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Defense early, offense late in ISU’s second spring football scrimmage

April 14, 2019

POCATELLO — While Idaho State’s young players continued to dominate the offensive highlights, the Bengals’ defense owned most of Saturday’s scrimmage.

ISU’s defense kept the offense out of the end zone for a majority of the Bengals’ second spring scrimmage Saturday at the ICCU Practice Field. The unit held the offense to one touchdown until the day’s final period, when all offensive series started from the opponent’s 10-yard line and in.

The offense’s first two drives combined to span 22 plays, yielding a turnover on downs and a Kevin Ryan 31-yard field goal, respectively. The next two series went four-and-out and three-and-out, before the first-team offense finally broke through with a seven-play drive capped by a short Soujah Gasu touchdown plunge.

The offense went three-and-out on its next two possessions to end the first half.

All stats were kept by the Journal and are unofficial.

Bengals head coach Rob Phenicie said the offensive sputters and defensive stops offered a mixed bag of emotions. He would have liked the offense to come through in certain situations, like its second-and-1 near the defense’s red zone that went unconverted and eventually led to the turnover on downs at the start of the scrimmage. But on the other hand, seeing the defense stiffen under those circumstances was positive.

“You’ve got to look at it from both sides,” Phenicie said. “You like to see the defense gang tackle, pursue to the ball, wrap up, all that stuff, and then you like to see the offense put in situations, going for it (on fourth down).”

ISU’s defense wasn’t bulletproof, though. Gasu broke several long runs, and quarterbacks Gunnar Amos and Matt Struck escaped pressure to extend plays with their legs.

It’s those inconsistencies that the defense must correct before next season begins, according to sixth-year cornerback Anthony Ricks.

“We have to stop those long runs,” Ricks said. “That’ll never be acceptable.”

The final period of the day was all offense. The unit found pay dirt on all four possessions, which started from the opponent’s 10-yard line and in.

Amos threw a short TD pass to tight end Nate Shubert, Gasu ran in his second TD, first-year running back Cory Hawkins scored his first TD of the spring, and Struck ended the day by hitting veteran wide receiver Scooby Reynolds in the back of the end zone.

The offense’s only resistance during the goal-to-go series was a pass breakup in the end zone by defensive back Alex Espinoza. The offense was not faced with a fourth down during the sequence.

“We have to be stout as a defense in order to hold that off, hold that momentum going on as a team,” Ricks said. “We just have to keep being consistent with that. We can’t have so many breakdowns.”

Amos and Struck, unofficially, evenly split series with the first- and second-team offenses. Amos completed 7 of 12 passes and Struck connected on 9 of 18. Both threw one touchdown and neither was intercepted. Both quarterbacks’ completion percentage was affected by drops.

Amos was the first QB to take the field Saturday. He continues to take a majority of first-team reps during practice, though he and Struck have split time with the first-team offense in each scrimmage.

Phenicie said his quarterbacks will be evaluated further after the coaches watch Saturday’s scrimmage on video. He said they’ll be looking at things like the QBs’ protection calls, coverage reads and decision-making within the read-pass option offense ISU runs.

“You like to see they both moved the ball and both completed passes,” Phenicie said. “We’ll go through and see if they took sacks or not. The big thing is, we want to make sure they’re seeing the right thing. They’re the hardest ones, because they don’t get whacked until the first game. I think they both played well and it’s a good competition. It’s fun to watch them.”

Gasu led ISU’s rushing attack with 11 carries and two touchdowns. He took most of the first-team snaps Saturday with backfield mates Ty Flanagan, Nehemiah McFarlin and Tyray Collins sidelined.

Phenicie said projected workhorses like Flanagan, plus wide receivers Mitch Gueller and Michael Dean, won’t take unnecessary hits this spring and won’t play in any of ISU’s three scrimmages.

Gasu has received ample reps this spring and leads the race to be Flanagan’s primary backup — or Flanagan’s 1A, if the Bengals deploy their running backs like they did in 2018 with Flanagan and James Madison. Gasu added two receptions to his 11 rushes Saturday.

Gasu appeared in four games last season, returning two kickoffs for 25 yards. The second-year Bengal figures to have an expanded role in 2019.

“He’s grown into being able to carry a lot more of the load if he’s called on in the fall,” running backs coach David Fiefia said Saturday. “Last week, we wanted to see him run downhill a lot more, and he answered that, had some really good runs down the middle and attacking the safety versus just wanting to break out to the sideline.”

Hawkins added nine carries and one touchdown. The un-rostered tailback made ISU’s spring team after a tryout this offseason. Fiefia said Hawkins “bounced around a little bit, played some smaller ball other places,” and played on ISU’s rugby team before joining the football squad.

Isaiah Walter led ISU’s receiving corps for the second consecutive scrimmage. He hauled in four of his five targets and added two rushing attempts.

Shubert was next with three receptions, including a touchdown. Freshman Josh Crane made two grabs on three targets (one drop).

The defensive standouts included defensive backs Caleb Brown and Espinoza with one pass breakup each. Defensive linemen Skylar Emery and Hunter Eborn each had a sack, as did linebacker Aren Manu. Linebacker-turned-defensive lineman Terrance Jones had a tackle for loss and linebacker Luke Holloway batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

Ryan made the only field goal of the day and hit his lone extra-point try. David Allish was 2 for 2 on PATs. Connor Atkinson made his lone PAT and missed a field-goal try.

ISU’s final week of spring practice begins Tuesday. The Kragthorpe Classic Spring game is April 20 at 1 p.m. at the ICCU Practice Field.