This had to go down as one of the worst games of defense in the history of football at just about any level. Because the defenses were so inept, it makes it harder to put any stock in the performance of the offensive standouts in the game. Nevertheless, there were numerous pro prospects in this game.
The biggest star of college football this season, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, likely was playing in his final collegiate contest in this Bowl. In the first half, he moved the ball well, but the Washington defense was playing to prevent any big plays down the field. The junior has burned defenses all year long with long touchdown passes, but the Huskies were selling out to stop that.
Griffin tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kendall Wright for the first score of the evening. To give the Bears a comfortable lead, Griffin took off on a fabulous run where he broke a few tackles in the backfield to sprint to the outside. He then jetted downfield and banged across the goal line for Baylor�s third touchdown of the first quarter on a highlight-reel run. In the first half, Griffin was efficient. He completed 18-of-24 passes for 192 yards.
The second half saw Washington maintain its soft deep zones, and that helped the Bears� offensive line to produce a big rushing game for their running backs. Griffin finally connected for a deep pass to Wright in the fourth quarter. On a go-route, Griffin dropped a ball into Wright for a gain of 48 yards.
In the final two quarter,s Griffin only attempted nine passes completing six for 103 yards. He ended the night with 55 yards rushing on 18 carries. Overall, Griffin had another good game and looks like a top-10 pick if he doesn't returns for his senior season.
Wright totaled 91 yards and his score on seven catches. In the third, He beat standout cornerback Desmond Trufant on a go route and was running free down the field, but Griffin surprisingly overthrew his top receiver. Right now, Wright looks like an early pick on the second day of the draft
The two big offensive stars for Baylor in this game were senior running back Terrance Ganaway and senior center Philip Blake. They each had dominant performances for the Bears and ran through Huskies defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu. In the third quarter, Ganaway ran untouched up the middle of the field for an 89-yard touchdown run. The big bruising back showed his foot speed by pulling away from the defense.
Less than a minute later, Ganaway banged his way into the end zone with a one-yard score. In the fourth quarter, he scored on a four-yard run for his fourth touchdown of the night. With just over three minutes remaining, Ganaway sealed the victory when he ran up the middle untouched for his fifth score of the game.
Ganaway put together 200 yards on 21 carries with five touchdowns. The 6-foot, 240-pounder is a powerful downhill runner with some burst to rip off yards in chunks. He looks like a sleeper prospect and could get consideration in the third round and shouldn't fall out of the fourth next April.
Blake's stock gets a positive bump from this postseason exhibition for the way that he blocked Ta'amu. Baylor was able to move Ta'amu out of the way and had a massive night on the ground. Blake was the point person and was solid in pass protection. Ta'amu will probably be downgraded from this contest and could be a late second-round or early third-round pick. Blake is a mid-rounder, and if he performs well leading up to the draft, the senior center could make the case to be a third-round pick.
Washington junior running back Chris Polk had a big rushing total against a terrible defense. Late in the first half, he took off on a big 56-yard touchdown run on a draw play. Polk then ran up the middle of the field and cut around a defender to break a long touchdown run. At halftime, he ran for 107 yards.
In the third quarter, the Huskies were set up to score again when Polk fumbled the ball away around the Bears� 10-yard line. Baylor recovered the loose ball and on the first play of the drive, Ganaway ran the ball up the middle for his 89-yard touchdown. In the Alamo Bowl, Polk ran for 147 yards and a touchdown 30 carries. The Washington running back looks like a potential second-round pick if he declares for the 2012 draft.
Another senior who performed well against the Bears� horrible defense was Huskies receiver Jermaine Kearse. He caught five passes for 198 yards and a touchdown. Kearse caught an 80-yard touchdown in the first minute of the third quarter. He ran a deep route along the sideline and broke away from his defender to streak across the field for his big score.
Later in the third quarter, Kearse burned his corner on a skinny post for a 60-yard gain. It is hard to read significantly into this bowl as all year Baylor has given up big games through the air. Kearse looks like a fourth or fifth-round pick.
Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl Texas 21, California 10
There were a few mid-round prospects playing their final collegiate game in the Holiday Bowl. The top NFL talent in the game was California wide receiver Keenan Allen, but the sophomore won't be draft eligible until 2013, and could wait until 2014 if he chooses. Texas linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are candidates to go on the second day of the 2012 NFL Draft, and could slide to the third day. Longhorns defensive tackle Kheeston Randle has had a disappointing season. After starting the year as a second-day pick, he now looks like an early-round pick on Saturday.
Just like all season, Randle was quiet for most of this game. He had one tackle in run support, but was generally held in check. There were plays were Randle had a nice burst into the backfield but didn't make the play. Overall, he probably had only a couple of tackles against the Golden Bears and this final tape doesn't help his draft stock at all.
The prospect who was the most noticeable at this Bowl was Robinson. On the first drive, the senior had a good tackle for a loss where he darted around the line and blasted the back in the backfield. Later on, Robinson blew up a screen for a loss when he diagnosed the play well and ran down the target. Just before halftime, Robinson was called for pass interference in coverage on Allen. The play was in zone coverage and Robinson hugged Allen to keep him from getting open.
A few plays later Robinson (6-3, 239) almost made a leaping interception, but it fell out of his hands. The next snap saw him miss a tackle on Allen that allowed the California wide out to run for first-down yardage. Robinson had a couple good tackles for a loss in the second half. Throughout the Holiday Bowl, he was all over the field. Robinson showed good instincts and play diagnosis. This season has been somewhat disappointing for him with decreased production, but he finished on a high note against the Golden Bears. His performance against California will help his cause to be a second-day pick.
While Robinson had a quality performance after a subdued season, Acho had a strong 2011 regular season campaign but did not have much of a presence against the Golden Bears. He had a quiet first half, making a couple of tackles in run support. In the third quarter, Acho flew into the backfield to make a tackle for a loss. On the next play, he contributed on a tackle for no gain. Three downs later, on a pass to the flat, Acho (6-2, 240) undercut the route and bobbled the pass before letting it fall incomplete. Aside from those plays, he did not have a real impact. Acho�s stock could fall slightly after how he played against California.
A potential third-day prospect is Golden Bears linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Last year, the 6-foot, 240-pounder showed some blitzing ability, picking up 8.5 sacks. This season, his sack total fell to three, but his tackle total soared to 105 from 65 in 2010. Against Texas, Kenricks had a nice tackle for a loss late in the first quarter. He had some good pass pressures and did a good job of making tackles around the line of scrimmage. Kendricks could be a quality sleeper prospect.
Little Caeser's Bowl Purdue 37, Western Michigan 32
In the Pizza Bowl, there were two quality pro prospects who had an interesting night. Western Michigan wide receiver Jordan White and Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short played their final games of the 2011 season. The senior White finished his collegiate career with another massive performance, while the junior Short could have played his final collegiate game.
Early in the first quarter, White burned the Boilermakers� secondary on flea flicker. He ran a deep post and blew by the cornerback and safety as they took a step up toward the line to defend against a handoff. White had the ball lofted into him for an easy score. That was just the table setter as he had a huge night with quarterback Alex Carder.
In the middle of the second quarter, White had a nice gain of 18 as he ran through layers of zone coverage to get separation. Three plays later, White took a short dig route for 22 yards with a nice run after the catch. On the first play of the second half, he beat cornerback Ricardo Allen on a post route for a gain of 20.
Later in the third, White made a circus catch. While backpedaling and falling to the ground, he reached back and cradled the ball into his body with his left hand. His phenomenal reception was gain of about 20 and set up the Broncos inside the five-yard line.
Early in the fourth quarter, White burned a corner on a double move for a 45-yard reception. A few minutes afterward, the senior had another gain of about 20 on a high pass that he leapt for and pulled down in the middle of the field. Purdue had no answer for White as he constantly got separation, even against a quality young cornerback like Allen. In the Pizza Bowl, White recorded 13 receptions for 265 yards and one touchdown.
For the season, the dynamic receiver finished with 140 receptions for 1,911 yards and 17 touchdowns. White is a fabulous route-runner with great hands and body control. He is very competitive and is a hard-worker. White is a student of the game and, in particular, studies Western Michigan product Greg Jennings. Most say that White is a mid-round prospect, but if he runs well at the combine, he could move into the second-day of the draft.
