This, Stump Mitchell concluded, was downright lovely.
On another long summer afternoon, after the Southern football team finished its first preseason scrimmage Saturday - it lasted 2 hours, 12 minutes and 110 plays in hot, steamy conditions - Mitchell, the second-year coach called his team together on the practice field near A.W. Mumford Stadium, then openly praised his players’ effort.
No, the Jaguars are not perfect or polished, he said.
But preseason camp is moving along well.
“Lovely,” he said. “I mean, people are out here watching us practice in the heat. Guys are going hard at it. And I think that as a football team, we’re better. ... We’re much further along than we were last year at this time.”
A few highlights from Saturday’s scrimmage:
• Unofficially, sophomore quarterback Dray Joseph, completed 13 of 20 passes, trying his best to cement his spot as the opening-day starter.
Mitchell didn’t name Joseph the outright starter, but after Saturday’s scrimmage, the coach made an interesting comment when he noted that the other QBs - sophomore J.P. Douglas, junior Jeremiah McGinty and senior Hasoni Alfred - “are definitely battling to see who’s going to be No. 2 or No. 3,” he said.
Unofficially, Douglas was 5-for-11, Alfred was 3-for-5, and McGinty was 4-for-7.
• Still, Mitchell had to be concerned his offense struggled to finish drives.
The offense didn’t reach the end zone until late in the scrimmage, when receiver LaQuinton Evans outreached cornerback Virgil Williams and scored on a fade route.
Before that, the offense moved into field-goal range three times, and place-kickers Matthew Hill and Manuel Cantu combined to go 1-for-3, missing attempts from 24 and 30 yards.
It was a similar sight for fans who watched Southern often settle for field goals last season (the Jaguars attempted and made more field goals than any other Southwestern Athletic Conference team, going 15-for-20).
“I think Coach Mitchell, for the first scrimmage, he’s just trying things,” Dray Joseph said. “He wants to see what works and what doesn’t. I think when we get inside the 10- or 20-yard line, there wouldn’t be as much passing as there was today.”
• Of course, the offense struggled for some of the usual reasons - namely, dropped passes and penalties.
On the first series, tight end Kesean Peterson dropped a pass that could’ve been a touchdown.
On the second series, the offense lined up to convert on fourth-and-inches, but wideout Michael Berry jumped early, drawing a 5-yard penalty.
About halfway through the scrimmage, tailback Jerry Joseph also broke free on a long run - but officials flagged the offensive line for holding.
“Those are things that we cannot have this year, because that plagued us a lot last year,” Dray Joseph said. “It affected us offensively.”
That is certainly true. Southern averaged 104.1 penalty yards per game last season, ranking last in the nation.
• Turnovers were also a problem.
Running back Terrell Alex, working with the second team, broke free down the left sideline, but fumbled after a long gain.
Dray Joseph and center Lee Almanza also botched their exchange twice, prompting a mad scramble for the loose football on both occasions.
“Those things are really drive-killers,” Dray Joseph said. “We need to get that under control, to go through a whole game without fumbling the snap once.”
• Though the defense struggled at times, it made a handful of big plays.
The defense recovered two fumbles and had one interception, and defensive backs dropped what should have been three more interceptions.
The defense also finished with nine sacks in 110 plays.
“I’ll be anxious to see the film and see what those guys did,” defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert said. “But in order for us to be successful, those guys up front have to do a good job.”