Southern closed spring football camp Saturday with a 121-play scrimmage at A.W. Mumford Stadium, and surprisingly the defense stole the show.
Ending its first preseason under first-year head coach Dawson Odums, who previously was defensive coordinator, the second-team defense kept the first-team offense out of the end zone.
The scrimmage began with the first-team offense backed up to its 3-yard-line against the second-team defense. Both units rotated starters and reserves for a couple of rounds before moving the ball to the 45 for the same drill.
The final period of the scrimmage was a red-zone drill, with the offense beginning just 20 yards from the end zone. Drives led by senior quarterback Dray Joseph and the rest of the starters never resulted in points; the only offensive scores came from the second-teamers, when quarterback Wynton Perro was at the helm.
Joseph ended the scrimmage 12-of-24 for 118 yards and an interception but was upbeat afterward.
“We did a great job with the things we actually focused on working on for today,” said Joseph, the 2012 Southwestern Athletic Conference passing leader. “Today we wanted to come out and play fast, we wanted to run the ball, establish a run game and we wanted to pick up on our hot receivers. I think me and (Perro) did a good job with that today.”
Any struggles that Southern faced through the air, it made up for on the ground behind an impressive effort from sophomore tailback Lenard Tillery.
Tillery carried the ball 18 times and racked up 111 yards through massive holes created by the offensive line. The Baton Rouge native fumbled once in the second half and never found the end zone but outgained the rest of the day’s ball carriers, who combined for 60 yards.
“I doubt I found (holes) myself; it was just the scheme we had,” the former McKinley High standout said. “(The line) came out and they blocked it, and I just had to be a little more patient than I was before. The holes were there. They opened it up and did an amazing job today.”
Senior fullback Lee Mitchell scored the day’s only touchdown for the offense, punching in a 2-yard dive against the first-team defense.
The defense matched that with a touchdown on a first-half interception return by junior defensive back Kevin King.
Joseph hummed a pass to receiver Bradley Coleman, who bobbled the ball, which eventually popped into King’s arms. He scampered nearly 80 yards untouched to the end zone.
Senior linebacker Anthony Balancier picked off Perro in the second half, and the defense nearly tacked on two more picks on passes tipped at the line of scrimmage. It did chalk up a pair of fumble recoveries, which pleased new linebackers coach and potential defensive coordinator candidate Lorick Atkinson.
“I thought our kids competed very well, and they’re starting to buy in to what we’re trying to do as a defensive staff,” he said. “They created some turnovers, and anytime you’re able to score on defense, we’ll take it. We made some progress. We’ll go back and look at the film obviously, but now we have a starting point for the fall. I think the best is still ahead of us.”
The secondary held the quarterback duo to 268 yards on 55 attempts — less than 5 yards per throw. Most of the damage came from Coleman, who had 76 receiving yards, followed by senior tight end Rashaun Allen, who reeled in three catches for 56 yards.
Senior kicker Matthew Hill handled special teams duties, hitting on one of his three field-goal attempts. Hill hit from 29 yards but missed wide left on a 38-yarder and had a 34-yard try blocked. He also made his lone extra-point try.
Southern did not punt or return kickoffs.
Despite the offense just narrowly outscoring the defense, Odums said he was pleased with the way the scrimmage turned out and is confident points will come.
“Once you get down there in the red zone, defenses tend to tighten up,” he said. “But we moved the ball. ... We were excited about the efforts and the way the men competed.”