Nebraska 51, Washington 38
Even though the Washington and Nebraska contest was not a big game on the national football landscape, it had plenty of 2012 NFL Draft ramifications. There are a few potential first-round picks in the game, and a number of players that will get drafted in the early rounds. One of the potential first-rounders, Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, missed the game with a quad injury. He has missed all three of the Cornhuskers games this season and that has his draft stock sliding.
The best draft matchups came when the Huskies had the football. Washington running back Chris Polk entered the game as a second day pick. In 2010 in two games against Nebraska, Polk had 55 yards in the first contest and rebounded to run for 177 yards in the rematch. Polk had a good game against Nebraska this Saturday with 130 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. He also caught two passes for 16 yards in the game. Polk ran well between the tackles.
Polk (5-11, 222) is an extremely patient runner that has good balance and vision. Washington's offensive line is not anything special, so Polk earns the yards he gets. There were a number of carries where he dodged defenders in the backfield to get positive yards. He looks like a solid second-day pick.
Washington wide receiver Jermaine Kearse started out the game by taking advantage of Dennard's absence. He beat backup cornerback Andrew Green for a 38-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. Green tried to jam Kearse at the line of scrimmage, but he shed the corner and broke wide open running downfield.
Later in the first half, Kearse (6-2, 208) showed good awareness when a play broke down. Quarterback Keith Price was scrambling, and Kearse ran to his quarterback and an opening in the end zone. Price fired a short touchdown pass to Kearse.
Other than those plays, Kearse caught three other passes. In the game, he caught five passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns. The senior Kearse looks like a potential mid-round pick.
Washington defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu is the top nose tackle in the 2012 draft. He showed why against Nebraska, consistently eating up double teams and bulldozing the center. Ta'amu had only three tackles in the game, but he is a good run stuffer and bull rusher.
The 6-foot-3, 337-pounder is a natural fit as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense in the NFL. He looks like a first-round pick in the second half of the first round.
Huskies junior cornerback Desmond Trufant had a good game. He was strong in pass coverage and did not allow his receivers to get open. Trufant had one big splash play on special teams when he recovered a muffed punt. He almost caused another turnover when he came on a blitz. He tipped a pass from Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, and the ball was almost intercepted.
Trufant (6-0, 184) has quality size and is physical. He looks quick and natural running with receivers downfield. He may be better served returning for his senior season. The 2012 NFL Draft looks loaded at the cornerback position and Trufant would probably get pushed outside the first round if he declares early. If Trufant returns, he would be one of the top senior cornerbacks in the nation, and a strong candidate to be a first-rounder in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Nebraska defensive tackles Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler are both future NFL players. In Nebraska's 4-3 defense, they play a two-gap system that requires them to hold up their blockers at the line of scrimmage. They are responsible to plug the A-gap and B-gap to keep blockers from getting to the linebackers. This defense should give Crick and Steinkuhler good preparation to play the same two-gap technique in the NFL, or be nose tackles in a Tampa 2 defense, or play the five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. The latter really looks like a very good fit for either of them.
The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Crick would probably be best as a 3-4 defensive end. Playing the five technique would translate well from his playing a two-gap system in college. Both techniques require the defenders to hold up at the line of scrimmage and free up linebackers from blockers. Crick's draft stock looks solid in the second half of the first round.
Crick had an impressive game against Washington. In the first half, he showed some good run defense at the line of scrimmage. One one play, he showed perfect technique in holding his ground at the line of scrimmage. When Polk approached the line, Crick shed his block and bear hugged the running back to stop him for a minimal gain.
Crick also showed some pass rushing moves. He pressured Price on a number of plays. Crick is good at slapping linemen's hands off of him and shoving them aside to get a lane to the quarterback. He also has good closing speed. On one screen pass, his blocker let Crick go to set up the screen. He closed so fast on Price that they weren't able to execute the screen because Price had to throw the ball away in order to avoid a sack from Crick.
In the second quarter, Crick registered a sack. He had a very good interior rush where he pressured Price, and forced the quarterback to run up in the pocket. Crick showed impressive athleticism to stop and turn around. He closed on Price from behind in an instant, and laid a massive hit on the quarterback for his first sack of the season. He had a near sack in the third quarter but was held by the guard. Crick still came close to getting Price and forced a throw that was almost intercepted. For the game, Crick had six tackles with a sack, and a number of pressures on the quarterback. The game will serve as good tape for him.
Steinkuhler started the game strong, but faded. Early in the game, he had some good pass pressures and forced some throws earlier than they were intended to be thrown. Steinkuhler had some good plays in run defense, but there were other plays where he was blocked well to open up holes for Polk. When Polk ran well up the middle, he was going at Steinkuhler and not Crick.
Like Crick, Steinkuhler looks like a better fit as a five technique in the NFL. In the game he recorded two tackles. The junior Steinkuhler (6-6, 290) is a second or third-round pick, and it might be better for him to return to school for the 2012 season and improve before entering the NFL.
Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David had a very impressive play early in the game. On a pass play, he was responsible for covering the tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins on a corner post route slanting across the field. David initially allowed a step of separation, but he showed his excellent speed by recovering and catching up to the tight end. David was running stride for stride with Jenkins in the route. Price threw the ball a little bit short and David cut in front of the ball to record the interception. It was a fabulous play in pass coverage, which will really impress scouts and NFL linebacker coaches. Covering that kind of route is a big desire in the NFL, and was a phenomenal display of David's pass coverage abilities.
David (6-1, 225) was solid although unspectacular in defending Polk. He definitely has the speed to be a perimeter run defender, and although he is undersized, he holds up pretty well in the box. He recorded eight tackles in the game. David is very good in pass coverage playing man and zone. He looks like a solid second-round pick.
North Carolina 28, Virginia 17
Some excellent defensive prospects were on display in the game between Virginia and North Carolina. The Tar Heels defense has a number of pro prospects, but the Virginia offense had a pretty good game against them and definitely left a lot of points on the field.
The No. 1 player and the No. 1-rated defensive player in the nation is North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples. He started the game by almost notching his third sack of the season, but quarterback Michael Rocco spun out of his arms and got away briefly before being tackled by a group of defenders.
There is no doubt that Coples will face a steady stream of double teams, as he did against Virginia and last week against Rutgers. On one play where he was single blocked coming from left end, he shed his block and got a hit on Rocco just after the pass went out.
North Carolina's run defense got gashed, but the 6-foot-6, 285-pound Coples had frequent plays where he was stout in run defense. He played better run defense than his total of three tackles indicates.
In the fourth quarter Coples was flagged for a late hit, and that got him taken out of the game. He had another hit coming from left end in the fourth quarter. While Coples did not record a sack, he had a pretty good game applying pressure to the quarterback. Coples� status as the top defensive linemen in the draft class remains unchanged.
Defensive tackle Tydreke Powell had four tackles in run defense and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. Powell (6-3, 310) plugged a few runs and had a mixed outing. There were some plays where he needed to have a bigger impact against the run.
Defensive end Donte Paige-Moss was quiet for the vast majority of the game. He rotated into the game behind starting ends Coples and sophomore Kareem Martin. For about three quarters the most noticeable play with Paige-Moss came when he wasn't even in the game. A North Carolina defender planted a Virginia running back along the sideline and Paige-Moss could be seen jumping up and down right next to the pile.
After Coples was removed from the game for a possession due to his penalty, Paige-Moss (6-4, 260) recorded his one assisted tackle in run defense. He also got some pressure on the quarterback in a pass rush where he rushed from the defensive tackle position. The junior Paige-Moss is sliding down in draft rankings due to his lack of production. Right now, he needs to earn more playing time and then produce in order to restore his draft stock.
Tar Heels linebacker Zach Brown had a productive game. He was credited with 12 tackles and a forced fumble. Brown made a couple of physical tackles in the hole and the majority of his stops came after the outside linebacker used his elite speed to chase down ball carriers.
On his forced fumble, Brown missed the tackle on running back Clifton Richardson. He had Richardson around the legs but the running back broke free. Brown jumped up and chased Richardson down a few yards away. As he was tackling Richardson from behind, with some other teammates hitting him as well, the ball came out. Virginia recovered the fumble. The forced fumble was credited to Brown, but it could have been a teammate that really forced the ball out of Richardson's hands.
Brown showed his pursuit skills again later when he broke into the backfield chasing Rocco. The quarterback tossed a screen pass and Brown turned around and flew downfield to get in on a tackle. It was an impressive play that showed off Brown's phenomenal speed.
Brown (6-2, 230) had one bad play where he couldn't get off a block from an offensive linemen and a 33-yard run ensued.
It was interesting that North Carolina only blitzed Brown on a few plays against Virginia. A week ago against Rutgers, Brown had 1.5 sacks and multiple pressures on blitzes. For Brown's draft status, it can be a good thing because he showed off the ability to be a good pass defender. He played zone coverage well. He picked up targets to cover on passing routes, and did a very good job of breaking off his man to get in on tackles on other receivers. There will be plenty of 4-3 defensive coaches that will like this tape of Brown in pass coverage.
Against Virginia, the senior Brown kept his stock rising and now looks like he should be selected in the top 25 picks next April.
The top prospect on the Cavaliers is cornerback Chase Minnifield. He is a fringe first or second-round pick. Minnifield had solid coverage throughout the game against North Carolina. He was called for a holding penalty and had four tackles in the game.
On one play in the first half, Minnifield had good coverage but was beaten by a better throw from quarterback Bryn Renner to wide receiver Jheranie Boyd. Minnifield was running stride for stride with Boyd across the field in the end zone, but Renner's throw was on the money and went over the back of Minnifield's head for the score.
Other than allowing that play Minnifield did a good job in coverage against Boyd and wide receiver Dwight Jones.
Jones, the one 2012 draft prospect on the offensive side of the ball, had a quality game. Solid coverage from Minnifield could have limited the number of passes thrown in Jones� direction, but the Tar Heels also ran the ball a lot against Virginia. Jones had a quiet first half. He did have a nice 15-yard catch and short slant pass with both getting a first down for the Tar Heels. On the first possession of the second half, he made a fabulous fade catch for a 17-yard touchdown catch. Jones beat freshman cornerback Demetrius Nicholson for the score.
