Mark Iannotti throws from under pressure in his own end zone during Friday's scrimmage.
April 18, 2014
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - The Saluki Football offensive and defensive units traded blows in the team's annual Spring Game on Friday night, and you could safely call it a draw, as both sides made their share of big plays.
The defense had the upper hand in the first half, forcing the offense to punt on six of the first seven drives. Head coach and defensive coordinator Dale Lennon dialed up heavy pressure that disrupted the offense's timing. Outside linebacker Lamonte Edwards, who transferred from Minnesota last year, picked up a pair of first-half sacks and Khari Waithe-Alexander and Carl Bivens each had one sack.
"Our first unit defensively played very well," Lennon said. "I felt our pressure the first half was very effective, and then we went back to our base stuff the second half and worked on some fundamentals."
Under constant assault from blitzing linebackers, the offense was able to produce two solid first-half drives. Quarterback Mark Iannotti guided the team on a 67-yard touchdown drive, completing two passes to wide receiver Kyle Newquist for 28 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown on a post route. Iannotti, a transfer from Eastern Michigan, completed 15-of-26 passes for 186 yards on the night.
"He's really stepped forward and is putting himself in a leadership role, which is what you want out of a quarterback," Lennon said. "He's right in the thick of things. He's tough -- he took some hits and got up. That's what has impressed me most, his toughness, he's a competitor."
The other first-half scoring drive was led by junior quarterback Matt Vincent, who led the offense 51 yards for a score. On 4th-and-14 he completed a 17-yard strike to to Ahmad Hicks, and later found Newquist for 11 yards on third-and-long. Vincent capped the drive with the best throw of the night, a 15-yard flag route hauled in by tight end Shaq Findlater for a score.
Lennon said he was pleased with all three quarterbacks and said the battle will continue into pre-fall camp.
"Matt is really seeing the big picture better, I like how he's conducting himself, and he's really earning the respect of the team," Lennon said. "With Ryan, he's at the No. 1 spot coming into spring and is doing everything he can to keep that spot."
The coaches chose to limit the carries of starting running back Malcolm Agnew, who picked up 10 yards on three tries. Backup Ken Malcome also had just three attempts before leaving with an ankle sprain. That enabled redshirt freshman Cameron Walter to showcase his running ability, and he tallied 86 yards on 17 carries with one TD.
"He doesn't go down easy and has that burst you like in your running back," Lennon observed. "If he gets a seam, he can get to the second level. I think he's going to be a guy who can give us quality depth in the backfield."
The Spring Game is an excellent opportunity for the younger players to get noticed, and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Waithe-Alexander did just that, notching a sack and two tackles for loss.
"He is very quick and has a knack for getting into the backfield," Lennon said. "He'll be a pass-rush specialist for us and eventually be good with the run defense, also."
With new coordinators on both sides of the ball and five new assistant coaches, Lennon said building chemistry was the team's biggest achievement this spring.
"It could have been very inhibiting, but I give credit to the coaches who came in and did a great job of adapting," he said. "It's gone way better than I anticipated and I think we're ahead of the game from where I thought we'd be. My goal at the end was to have this all seem normal, and I think right now the team feels that this is us. It's not strange anymore."
Cameron Walter - 17 att, 86 yds, 1 TD
Matt Vincent - 4 att, 19 yds
Malcolm Agnew - 3 att, 10 yds
Mark Iannotti - 3 att, 4 yds
Tay Willis - 1 att, 2 yds
Ken Malcome - 3 att, 0 yds, 1 Fum
Ryan West - 1 att, -3 yds
Kyle Newquist - 6 rec, 77 yds, 2 TD
LaSteven McKinney - 3 rec, 41 yds
Tay Willis - 4 rec, 38 yds
Ahmad Hicks - 2 rec, 35 yds
Connor Iwema - 1 rec, 35 yds, 1 TD
Jamaal Flowers - 2 rec, 19 yds
Billy Reed - 2 rec, 18 yds
Shaq Findlater - 1 rec, 15 yds, 1 TD
Josh Skadeland - 1 rec, 15 yds
Ken Malcome - 1 rec, 6 yds
John Gardner - 1 rec, 3 yds
81 Leonard Garren: 7
42 Brandon Minor: 5
43 Carl Bivens: 5
44 Torre Hopson: 5
2 Courtney Richmond: 4
7 Garrett Pugnet: 4
22 Jordan Poole: 4
36 Lamonte Edwards: 4
6 D.J. Cameron: 3
11 Keith Suggs: 3
13 Markese Jackson: 3
26 Jory Cunningham: 3
41 Khari Waithe-Alexander: 3
33 Charles Harris: 2
37 Jermaine Hughes: 2
50 Antony Greenhow: 2
52 Blake Mattson: 2
91 Kitray Solomon: 2
8 Darius Merriweather: 1
19 Devin Mathis: 1
29 Ahmad Hicks: 1
32 Brandon Willingham: 1
35 Calvin Belts: 1
39: Dinnus Harding: 1
46 Kevin Holmes: 1
95 Sam Borst: 1
7 Garrett Pougnet: 1