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Maroon and White game displays strengths, weaknesses

Running backs shine in up-tempo, inner-squad scrimmage

Published: Monday, April 30, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

men's football

Roger Zhang — THE BATTALION

Head coach Kevin Sumlin watches warm-up before the Maroon and White scrimmage Saturday at Kyle Field.

The White team — offense — nipped the Maroon team — defense — 48-44 as head coach Kevin Sumlin’s Aggie football team trotted onto Kyle Field Saturday for the annual Maroon and White game that marks the end of the spring practice slate. The scrimmage gave many fans their first glimpse of the new-look Aggies: new coaches, new players and a new conference.

Sumlin has brought a new intensity to spring practice in Aggieland, and the Maroon and White game was no exception. The affair featured more than 100 plays in an up-tempo style characteristic of Sumlin during his tenure at the University of Houston. He believes practicing at a breakneck pace is a necessity.

“It’s easier to slow down than it is to speed up,” Sumlin said. “So as we get to the season, we’ll be able to adjust accordingly. It’s hard to speed things up in a game situation if you haven’t practiced it.”

One critique of this practice approach is that, in the Southeastern Conference, teams play at a grinding, physical pace. Rather than 100 plays per contest as was the case in the Big 12, most teams run closer to 60.  Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said that though their opponents might not run their offense at the same pace, the high-speed practice will pay dividends in his team’s conditioning.

“After this spring ball, I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Snyder said. “We condition every day at practice and practice alone is conditioning, so I think we’re pretty far along on that standpoint.”

Under Snyder, the Aggies are transitioning from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. Some of the growing pains involved in the switch were evident Saturday, as defenders were kept on their heels and senior receiver Ryan Swope broke free for a pair of 50-plus-yard touchdown receptions.

Swope, who finished with eight catches for 156 yards to go with the two scores, credited Sumlin’s emphasis on intensity.

“I feel like Coach Sumlin brings a lot of energy to practice and has guys looking forward to practice and to playing for him,” Swope said.

With former quarterback Ryan Tannehill selected in the first round of the NFL draft earlier in the weekend, Sumlin continues to search for the Aggie signal-caller of the future. Sophomore Jameill Showers took the opening snap Saturday and completed 20 of 31 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, who played much of the game, threw for 154 yards, one touchdown and one interception while completing 13 of his 27 throws.

Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said the race to be the starting quarterback is far from being decided.

“We tried to put some quarterbacks in some adverse situations,” Kingsbury said. “They all made strides but in 15 practices I can’t see enough to make a decision. We want them to come back out after summer and compete again. You want a guy who can move the football down and score points and that’s all that matters.”

The Aggie backfield boasts a stable of quality running backs. Senior Christine Michael continues to recover from injury, and junior Ben Malena erupted for 117 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. Sophomore Will Randolph added 86 yards and two touchdowns.

Sumlin said running back is a position of strength for the team.

“I think we’ve got some depth there,” Sumlin said. “We’re going to have some running backs we can do some things with next year.”

Swope said as the Aggies move into a break before summer practices, the most important thing is accountability among the team.

“Senior leadership needs to step up and text their guys to make sure they’re doing their workouts, their lifts, their runs,” Swope said. “We have a four-week break, but we have to keep working hard.”

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