The defense looked strong in life team action on Saturday, but the offense bounced back late with a couple nice touchdowns, particularly a Nick Montana play-action pass to Austin Saferian-Jenkins and a 60-yard breakaway by Chris Polk.
Much of the rest of the action was a highlight show by freshman pass-rusher Josh Shirley, who finished with an unofficial four sacks. Shirley has been doing this every day in practice. His speed at the edge makes him a disruptive force in every passing drill.
The most illustrative example was on one play when Keith Price was flushed from the pocket. He tried to outrun Shirley to the corner. He put on a couple moves and got nowhere; Shirley brought him down in the open field for a 10 yard loss.
“As we all know, Keith is a very elusive guy,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Josh hung right with him a couple times today, which is really encouraging because we see a lot of elusive quarterbacks and we’ve got to be able to contain those guys. We’ve been hurt in the past couple years by those quarterbacks. Josh presents a real bonus for us coming off the edge that way.”
Sarkisian said Shirley has benefited from redshirting last season. “It’s easier to play fast and physical when you know what’s happening,” Sarkisian said. “He learned the fundamentals of the position – that kind of hybrid outside backer/rush end position. He’s getting more and more comfortable. He’s got so much more room to grow, and that’s what’s so cool about it.” It’s not so cool for Price or any other quarterback trying to avoid getting sacked.
“I tried to get him on the edge a couple times, but he got me today,” Price said. “That brings a whole different dimension to the defense when you have speed rushers who can contain a mobile quarterback.”
--Receiver Kevin Smith had another productive day, showing his skills as an open-field runner, getting nice gains on fly-sweep plays. He had another big breakaway with a run-after-catch play.
-- Polk’s play particularly impressed Sarkisian as a display that he is growing more comfortable in the open field, making full-speed cuts and then shifting into a higher gear to run past defenders.
--Montana had a good day, as he made several good passes even under pressure, and showed he's got pretty decent wheels, getting out for a nice gain on a bootleg. Neither he nor Price was intercepted despite there being roughly 100 plays going live during the scrimmage and drills.
--The only apparent injury issue involved defensive tackle Chris Robinson, who came to the sideline with an apparent re-aggravation of a previous knee problem.