If Short declares for the 2012 draft, he would probably be a second-day pick. Short had a nice pressure in the second quarter. He bull rushed the right tackle back and tossed him aside before pressuring Carder and flushing him out of the pocket. In the third quarter, Short had a tough tackle on a running back for no gain. He had a good pass rush to get pressure on Carder, but made a dumb mistake by tossing the signal caller to the ground well after he threw the ball. That got Short a 15-yard penalty. Later on, he had a nice pass batted away at the line of scrimmage.
I didn't like the way the Boilermakers used Short. They kicked him outside to end regularly. Even worse, there were plays where Purdue ran some zone blitzes with Short dropping into coverage. It makes no sense as the big tackle is not a defender who operates well in space. Taking him out of the line is denying the team what he does best. It is one thing to vary your coverage and blitzes, but taking a defensive lineman away from what he does best doesn't help a team's pass rush and doesn't help the player develop their technique. The junior should return for his senior season. If Short plays well as a senior, he could challenge for the first round. Short looks like he would be best as a 4-3 defensive tackle and a three technique gap-shooting penetrator.
Independence Bowl Missouri 41, North Carolina 24
There was a lot of talent for the 2012 NFL Draft on display in the Independence Bowl. Between North Carolina and Missouri there were picks for all three days of next April's draft. Even though the Tar Heels lost the game, they feature more NFL prospects.
North Carolina has a potential top-10 pick in defensive end Quinton Coples. Outside linebacker Zach Brown is a candidate for the first round. Wide receiver Dwight Jones looks like an early pick on the second day of the draft, while defensive tackle Tydreke Powell looks like a third-day pick. Tigers tight end Michael Egnew is a third-day prospect.
The prospect who had the most eventful game was Jones. In the first minutes of the game, he hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass. A jump ball in the end zone was tossed up, and Jones showed excellent concentration to track the ball in around the cornerback. The senior timed his jump well and used his big frame to secure the pass away from the cornerback. It was a tough catch and an impressive play from him.
A bit later, Jones caught a wide receiver screen. He shed a tackle almost immediately after making the catch and blazed downfield to get a first down. Jones stiff-armed a tackler away before going down with a quality gain for North Carolina.
In the first half, Jones caught some other passes to move the chains, but had a bad dropped pass on a ball that hit him in the chest. It got worse for Jones later in the first half. He caught a pass downfield and, just after securing the ball, Jones was blasted by the safety.
The ball became a hot potato and was bobbled around. It actually rolled across Jones� back before a defensive back caught the loose ball for an interception. It was a fluky play, but Jones let the defensive back jar the ball loose after being set up for a defenseless hit. Not long afterward, he had another dropped pass.
Jones (6-4, 225) bounced back and caught a pass for a gain of about 10 yards on a third-and-seven. That set up a first-and-goal at the three-yard line. Later in the third quarter, Jones made a good block on a screen pass to spring his back for a good gain. During the fourth quarter, he had a good catch in garbage time to set up a touchdown.
Against Missouri, Jones totaled six receptions for 77 yards and one touchdown. The dropped passes could hurt his stock some, but he also showcased his special skill set of size and speed. Jones should test well before the draft and stay a second-day pick.
Coples flashed on some plays, and there were many other plays where the Tigers let him get upfield to get him out of his gap. His natural inclination is to blast into the backfield and Missouri was able to exploit that at times. For the NFL, Coples needs to do a better job of reading his keys from the offensive line and improving his play awareness. Early in the afternoon, he got a tackle for a loss in run defense. Coples busted through the line and swallowed the back for a loss of three or four. He followed that with a nice pressure on a rip move to get under and by the tackle.
Coples misplayed an option run in the second quarter. He was tentative and that allowed a big gain around his side. In the third quarter, Coples came close to a sack, and his pressure and hit on the quarterback forced a ball to be lofted into the air. Linebacker Zach Brown made a good adjustment to come down with an interception. Coples also made a nice tackle at the line of scrimmage. Late in the third quarter, he shed a block and made a big tackle for a loss in the backfield.
