Thousands of Hurricane fans chanted heralded red-shirt freshman Willie Williams’ name after making a jarring tackle for a loss of yardage. Even with Williams’ stellar play, the offense finished with a 31-21 win over the defense at the Spring football game.
The annual contest, played at Lockhart Stadium due to construction at the Orange Bowl, allowed ‘Cane fans an early glimpse of the 2005 team. It was an opportunity for coaches to evaluate players in a game setting and for fans to become giddy with anticipation.
And no two players were examined as closely as quarterbacks Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman, both battling for the starting job. Wright, a 6’5″ sophomore, took the opening snap and promptly threw his first ball into the ground. After that misfire Wright was electric, completing 10 of 13 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdowns dazzled the crowd, first throwing over two defensive backs for a 23-yard strike to Ryan Moore, and then launching a 38-yard bomb to Darnell Jenkins.
Freeman, while showing tremendous athletic ability, struggled with his accuracy. The 6’3″ red-shirt freshman finished the game 7-for-18 for 109 yards, 20 yards rushing and two interceptions. One pick could be chalked up to bad luck as it bounced off fullback James Bryant’s shoulder pads into the hands of Willie Cooper.
Though Head Coach Larry Coker hasn’t named a starter for the quarterback position yet, his comments made after the game spoke volumes.
“I thought Kyle did a nice job, and Kirby made some nice plays, too, but there were some plays he could have made and didn’t,” Coker said. “He’s a red-shirt freshman and the abilities are there. Without a question, Kyle had a nice scrimmage.”
With starting tailback Tyrone Moss out of spring practice with a shoulder injury, Derron Thomas had a chance to shine, leading all rushers with 23 yards on six carries and adding a 21-yard reception on a screen pass.
Charlie Jones also picked up eight yards on 10 carries.
Jenkins led all receivers with 72 yards on four catches, including his acrobatic end zone grab. Bryant hauled in two passes for 42 yards, while Sinorice Moss also caught two balls for 35 yards.
The defense turned in an impressive effort, led up front by the defensive line, which wase seemingly in the backfield on every play. The unit finished with eight sacks, led by Bryan Pata and Kareem Brown getting to the quarterback twice.
Williams was not the only linebacker to make plays. Jon Beason continued his steady play, sniffing out an interception. Romeo Davis and Calais Campbell led the defense with five tackles each.
Overall, Coker seemed pleased with the defensive effort during the game.
“The defense really put some pressure on [the quarterbacks],” he said. “We’re a tougher football team now than we were a year ago. Guys are stepping up and making some plays. Everybody is back on the defense, except for Antrel [Rolle].”
During the game UM fans playfully yelled at a man wearing a FSU jersey. It served as a subtle reminder that the next time the ‘Canes suit up for a game, they won’t be battling each other, but will be in Tallahassee against archrival Florida State.
Running Backs: B
Wide Receivers/Tights Ends: A-
Offensive Line: C
Defensive Line: A+
Special Teams: B-
Ryan Thomas can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.