North Alabama coach Chris Willis expected to see the team’s offense play better than the defense in Saturday’s controlled scrimmage at Braly Stadium.
He said that is usually the case when the team moves from its on-campus practice field to its more spacious home field. That wasn’t what happened, though.
UNA’s defense came up with three turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown, in a 71-play scrimmage on a hot, humid afternoon as it outplayed the offense.
“There is no question that the defense won the day from start to finish,” Willis said. “We wanted to see our defensive backs in a different location and see how they responded with great coverage and two interceptions. Our defense as a whole, they showed up, were well prepared and outperformed the offense.”
Willis liked the energy shown by the defense. He said it appeared players on that side of the ball “must have gone to bed by 8 o’clock” on Friday night while the offensive players must have stayed up late. Willis said the turnovers seemed to diminish enthusiasm from the offense.
“The offense just dragged all day,” Willis said. “They were dragging and nobody was picking them up. On a scale of one to ten, their intensity was a five, except for the final group that drove the ball right down the field. But give the defense credit, they were pressuring and making tackles in open space.”
A.J. Bracey intercepted Christian Lopez during the two-minute work session and Lyndon Harris had a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown of a Rett Files pass. Also, Devonte Toles had a fumble recovery.
The offense scored two touchdowns — Lopez passed 24 yards to Jack Peavey on a play when the defense jumped offsides and Ryan Eledge found E.J. Rogers with a 14-yard pass late in the scrimmage to cap a long drive.
Overall, quarterbacks were 18 of 33 for 197 yards.
“The defensive ends and D-line forced the quarterbacks to step up and to get the ball out of their hands quicker,” Willis said. “We have some speed off the edge. That will be huge.”
Willis said it appeared linebacker Will Evans had a good day along with the secondary.
He wasn’t quite as complimentary of the offensive line.
“Out of 11 practices, this was probably one of their worst as a whole,” he said. “It wasn’t the worst, but it was one of them.”
Willis said the next scrimmage, scheduled for Saturday, will be 85 or 90 plays.
“We have to be able to go through the heat and be able to endure this,” Willis said. “We have to get in playing shape. We are in weight-room shape, not playing shape.”
Willis also was disappointed with the place kicking as the Lions struggled.
“I couldn’t tell you the kicker is,” he said. “We missed more than we made. I know all three of them have got live legs. I think even with just 50 fans here they were just nervous. It showed.”
Willis said Joe Gurley is entrenched as the punter and Austin Underwood is the long snapper. After that, he’s not sure.
“I don’t know will be kicking off and kicking field goals,” he said. “That’s something we have to figure out as we go through camp.”
Willis said the staff will continue to evaluate players at all positions in an effort to determine which players need to move up or down the depth chart and which players might need to move from one position to another.
“We let everybody play where they kind of signed up for, now we’re going to move them to where they are needed,” he said.