Against Missouri, Coples did not have a big stat line but he was an active defender who showed up in run defense and the pass rush. It wasn't a stellar tape, and it wasn't a bad performance either. Coples stock should remain steady as a high first-rounder.
Overall, it was a mixed outing for Brown. He had that interception which showcased his quick reactions and athleticism. However, Brown was beat by Egnew on a wheel route for a gain of 25 yards. Egnew is a slow tight end, so him beating Brown running down field is inexcusable for a player with Brown's elite speed. A short time later, Brown was late coming over in the middle of the field in zone coverage and missed a tackle on a receiver.
In the second half, the senior had a bone-rattling hit on a running back in a dump off pass. He had a good tackle for no gain in the fourth quarter. There were times that Brown was reacting a step slow, and overall, he did not look like he was playing as fast and fluid as he did during the regular season. There is no doubt that Brown is a special athlete and he flashes regularly every game, but the Independence Bowl probably won't help his stock.
Egnew entered the game with 47 receptions for 484 yards and three touchdowns. He had a decent showing blocking on the ground and contributing in the passing game. Egnew finished the game with three receptions for 39 yards. He looks like an early round pick on the third day.
Hawai'i Bowl Southern Miss 24, Nevada 17
There were a few prospects for the middle to late rounds worth watching in the Hawaii Bowl. The most well-known prospect in the game is Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis, who has rewritten the school�s record books with his name next to a guy named Favre.
While Davis had a great college career, he did not have a good showing in his final outing. Throughout the first half, Davis struggled to get his offense in rhythm. The Southern Miss Golden Eagles were unable to sustain drives, and their one offensive touchdown came on a very short field off of a fumble from the Nevada Wolf Pack. Davis was clutch and made the team pay with a short touchdown pass. He threw a bullet right over the back of the head of a defensive back for the score. In the fourth quarter, Davis threw the deciding score when he scrambled and found a receiver streaking across the end zone.
Throughout the game, Davis' accuracy was off. He overthrew a number of open receivers. Davis completed 18-of-41 passes for 165 yards with two touchdowns against Nevada. For the next level, he is going to need to improve his foot work. Davis has to get better mechanics with setting his feet and following through on his throws. The 6-foot-2, 221-pounder has decent arm strength with some mobility. He will need to be developed at the pro level. Davis looks like an early-round pick on the final day of the draft.
The star of the game was Southern Miss defensive end Cordarro Law. The senior played well throughout 2011, but capped his season with a massive performance. Law started the game with a quality tackle in run support. After staying fairly quiet in the first half, he executed a superb spin move to slash into the backfield and tackle a running back for a loss on a fourth-down carry. In the third quarter, Law had another good stick in run defense. A few plays later, he almost had a sack but forced an incompletion on third down.
Law got a sack late in the third quarter when he came on a stunt, side-stepped a guard and tracked down the quarterback. A bit later, Law tackled the quarterback on a run a yard short of the line of scrimmage. On the next play, Law came unblocked, for some unthinkable reason, and exploded onto the quarterback for a big sack. It was a timely sack that forced a field goal attempt. Against Nevada, Law recorded seven tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and a pass broken up. He finished the season with 9.5 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss. Law (6-2, 261) is a good athlete that could also be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He is a sleeper who could surprise and right now, looks like a third or fourth-round pick.
A player who broke out across the national scouting scene this year is Nevada defensive tackle Brett Roy. He was a first-team All-American who had a surprisingly massive 2011 season. Roy entered the game with 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss. Against the Golden Eagles, he was held in check with just two tackles. Roy did have a nice pass pressure that forced an incompletion on a fourth-down play. He has a motor that never quits, but could be short on size and athleticism for the NFL. Roy looks like a quality third-day pick who could be developed into a contributor as he gains size and experience.
Another third-day prospect in the game was Wolf Pack linebacker James-Michael Johnson. He played well and was active in run defense. Johnson led the Nevada defense that had a solid day against Southern Miss. In the second quarter, he had a big tackle for a loss on a reverse. Johnson exploded into the backfield to tackle the receiver before he got to the far offensive tackle. Later in the third quarter, Johnson made a good tackle after shedding a block from a guard.
