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    'Cats Conclude Spring Season With Spirited Exhibition

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Tyris Jones carried the ball eight times Saturday afternoon.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Tyris Jones carried the ball eight times Saturday afternoon.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    April 14, 2012

    Box Score -- Spring Exhibition Get Acrobat Reader | Postgame Coach/Player Quotes Get Acrobat Reader | Photo Gallery

    WATCH: Game Highlights on Wildcats All Access!
    BTN Spring Game Interviews: QB K. Colter | Former S B. Peters | Former LB N. Roach | Athletic Director J. Phillips

    NUsports.com special contributor Skip Myslenski reports on the happenings of Saturday's spring football exhibition at Ryan Field. It was the final practice of the season, which gave several hints about the Fall, but most importantly left the Wildcats healthy and more experienced.

    THE FACTOID: The scoreboard said that, under the funky scoring system created by Pat Fitzgerald, the 'Cat defense escaped with a 47-43 win over the offense in their annual spring exhibition. The naked-eye test said that the defense's dominance was even greater than that Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field. "We've actually created a mentality the last couple weeks. We've really come together and really dominated the offense," Tyler Scott, the defensive end, would later say, and then he smiled broadly. "That's saying a lot. But I personally like to say that. Give them a little tough time."

    "I don't know. I don't know," quarterback Kain Colter said when asked about Scott's comment. "They got us a couple days, we got them a couple days. The defensive line is definitely playing well, certainly the best I've ever seen them. They're getting after us, but we responded a couple of times. They might have gotten the best of us today. But at the end of the day, we're all one team and we're ready to beat up on somebody else."

    THE BACKGROUND: The defense, as any sentient `Cat fan knows, was hardly a dominant unit last fall, and was roundly blamed for any number of their team's defeats. Those criticisms did not go unnoticed, that has been admitted by many on that unit this spring, and this reality was raised once again on Saturday by Fitzgerald himself. "I think that side of the ball, I think I said this earlier in the spring, was very grateful for the negative comments about them. They've used that as fuel," is what he said here.

    "As they said at the start of the spring, we deserve it. We didn't play very well last year at times. What are you going to do about it? How are you going to respond. That's something we value here and they've taken that external motivation a little bit to really band together. I like our chemistry right now on defense. Arnie (defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt) and Tyler Scott, on the field, are doing as good a job as anybody we've had in our program leading from the D line."

    Just how are they doing that, we asked Fitzgerald.

    "Number one, they're leading by example. They're doing everything possible that they can possibly do. Extra film study. Extra time in the weight room. Working and teaching the young guys. `Hey. When (defensive line) Coach (Marty) Long says apples, this is what apples means.' A peer-to-peer perspective. They're getting the guys together and creating a culture where doing that extra work has become the norm. Then when they're on the practice field, they're having fun. When we've had fun and cut it loose, we've been pretty good up front. And we weren't very good a year ago with creating pressure, and that puts a lot of pressure on our secondary. With that being said, the guys know what they need to do and work on."

    A NAME TO REMEMBER: Fitzgerald has not only lauded Scott's leadership skills this spring. He has also, on more than one occasion, heralded him as a budding star, a sentiment the defensive end buttressed with his performance on Saturday. Then later that afternoon, when asked about him, Colter would say, "He's a guy, when I drop back, sometimes I have my eye on Tyler Scott. It's just something that happens. He's such a monster on the D line. He's quick, he's fast, he's strong. So you have to kind of always worry about that. It's tough on a quarterback when you've got an aggressive pass rusher like that."

    Those valentines from both his head coach and his quarterback drew us to Scott, who said this when asked about the leadership roles taken on by him and Arnfelt. "I think it's been more than me and Arnie. But we just wanted to unify the defense. That's something we saw as a problem last year. Not everybody was together. It was like position groups, and you could see that. This year we're trying to bring everybody together, and to create that one mentality, that we're all in it together, and whatever we can do best is going to help the entire team."

    What did he like best about the defense's performance on Saturday?

    "Just the passion. People getting on each other's hats and having a good time and every time we go out there, it's togetherness. It's awesome."

    Why was that passion missing last year?

    "I really don't know. But I really think because of last year and not seeing that, it made us cognitive of that and we made that a main focus this spring."

    And all those negative comments tossed their way last year, did they take them personally?

    "We definitely have. It's just a mindset we've had since spring ball started. Well, ever since winter workout started. It's just something we want to get back to, that mentality of just getting it done and not leave it on the offense to win games. . . We took what everyone said last year personally and we really want to become one of the better Big Ten defenses."

    What about Fitzgerald tapping him as a budding star?

    There was an aw-shucks grin and then, not unexpectedly, "I'm just trying to get better day-to-day, help the team the best I can."

    Well, we now tell him, his defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz recently said he has this spring exceeded his best play of last season. Does he agree?

    "I think I get better when I get in a rhythm. I saw that last year. When that injury came along (and sidelined him for a pair of games near midseason), I got away from being confident and I was behind Kevin Watt, who was a great player. Being that guy, the starter, is something that's really helped me. And being a leader, being made to think I'm a leader, has really helped me this spring."

    QUICKLY NOTED: On the first play of the scrimmage, redshirt freshman defensive end Deonte Gibson announced himself by sacking Colter for a five-yard loss. He picked up another sack later on, was continuously a presence on the field with his speed off the edge, and so stamped himself as another name to remember. "He's really been stellar the entire spring ball and he's really going to come on this fall," Scott said of him. "He's got to learn little technical stuff. But once he does, he'll be a special player.". . . Both Colter and Scott were asked which of the many defensive backs competing for playing time impressed them the most. Both said redshirt freshman corner Nick VanHoose. "He flies around. Very confident. Triggers to the ball," said Scott. Said Colter: "We've known he's a super-athletic kid and I feel, the more experience he gets, he'll be great. He's going to make some big-time plays this year.". . . One big play on Saturday was made by defensive tackle Chance Carter, who picked off an attempted screen thrown by Zack Oliver and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown. Another was made by wide receiver Cameron Dickerson, who went up and over VanHoose to collect an offering from Trevor Siemian and then carried it in for a 40-yard score. . . Colter failed to lead a touchdown drive while guiding the first unit. But later, when asked how he has improved this spring, he said, "I feel the game's slowed down a little bit with experience. I feel last year I got a little antsy in the pocket and when some of my reads weren't there, I wanted to scramble to run. Something I've been working on is sitting in the pocket a little bit more. Sometimes that's going to equal a sack. But sit in the pocket a little bit more and when I do scramble, scramble to pass first. There's some big plays out there to be made." And what will he be working on between now and the fall? "I'm going to work my hardest to prove that I can make some plays with my arm. I feel there's no route out there, nothing I can't throw."

    AND FINALLY, Fitzgerald: "We came out injury free. That was the priority."