Jones did not have a massive game, but contributed a solid performance. He caught five passes for 85 yards and one score. Late in the game, Jones (6-4, 225) made a very nice catch despite being grabbed by a defender. He looks like a solid second-rounder.
Stanford 37, Arizona 10
The PAC-12 matchup between Stanford and Arizona featured two future NFL quarterbacks, and a few other offensive prospects that should get drafted highly.
The highest ranked among those prospects was the No. 1 player in the country�Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. The Stanford standout played a strong game, and racked up a lot of points in the second half to lead his team to a resounding victory.
Luck did a lot on his own, as wide receiver Chris Owusu left the game for a time with an injury and tight end Coby Fleener permanently left the game with an injury in the first half.
After leading Stanford down field early in the game, Luck rolled out and threw a near interception to Arizona cornerback Trevin Wade on the goal line on third-and-goal. The receiver was covered and Luck forced the pass. He would have been better off extending the play by running further to the flat. He had more time as there weren't defenders around him. If Luck had extended the play, he may have been able to get a receiver to break free, run the ball himself, or throw it away. The play was initially ruled an interception, but was properly overturned upon review and Stanford kicked a field goal. It was one of the few mistakes that Luck had all game.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound signal caller had a few drives stall early in the game, but in the second half Luck got hot on third down and torched the Arizona defense. Third down is the most important down in football, and Luck showed why he is an elite prospect with the way he converted on many third downs in the second half. Luck rolled out and threw a 16-yard touchdown strike to tight end Zack Ertz, who was running across the end zone, to cap a drive in the third quarter.
Luck followed that with a 34-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field to Levine Toilolo. Luck finished the game completing 20-of-31 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 36 yards on three carries.
Luck was very efficient with his passes. He was throwing the ball precisely and putting passes in places where his receiver or nobody else would make a catch. Aside from his top-notch accuracy, Luck's field vision is off the charts. Like veteran NFL quarterbacks, Luck looks safeties off to open up receivers. He scans the field well and is very fast at making his progressions. Luck is a man among boys at the college level.
Not helping Luck was his No. 1 receiver, Owusu, not playing well against Arizona. He was banged up, but Owusu struggled against the Arizona corners and wasn't getting separation. Owusu (6-2, 199) was having a hard time beating a secondary that was torched a week earlier by Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Owusu recorded two receptions for 45 yards. Blackmon had 12 receptions for 128 yards and two scores against the Wildcats. That is why Blackmon is rated as a first-rounder and Owusu is a third-rounder.
Stanford features two excellent offensive linemen in guard David DeCastro and left tackle Jonathan Martin. Entering this game DeCastro looked like a late first-round pick, and Martin looked like a top 10-pick.
Martin was dominant against Arizona as a blocker. He kept defenders away from his quarterback and showed serious power in the ground game. The 6-foot-6, 304-pound Martin carries his weight extremely well, and that helps him to be extremely athletic. He did a very good job of hitting blocks. The negative side to Martin's game at Arizona was being flagged for a block in the back and a false start on the same drive. Those penalties forced the Cardinal to settle for a field goal on a promising drive.
Overall though, Martin had no issues with Arizona's defenders. He protected his quarterback well and did a very good job in run blocking. Martin gave NFL scouts another good tape that shows that he is a special player.
Martin and DeCastro helped blast a hole open for a 47-yard run in the second quarter. Martin sealed his side and DeCastro pulled from right guard to block a linebacker behind Martin. That was the norm for DeCastro. He was a punishing run blocker against Arizona. DeCastro (6-5, 310) was constantly knocking defenders to the ground. He was assignment sound in pass protection, and unstoppable as a run blocker. DeCastro pulls extremely well and is adept at hitting his block rather than just getting in the way of defenders.
He looks like a late first-round pick and should be able to start immediately in the NFL. It wouldn't be surprising if DeCastro becomes a Pro Bowl guard in the NFL.
Defensively, Stanford got a good game from linebacker Chase Thomas. Even though Thomas (6-4, 239) did not have as big a stat line as in previous weeks, he got a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Thomas finished the game with three tackles and .5 tackles for a loss, plus was close to getting a few sacks. Thomas is tied for eighth in the nation with 3.5 sacks this season and looks like a second-day pick.
Along with Thomas, Stanford features another standout linebacker in Shayne Skov. The 6-foot-3, 243-pound Skov made a big tackle for a loss in the first quarter. He came from inside linebacker to fly through a hole in the line and get to the running back in the backfield. Midway through the second quarter Skov went down with a bad knee injury. He had a teammate and Arizona wide receiver Juron Criner crash into his knee on a tackle downfield. Skov was carted off the field and his status for the rest of 2011 is uncertain.
Skov has a team leading 19 tackles with five tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. He was rated as a second-round pick, but his injury puts that into question.
Without Skov in the game, Arizona quarterback Nick Foles had an easier defense to go against. Foles started out the game extremely well, completing his first 17 passes and moving the ball. He was throwing the ball accurately downfield and making good decisions.
Foles and Criner hooked up for a few big catches on a second quarter scoring drive. They finished the drive by connecting on a six-yard touchdown pass. Criner ran a good slant to seal off the defender, and Foles threw an accurate pass to hit him for six.
