Not even S.C. State head football coach Buddy Pough or his two first-year Bulldog coordinators knew what to expect from Saturday's Garnet and Blue Spring Game on Willie E. Jeffries Field inside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.
But, what they got was steady competition to finish spring workouts, as the defense stonewalled the run game up the middle and the offense took to the air for three touchdowns and a 21-17 win.
"We normally look a little ragged at the end of the spring, but as usual the defense is a bit ahead of the offense and we have plenty of work to do this summer to get ready for the fall," Pough said. "I think our defense came and played a good bit better, taking away the inside run game today.
"We've got a lot of new wrinkles in the offense that I can tell we aren't quite sure of yet. But, as we get a feel for those things, you will see some steady improvement out there."
It marked the second straight off-season that the offense (white jerseys) topped the defense (garnet jerseys) in the spring finale.
With offensive coordinator Bennett Swygert getting considerable reps behind center for both rising redshirt junior quarterback Dewann Ford and rising sophomore quarterback Tyrece Nick, the two signal-callers combined for all three touchdowns on 9-of-15 passing for 201 yards and no interceptions.
Ford was 6-for-10 passing for 110 yards and two scores, along with rushing three times for 20 yards. Nick, meanwhile, was the leading rusher on the day with 11 carries for 41 yards, while also passing 3-for-5 for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Rising junior tailback Labron Morris led all running backs with just 13 yards on five carries. Pough believes the defense looked better against the run than they had in both spring scrimmages.
"Our defensive front is pretty stout, especially the four inside guys," Pough said. "But, on both sides of the ball we have to get stronger.
"I'm not sure how prepared they (new offensive coaches) were for how good our inside guys on defense could play. But, as they get a better feel for what we have with our personnel, they will make adjustments on into the fall. I was pleased to see our defense stop the run. We can work on other stuff. We hit on a big play or two, and missed one one or two."
The defense accumulated its points after stopping drives by the offense – one point for any stop and two points for turning the offense away on a 3-and out.
But, the offense showed some signs of consistency, putting up points on three drives, without a dominant run game.
The defense forced a 3-and-out to open the game, going up 2-0 early. But, after a booming punt from rising redshirt sophomore Cliff Benjamin (Lake Marion), Nick took his first turn running the offense and put together an 8-yard drive that covered 65 yards for a score. On 4th-and-3 at the Garnet's 35-yard line, Nick found rising sophomore tailback Jacory Benson on a swing pass for a 35-yard touchdown. Benson broke one tackle and eluded two others down the right side of the defense for the score. With two kickers signed to enroll for the fall, senior former starter Tyler Scandrett took the field minus pads and jersey to boot the PAT, for a 7-2 lead for the White. He did so on the final two touchdowns also.
The Garnet stopped Ford and the offense for another 3-and-out, making it a 7-4 score.
Then, with Nick back running the offense, the Garnet made two stops to end the first quarter, one a 5-yard sack by rising redshirt senior Damu Ford and one a stop by rising junior Lane Jones for a 1-yard gain.
Ford, who led the defense with 4 tackles, 3 sacks and 1 quarterback hurry, sacked Nick for a second time on a 3rd-and-5, for an 8-yard loss. After a short run by Nick, the defense earned a point for stopping the drive, for a 7-5 score.
The Garnet stepped up on defense to score another point, ending a 6-play drive, for a 7-6 score. Then, a Nick-led drive resulted in a 3-and-out, giving the Garnet an 8-7 lead. The final full drive of the first half ended in a second-straight 3-and-out, giving the defense a 10-7 advantage at the break.
But, two plays into the third quarter, Nick found rising redshirt junior receiver Quan Caldwall 31 yards out on a pass down the sideline. Caldwell outran his defender and scored on the 66-yard strike. The White reclaimed the lead, 14-11.
The Garnet wasn't through, though, as former Bamberg-Ehrhardt and Clemson lineman LaSamuel Davis - a rising redshirt junior edge rusher - sacked Nick for an 8-yard loss on third down to make the score 14-12 late in the third quarter.
But, the White team was on the move as the period ended. Ford finished the 8-yard drive with a 10-yard scoring strike across the front of the end zone to rising redshirt junior receiver Tra'Quan Dubose. The offense took a 21-12 lead with 13:20 left to play.
The Garnet team, led by Damu Ford's sack of Dewann Ford, a sack by Ray Coe, Jr. of Dewann Ford, and solid coverage in the secondary, posted two 3-and-out stops and a final stop to make the final score 21-17.
Pough, is entering his 17th and final season (120-67 record) at the helm of the football program. S.C. State will play an 11-game schedule in 2018, opening on Saturday, September 1 against Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Georgia.