CHARLESTON, SC - Citadel head coach Brent Thompson wanted his team to show some fire in its play and escape the 2018 Blue & White Spring Game presented by TD Bank on Saturday healthy. In a simulated game that spanned about two hours, Thompson felt like he got just that from his Bulldogs in their final full contact workout of the spring.
Big plays by both sides of the ball, fight from a short-handed defense, and toughness from an offensive backfield that was pieced together highlighted the scrimmage.
"I told the team I thought it was a great back and forth," Thompson said following the scrimmage. "In the first half, the defense comes out with some great intensity, something I really wanted to see. A stop and a pick six by Jalen (Barr), which was great. There were moments and plays that were productive for both sides today."
Sophomore Willie Eubanks helped the defense set the tone on the opening drive with a tackle for loss to force a punt. Barr's interception came minutes later, hawking a late throw by quarterback Jordan Black and racing 56 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown, a play that defines an impressive spring for Barr.
The offense wasn't short on punch. Black played without most of his top backfield mates and was in a red jersey, so contact opportunities were limited for the elusive junior. A reverse to Raleigh Webb was a step from a touchdown on a saving tackle by Wally Wilmore.
Sophomore quarterback Brandon Rainey led a sustained drive late in the first quarter as the offense fought back. He found Cam Roberts for 10 yards on third and long to set up the offense inside the 10. A long run by Brandon Berry sparked the drive, which ended with the first of two short touchdown runs by Rainey.
"On offense, we have to continue to move the ball, get those fourth and shorts," Thompson said of a few long drives. "Brandon came in and was able to punch a couple of those fourth and shorts for us. The game today has opened my eyes up a lot, I think Brandon stepped up his game and there are a lot of things Ryan (McCarthy) can do once he learns the entire playbook, but when he gets into the open field he is a very strong runner."
McCarthy showed some ability that has Black in the starting role, racing for touchdown runs of 42 and 32 yards on the afternoon after plays had broken down. He led another sharp drive that ended on an interception, when Jay Howard snatched a dropped pass out of midair to turn back the offense near the red zone.
A-Back Matthew Taylor set up another touchdown by the Rainer offense. Rainey rumbled down to the one, fumbling near the goal line, but the offense recovered and set up a short TD run by Rainey. He was one of a number of young running backs to get a lot of action, in addition to Stephon Eugene, and Dante Smith.
"It was great to see those young guys like Dante and Stephon play well today," Thompson added. "Matt Taylor has gotten a lot better from where he started, A-back is a hard position to play. It was tremendous to have those guys step in at A-back."
Defensively, Wilmore, Barr, nose tackle Ken Allen, and Eubanks caught the eye of both Thompson and defensive coordinator Blake Harrell with the first-string defense winning its share of the battles with first offense.