Virginia Tech 20, Georgia Tech 17
ESPN reported that there were four NFL general managers at this game to watch Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback had an excellent debut as a first-year starter in 2011 and has a unique physical skill set. He pairs a cannon for an arm with great running ability. The redshirt junior is considered to have the potential to be a high first-round pick.
Thomas' first pass of the evening was almost intercepted by Georgia Tech cornerback Rod Sweating. The ball went through Sweating's hands as well as the wide receiver's. Thomas ran for 11 yards for a first down two plays later; it was his first carry. He got the Hokies in the end zone on the second drive at the end of a 56-yard march. Most of the yardage came on the ground, but Thomas finished the drive by tossing in a short touchdown pass to tight Eric Martin. The signal-caller showed nice touch on the pass to rainbow it over the defense and lead his receiver toward the back of the end zone.
Thomas threw a bullet for a 15-yard gain on a quick slant to Marcus Davis early in the second quarter. Thomas then toseed another nice touch pass for a gain of 13 on an out route. He made a bad decision on a third-and-13 a few plays later, putting one into coverage between two receivers. It wasn't actually clear who Thomas was throwing to, and he was fortunate the pass wasn't intercepted.
Thomas was spotty throughout the first half. His accuracy was off, and he didn't look in sync with his wide receivers. Thomas lost his top two receiving targets from 2011 and doesn't seem to have chemistry with his new receivers yet. He also was locking onto his primary read and was not surveying the field by working through his progressions. Thomas completed 12-of-23 passes in the first half, picking up 90 yards and the score score. He also carried the ball nine times for 40 yards.
The third quarter saw Thomas struggle to move the ball and the Hokies were unable to produce any points. He finally got a big play through the air with just eight minutes left in the game, but it was more of the receiver's doing. It was a quick slant that saw Davis break off a big run down the field.
The next play illustrated why the NFL general managers were there to see Thomas. He dropped back to pass and laid out a perfect 42-yard bomb into the end zone. His receiver made the catch while being interfered with. The score gave Virginia Tech a 14-10 lead. It was perfect throw at a clutch time from Thomas.
Georgia Tech took the lead by three with just under a minute in the game. Thomas completed his first pass for a nice gain close to midfield. After a few short gains, he made a clutch throw on a slant to give his receiver room to run. It set up a 41-yard field goal to tie the game and sent it into overtime. The Hokies quarterback didn't throw the ball once in the extra period.
Thomas completed 21-of-38 passes for 230 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Yellow Jackets. He ran for 39 yards on 17 carries, too. It wasn't an impressive game that really helps his draft stock, but Thomas made clutch plays in the fourth quarter to get his team to overtime and a victory.
Thomas has a cannon for an arm and looks effortless with the flick of the wrist throwing a fastball. However, it is crystal clear that he needs a lot more development as a passer. His accuracy is off, and he needs to improve his footwork. Thomas' field vision is also a weakness. He typically doesn't work through his progressions. There is no doubt that Thomas is dripping with physical potential, but his junior year debut made him look more like a middle of the first-round pick rather than a top-10 pick.
There were other draftable players in this game other than Thomas.
Virginia Tech junior cornerback Kyle Fuller has the potential to be an early-round pick. He had an active game against Georgia Tech. Fuller fired into the backfield to up end a running back for a loss of three yards on a perimeter run. On a deep pass just before halftime, he had blanket coverage on a deep ball. Fuller and the receiver were scrapping with each other, but it wasn't enough contact to warrant a penalty.
Fuller had another opportunity for a tackle for a loss in the third quarter, but he missed the tackle in the backfield. Fuller had a clutch open-field tackle on a screen pass late in the game. He shed a block and wrapped up the ball-carrier in a textbook fashion.
Fuller had solid coverage all night and didn't allow his receivers to get separation. He made a huge play in overtime on a ball thrown up for grabs. Fuller was the closest player to the pass and leapt to catch the ball at the highest point. The interception set up the Hokies to finish off their victory. Fuller has a lot of potential, but a larger game-sample of the youngster is needed to get a good gauge on where he could go in the 2013 NFL Draft, if he comes out early.