The senior has a nice skill set but does not look especially physical or fast. He defends the tackle box well and makes some plays when he is decisive. In the Hawaii Bowl, Johnson totaled 13 tackles with two tackles for a loss and a sack.
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas Boise State 56, Arizona State 24
There were a lot of future draft picks on display in the Bowl matchup between Boise State and Arizona State. This was one was extremely lop-sided as the Broncos are the seventh-ranked team in the nation while the Sun Devils are unranked, having ended the season on a big losing streak.
The tone for the night was set on the opening kickoff. Boise State senior running back Doug Martin brought the opening kick out from two yards deep in the end zone. He then weaved through traffic, breaking free down the sideline to sprint into the opposite end zone with a 100-yard touchdown return.
All night, Martin ran the ball well against Arizona State. He powered his way through tackles and got good yards after contact. Martin demonstrated that he has a good burst to hit the hole along with good vision to weave his way through defenders. Late in the game, Martin churned out tough yards and powered his way down the field even when the Sun Devils knew the run was coming. He had a short touchdown run in the final minutes of the night.
The 5-foot-9, 215-pound Martin runs with nice pad level and gets behind his pads. He ran for 151 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. Martin looks like an early pick in the fourth round who could make a bigger impact than his draft slot would indicate.
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore had a prolific career for the Broncos and finished it with a mixed outing. He threw a nice 14-yard touchdown strike late in the first quarter. A bit later, Moore threw a pass slightly behind his receiver and it was deflected into the air with Arizona State intercepting it. Moore then fumbled the ball away on a dropped snap. He rarely takes the snap from under center, and his turnover illustrates that he will need to work on taking snaps for the NFL.
Moore finished his final bowl 26-of-34 for 293 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. One issue that definitely hurts him is a lack of arm strength. The 6-foot, 191-pound Moore is undersized and that, combined with his weak arm make him a third-day prospect and future backup quarterback.
The first player who is likely to get picked from the Boise State offense is left tackle Nate Potter. He had a quality game for the Broncos. Generally, Potter was strong in pass coverage. He has quick feet and gets back in his drop to mirror edge rushers. Potter is also quite agile, having the ability to recover and counter the pass-rushing moves thrown at him. He was almost beat by a speed rush for a sack in the second quarter. Moore bailed out him by stepping up to avoid the reaching defender. Other than that play, Potter was solid in pass protection.
In the ground game, the senior leaves something to be desired. He is not physical with linemen and you never see him maul a defender, even undersized players. Potter does not display any attitude or physicality in the ground game.
Entering the NFL, the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder looks like a one-dimensonal, tap-dancing pass protector. There are a lot of teams that will be happy with that, but he needs improve his strength and run blocking to be a complete player. His weakness on the ground makes him a second-day draft pick.
Another second-day pick, but a well-rounded player is Boise State defensive end/outside linebacker Shea McClellin. The senior edge rusher had a strong performance to close out his collegiate career. Early in the game, McClellin set up and got in on a tackle for loss. He stood up over the right tackle and jetted into the backfield to stuff Sun Devils running back Cameron Marshall.
Later in the first quarter, McClellin almost got a sack but quarterback Blake Osweiler was able to stumble ahead past the line of scrimmage. In the third quarter, McClellin came on a stunt and beat the guard to track down Osweiler for a 13-yard sack on a third down. McClellin looks like a great fit in a NFL 3-4 defense and could be a second-day pick that other teams regret passing on.
A teammate who caused disruption with McClellin all season is senior defensive tackle Billy Winn. He also played well versus Arizona State. Winn blew up one run to set up a tackle for a loss. In the third quarter, he got a sack after Osweiler stepped up in the pocket to avoid McClellin, but Winn tracked the signal caller down. He could fit a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense at the next level and looks like a solid second-day prospect.
One player who everybody was eager to see, but who did not get much of a look at was Arizona State junior middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. It has been a disappointing and frustrating year for him as his production is down while getting in the dog house of the coaching staff. Burfict spent a lot of the Las Vegas Bowl watching on the sideline. He was benched for most of the second half in their regular season finale against California, and the Sun Devils did not play him very much against the Broncos.