Towards the end of the second quarter, Foles fell out of rhythm and never regained it in the second half. After starting 17-for-17, he finished the game a further 7-of-16. Foles fumbled the ball while running just before halftime. In the first half, he moved the ball but a lot of drives broke down because of some mistakes and Stanford's defense stepping up with some key plays to prevent scores.
In the second half, Stanford's offense controlled the game. Foles took a bad sack in the fourth quarter even though he had plenty of time to get rid of the ball. He finished the game 24-of-33 for 239 yards and one score. Foles (6-5, 245) has the arm and accuracy to be a starter in the NFL. He needs a lot of work on his field vision as he stares down his primary option on the majority of dropbacks. That tendency is huge reason why he is a second-rounder right now.
Criner is also viewed as a second-rounder. He recorded six receptions for 48 yards against Stanford. In the first game of the season, he had six receptions for 151 yards with one touchdown. He missed the next game due to an appendectomy, but returned to the field only 12 days after the surgery.
Late in the game, Criner caught a screen pass and as he was tackled, rolled over some players to land on his feet. He then ran down the field for an 80-yard touchdown. Upon review Criner was ruled down, but that was questionable and the play easily could have stayed a score.
Arizona cornerback Tevin Wade, a mid-rounder, had a very good game against Owusu. Wade (5-11, 192) had five tackles with three passes broken up.
Miami 24, Ohio State 6
Ohio State Buckeyes center Mike Brewster entered the game as the top center in the nation. He was rated as a first-round pick, and against Miami, the senior center showed why he grades out so highly. From the very start of the game, Brewster was a dominant blocker.
He routinely turned and pushed his defender to open up running lanes. Brewster gave little ground in pass protection as he fought with tackles and prevented them from gaining penetration into the backfield.
At times, he was taking on a highly regarded defensive tackle in Miami's Marcus Forston, but Brewster was effective going against him. Brewster (6-5, 293) worked extremely well with his guards. He would double defenders, and break off to get another block once the defender was neutralized.
Brewster was beaten by his blocker only once, on play in the third quarter on which he was trying to get involved in a tackle on run defense. Otherwise, Brewster was assignment sound for the Buckeyes.
Miami�s Forston was fairly quiet, but did an all right job in run defense. It his first game of the season, and the junior he was held in check.
Another Hurricane returning from suspension was linebacker Sean Spence. He played a good game and was all over the field for Miami.
Miami senior quarterback Jacory Harris was suspended the first game of the season, and in his first game back Harris showed the same kind of mixed play that has been the norm in his college career. He threw two nice touchdown passes and two bad interceptions. Harris (6-4, 195) throws a quality deep ball, but his decision making is a major weakness.
Harris had a fumble in the third quarter on a third down run. He finished the game 16-of-23 for 123 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Harris is at best a late rounder.
Redshirt sophomore running back Lamar Miller had a big night for the Hurricanes. He started the game with a 50-yard run, and kept ripping through the Buckeyes' defense. At halftime, Miller had 128 yards rushing on 15 carries. Miller (5-11, 212) has fabulous speed and the burst to break off long yardage on interior and perimeter runs.
Miller and running back Mike James split carries, but Miller carried the Miami offense to the win over Ohio State. He totaled 26 carries for 184 yards (7.1 average). Miller is very talented and could have a breakout season this year.
Oklahoma 23, Florida State 13
Sooners quarterback Landry Jones is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. He started the game by leading a long drive that culminated with him diving into the end zone from one yard out. Jones showed the strong arm and ability to drop back, read the field and deliver the ball accurately. On a few passes he connected with his top receiver, senior Ryan Broyles.
When Florida State was able to get more pressure on Jones his decision making and accuracy broke down. At one point, he was hit while trying to throw a ball away and Seminoles linebacker Nigel Bradham made a fabulous diving interception.
At halftime, Jones had completed 9-of-14 passes for 108 yards and one interception with one touchdown rushing. The Seminole cornerback tandem of Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes did a good job on Broyles in the first half. He had four receptions for 24 yards at halftime. Sophomore wide receiver Kenny Stills gave them more trouble with four catches for 67 yards including a 38-yarder.
Jones seemed to get impatient in the third quarter. He threw a bomb into double coverage and Seminoles safety Lamarcus Joyner ran under the ball for Jones' second interception of the game. Jones and Oklahoma struggled on third down, and the team was not the scoring juggernaut that it normally is.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, Jones started to get into a groove. After a big third down pass to Broyles, Jones hooked up with Stills for a 37-yard touchdown pass by throwing an accurate bomb into the end zone with Stills beating Reid for the ball.
It wasn't a pretty performance, but Jones got the job done and led his team to a tough road victory against one of the top defenses in the NFL. He was 18-of-27 for 199 yards with one touchdown passing, one rushing, and two interceptions. Jones did not help his draft stock against Florida State, but it probably wasn't hurt too much either.
Broyles was held in check with seven receptions for 55 yards. This game could hurt Broyles' stock as he did not perform as well against better competition.
Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis played his first game of the season after suffering a foot injury that knocked him out of practice and the first game of the season. He was fairly quiet against Florida State, but started to come alive in the second half with a big hit on quarterback E.J. Manuel that injured the quarterback.
