With spring games, there are a few different philosophies that head coach have concerning this event. One philosophy some coaches have is that they don't allow any tackling because they are afraid to lose any players to injury. Then you have some that want to go half-speed and others that like to have a full-speed scrimmage.
I always felt that when we got to Scott Field, I wanted to make sure it was always full speed. And you actually get less injuries going full speed than going half-speed. When it is full speed, the intensity is up there and your players anticipate full speed and I always felt that gave you less of a chance of getting someone hurt.
Now, in saying that, I would always stand behind the huddle and I will tell the officials to call the game like a normal game. But the big difference was that I would be the one to blow the whistle if needed. If I felt the play should be whistled dead sooner to protect the quarterback or other players, I wanted to be the one to protect them instead of the officials. And if you had seven officials out there trying to protect players, then you would get calls at different levels and do more harm than good. So I always went with my whistle to make sure a played was stopped when it should be stopped.
Their are a few goals you want for your spring game. One goal is to make sure you stay healthy and that is the primary goal. It doesn't do you any good to lose a player when you are going against yourself. The second thing is you want to pre-plan the game and go through everything with your coaches and players. You map out what you are trying to accomplish. In saying that, you want to make sure you go through all the different phases of the game. You want to work on the two-minute offense right before the half or before the game is over with. You also want to make sure you work on short-yardage and goal-line situations. So you script the game to put your team in those certain situations and then you do the same thing with the kicking game.
Going back to protecting your players, we already know what Vick Ballard and Chris Relf and others can do. So you make sure they get their reps and put your top playmakers out there to benefit the fans, too. But you also get the opportunity to play younger kids and give them the opportunity to make plays. One thing you caution yourself with is to make sure you don't let the game go too long. You must have a good feel of when the scrimmage is over with, mentally, and then you stop it. When your players are no longer mentally into the game, that is when you have a better chance of getting somebody hurt.
You also want to make sure you go over every phase for another reason. With the new rules by the NCAA regarding spring practice, the spring game counts as one of your actual days that you can practice. So this is your last scrimmage and you want to make sure you have a lot to go by on the spring game film. You want to see how the young kids compete and how your veterans are doing.
Some schools have different scoring systems, too, in the spring game. Some schools just split the scoring with offense-defense and give certain points for touchdowns or sacks or interceptions. But I never felt that scoring system gave the fans their just due. The fans have spent money to travel to see you play so you want to make sure you give them something back. One of the goals is to make it exciting for the fans. If you have a great player or great kicker or great defender, you want to showcase those kids. You want your fans to have a chance to see them make plays.
Now, it is a fine line in showcasing those kids and keeping them out there too long. But coaches know when it is long enough and when their playmakers are not as mentally into the spring game.
For the most part, spring games are pretty vanilla. Of course, in saying that, the defense usually has the upper hand and if you start blitzing and doing those things, it really doesn't help you. What helps you more is to play your base defense and you say to your defense 'here is what we're gonna do and we're gonna play base defense. If we can't stop them in that defense then we can't stop them doing junk or blitzes'.
It is the same with the offense. If you don't have enough base plays to hang your hat on to run against any defensive set, then you're in trouble anyway. But of course, you also at times want to spruce some things up on offense like a reverse pass or a double reverse. You do that to excite the fans there and there is nothing wrong with that.
Personally, I am anxious and look forward to being back on campus and seeing this game. The most important thing I will be watching is to see if we have replaced some great players from last year like Derek Sherrod or Chris White or K.J. Wright. I want to see if we have gotten better at receiver. Also with the change in defensive coordinators, are they going to do the same things or will they be changing schemes? Also, what kind of new punter do we have and how is the kicking game?
Overall, I am looking to see if they are better than last year or as good as last year. You want to see if those 2010 seniors have been replaced and if Chris Relf has gotten better and if the young defensive linemen have continued to improve.
Of course, the spring game doesn't end the entire spring session for the Bulldogs. Dan Mullen will have one more practice next week and it will be closed. When I coached at Mississippi State, sometimes we also did that and would have an extra practice after spring game. Sometimes we did that in case we had bad weather one day earlier in the spring.