Consistently strong defensive play and flashes of playmaking ability on offense highlighted Charleston Southern's second scrimmage of fall camp on Thursday morning.
First-year defensive coordinator Shawn Quinn's unit continued to impress, holding the CSU offense without a score on each of its first four possessions until junior quarterback Malcolm Dixon directed a touchdown drive that ended with a Teddy Allen run from a yard out.
Senior wide receiver Corvaughn Archie also found the end zone on a long pass play, while senior defensive back Kenny Johnson came away with one of the defense's two interceptions to highlight the group's second straight stellar scrimmage.
"We're continuing to try to work on fundamentals and get better in all phases, and we're getting better," said CSU Head Coach Jay Mills. "We just need repetitions. We've got good talent. Its young talent, though, so we need as many repetitions as we can get."
Pressure generated by the defensive line, and sound play in the linebacker and secondary corps, characterized the opening stages of the scrimmage. Big South Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Charles James blanketed receivers to force several incompletions, while sophomore defensive tackle James Smith found his way into the backfield several times.
Redshirt junior defensive tackle Coril Joseph also thwarted a potential drive early on by forcing redshirt junior quarterback Derek Hatcher out of the pocket. The Bucs were also pleased with the performance of redshirt sophomore linebacker Gabe Middlebrook, now healthy after missing the bulk of last year due to injury.
Redshirt freshman Zack Johnson made several plays from his outside linebacker post, teaming with Cornelius Sterling to drop Trey Dorsey for a loss while also snuffing out an end-around with a nice tackle from behind.
"I think our defense has continued to play pretty consistently," Mills said. "Zack Johnson has done well at the outside linebacker position and that's not a surprise. He had a good spring and just really hit it hard over the course of the summer."
"It's good to have Gabe Middlebrook back from injury, as well as Brad Sweatt so that really solidifies us at linebacker. Damian Dixon had a great spring at corner and has been a little dinged up in the fall, but I've been really pleased with how he's played. And then up on the defensive front, I think Coach Hardmon has done an excellent job with a good nucleus. They're playing hard and getting fundamentally better."
Although the defense set the tone, the offense also displayed growth under the direction of Mills and offensive coordinator Patrick Nix. Keelyan Bryant ripped off runs of six and 14 yards on the first two plays of the scrimmage, showcasing his speed by getting to the outside and turning the corner. Fellow running back Teddy Allen provided the power in the later stages of play, running between the tackles and dishing out several hits to oncoming defenders.
Dixon was the signal-caller for the Bucs on an excellent drive which produced the first score of the day. Senior wide out Mike Davis was a key factor in the march down the field, as he hauled in a 24-yard pass from Dixon, and then scampered for seven yards himself on consecutive plays. A pretty open field tackle forced a 4th and 6 once CSU entered the plus side of the field, and the Bucs converted that into a new set of downs when Dixon hit Tanner Rogers for a 13-yard pickup down the right sideline. Another Davis run then set up Allen's 1-yard plunge for a touchdown.
Redshirt junior quarterback Derek Hatcher took the reins from Dixon as the scrimmage neared its end, directing a scoring drive which ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nathan Prater. Redshirt freshman Briar Van Brunt, the number three quarterback on the depth chart, helped moved the offense down the field several times while featuring as a dual threat.
"Being consistent with ball security is what we've emphasized more than anything else," said Mills of the staff's direction of the quarterbacks. "The thing that they know and the thing that's going to help them get on the field is, first of all, not turning the football over. They've got to be really meticulous with that endeavor. Today we made two turnovers, both in the pass game with Derek and Malcolm each having one. I love both guys. They're working very hard and I'm confident we'll get there before the season starts."
The depth of the wide receiver corps was once again showcased as well, as freshman Larry Jones III enjoyed a solid afternoon, while veterans like Archie and Davis shined as well.
Sound special teams play also shined through, with underclassmen Mark Deboy and Cameron Mitchell performing well.
"I think one of the things we've seen is a consistency in the kicking game. I was pleased to see Mark Deboy has continued to progress as well as Cameron Mitchell kicking and punting. Matthew Smiley's done a good job preparing the special teams."
With one more scrimmage still remaining on August 24, Mills is pleased with the progress a young Bucs squad is displaying.
"Our work ethic has been outstanding, and I've been impressed with the attitude of this group as a whole as well," said Mills. "We have good players and plenty of competition, so those are two positives. We need to keep working hard, get more repetitions and continue to move forward."