On Saturday at Georgia Southern’s annual Blue and White game at Paulson Stadium, they didn’t keep score.
Somebody had to win — the White team on offense or the Blue team on defense — but the winner was different depending on who you asked.
“I’ve got to give it to the defense,” said middle linebacker Edwin Jackson, who had six tackles on Saturday and led the Eagles with 92 in 2013. “We worked our tail off. The offense did a great job too, but the defense really stuck it out.”
The offense scored three times, twice through the air and once on the ground, but it was hard to figure just how successful the running game was when the quarterbacks were whistled down by the touch.
“We had some big-time runs from the quarterbacks,” first-year coach Willie Fritz said. “They might have scored on about three or four of them.”
Favian Upshaw put together a pair of 10-plus yard runs despite the limitations of the scrimmage. He and quarterbacks Kevin Ellison, L.A. Ramsby and Vegas Harley all had potential big plays whistled dead.
“There were a couple of tag-offs where we were kind of mad,” Upshaw said. “We didn’t think we probably would have been down. But I think we looked pretty good.”
The Eagles ran 25 passing plays and 76 rushing plays for 393 total yards.
The first score came on a play-action bootleg pass from Upshaw to James Dean, who came into the program as a running back and played linebacker, before moving back to fullback in 2013. An injury early last season put him on the sidelines.
Dean plays a hybrid role that has him lined up as a running back or a tight end, and his blocking opened a touchdown run last week and also sprung the longest run on Saturday, a 21-yard scamper by running back Dennis Pritchard.
“This coaching staff has really honed my blocking technique — eyes, hand to the side, wide base — it’s all stuff I’ve never really focused on as a running back and they’re good skills to know,” Dean said. “This staff has been amazing, and I’m an all-around better football player.”
“He can block, he can catch the ball and he can run the ball,” Fritz added about Dean. “When you move a guy to a new position there’s a lot to learn, but we feel like this is going to give him an opportunity to compete and play a lot for us.”
Kenny Foster scored on a 1-yard run late in the scrimmage. The final touchdown was on a 30-yard pass from Harley to Zach Walker, who beat a defender for a jump ball near the sideline.
Everyone on the team got equal playing time.
“Everybody got to play almost the same amount of plays,” Fritz said. “We’ve got to make a lot of tough decisions here over the next couple of weeks … and we wanted to give everybody as fair an evaluation as we possibly could.”
There was one injury in the scrimmage. Offensive lineman Jackson Morris went down with what Fritz speculated to be a dislocated kneecap, though the injury has not been confirmed.
The Eagles will have two more practice sessions before the end of spring camp. Fritz said the kicking game will get a lot of work. The coaching staff will also help the team learn to practice when it’s not around.
“Hopefully we’ll give these guys the tools to be able to go out this summer and keep improving,” Fritz said. “We can’t work with them as a coaching staff over the summer, but they can get better if they know what they’re doing, if they can coach themselves. We’ll have them run about an hour of practice (next week), and that way they can go out and run themselves.”
The offense still has a lot to learn before the 2014 season.
“The coaches said we’re probably not even halfway done installing the offense,” Upshaw said. “They said, ‘Remember this for now, and when fall camp comes around, be ready to blow it apart.’ We’re really going to get into the offense then.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.