April 20, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois University football coach Dale Lennon saw just the kind of give-and-take he was looking for during the team's annual Spring Game on a damp, chilly Friday evening at Saluki Stadium.
The offense scored five touchdowns in 19 possessions and produced an assortment of thrilling, big plays, while the defense was equally explosive, collecting eight sacks and four interceptions.
The offense got off to a great start -- marching 70 yards for touchdowns on its first two drives. The defense responded with five-straight shutouts, before the offense punched in a one-yard TD run by running back Antonio Banks just before halftime. The defense controlled most of the second half until two late scoring drives gave the offense a final boost.
"It was good to see the offense come out the way they did -- they looked pretty sharp," Lennon said. "Defensively, it was good seeing them step up and take control of the second, third and most of the fourth quarter. Then the offense regrouped at the end."
Starting quarterback Kory Faulkner began the game by completing all three of his passes on the opening drive, connecting with LaSteven McKinney on receptions of nine and 20 yards. The big play in the drive was a 38-yard completion to David Lewis, who broke a tackle and carried the ball to the 8. Two plays later, fullback Ray Agnew burrowed into the end zone from one yard out.
On the next drive, Iowa transfer running back Mika'il McCall raced 23 yards on his first carry from scrimmage, shedding tacklers and showing an outside burst. His ability to pick up yards after first contact has been impressive this spring. Matt Lipham completed all three of his passes on the march, including a three-yard TD strike to tight end Adam Fuehne.
Beginning with the third possession, the defense took control. The unit recorded four first-half sacks that disrupted the offense's flow. At halftime, the offense had put 19 points on the board in eight tries.
The second half was more of the same from the defense, which added four more sacks and three interceptions. Eight different players recorded sacks for the D on the night, and cornerback David Boatright had two of the interceptions. Kenneth Boatright was a force on the defensive line, notching three tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a quarterback hurry.
"I'm pretty pleased with the front seven," Lennon said. "We're solid up there, we have some depth and playmakers. They did make plays tonight."
The offense finished strong, however. The biggest play of the game came at the end of the third quarter when quarterback A.J. Hill hit McKinney on a 63-yard strike, although the drive was snuffed out later by Kenneth Boatright's interception of a Hill pass.
Hill redeemed himself in the fourth quarter by completing 4-of-4 passes on a 73-yard touchdown drive. Luke Standiford made a 41-yard reception to jump-start the O.
On the final scoring drive, Faulkner found MyCole Pruitt for a 60-yard bomb in which the tight end wrestled the ball away from the defender and sprinted to the end zone.
"We have to have those type of players who can create those sparks," Lennon said. "Any time you make big plays, you're going to give yourself a chance to win a ballgame, and that's something we didn't have last year."
Faulkner, the team's starting QB during the spring, completed 9-of-17 passes for 170 yards. McKinney was the top receiving threat with seven catches for 117 yards. The running game netted just 33 total yards, but that figure was skewed by the eight sacks. McCall led all rushers with 43 yards on nine carries.
"Spring games are tough to evaluate," Lennon said. "As a coach, I've never walked away totally happy, but I'm just happy nobody got hurt and we had a pretty good scrimmage."