Oklahoma moved Ronnell Lewis to defensive end from outside linebacker, where he was held in check overall by right tackle Zerbie Sanders. However, Lewis did record a big tackle for a loss in the third quarter. Right now, he seems to be thinking rather than playing naturally at left defensive end. Lewis (6-2, 244) should probably be moved back to linebacker in the NFL, and this position change could cause him to need more development at the pro level.
Seminoles left tackle Andrew Datko played well against Oklahoma, especially in pass protection. At 6-6, 321 pounds he has very quick feet, does a good job of dropping back quickly to keep ends from turning the corner. He has good strength and did a quality job as a run blocker. The senior Datko entered the game as a late first or early second-round pick.
Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander beat Datko for a sack early in the fourth quarter. It has been a rare occurrence for him to ever give up a sack. Alexander shed Datko's block at the line of scrimmage and cut to the inside to get to backup quarterback Clint Trickett.
The senior Alexander (6-4, 255) had seven sacks last season with 13 tackles for a loss and 39 tackles. It was his second sack of the season. Alexander had one sack, one interception, and six tackles in Oklahoma's first game of the season.
Bradham (6-3, 240) had a very good game overall for Florida State. He blitzed well, was stout defending the run in the box, and stayed around the football. The senior looks like a solid second-day pick. He was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was completely unnecessary in the third quarter. It took Oklahoma out of a bad third-down situation and into first-and-10 close to midfield.
Bradham came back to have a good tackle for a loss in pass defense a couple of plays later. He showed good instincts and attacked the ball well, as evidenced by his diving interception. Bradham looks like a solid second-day pick.
Seminoles junior quarterback E.J. Manuel (6-5, 245) flashed some plays of brilliance mixed in with some bad decisions and inaccurate passes. In the first half, Manuel helped move the ball some but did not produce points. He had completed 8-of-14 for 60 yards and two interceptions by half time. Manuel's first interception came on a screen pass that was tipped and caught by Sooners linebacker Tom Wart. Late in the first half, Manuel had a bad overthrow for an interception that was returned 69 yards by Javon Harris to the Florida State three-yard line. Fortunately for Manuel, it led to only a field goal. He left the game injured in the third quarter.
For the game, Manuel was 13-of-19 for 85 yards with two interceptions.
One of the highest rated players in the game was Seminoles defensive end Brandon Jenkins. He entered the game with eight tackles, three tackles for a loss and one sack in the first two games of the season. That came after a 13 sack season in 2010.
Jenkins (6-3, 265) was kept very quiet by the Sooners offensive line on Saturday night. In the third quarter, he had a very good play to read a screen and tackle the running back as soon as the reception was made. He followed that up with another good stick in run defense, but otherwise Jenkins was held in check by the Sooners.
There were a few other notables from the game. Oklahoma center Ben Habern had a very good game for the Sooners. Florida State junior cornerback Greg Reid (5-8, 186) got picked on at times as he doesn't have the size to match up with NFL wide receivers. Sophomore cornerback Xavier Rhodes (6-2, 215) is physical and has a fabulous skill set. He needs to gain more experience, but looks like a potential first-rounder in 2013 or 2014. Seminoles sophomore defensive end Bjorn Werner (6-4, 273) had a dominant performance. While his big time-strength is impossible to ignore, he has a fabulous get off and looks like he could be a big-time player for Florida State and future draft prospect.
Florida 33, Tennessee 23
The rivalry game between Tennessee and Florida featured a lot of 2013 and 2014 NFL Draft prospects. Among that group for the Gators are: defensive tackle Dominique Easley, defensive end Sharrif Floyd, defensive end Ron Powell, linebacker Julani Jenkins, and safety Matt Elam. All of those players had some standout plays against Tennessee.
The Volunteers have a few exciting young underclassmen on offense including quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. They have been very productive early in the season and look like they could all be top draft prospects in 2013 or 2014. Hunter left the game with a knee injury, which was a massive blow to the Tennessee offense.
For the 2012 NFL Draft, the star of the game was Gators running back/wide receiver Chris Rainey. He moved the ball well for Florida to set up points in the first half on some runs and screen passes.
Later, he put the Gators in a prime scoring opportunity with a blocked punt, the fifth of his career. The speedy Rainey waited a second after the ball was snapped to see a hole in the line open up. He raced through it and blocked the ball that just came off the foot of the punter.
In the third quarter with the Gators up 23-7, Rainey broke the game open with an 83-yard touchdown catch. On the play, senior quarterback John Brantley was pressured, and he threw a dump-off pass to Rainey just a couple yards past the line of scrimmage. Rainey raced through the Volunteers' secondary, juked a safety, and ran untouched for a score. His home run speed cannot be questioned.
Even in the NFL, Rainey should be a real weapon as a third-down back, wide receiver, and special teams player. He does a good job returning punts and fields the ball well. The size issue (5-9, 178) definitely is something Rainey will have to overcome with NFL decision-makers, but right now his stock is rising quickly.
Late in the fourth quarter, he had a physical 24-yard run up the middle of the Tennessee defense. For the game, Rainey notched 108 yards rushing on 21 carries (5.1 average) and two passes caught for 104 yards receiving with one score. He also had three punts returned for 21 yards and his blocked punt. It was a massive game for him to show NFL evaluators that he should be moved up draft boards.
