Weekend spring game notebook, Part I
Campuses across the country were buzzing this past weekend as a plethora of major-college teams held their annual spring games.
Let's take a look at some of the most important takeaways from squads that concluded spring drills on Saturday.
Note: Because there was so much action this past weekend, this is Part I of II. The second half will be posted on Tuesday at the NFP.
Oklahoma: Blake Bell did nothing to show that he isn't the odds-on favorite to take over for Landry Jones as the starting quarterback in Norman. Bell completed 14 of 23 passes for 213 yard with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Bell looked comfortable, was decisive with his throws and the experience edge he has over Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight definitely showed despite his bid for a game-winning drive coming up short. Thompson's 14-yard toss to running back David Smith was the decisive score, and there could be special package plays for Thompson if he doesn't win the starting gig. He is the son of former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson, and he finished with 151 passing yards and 35 yards on eight rushes. Meanwhile, Roy Finch continues to show that he needs more touches in this offense after recording a 49-yard touchdown catch off of a short pass. He will have one final year to make an impact, and he has the explosive ability to do so if he can get on the field starting with the opener on August 31 against Louisiana-Monroe.
FSU quarterback Jameis Winston has big-play ability.
Florida State: Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston was the star of the Gold and Garnet game, which was a little surprising considering Clint Trickett entered spring as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. While head coach Jimbo Fisher has not declared anyone his starter, Winston went 12-of-15 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns against the first-team defense. His play included a connection with David Tyrell for a 58-yard touchdown on his first play from scrimmage. Trickett also played very well, though, as he completed 22-of-32 passes for 259 yards and a score with one pick. There's no question that fans are enamored with Winston because of his big-play ability, but the coaching staff may feel comfortable with Trickett's experience edge and his poise. However, Winston's leadership skills are off the charts for such a young player.
USC: The Trojans didn't get much closer to deciding on a starting quarterback this past weekend, as Cody Kessler threw for 242 yards and three scores to continue to put the pressure on Max Wittek, who started the final two games of last year. Wittek tossed two touchdowns in the scrimmage but also threw a pair of interceptions. Meanwhile, freshman Max Browne remains in the mix after completing 7-of-11 passes for 80 yards with one touchdown and one interception. It's important to keep in mind that there was no tackling in this game because of injuries. But it appeared that the front seven had the advantage over the offensive line most of the day, and the unit was credited with 10 "sacks."
Texas A&M: Defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel threw for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns on 24-of-30 passing in the Maroon and White Game in front of a Texas A&M spring game record crowd of 45,212 on Saturday afternoon. The defense was short-handed, but coordinator Mark Snyder said the secondary is ahead of where it was a year ago. It's a DB corps that could be one of the best in the SEC.
Ohio State: Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller went 16-of-25 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns, and he added a score on the ground, as the dual-threat signal-caller looked confident and improved as a passer in front of 37,643 fans at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium. Head coach Urban Meyer emphasized the passing game in the contest, and receivers Philly Brown and Michael Thomas took advantage. Brown had five catches for 25 yards and a touchdown, while Thomas had seven receptions for 79 yards and a score. Meyer believes that Brown is turning into an All-Big Ten candidate at receiver. Meanwhile, Adolphus Washington was given credit for four sacks.
South Carolina: Many of the Gamecocks' best players were sidelined for the Garnet and Black Game, but star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney did come off the bench in street clothes to catch a touchdown pass, which will only help his preseason Heisman Trophy hype. The biggest concern for the Gamecocks was at the running back position, but sophomore Mike Davis had a strong spring, including a 40-yard touchdown run in Saturday's contest. Davis is the No. 1 back, with redshirt sophomore Brandon Wilds as his backup.
Stanford: Cardinal head coach David Shaw told me earlier this spring that the plan was to push the envelope with Kevin Hogan in the passing game now that the quarterback has a full offseason to prepare for fulltime starting duties. And while many Cardinal fans have been concerned with the passing game after the departure of tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, this offense showed that the new cast of targets could be productive. Hogan looked comfortable in completing 14-of-23 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, with receivers Ty Montgomery and Michael Rector catching long touchdown throws. Sophomore Jeff Trojan led the team with six catches for 41 yards and Jordan Pratt had 78 receiving yards and a score.
Arizona State: While Todd Graham's Sun Devils appear to be deep defensively, a unit that is led by Will Sutton and the strong play up front, it's still about the offense in Tempe. And tight end Chris Coyle was the star on Saturday, as he had three touchdown catches and continued to be quarterback Taylor Kelly's go-to option. The rising senior is also an accomplished blocker, so expect another big season for him in offensive coordinator Mike Norvell's offense.
Clemson: With starter Tajh Boyd not playing Saturday, backup quarterback Cole Stoudt stole the show, as the rising junior threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns in one half. Two of the scores went to Sammy Watkins, who caught seven passes for 156 yards, including touchdowns of 41 and 50 yards. The Tigers are relying on Watkins to shake off an up-and-down sophomore campaign with DeAndre Hopkins moving onto the NFL. Meanwhile, freshman signal-caller Chad Kelly suffered a knee injury Saturday. Head coach Dabo Swinney told reporters that Kelly likely tore his ACL, which would probably knock him out for the year. He was competing with Stoudt to be Boyd's backup. Defensively, Grady Jarrett had three sacks and Vic Beasley had two sacks, which gave him 10 in four scrimmages.