Tulsa run game is strong but QB battle continues

Larry Lewis, ITS Senior Writer
Inside Tulsa Sports
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ITS/Miles Lacy

In the battle that every Tulsa football fan wants to know about, the quarterback battle between Chad President and Luke Skipper to replace record-setting Dane Evans, nothing was resolved.

However, from a passing standpoint, Skipper clearly had the better day.

Skipper completed 16 of 24 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns without an interception on a sunny but very windy day at H.A Chapman Stadium in the annual TU Spring Game on Saturday.

In what is clearly a two-person battle between President and Skipper for the starting job, President, by contrast, completed 12 of 20 passes for only 64 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

While Skipper’s passes were mostly tight spirals with zip, even into the wind, President’ passes were a mixed bag, with some impressive passes mixed in with the occasional flutter ball that would wobble and sail over the intended target.

“I don‘t know that I‘m going to judge their ball into this wind,” said TU coach Philip Montgomery of playing in the extremely windy conditions Saturday. “The flip side of it is, it’s Oklahoma. We‘re going to have wind like this on Saturday or Friday nights.

“We’re going to have to be able to do the things we want to do in this. I just think that’s a confidence deal. The more reps you get with this wind, the better you’ll better with it.”

President, a 6-foot-2 and 226-pound redshirt sophomore, admitted throwing in the wind was tough.

“Sometimes it doesn’t come out of your hand good, sometimes the wind takes it, but it just goes back to the little things, having your feet right, having the right grip on the ball, having your arm up, and following through though with your throw, and putting it in spots where your receiver can catch it,” President said.

Both Skipper and President got approximately equal snaps, with third-string quarterback Will Hefley getting very little playing time until the end of the scrimmage.

With no tackling allowed, and President’s biggest strength being his running ability, it would be hard to fully judge each player. While Skipper passed the ball better, both players moved the team equally well, with each player leading the offense to three touchdowns.

The highlight pass of the day came in the second half of the scrimmage with Skipper moving to his left on a collapsing pocket to his right. His off-balance downfield pass was zipped in and snared by a leaping Bishop Louie, who caught the pass over leaping defenders and scampered the rest of the way for the touchdown.

The play was simply a perfectly executed throw and catch on a very windy day that capped off Skipper’s performance.

Another memorable play earlier in the scrimmage by Skipper featured a threaded pass to Avery Gragg, who made a nice catch and run for a 28-yard gain. The play led to a 49-yard field goal by Redford Jones, which resulted in the only points the second-string offense scored against the first team defense.

The first team offense and defense never faced each other during the scrimmage, with both President and Skipper switching off quarterbacking the first and second teams.

President started the game and led Tulsa on a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the first series that was capped by a 2-yard scoring run by Corey Taylor.

Skipper, a 6-foot-2 and 208-pound redshirt freshman, showed good mobility and awareness, and also showed he was willing to air mail the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack - something he did on more than one occasion.

The windy conditions didn’t seem to faze Skipper.

“It was a little bit difficult, but you’ve just got to spin it, and it will work,” Skipper said. “I think we both did well, to be honest. It was hard, like I said, with the wind.”

Montgomery was impressed with both quarterbacks, saying he will sleep better knowing that they have progressed.

“Overall, I was pleased with what they did this spring,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t think we pushed it enough, tempo wise, with either one of them today. But those are areas, being young, they were just trying to get their feet wet a little bit today. Playing in front of a crowd is a little different.

“We’re not going to name a starter until we get into fall camp, and it will probably be several weeks into fall camp. We’ll see how those guys continue to keep battling with each other. I think the competition has been really good, I think they are stepping up. They’re learning a lot. Until we get them under the lights you are never going to know.”

One thing Montgomery does know is that his running game will probably be strong, with returning running back D’Angelo Brewer coming off a monster year. The 5-9, 198-pound senior rushed for 1,425 yards, which was the fourth best in school history. He had 62 yards on 13 carries in the scrimmage.

Replacing James Flanders, however, who set the single season rushing mark with 1,629 yards on Tulsa’s 10-3 team, will not be easy. Thankfully for Tulsa, there are no shortage of candidates willing to pick up the slack.

It was nice to see the return of Ramadi Warren, who missed last season due to academic reasons. As a redshirt freshman, Warren had 475 yards and a healthy 6.7 yards per carry. Warren finished the scrimmage with 69 yards on 11 carries, including an impressive 13-yard touchdown.

Sophomore Corey Taylor led all rushers with 75 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, while sophomore Javon Thomas had 74 yards on 12 carries, including a 23-yard touchdown run. Senior Rowdy Simon had 41 yards on 11 carries, and walk-on Matt Harvey had 18 yards on nine carries.

The runners had the benefit of running behind a very experienced offensive line that returns four of five starters. They include senior left tackle Evan Plagg, junior left guard Tyler Bowling, junior center Chandler Miller and junior right tackle Willie Wright. The new starter at right guard is senior Zac Uhles, who got considerable playing time last year filling in at different spots on the line.

At receiver, with 1000-yard mainstays Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson departed, two returning starters appear to be certain in junior Justin Hobbs and sophomore Keenen Johnson, both who were impressive last season.

Hobbs caught three passes for 38 yards in the Spring Game, including a 16-yard touchdown pass on Skipper’s first series with the first-team. Johnson caught four passes for 26 yards.

Senior Brodrick Umblance got the starting nod as the third receiver, catching two passes for seven yards. When Tulsa went to four receivers, senior Nigel Carter was the fourth receiver. He caught two passes for nine yards. Starting at tight end was junior Chris Minter, who did not have a catch.

Playing on the second team, senior Bishop Louie had 78 yards on four catches. His total would have led all receivers in yards, but a very late 80-yard touchdown pass from Hefley to sophomore walk-on David Snelling, who was wide open, drew lots of high fives for Snelling from his excited teammates. His only catch made him the leader in receiving yards.

There was no punting or kickoffs during the game, and three kickers shared in kicking the extra points. Jones made the only field goal attempt and handled most of the extra points, but junior walk-on Nathan Jones and sophomore walk-on Drew Klinghagen from Holland Hall each kicked an extra point.

Sam Gottsch returned in his role as holder on kicks, and sophomore walk-on Forrest Harrell did a decent job as the snapper on kicks.

“Overall, I was pleased. I thought our effort was good and we got out healthy,” Montgomery said of the scrimmage.

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