Spring games aren't usually supposed to be this fun.
Junior quarterback Tyler Jones led two touchdown drives with under two minutes left in each half, including an impressive swing pass to Stedman Mayberry with about 30 seconds left to put the Gold team up 21-17. As Jones ran around like a little kid on Christmas and pumping his fist, it looked like the Maroon team, led by backup quarterback Connor White and backup running back Chris Nutall, had been vanquished.
Not so fast.
White, who had looked worthy of the backup position most of the day, threw a 55 yard bomb towards the end zone. In his words:
"They only brought three guys so we knew we had time and we were in max-protect," White said. "We had three guys in the end zone and I bought time and threw it up and hoped they would make a play. Those don't happen very often. We knew we just had to get it to the 45 to have a chance at a Hail Mary and it worked out."
Oh, it worked out indeed. The pass somehow sailed over the heads of four defenders and right into the waiting arms of wide receiver Jafus Gaines as time expired to give Maroon the 23-21 victory.
By the evening the play had made ESPN.com's top college football videos and even ended up on SportsCenter's top plays.
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SHOULDA BEEN NUMBA ONE PAWWWWWWWWWWWL.
You could tell that, despite Head Coach Dennis Franchione's protestations to the contrary over the radio broadcast, both teams had something more than pride riding on this game. You saw the Maroon team's celebration and pandemonium, but what you probably didn't see was that the Gold team looked shell-shocked. A few players even held their heads in their hands in disgust.
Once again the Maroon and Gold teams were picked by a player-led draft, and the rosters ended up being pretty even. Jones, Demun Mercer, Brice Gunter, CJ Best, and backup RBs Mayberry and Tim Gay ended up on Gold, and White, Nutall, Robert Lowe (DNP), Brandon Smith, and Gaines ended up on Maroon.
Tyler Jones Looked Sharp
Despite his team ultimately giving up the "loss" on the aforementioned Hail Mary, the starter out of Stephenville looked light years ahead of where he was as a freshman and even at times last season. His footwork was confident as he took three step drops with ease, didn't shuffle his feet unnecessarily, and rifled some accurate lasers to Best, Mercer, and Gunter despite their defenders often playing tight coverage.
Jones did have a couple of throws go behind his receiver, and one floater of a pass caused by Dallas McClarty breaking the no qb contact rule and hitting Jones's arm would've been an interception in season play, but overall his decision making and timing were excellent. He also would've had a rushing touchdown or two if the no-contact rules weren't in place.
Stat line:20 of 33, 207 yards, 2 TDs
Welcome Back, Chris Nutall
Robert Lowe stood on the sidelines wearing a hat instead of a helmet for reasons unknown--Lowe has had a history of knee injuries so it may have been precautionary--so Nutall, who sat out all of last season for eligibility issues, took the field for Maroon and looked nothing short of impressive. He took a short pass from White on the first play from scrimmage and exploded past defenders for a 45 yard gain, and it took three or four gold defenders to bring him down on almost every play.
Maroon Controlled the Line of Scrimmage
Despite having probable starters Felix Romero, Brandon Sarabia and Adrian Bellard on the line for Gold, the Maroon team took advantage of defensive coordinator John Thompson's aggressive blitz packages and overwhelmed the Gold o-line in the trenches. Jones had four passes broken up on the day, two by defensive linemen (Will Trevillion and Jeff Banks) and two by safeties (Easy Anyama and Demetrius Woodard). Jones also didn't have a lot of time in the pocket to work with.
On the other side of the ball, Jerrid Jeter-Gilmon was moved from linebacker to defensive end and did cause some pressure off the edge, but Ryan Melton and company more often than not won out over the Gold d-line.
Special Teams Definitely "Work in Progress"
A front brought cool temperatures and 20 mph winds to the Spring Game, so Saturday was a decent gauge of how Texas State's re-tooled special teams might look in adverse conditions. JUCO transfer K/P Brett Kocian looked consistent if unspectacular (37.7 yards per punt, long of 42, two inside the 20, and a 25 yard field goal), while freshman K/P James Sherman has some work to do.
Best looks to be the man best suited to field punts, while kickoff returns could be a three-man race between Best, Gaines, and Brandon Smith.
He's not Bradley Miller (yet), but three star JUCO transfer TE Chris French could start in the fall opposite Lawrence White. He dropped the first pass rifled to him by Jones but he ran some solid routes, hauled in one of Jones's touchdown throws, and made a nifty spin move on a defender that shocked the entire crowd.
CJ Best looked every bit the playmaker we saw last season, and look for Brice Gunter to get a lot of targets from Jones next season. Backup QB Connor White, despite two interceptions (one of which wasn't his fault as his receiver coughed up an easy catch), looks to have nailed down the 2nd spot behind Jones. He often made good decisions, knew when to get out of the pocket and throw it away, and showed his mobility at times as well. However, his overall accuracy still needs work.
GAME MVP (unofficial): Tyler Jones, QB, Gold
Texas State opens their season at (gulp) Florida State on September 5.
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