HILLSDALE – The Hillsdale College football team saw its share of ups and downs during its annual spring game on Thursday.
The defense performed well, the offense struggled and the atmosphere surrounding the game was better than expected.
DEFENSE LOOKS AHEAD OF SCHEDULE.
Chargers defensive assistant John Lindley was loud and in charge on Thursday night. He barked orders and the defense had no trouble responding to him.
On several different series, the defense stopped the offense on third down, held the offense around midfield and came up strong when it was in the red zone.
“Typically, defenses are a little bit ahead of offenses as you go (in spring practices),” Hillsdale coach Keith Otterbein said. “We try to make sure we eliminate big plays, and I think we only had the one.
“They did a nice job of swarming to the ball and keeping the ball inside and in front. I think they did a nice job of pressuring the quarterback. They did that primarily with four-man rushes. We weren’t doing a whole bunch of blitz or man coverage.”
The defense was also in control during the overtime portion of the scrimmage. It didn’t allow the offense to convert a single first down and held the special teams unit to tough-to-make field goal attempts.
“The defense is flying around and playing with a lot of passion and emotion,” Otterbein said. “The better they play, the better we’re going to be.”
OFFENSE NEEDS WORK.
The offense struggled to move the ball at times and plenty of correctable mistakes were made.
On several downs, a ball carrier fumbled the ball, a wide receiver dropped a sure-handed catch or the offense had a miscommunication.
“We’ve got to take care of the football,” Otterbein said. “There’s no question we’ve got to finish drives. They’re all learning experiences for every one of those kids, and our ability to get better as a football team is collectively that we have to get better.
“I’m not downplaying the importance of those mistakes, but those mistakes tend to happen with those younger guys. You have to get them involved in order to get them cleaned up.”
Otterbein noted that most of those mistakes were made because the speed of the game is much different than what the underclassmen are used to playing.
“For now, with a lot of these guys, stuff is happening really fast,” he said. “The more we can get them out there in a game situation, the more we get to slow the game down for them.”
Some of the team’s play was ugly. There’s no way around it. The Chargers’ were led by underclassmen and the lack of experience showed.
“We’ve got 90 guys out here, and everyone who was healthy played,” Otterbein said. “You’ve got some guys that won’t normally be out there in the fall and maybe they had their last snap in the fall of their senior year of high school. There’s a little bit of nerves going on.”
On the other hand, each side of the ball played aggressive. Every player was live-for-tackle and regardless of the errors made by the younger players, the pads popped loudly on each down.
“I’m really happy that our guys got after it a little bit.” Otterbein said. “We obviously will meet with them individually as groups and try to clean them things up as we always do to get better as a football team.”
The biggest surprise of the spring game was the attendance. Better yet, it was who was in attendance that was surprising.
With some of the team’s 2014 signees hailing from Wisconsin, Ohio and even Texas, the fans in attendance got a kick out of meeting the new players during halftime of the game.
“It was a very nice turn out, and we’re very excited to have so many of our incoming freshmen here with their families,” Otterbein said. “It was a good crowd, and I think people always get excited in anticipating that football is only a couple of months away now. It’s about 150 days for us before we tee it up and play our first game. People are excited, and I’m really happy with the turnout.”
PLANS FOR THE SUMMER.
After graduation, the team will adjourn for summer vacation. Players will vacate from the school and head back to their hometowns.
The Chargers will not train as a team throughout the summer. However, Otterbein expects his players to train individually away from the team.
“Hillsdale’s unique in that our team goes home for the summer,” he said. “Most programs, top to bottom from Division I, Division II and Division III, keep their kids up in the summer.
“Because it’s so hard academically here, they have to replenish and regroup and get home and have a chance to take a deep breath to get ready for a very rigorous fall academically and athletically.”
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