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Defense in Garnet & Blue game 2019

A host of Bulldog defenders, including LaSamuel Davis (6) and Jeblonski Green (34) bring down quarterback Tyrece Nick (3) during the 2019 Garnet & Blue Spring Game on Saturday.

In recent weeks during spring workouts, South Carolina State head football coach Buddy Pough has said that the Bulldogs are maturing and improving on offense, while establishing themselves as a formidable defense, which has become the expected norm in the program.

The question for Bulldog fans was which unit would find success on Saturday in the Garnet & Blue Spring Game on Willie E. Jeffries Field inside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium?

The simple answer - both.

And special teams looked solid as well.

"Defense beat our offense up today by a score of 32-32," Pough joked after the contest. "We backed the defense off a bit in the second half, but the offense made plays.

"I'm hoping that it's the fact that our defense is pretty good and that's why we haven't had much success against them. We've got a good group on defense and I'm looking forward to having them gel and play together this coming season."

The defense (in Garnet) came out the blocks well, jumping ahead to a 14-0 lead, scoring points for 3-and-out stops and a forced fumble recovered by Paul McKeiver in the early going.

But kicker Dillon Bredsen made good on a 30-yard field goal attempt, including a second time for good measure, to make it a 14-3 score.

However, the Garnet held to a 17-3 lead at the half, and added to that with an interception by Jablonski Green at the 9-minute mark of the third quarter, for a 19-3 advantage.

Once the lead was 22-3, the White team (offense) began to see some success, even though at times it was against less-experienced bench players.

All three top Bulldog quarterbacks moved the sticks with the offense in the second half, including starter Tyrece Nick, Corey Fields and Quincy Hill.

Hill scrambled for a 55-yard touchdown on a QB keeper play with 1:05 left in the third quarter.

But linebacker B.J. Davis took an interception for a 48-yard touchdown on an untimed down to end the third quarter and put the Garnet up 22-16.

Nick and the offense replied with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Smalls, making it 31-24 with less than 8 minutes remaining.

To set up the game-tying score, Fields tucked the ball and ran it into scoring position. From there, with 17 seconds left to play, Nick found tight end Deprince Haynes over the middle for his only reception of the contest, a touchdown.

Needing to score the 2-point conversion to deadlock the game on the final series, the play call went to one of the newest Bulldogs. Nick took the snap, looked to the left corner of the end zone and dropped in a pass to 6-foot-4, 200-pound wide receiver Camryn Johnson (Calhoun County).

Two of the quarterbacks led White team in rushing, with Hill going for 80 yards on 9 carries and Nick going for 75 yards on 11 carries. Tailback Travon Thomas went for 23 yards on 5 carries.

Nick was 6-of-16 passing for 156 yards and 3 TDs, while Hill was 3-of-12 for 50 yards, and Fields was 3-of-5 for 40 yards.

On the receiving end, Smalls caught 2 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown, Tra'Quan Dubose caught 3 passes for 36 yards, D'Marco Zeigler caught 2 passes for 47 yards; Yancey Washington caught a pass for 39 yards and a touchdown.

The Garnet was led by Bruce Johnson with 3 tackles, 3 assists, and a forced fumble; Johnell Brown with 4 tackles, 2 assist; LaSamuel Davis (Bamberg-Ehrhardt) with 5 tackles, an assist; Mikail Griffin-Coleman with 4 tackles, an assist; Shaquille Crouch with 11 solo tackles, 2 assisted tackles, a pass deflection and a tackle for a loss; and Jalen Barr with 3 tackles, 1 pass breakup.

Even though Pough had predicted the play calling would probably stay "plain vanilla" in the game with mostly running plays, establishing the run game - from the running back and quarterback positions - opened up some pass play opportunities.

"We needed to work and we needed our quarterbacks to have some sense of urgency, not just sitting back there in the rocking chair, knowing no one is going to hit you," Pough said, when asked about why full contact was chosen for the spring game, instead of scaled-down competition that some other programs have instituted. "We're a little further along and deeper at this point of the year, compared to last spring."

Pough pointed out that as many as 10 players who have had surgeries should be able to help out the 2019 Bulldogs on the field. That possibility, and the solid foundation displayed on both sides of the ball Saturday, should have SC State primed to improve on last season's 5-6 record.

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