The defense shone bright at the Elon University football team’s second scrimmage of the spring Saturday morning, stepping up with two interceptions and a dozen tackles for losses.
“The biggest thing with the defense today was the big plays, the negative plays,” said head coach Rich Skrosky. “Last Saturday, we had a couple turnovers. But today, they showed up and we had some sacks, some negative plays. You get a team behind the chains, it’s a lot easier to play defense. To the naked eye, I was pleased with how many plays we made on defense today.”
The highlight of the scrimmage came early, when rising senior linebacker Corey Mitchell tipped a pass from rising sophomore quarterback Connor Christiansen away from its intended receiver and caught the tip, running the interception 45 yards to the end zone for a pick-six.
“They always go to [the same guy], so I kind of knew he was going there,” Mitchell said. “I baited him a little bit, and made sure I tried to get a collision. We’ve been working on breaking in practice, so when he threw it, I broke on it, tipped it, caught it and took off.”
Mitchell said he wasn’t looking back once he got the ball, adding that, “there’s nobody on the offense that could catch me when I’m running.”
The first-team defense did not allow a touchdown on the day, which Mitchell credited to the defensive line and Skrosky agreed with.
“We graduated some good players, but our depth is decent,” Skrosky said. “It’s going to be a by-committee line, but they are all doing some good things.”
The offense scored three touchdowns on the day, with the two passing scores coming from rising sophomore quarterback Daniel Thompson. He threw a 26-yard pass to rising sophomore wide receiver Efrim Borders and a nine-yard touchdown pass to rising sophomore tight end John Luke Arrington. Thompson and Borders had previously connected on a 34-yard pass a few plays prior to the touchdown pass.
The lone rushing touchdown was the final play of the day, when rising sophomore running back Copeland Spell found a hole and burst for a 54-yard touchdown to end the scrimmage.
“He’s a really quality kid,” Skrosky said. “He ended up playing a little bit toward the end of last year and he’s not really big, but he’s a strong kid. He’s very football-savvy and was a high-school quarterback. It was a good hole that he recognized, and he’s got some pretty good speed.”
Other than the two passes from Thompson to Borders, the defense shut down the offense all day, only allowing five plays of 20 yards or more on the day. The defense, as a whole, tackled the running backs for losses six times and got six sacks.
Rising sophomore quarterback Connor Christiansen and the first-team offense struggled on the day, leading Skrosky to address the competition between the two and the talent-level of the team as a whole.
“They’ve both made good progress,” Skrosky said. “We pretty much have had Connor running with the ones. At the same time, Daniel continues to do good things and I don't think Connor's taken it and separated himself either. It comes down to consistency. If neither separates, both will have the ability to play. I’ve never had that situation, but you kind of, sort of feel comfortable in that you know you have two guys who have played and are very composed.
“There have been times in my career when the two would go out and there would be a big drop off. Here, the operation runs about the same — Daniel has a good series, Connor has a good series. I think that’s where we are at as a program too. Our overall talent is pretty equal.”
The offensive side of the ball suffered a few injuries during practice, as rising junior tight end R.J. Pearsall, rising junior running back Brandon Gentry and rising sophomore running back Malcolm Summers were helped off the field. Both Summers and Gentry returned to practice, but Pearsall did not return from an apparent right arm injury. Skrosky indicated that the team did not think any of the injuries were serious.
With one week of practices left for the semester, Skrosky has a few things he wants Elon to do before the spring ends.
“On the field, I want to see us become more consistent,” Skrosky said. “In the intangible — and this is something I’ve been pleased with, even though there was chirping out here today, but it’s all in good fun — that cohesion in games and in the locker room. We need to win games in the locker room.”