Senior running back Jeff Demps ran for 48 yards on 10 carries and caught four passes for 37 yards. He had some good runs, and did a good job on a screen pass to move the ball for Florida. Demps is trying to stay as a late-rounder to overcome size (5-7, 191) and injury red flags.
Brantley had a solid game. He distributed the ball well, but his wide receivers did not do a good job of getting open for him, leaving his best options as Rainey and Demps. For the game, Brantley was 14-of-23 for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He has a good arm and looks like a late-round pick.
Tennessee senior running back Tauren Poole was completely shut down by the Gators front seven. The Florida defensive front seven played a very good game and did let Tennessee get anything going on the ground. Poole ran for 18 yards on nine carries.
Notre Dame 31, Michigan State 13
Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd had been unstoppable to start the season. He totaled 25 receptions for 313 yards and two touchdowns in games against USF and Michigan. The Spartans had a game plan to limit Floyd, and they did a quality job of containing the Irish's standout receiver.
Floyd did come up with a 33-yard catch to help contribute to a touchdown drive. He also did a good job as a blocker, including a seal block to spring the front corner of the end zone for a touchdown run by running back Cierre Wood. Floyd finished the game with six receptions for 84 yards.
Linebacker Manti Te'o and safety Harrison Smith both had good games in defending the Michigan State ground game. Te'o played a lot of zone coverage and made a lot of good reads in his pass defense.
Te'o frequently makes very good reads and closes on ball carriers, but he also has the propensity to miss some tackles. Wherever he lands in the NFL, Te'o is going to need to be coached up on the fundamentals of tackling at the pro level, where he is going to see bigger and faster competition.
The senior Smith was all over the field. He broke up a number of passes and made some clutch tackles downfield. Smith had a rough start to the season, especially against Michigan, so a good game against Michigan State was needed to help keep his draft stock in the middle to late rounds.
Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy had a decent game against Notre Dame. He got some penetration on run and pass plays. Worthy was close to a sack in the first quarter, but his quality push didn't go to waste, as he was in position to recover a fumble by quarterback Tommy Rees.
One thing that Worthy (6-3, 310) is going to need to do is improve his conditioning. He leaves the game frequently, some of which is by design in personnel groupings, but is on the sideline for some key snaps. Worthy is rated as a first-rounder, but needs more splash plays and production in order to go at the top of the draft. Entering the game against Notre Dame, he had recorded three tackles with one sack and one blocked kick in two games.
Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins entered the game generally regarded as the fourth-rated quarterback in next year's draft class. He is smart game-manager who has a good arm and is an accurate passer.
Cousins had a difficult game with Notre Dame, as the Irish defense played well. They took away Michigan State's bread-and-butter running game, so the Spartans did not have a balanced attack. The Spartans ran for only 29 yards on 23 carries.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Cousins was under steady pressure as well, and never really got into a groove. Early in the game, he was sacked from his blind side and fumbled the ball away. Cousins pushed the ball downfield, but the Notre Dame secondary outplayed the Spartans' receivers. Wide receiver B.J. Cunningham was the only reliable target. Cunningham is a mid-round receiver who had 12 receptions for 158 yards.
He and Cousins connected on a 25-yard pass downfield on which Cunningham made a miraculous catch along the sidelines. Other than that play, the Spartans did not get many passes downfield. For the game, Cousins completed 34-of-53 passes for 329 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He does a good job of scanning the field and making his progressions, plus has field vision that is more advanced than many other quarterbacks in this draft class.
However, late in the fourth quarter the game got worse for Cousins. Wide receiver Keshawn Martin stopped his route short, but it was still a bad decision to throw into double coverage short of the goal line with time being an issue. Cousins forced the ball into coverage and it was grabbed by cornerback Robert Blanton and returned 82 yards. Cousins should stay as a second-day pick despite the rough game.
Running back Edwin Baker ran for only 26 yards on 10 carries, so his draft stock as a mid-rounder could be hurt by his performance against Notre Dame.
Iowa 31, Pittsburgh 27
One of the good draft matchups of the weekend featured Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff against Pittsburgh defensive end Brandon Lindsey. Entering the game, Reiff was viewed as a top 15 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, while Lindsey was viewed as a second-rounder. In looking at the Hawkeyes� schedule, Lindsey was one of the best pass rushers who Reiff is scheduled to see this season.
Lindsey (6-2, 250) has started the 2011 season well putting up 10 tackles and two sacks in the first two games of the season. Last year, he had 51 tackles with 10 sacks, 18 tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles.
To start the game, Lindsey made a nice tackle in run defense from the left defensive end position. He shed a block from the right tackle and jetted into the hole to make the tackle. When Lindsey would move to right defensive end, Reiff got the better of Lindsey. Typically on pass rushes Lindsey would get some push upfield, but Reiff would recover to mirror Lindsey on a speed rush, or stand him up straight on a bull rush. There was one play where he did have a good rush against Reiff for some pressure on the quarterback, but Reiff kept Lindsey from hitting his quarterback.
Reiff was clearly effective in blocking Lindsey in the ground game. He rode Lindsey around the field on a few plays. On one play, he pushed Lindsey about eight yards downfield and knocked him to the ground, diving on top of Lindsey to finish the block.