On an interception return, Burfict dished out a flattening block on a wide receiver. He did get in some tackles, but also missed a couple of tackles. On one play, Burfitct went for Martin's ankles and missed. Martin then ran for a good gain to the four-yard line.
Otherwise it was a quiet night for this potential first-rounder. Allegedly, Burfict is tired of dealing with Arizona State and is going to enter the draft. That remains to be announced, but it wouldn't be surprising. He is a physical specimen who played very well as a freshman and sophomore. Burfict still looks like a candidate for the first round, but his stock has slid down from the top half.
Other than Wilson and McClellin, the prospect who had the best game was Sun Devils wide receiver Gerell Robinson. He was dominant against the Broncos� secondary. Robinson worked the intermediate part of the field extremely well. He is very big and shields defenders from the ball. The senior shoves defensive backs around and is able to power his way through tackles.
Robinson got into the end zone with a 21-yard touchdown reception by slashing through the secondary. Not long afterward, he got open in zone coverage for a big catch. Robinson then burst down the field and fought through a safety to get extra yards. That catch went for 58 yards. For the bowl, he caught 13 passes for 241 yards and that score.
Robinson (6-4, 221) will need a good 40-yard time to help his stock, but if he runs well, his stock could soar. Right now, Robinson looks like a good sleeper prospect to go early on the third day of the draft. If he performs well leading up to the draft, he could get second-day consideration.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl TCU 31, Louisiana Tech 24
Yes, that is the actual name of this bowl game, and that name alone gives credence to Walt's bowl boycott. Still, I wanted to watch this one to get another look at two linebackers for the 2012 draft. TCU's Tank Carder and Louisiana Tech's Adrien Cole were squaring off in San Diego and playing for the final time in their collegiate careers.
Overall, Carder had a strong performance. He showed solid instincts, excellent play diagnosis and good awareness. Early in the game, Carder had a great play-recognition on a wide receiver screen. As he blasted the receiver, Carder put his helmet on the football to spring it loose. It was ruled an incompletion, but easily could have been called a fumble.
With Louisiana Tech threatening to score, Carder had two good plays of tight pass coverage in the end zone to force incompletions. He also made a nice tackle on special teams in punt coverage. The senior then blew up another screen with an excellent read and burst in to close the gap on the receiver.
Carder was solid in run support and did a quality job of getting in position to contribute to tackles. He was dependable, consistent and never caught out of position in his final college contest. Carder was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year despite a rough start to the season. As the year went on, he improved his play and closed out the year by providing scouts with some helpful tapes for his draft stock. Carder looks like he is on the bubble between the second and third day of the draft. The best fit for Carder (6-2, 237) at the pro level could be him for to add some weight and be a 3-4 inside linebacker.
While Carder enjoyed a nice outing to end the season, Cole did not have a good showing. TCU had a touchdown running directly up the middle at him. A guard got to Cole, and he couldn't get off the block as the running back went run by him to get into the end zone. That same thing occurred later. Cole really struggled to get off blocks and the TCU offensive linemen were successful at moving him around the field.
In the fourth quarter, Cole finally made a good tackle in run defense after getting off a block. He got in on some tackles, but his awareness seemed to be off. Throughout the game, Cole was reacting a step late and not getting in position soon enough to get to ball carriers. The 5-foot-11, 250-pounder was the WAC Defensive Player of the Year and entered the game with 121 tackles, but he did not standout against TCU, better competition than Louisiana Tech faced this season. Right now, Cole looks like he would go in the middle of the third day of the draft.
Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl Marshall 20, Florida International 10
There were two quality prospects in the bowl matchup between Marshall and Florida International (FIU). Defensive end Vinny Curry has been one of the most consistent pass rushers in college football over the past two seasons. In his college football finale, the Thundering Herd senior had the task of getting enough heat on the quarterback to keep the Golden Panthers from getting the ball to speedster wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. The FIU senior has been one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the country this year.
On the Golden Panthers� first offensive play from scrimmage, Hilton ran the ball on a jet sweep. He quickly burst downfield for a gain of 20, but fumbled the ball after getting whipped to the ground. Fortunately for him, a teammate recovered the loose ball. A bit later, Hilton ran a quick slant from the slot and came open. He caught the pass and ran for a gain of 15 yards to Marshall's two-yard line. On the next play, the speedy wide out ran the ball on a sweep and ran through a tackle to score the first points of the game.
