The new Stetson University Athletics Training Complex was buzzing with excitement on Saturday night. With cooler temperatures and light breezes, a crowd estimated at more than 300 Stetson football fans ringed the practice field for the Hatters’ second scrimmage.
The crowd was treated to more than two hours of football, with more than 120 plays.
“It was a typical first scrimmage,” Hatters coach Roger Hughes said. “There were way too many turnovers on offense. I love how the defense is turning it over, but we gave up way too many big plays on defense. We looked like a startup program with freshmen, but there were a lot of good things. The kids are working hard, there are just a lot of mental errors right now.”
Early on in the evening play was completely dominated by the defense. Overall, there were 12 sacks and at least six other tackles for loss. There were also nine pass breakups, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and three interception.
“I think we have a pretty good defensive front,” Hughes said. “It is always true that the defense is ahead of the offense, and that is the case here. I like how our defensive front and our linebackers run around. We didn’t limit what they did tonight, and they were stunting 60 to 70 percent of the time tonight. The long view is we have to get better, offensively, at picking that stuff up.”
The big star on defensive was linebacker Julius Holder (Austell, Ga.) who had three and a half sacks, and five total tackles for loss among his seven credited tackles.
“Julius has been all over the place,” Hughes said. “He got off to a little bit of a slow start because he had to be held out early for medical reasons. I have been really pleased with his progress, given that he missed the first week of practice.”
The wide open play of the defense, combined with the fact that the 10 quarterbacks were facing true contact for the first time, made play at that position a little rough. The Hatters attempted 49 passes in the scrimmage, completing 23 for 192 yards and just one touchdown with three interceptions.
“None of the quarterbacks really stood out,” Hughes said. “This was the first time we had made them live. It is easy to stand in there and throw when you know you aren’t going to get hit. That is still a work in progress. As we start adding in more checks at the line and start giving them more complicated schemes, then we’ll see how it shakes out.”
The top passer was Justin Slaven (Deltona, Fla.), who completed five of seven passes for 40 yards. The group of QB’s also surrendered 23 yards on the ground in 25 total rushing attempts. Only Jonathan Strahl (Port Orange, Fla.) produced significant positive yardage on the ground, gaining 34 yards on five carries. Strahl also had the only touchdown pass of the night, a three-yard throw to Ryan Selimos (Plantation, Fla.).
Overall, the ground game was led by Joe Sweeney (Delray Beach, Fla.) and Meyrick Lamb (Marion Heights, Pa.). Sweeney carried the ball 14 times for a total of 47 yards, and also produced a pair of one-yard touchdown runs.Lamb had nine carries for 70 yards, including a four-yard TD run late in the scrimmage.
Hughes said there is much room for improvement from the backs.
“I think all of the running backs are doing the same thing,” Hughes said. “The plays are designed to go into certain holes and what they are wanting to do is bounce everything outside. That is a typical high school move and, right now, they are still playing high school football. They have to understand how to press their landmarks, how to trust that something will happen late where they can make their cuts.”
Hughes said Jason Willix (Concord, N.C.) stood out late with a 50-yard touchdown run.
“There were some good things toward the end of the scrimmage,” Hughes said. “Jason Willix had a couple of long runs at the end of the scrimmage. He is not really big, but he is slippery. It seems as if every time we see a big play, he is the one carrying the ball.”
Another positive from the evening was that everyone got a first look at the Hatters’ kicking game. If the scrimmage is any indication, Stetson should be in good shape. James LaGamma (Weston, Fla.) connected on field goal attempts from 27 yards, 42 yards twice and 44 yards before falling short on a 49-yard attempt at the end of the evening. He was also perfect on two PAT kicks.
“LaGamma is, I think, a big time kicker,” Hughes said. “Not only does he kick, he punts too. This was the first night we have kicked at all because we finally got goal posts. I am really pleased with him. It looks as if when we get inside the 30 we will be able to get at least three.”
Hughes said the coaching staff will take a long look at the film from this scrimmage in order to begin making some decisions on personnel.
“We are at the point where we have to start making decisions about who will be where on the depth chart and about who might start getting more reps in practice,” Hughes said. “We also may have to start moving positions. We are going to look hard at this film, but we also have to go back to fundamentals. We are not very good schematically and we have to make sure we are getting better at the things we do.”
The Hatters are scheduled to hold four more scrimmages during the fall semester and, if Saturday’s crowd is any indication of future attendance, Hughes said they may have to look at using Spec Martin Stadium.
“I don’t know how many were here, but I looked up once and was really surprised,” Hughes said. “I don’t really know what I expected, but this is great. I am so humbled and excited that the DeLand community is really embracing this project. Our kids feel it and are very appreciative of the support they are getting.”