Another prospect from Virginia Tech worth mentioning is defensive end James Gayle. He got an easy sack in the first quarter when he went unblocked by the left tackle and only had to dodge a running back to get to quarterback Tevin Washington. Other than that play, Gayle had some nice rushes, but his rushes took too long to develop, and as a result, he wasn't able to get home for another sack. Gayle looks like a mid-to-late rounder.
Baylor 59, SMU 24
There usually aren't many top-shelf matchups of NFL draft talent in the first week of the college football season. The majority of the top programs take on cupcake teams, and massive blowouts are a normal result. One potential under-the-radar exception this year was the Baylor versus SMU matchup on Sunday afternoon.
Many thought Bears offensive tackle Cyril Richardson would be taking on Mustangs defensive end Margus Hunt, but that changed when Richardson was moved to left guard for this season. Hunt versus Richardson was a possible battle of second-day draft prospects.
Richardson played left tackle for Baylor last season, protecting the blind-side of Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. It was a surprise that Richardson has been moved inside to left guard. However, given the wide splits of the offensive line in collegiate offenses, defensive tackles end up closer to the quarterback than in NFL. Thus, it makes some sense that the Bears would want a good pass-protector on the inside. The defensive ends have a lot further to go to get to the quarterback than the defensive tackles.
Richardson was rock-solid in the first half, but was largely untested. SMU ran a 3-4 defense and there were many pass plays where he didn't have a defender to block. Richardson did well in the ground game and hit some nice blocks to open up holes.
Hunt was a complete non-factor versus Baylor. The Mustangs had him playing contain on the edge on a lot of passing plays, but, when he did rush the quarterback, he didn't pressure the signal-caller. Hunt is all power and doesn't have a repertoire of pass-rushing moves. He needs to get a lot of coaching at the next level to upgrade his pass rush.
Hunt got in on a tackle in the third quarter when a running back ran right into him and the blocker. Hunt then jumped offsides on the next play, but the penalty was declined. In general, he held his ground well at the point of attack in run defense. The offensive line couldn't push Hunt around, but he wasn't disengaging and getting in on tackles.
Hunt is a developmental project for the NFL. He has a nice skill set, but doesn't really look like he knows what he is doing on the field. The senior doesn't appear to understand how to attack offensive tackles and how to fight off their blocks.
It isn't surprising that Hunt is raw. He's only been playing football for three years after coming from Estonia. The 6-foot-8, 320-pounder looks like a better fit as a 3-4 defensive end. He has the length and power to set the edge in order to occupying tackles, freeing up outside linebackers. Right now, Hunt doesn't have the natural pass-rushing skills to be an end in a 4-3 defense.
Hunt was viewed as a second-day pick to start the seson, but that is clearly based on his potential. He needs a lot of work in order to be a competitor against NFL offensive tackles. Some teams may draft him early because of his freakish special teams prowess. Hunt has 14 career blocked kicks (nine field goals) and set an NCAA record with seven blocked kicks as a freshman in 2009. He look more like a third-day pick, at least defensively, against Baylor.
One draftable player who started the season well was Baylor's Terrance Williams. The senior wide out, a potential first-round pick has quality size and is very fast. Many wondered how he would play with a new quarterback, but Williams dominated SMU.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder took the first play from scrimmage for a gain on seven yards on a jet sweep. Next, the Bears threw a quick stop pass to him and he dodged a defender to get upfield for a gain of close to 15 yards.
Williams' best reception of the first half came late in the second quarter when he had a nice gain on a slant against SMU cornerback Chris Parks. Williams had another good reception after beating Parks on a skinny post. It was a gain of about 35 yards. Williams got a yard of separation and it was an easy downfield completion for his quarterback.
Williams made a nice leaping reception during the third quarter in the midst of three defenders. Later, he beat Parks on a go route down the field for a gain of 48 yards. That ended Williams' action for the night, and he totaled seven receptions for 139 yards. It was an impressive start to the season and showed that the senior is worthy of first-round consideration in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Junior Tevin Reese, another Baylor wide receiver, also flashed versus SMU. He only had one reception, but it was a big one. Reese caught an easy touchdown after running a go route. He was left uncovered and raced through the secondary for a 50-yard score. Reese has second-day potential, but he would probably be better off playing all four seasons in college to improve his stock, just like Williams or former teammate Kendall Wright.