Lindsey had a near sack after he beat the right tackle to get to the quarterback. He shoved the right tackle off balance and cut to the inside. A running back got a piece of Lindsey and stumbled forward. The senior Lindsey then dove at the feet of Hawkeyes quarterback James Vandenberg, but the signal caller was able to back up and avoid a sack.Lindsey did much better at left end when he didn't go up against Reiff.
In the third quarter, Reiff was beaten for a sack by defensive end Aaron Donald. He basically juked Reiff by starting to the outside and then cut into an open gap towards the interior. It looked like Reiff may have been caught up in a miscommunication, thinking he had guard assistance. A few plays later Lindsey got a good bull rush against Reiff, but Vandenburg was already sacked. That play was Lindsey's best rush against Reiff all game.
As Iowa mounted a fourth quarter comeback, Reiff had superb blocking and Lindsey could not come up with a big rush when needed. Reiff kept Vandenburg untouched as the quarterback threw for 399 yards and the Hawkeyes scored 21 fourth quarter points to steal a win away from the Panthers.
It wasn't good to see Reiff allow that one sack, but his draft stock shouldn't be hurt from the game against Pittsburgh. The way he contained Lindsey should help Reiff with good tape against a quality pass rusher. Lindsey should stay as a second-day pick after his performance against the Hawkeyes.
Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater entered the game with a third-round projection. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Prater picked off a pass and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown in the first game of the season. In the early going against Pittsburgh, Prater was beat for a touchdown on a tough play. It was a quarterback option and Prater was the only defender on the edge to defend a possible run. He stayed at home and took away the run from the quarterback, but his receiver broke downfield and was wide open. It was an easy toss for a score, but Prater did not get any help from his teammates as the safeties were late coming over.
The rest of the game was pretty quiet for Prater and he had solid coverage with some contributions in run defense. The Pittsburgh game shouldn't impact his stock much.
Junior cornerback Micah Hyde had a very good game for Iowa. He had nice coverage throughout the game, coming away with two impressive interceptions. The last one came late in the fourth quarter and was a game clincher for the Hawkeyes. He leapt in front of his wide receiver and came down with a big interception to end any chance of the Panthers making a comeback. Hyde (6-1, 185) has a good skill set as a zone and man corner. It would be somewhat surprising if he declared for the 2012 draft.
Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt started out the game extremely well. McNutt had a fabulous one-handed catch on a crossing route for a first down catch. He followed that with a 43-yard reception when wide open on a deep cross. He turned upfield along the sideline but was tackled in open field. An elite receiver has the speed and athleticism to break it back to the middle of the field and make that defender miss. It was the kind of play that Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or Notre Dame wide out Michael Floyd would have had for a bigger gain.
Still McNutt (6-4, 215) was the Hawkeyes� best weapon on offense. He had five receptions for 74 yards, but Iowa needed to get the ball to him more than they did. McNutt also needs to work on getting off a jam. He takes too long to disengage from the corner, throwing the timing off of plays, which does not let McNutt get as much separation as needed. He finished the game with eight receptions for 112 yards. McNutt looks to be a fourth or fifth-round pick.
Clemson 38, Auburn 24
A defensive line tandem to watch on Saturday was Clemson defensive end Andre Branch and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson. Many evaluators are high on Thompson and rate him as an early-round pick. Branch is considered to be a second-day pick.
Thompson entered the game with eight tackles, one tackle for a loss, one forced fumble and zero sacks. Last year, Thompson had 40 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss and one sack. Branch entered the game with 16 tackles and one tackle for a loss with zero sacks. He had 54 tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss, and five sacks in 2010.
The 6-foot-2, 310-pound Thompson was relatively quiet in the first half. He did a decent job of plugging up some running lanes, but was not getting pressure on the quarterback. Thompson's most notable play was him jumping offsides, blasting the center onto his back. Auburn ran a lot of stretch running plays and Thompson does not have the speed to run to the perimeter like some elite defensive tackles.
Early in the game Branch was active and having an impact. He made a nice tackle in run defense although he was left unblocked. Branch drew a holding call on a nice pass rush where he got around the corner, dropped his hips and ripped up with an inside run to move past the tackle. The Auburn tackle grabbed him and took Branch to the ground to avoid letting him sack the quarterback. His agility to sink his hips like that was very impressive. In the NFL, defensive linemen run around big hoops in practice to work on sinking their hips in the manner that Branch did on that play.
Branch may have had a sack depending on how the scorers judge one play. Clemson had great coverage and Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter scrambled. Branch tackled him at the line of scrimmage with a loss of zero yards. There were other long pass plays and seven-step drops taken by Trotter where Branch and Thompson got zero pass rush and Trotter had all day to throw.
Late in the second quarter Branch got a big hit on Trotter when he came on a delayed blitz. It was in the two-minute offense and Branch had lined up as a linebacker in a 3-3-5 defensive set. Thompson also had a good rush and got a big hit on Trotter in the fourth quarter for a near sack.
Overall, Branch and Thompson had active games and played relatively well, but neither player provided a dominant performance. They both look like second-day prospects.
