The Valdosta Daily Times
Cayden Cochran and the Valdosta State offense shined Saturday morning during the Blazers’ first scrimmage of the fall.
Cochran completed 12 of 19 passes for 195 yards with three touchdowns. He also added 30 yards on the ground with two rushing scores.
Altogether, the starting Blazer offense was 3 for 3 in the red zone portion of Saturday’s scrimmage and managed several lengthy touchdown drives.
“I’m glad we came out here and executed,” Cochran said. “That is a test to the coaches, the wide receivers, the offensive line – the whole group. They did a good job today and we are excited. I think we did good, and obviously performed well. Without the O-line and wide receivers, it was nothing.”
Saturday’s scrimmage featured several different game situations. For the first part of the scrimmage, the starting offense rotated every series with the No. 2 offense in the red zone. The starters were 3 for 3 with three touchdowns, while the backups were 0-3, all of which were three-and-outs.
“I saw a lot of bright spots,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “Our No. 1 offense went three-for-three in the red zone, which is great. That is where we have struggled. We put a great emphasis on that — to be better in the red zone. And for us to come out, and our No. 1’s go three-for-three, that is a very big positive.”
On the first red zone possession, Cochran dropped back and found Gerald Ford wide open in the end zone on an 18-yard pass. The drive took just three plays.
On Cochran’s second drive, redshirt freshman Austin Scott found the end zone after just two plays on a 15-yard run. The starters’ next drive, Scott was in the end zone again, this time coming on an 11-yard run.
Scott, who ran with the No. 1 offense the entire day, finished the scrimmage with 10 carries for 61 yards and his two touchdowns.
“It was nice,” Scott said. “I had a year to get bigger, faster, stronger. So I made sure I grabbed the concept and it helped a lot. I worked hard as I could in practice when we had shells and full pads, and I just made a couple of runs.”
Saturday’s performance by Scott didn’t go unnoticed, either.
“(Austin) is stepping up,” Dean said. “He is looking very good. He is making some big time plays. He sees holes very well. He is everything we thought he was going to be.”
“We almost played him last year, but we decided to go with Troy Braswell,” Dean continued, “and now with Austin having that year on the scout team and a little bit of spring practice and the two weeks we’ve been here, it is a tremendous amount of strides.”
Following the red zone portion of the scrimmage, the No. 1 offense took over possession at their own 25-yard line. Cochran led a masterful drive down the field, using a 35-yard connection with Quin Roberson to move down the field. The drive was capped off with a touchdown run by Cochran.
After a few stalled series and a defensive touchdown on a Ryan Smith interception, the offense found its rhythm again. Cochran found a diving Reggie Lewis in the end zone for a 5-yard score, the first of their two touchdown connections on the day.
Cochran was able to find Lewis again in the two-minute drill, connecting on a 75-yard touchdown.
In the goal line portion of the scrimmage, Cochran again found the end zone with his feet, slicing across the goal line from four yards out.
“I thought it was outstanding,” said Dean of Cochran. “He made some big time throws and also some big time runs. We are asking him to read some things and he did that very well; checking some plays when we were asking him to check-off. Mentally and physically, I thought he had a very good day.
“Coach (Robby) Brown and I were just talking, it is the first time since 2007 that we’ve had a quarterback go every snap with the No. 1’s. So that is going to be a very big positive.”
Defensively, Dean said he was pleased with the Blazers’ short yardage presence, but said the defense has to improve on allowing the big plays.
“We have to be able to stop people on third and fourth and short, and put our offense back out there,” Dean said. “But we are still giving up big plays, like we did earlier in the week. We are not going to win football games doing that. It hurt us at times last year.”
Gerald Ford finished the day with three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Reggie Lewis finished with four catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
“We made a lot of big plays at wide receiver,” Dean said. “We caught the ball well, which is exciting to see when we get into live situations.”
Freshman running back Juwan Johnson gained 17 yards and also had a long run off a screen pass late in the scrimmage. Theseus Jackson saw limited action, as he is recovering from an ankle injury. Jackson finished the day with two carries for 10 yards.
Besides Cochran, the Blazer quarterbacks struggled. Altogether, six different quarterbacks took the field. Graham Craig ran the majority of the snaps with the No. 2 offense, along with true freshman Kaleb Nobles, junior Justin Roberts, who threw the interception to Smith, redshirt freshman Joe Little and sophomore Devon Blankenship. Quarterback Brett Whitmire did not play.
The Blazers open the regular season Sept. 1 at Saginaw Valley State (Mich.). When asked if he thought the Blazers could have played the Cardinals on Saturday, Dean said he didn’t think his team was quite ready for a game.
“No, we are not ready yet,” Dean said. “We are still making too many mistakes. We are getting closer, but we are still making some key mistakes alignment-wise. We’ve still got to increase our tempo and things. We are getting closer, but no, we are not ready to play a caliber team like Saginaw Valley yet.”
Some players thought differently.
“I think today, we performed to beat anybody,” Cochran said. “We still have a lot of things to work on. Watching the Saginaw film, they are obviously a very tough team. We are going to have to perform a little bit better to do things against them, but I think today we did all right.”