After the play, Hilton went into the locker room briefly with a thigh injury, but he returned to the field to finish the game. FIU worked the ball to him on a number of short passes for small gains, but Hilton was clearly playing in pain. He made a tough diving catch on a slant and it appeared to be a first down, but the refs gave him a bad spot and marked the ball short.
Later on, Hilton caught another pass for a good gain. He ran a short dig route and ran for about 10 yards after the catch. Late in the fourth quarter with his team down by three, Hilton caught a slant and lost control of the ball after getting hit from behind. The turnover set up the Thundering Herd close to midfield, and they turned that field position into the game sealing touchdown.
Against Marshall, Hilton had eight catches for 88 yards. He also ran for 22 yards on three carries with a score, plus returned two kickoffs for 36 yards. Those two fumbles could hurt his stock some, but Hilton looks like a solid second-day pick.
Curry had a decent game for the Thundering Herd. He didn't get any sacks but was actively and consistently getting pressure on the quarterback. Curry had a big hit on the quarterback on the Golden Panthers� first pass attempt, but he was called offsides on the play. Later in the first quarter, Curry made a good read and came close to another sack, but had to settle for knocking the quarterback on his back. Late in the first half, he helped on a tackle for a loss on a third-and-short run. Curry came around the edge and tracked down the running back from behind after he had been stuffed in the hole. Not long afterward, Curry made a similar play to contribute to another tackle for a loss.
Late in the third quarter, the senior had a solo tackle for a loss in run support. He shed his block and met the back a yard behind the line and stuffed him. Curry had two good bull rushes through the right tackle to get pressure on the quarterback, one of them helped set up a sack for a teammate. Curry's speed is undeniable. He has an excellent get-off and closes in an instant once he beats his blocker. Curry uses a variety of moves including a nice spin move. Right now, he could be riding the bubble between the first and second day of the draft. Helping him to sneak into the first round is a bunch of 3-4 teams drafting late in the first round.
New Mexico Bowl Temple 37, Wyoming 15
There were three pro prospects on display in the New Mexico Bowl between Temple and Wyoming. The most well known among them was Hawks junior running back Bernard Pierce. Entering this season finale, he was one of the nation's leaders in rush yards despite having missed some time with injuries.
Throughout the New Mexico Bowl, Pierce churned out tough yards. He pounded the ball up the middle of the line from the start and showed the ability finish his runs well. Pierce capped the first drive by charging into the end zone on a short touchdown run. At the beginning of the second quarter, he banged his way across the goal line for his second score. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder is strong and well put together.
Pierce has good vision, power and can carry defenders through the hole. He does not have elite speed and doesn't look like a threat to break off long runs. However, Pierce moves the chains well and is a physical back. Against Wyoming, he put up 100 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns. In 2011, Pierce ran for 1,518 yards with 27 touchdowns. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry this season. Pierce looks like a potential second-day pick if he declares for the draft.
Temple tight end Evan Rodriguez had a quality senior season. He is a well-rounded tight end with blocking and receiving ability. On the opening drive, Rodriguez got wide open running down the seam of the Wyoming secondary. The pass hit him in stride, and he rumbled downfield with it for a gain of 42 yards.
During the remainder of the afternoon, Rodriguez didn't have the ball worked to him very much in the passing game, but he did a fine job as a blocker. Rodriguez recorded only two catches for 52 yards. He finished the season with 35 receptions for 479 yards and two touchdowns. Entering the lead up to the draft, Rodriguez is a quality receiver who is good route runner with strong hands. He lacks elite speed and athleticism, and that puts him in the mid-rounds next April.
Wyoming cornerback/safety Tashon Gipson is a late-round pick next April. He had a bad missed tackle in the second quarter on a run that set up a touchdown. Gipson didn't wrap up and displayed some poor tackling technique. Other than that play, he did all right tackling in run support and didn't allow any huge plays in the passing game. Gipson eight tackles during the bowl. The 6-foot, 203-pounder has some athletic ability to go with decent size. He looks like quality late-round pick worth developing on the back end of the roster or on the practice squad.