CHARLESTON, S.C. – Two touchdowns and a dominant effort at the point of attack propelled Charleston Southern's defense in Saturday morning's final scrimmage of spring practice at Buccaneer Field. Scoop and scores by Anthony Ellis and Edward King highlighted play as the Blue Swarm pitched a shutout, outside of two field goals in red zone drills.
Ellis and King reached the end zone early in the two-hour session, allowing the defense to set the tone once again. Josh Bell had an interception and several pass breakups to headline a strong performance by the Bucs' secondary. Ramel Hambrick-Crawford and Eishaun Funnye made a host of plays in the middle, anchoring another monster showing from CSU's deep defensive line.
CSU's defense has enjoyed the upper hand in past spring practices also, and head coach Mark Tucker believes the stern test will serve the offense well going forward.
"I won't go as far as saying (they were) dominant up front defensively, but pretty close," Tucker said. "We know we're really good. We need to match them up front offensively and match them across the board. We allowed them to play with great confidence today. We allowed them to create momentum and made some bad decisions. We've got an awful lot of things to clean up but we'll be fine. All we've gotta do is match the guys in blue and we'll be fine."
Quarterbacks Shane Bucenell, London Johnson and Robert Mitchell split most of the repetitions behind center. Jack Chambers, who grayshirted in 2016, also saw time. The speedy Geoffrey Wall ripped off one of the longer runs of the day, while Ellijah Henry and Noah Shuler added solid scampers. CSU's offense struggled to move the ball for large portions of the scrimmage. Tucker and his staff are trusting in the process and looking forward to observing how the unit will respond as the Bucs wrap up spring practice this week.
"We're putting a little bit more on our quarterbacks to see if they can handle it," Tucker said. "So far, if you want to equate it to the college curriculum, we're at about sophomore level. They're handling it very well. Relative to FCS, we're really good up front so it's a challenge. If we can respond well and it builds what I personally and we as a staff want it to build – competition on both sides of the ball – then we're gonna be just fine. We've got three days left. It's time to compete."
The defense's outing was even more impressive considering Ellis and star linebacker Zane Cruz saw limited reps. King was around the football often, in addition to his fumble return touchdown. Noah Oliver and Johnny Robinson joined in on the fun along the active defensive front. Defensive coordinator Zane Vance was energized by the progress the unit showed from the first scrimmage. He has been particularly pleased with the secondary, a group seeking to replace three four-year starters.
"I thought we were physical, I thought we flew around well and I thought we were much more emotional than we were last Saturday," Vance said. "We fed off each other, took the ball away, scored twice on defense and the kids fed off of that."
"I'll have to see the film but I have to tell you what I'm not accustomed to seeing is our guys in deep coverage are locking dudes up," Vance continued. "They may make a play because they get scholarships too but we're not cutting people wide open. Our db's are locking up on folks."
CSU will return to practice in shells on Monday, before holding its final full-contact practice Tuesday. The program will take part in a blood drive with the American Red Cross on Wednesday. Thursday will be the Bucs' 15th and final practice of spring.