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Annual scrimmage presents early look of 2018 season

The annual Red & White Game gives the Cougars a chance to apply practice drills to in-game scenarios so they can be more prepared for when the games actually matter in the fall. | Richard Fletcher Jr./The Cougar

A second year head coach. A controversial new coordinator. A star on the rise and an NFL Draft pick in the waiting. All of these storylines and more will be featured in the football team’s annual Red & White Game.

On Saturday, the Cougars will make their return to TDECU Stadium to face each other in scrimmages as head coach Major Applewhite searches for which players he can trust to perform come the 2018 season.

He said the best thing players can get out of the spring game is exposure.

“Just trying to wrinkle our brain, whatever may pop up (in game), at least we’ve talked about it,” Applewhite said. “With these guys to go through two minute situations, red zone situations, taking the air out of the ball at the end of the game, explaining to them why we’re doing what we’re doing, it just gives you a better opportunity, puts the odds in your favor to go execute when it comes about.”

Sophomore defensive tackle Ed Oliver has almost nothing left to prove at the spring game. The All-American who has torn up offenses since he stepped foot on campus announced in March that he plans to declare for the NFL Draft after his junior season. Many publications are predicting that Oliver will go in the draft’s first round.

Throughout 2018, Oliver will continue to tear up offenses as he looks to increase his draft stock. The spring game will be a window into that season.

“Just going to go hard every play like I always have been,” Oliver said when asked about his goals for this season. “I kick it up a notch every year, so I’m turning up the heat a little more this year.”

Another headline from the offseason: Kendal Briles is the team’s new offensive coordinator. While Briles brings controversy due to his connection to the Baylor lawsuit, he has a reputation for running high-scoring offenses, something the Cougars lacked last season.

The spring game will be the first test for sophomore quarterback D’Eriq King in the new system. The quarterback-turned-wide receiver-turned-quarterback earned the starting nod for the final six games of the season and looks to be the man under center for the entire year.

King showed last season that he has the stature, strength and agility to be the next Greg Ward Jr.  However, he will be without the team’s top two receivers, Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar, due to their graduation. The spring game will be a chance to see how King looks in Briles’ system and to see who from the pool of receivers will emerge as King’s number one target.

“Just want to go out there and execute our plays, play clean, no turnovers and move the ball,” King said about the spring game.

Overall, the spring game is not about whether the Red or the White team wins. It is all about whether the players look game ready and, if they don’t, where they need to improve come summer and fall practices.

Applewhite’s first year was, without question, a rebuilding year. Now it is all about whether he can get the Cougars back to contending for a conference championship. If he does not, then he will undoubtedly be in the hot seat.

The Red & White Game is free to attend and will start 3:30 p.m. Saturday at TDECU Stadium.

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