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Weber defense shows improvement

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OGDEN — While it may seem like it, not everybody was watching the final episode of "Survivor" Wednesday night.

A few hundred people (who either didn't care or remembered to set the VCR) bypassed the chance to see who would win the show's $1 million prize in order to see who would perform like a millionaire at Weber State's final preseason football scrimmage.

While there were no big winners, both the Wildcat offense and defense performed well during the cool evening run-through at Stewart Stadium. The defense appeared to make the most improvement over last week's scrimmage, in which it allowed the offense to score on nearly every possession. That improvement, however, was helped by a change in philosophy.

"Last scrimmage they had to play a lot of vanilla," coach Jerry Graybeal said of his defense. "We actually used more of the (defensive) package tonight, which evens up the playing field somewhat."

Starting at their own 35-yard line, the Wildcat offense had 10 cracks at going downfield for a score and came up empty on each series. The closest sniff the offense had of the end zone was a 12-play drive that moved the ball to the 20-yard line. But on third-and-four, linebacker Matt McFadden made a nice dive to tip the ball away from a receiver at the goal line.

"I still think the offense did a nice job of moving the ball," added Graybeal.

Starting quarterback Cole Cooper completed 8-of-14 passes for 100 yards and an interception in the five series that he directed. Johnnie Gray, last year's California JC Player of the Year, had seven carries for 33 yards to lead the running backs, while Josh Andrews had four catches for 34 yards for tops in the receiving corps.

The Wildcat offense did have its shining moment during the team's red-zone drills. Starting from 20 yards out, the offense found the end zone on four of its five possessions. Cooper was a perfect 6-for-6 passing for 70 yards and four touchdowns, two of those going to tight end Ryan Prince.

The success was a comfort to Graybeal, whose team had worse results in the red zone last year than Darva Conger's marriage to Rick Rockwell.

"(The offense) made plays, and that's the thing in the red zone," said Graybeal. "It is a point of emphasis, and last year it was evident that we struggled in the red zone. We want to get points all the time out of the red zone."

The scrimmage marked the end of the preseason drills as the Wildcats now enter their game-week routine. Weber State opens the season hosting Western State (Colo.) on Aug. 31.

NOTES: Offensive guard Russ Judd had surgery Tuesday to repair torn cartilage in his hip. The surgery went better than expected. Originally thought to be out 4-6 weeks, Judd, who had started in all 33 games of his Weber career, should be back within 2-4 weeks . . . Receiver Jon Jefferson, who finished the season strong last year, sat out Wednesday's scrimmage, having yet to become academically eligible. Graybeal still hopes Jefferson will be available for next Thursday's game . . . Receiver Damon Greenberry, who sat out last Saturday's scrimmage because he was ineligible, made the grade and a couple of catches in Wednesday's scrimmage . . . Kicker Mike Minnoch, who made 13-of-17 field goal attempts last season, missed his two attempts (41 and 45 yards) Wednesday.

E-MAIL: cliff@desnews.com