated, but both players had a lengthy “meeting” with Lindsey at midfield during the halftime break.
“You don’t want that to happen, for sure,” Lindsey said, adding that he understood the intensity. “Guys are competing for a job, competing for an opportunity to play.
“We’ve got to keep our composure and not go too far and get penalized. Both guys responded well the rest of the day. It was good to see that.”
The cornerbacks, who struggled last week, were obviously more physical on Saturday.
“(Cornerbacks coach Ray) Brown was telling us if we put our hands on the wide receivers they couldn’t do nothing,” Sunderland said. “We did that today. And the linebackers did the same thing to the running backs. Once you put your hands on them, they couldn’t do nothing.”
Kicking game: Troy didn’t go totally live in the kicking game, but worked on all four units – punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return – and had its specialists kick.
“We’re just making sure we’ve got the right guys in the right spots, covering right,” Lindsey said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on special teams this spring. It’s something we’ve been good at the last couple years. We’re going to try to continue to do that. We’re trying to figure out who needs to be where. That’s the biggest thing.”
Tyler Sumpter, an offensive weapon with field goals and a defensive weapon as a punter, has been impressive. But Evan Legassey has had good height and distance on kickoffs, as has Kyle Coale.
“I thought they kicked it pretty good,” the coach said. “Those guys, we’ve got to put them in pressure situations and let them kick. We’ll try to do that as we get into the fall.”
Big hit: The physical scrimmage was highlighted by several big hits. One of the first – and it seemed to set the tone – came on the third series. Running back Josh Mays and safety TJ Harris collided with a pop of pads that echoed in Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Mays stayed on his feet, but was corralled after a couple more yards.
Defensive coordinator Hall wasn’t down on Harris at all.
“One thing I talk about is a disruptive miss is a good thing,” Hall said. “(Harris) came downhill. I never want them to slow down. He went right through him.
“We’ve got some big running backs. That kid he his is 200 pounds. The thing he did is it forced him to stop and the rest of the defense was able to rally to the football. I’d rather him do that than him stop his feet and get juked and the guy go to the house. It’s not as bad as you think.”
What's next: The Trojans practice two more times this coming week before the annual T-Day game on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m.