Clemson running back Andre Ellington entered the game as a middle or late-rounder. Entering the game, Ellington beat up on two easy opponents with 254 yards rushing (6.4 average) and one touchdown in the first two games, so playing a faster and better defense was to provide a more accurate gauge of Ellington's draft stock.
Ellington showed why he does not have a high draft grade. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder is a speed back, but his speed was not a mismatch against Auburn's defense. He had 33 yards on 10 carries with a two-yard touchdown run at halftime. Ellington does not have any power or strength to break tackles. He went down at first contact on almost every play, even from defensive backs. In the second half Ellington didn't get going. Against Auburn, he ran for 46 yards on 14 carries with one touchdown. He returned one kick for 16 yards.
The star 2012 draft prospect in this game was Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen. He was very tough on Auburn. During the second quarter, Allen had a nice leaping catch on an out route for 18 yards. He finished the drive with a leaping catch in the back of the end zone for a score. Allen ran to the back of the end zone and turned to run for the corner, but the pass was high and he had to sky to snatch the ball out of the air.
Late in the second quarter, Allen ran a flat route that he turned upfield into a wheel route against man coverage. The reception set Clemson up at the two-yard line for the game-tying touchdown. At halftime, Allen had four receptions for 52 yards and one touchdown. In the second half, he made some more big receptions including a leaping catch to beat double coverage for a good gain of close to 10 yards. He finished the game with 80 yards on seven receptions.
Allen (6-4, 255) has ideal size with underrated speed and shows good route running to get separation. Even when he is covered, his size and leaping ability allow him to seal off defenders and make big catches. Allen had some good blocks in run support as well. He has the size and strength to get to linebackers in the second level and push them around the field.
LSU 19, Mississippi State 6
Even though this game featured one of the top programs in the SEC, LSU, and an up-and-coming program, Mississippi State, there was not a whole lot of pro talent in this game for the 2012 NFL Draft.
The top offensive prospect in the game was Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard. Last week Ballard had a big game against Auburn. He ran for 136 yards on 21 carries with one touchdown. For the season, Ballard entered the game third in the nation in rushing with 302 yards on 17 carries (9.7 average) with four touchdowns. Ballard is hard-nosed physical running back. He has a good burst to the hole and has the potential to break some long runs. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Ballard is put together well. In 2010, he ran for 968 yards with 20 total touchdowns.
LSU has a tough run defense, so Ballard was in store for a hard test against the Tigers. Ballard had some tough runs, but the Mississippi State offensive line struggled to open holes for him the entire game. However, Ballard did produce a couple of good runs by staying patient and showing good vision. He also had a few receptions that got a new set of downs for the Bulldogs.
Overall though, the LSU defense overwhelmed the Mississippi State offensive line, and did its job to prevent Ballard from getting loose. Ballard totaled just 38 yards on 10 carries. He caught three receptions for 32 yards.
Ballard's draft stock was pushing up into the middle rounds, and this rough game shouldn't hurt his draft stock as it was his blocking that was completely outplayed.
The player in this game who is extremely likely to be the highest pick on either team is LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. For a lot of the game, Claiborne was quiet, but that was a good thing as he had superb coverage. Claiborne can turn and run with receivers, not allowing separation. He can be a little too hands on, and gets away with some stiff arms as receivers make their breaks. Claiborne is smart about it, so that helps him get away with the contact.
Claiborne made a remarkable interception in the third quarter. It was a spectacular catch. The Mississippi State receiver ran a deep post, but Claiborne used his cushion well and stayed between his receiver and the end zone. Bulldogs quarterback Chris Relf overthrew the pass and Claiborne skied high in the air and ripped the ball down. It was his first interception of the season and highlight-reel caliber. Claiborne showed fantastic ball skills on the play.
With about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Claiborne caught another interception. Quarterback Tyler Russell was under heavy pressure and threw a ball up for grabs. Claiborne showed good awareness as he located the path of the ball and broke off his receiver to get under the loose ball. Claiborne was tackled quickly, but it was a very good play by the junior cornerback.
Claiborne also had about a 40-yard kick return that was called back because of a holding penalty. The 6-foot, 188-pound Claiborne showed why he will be moving up draft boards. Entering the game against Mississippi State, Claiborne was considered to be a top-50 pick. If he can continue to dominate like he did against the Bulldogs, he will push his stock into the first round.
LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle had a very good night against Mississippi State. One of his first catches was a 31-yarder on a deep cross in second quarter. Randle worked the short to intermediate part of the field well. He did a good job of moving the chains on a few receptions. In the third quarter, Randle made a nice 24-yard catch to get the Tigers out of the shadow of their own end zone.
Randle had one badly dropped pass, but he made up for it with the game's only touchdown. Randle beat his defensive back with a double move on a corner post route for a 19-yard score in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with seven receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown.
The 6-foot-4, 207-pound Randle entered the game as a late-rounder, and this game will help solidify Randle with a draftable grade. He gets hurt by LSU going with a run-oriented offense.
Two lesser prospects had quality games. LSU right tackle Alex Hurst did a good job in run blocking and pass blocking for the Tigers. Bulldogs defensive tackle Fletcher Cox had a quality game as a run defender in the middle of the Mississippi State defense. Both Cox and Hurst are third day of the draft prospects.