Last but not least, is SMU running back Zach Line. He has been one of the best backs in Conference USA over the past few seasons, but had a mixed day against Baylor.
First the good: Line set up a first-and-goal late in the second quarter on a dump-off pass in the flat. He was left open and charged upfield for a gain of over 10 yards. The senior finished the reception well by powering his way through three defenders.
Then the bad: Line put the ball on the ground with just two minutes remaining in the second quarter. He ran up the middle and a diving defensive tackle slapped the ball to the ground. Luckily for the ball-carrier, a teammate recovered the loose ball.
Line bounced back with a great run in the third quarter. He shed two tackles near the line of scrimmage and took a defender for a ride of a few yards. Line then shook the defender off his back and sprinted downfield for a gain of 33 yards.
Line averaged a nice amount of yards per carry versus the Bears, but they were playing very soft run-defense. They had such a big lead they were playing their safeties deep to prevent any quick scores that could've let the Mustangs back in the game. Line had big holes to run through and put together a string of good carries. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder ran for 132 yards on 25 carries with five catches for 21 yards. He had a good amount of yardage after contact and broke a plethora of tackles with his imposing power.
It doesn't look like Line has the burst needed to be an NFL running back; he isn't quick enough to the hole. However, Line definitely has the skill set to be a fullback. He is big enough to be a good blocker; he can carry the ball in short yardage situations; and he has nice receiving ability out of the backfield. Line could be mid third-day pick as a fullback.
Alabama 41, Michigan 14
If you like to watch elite NFL offensive line prospects, this was a game for you. Between Alabama and Michigan, the two teams could produce potentially six first- or second-round picks on the offensive line.
The Crimson Tide feature the best offensive line in the nation. Right tackle D.J. Fluker, center Barrett Jones and guard Chance Warmack are all projected first-round picks in the 2013 NFL Draft. The Wolverine's defensive line is a tough, physical bunch who wouldn't be an easy group of defenders to push around at the line of scrimmage. Still, the Alabama line didn't disappoint as it controlled the line of scrimmage.
The beginning of the first quarter was the exception. On the first third down of the game, Fluker was beat by Michigan defensive end Jake Ryan on a rush to the inside. Ryan forced an incompletion and a punt. The second Alabama possession saw the offensive line play better. Jones in particular stood out as he blasted open some holes up the middle.
The Tide went then behind Warmack for a short touchdown run with running back Eddie Lacy. Warmack opened up a big hole near the start of the second quarter for freshman running back T.J. Yeldon to scamper for 40 yards. Jones sprung Yeldon for a first down on a screen pass on the same drive. It was a great team effort up front for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide did allowed a sack as a unit, but a blizter from the outside came unblocked and caused the loss. Otherwise, the offensive line had very few mistakes and protected its quarterback well.
After being an All-American at both guard and tackle, Jones moved to center this season. Nobody would ever think that he was starting his first game as a center; He was phenomenal. The senior showed fabulous technique, hitting combo blocks on tackles and linebackers. He blasted open running holes on linemen and in the second level of the defense. Jones' pass protection was rock solid, too. He looks like a first-round pick next April.
Fluker and Warmack confirmed their first-round grades as well with their overall performances against Michigan. It was an excellent start to the season for Alabama's highly regarded unit.
The team's trio wasn't the only potential first-round offensive linemen in the 2013 draft. Michigan junior left tackle Taylor Lewan entered the game as a top-32 pick in 2013 or 2014. He wasn't getting tested with many blitzing linebackers early in the game, mainly going against five-technique defensive ends. Lewan was called for a facemask early in the first quarter, and the defender pressured quarterback Denard Robinson out of the pocket, so it was an ugly play for the tackle.
Lewan was called for holding later in the first quarter after he bear hugged and tackled an Alabama defender. He then had a false start in the third quarter. Aside from the penalties, Lewan did pretty well blocking Alabama's talented linemen. His run blocking looked more solid compared to his pass protection, but he wasn't getting abused by speed rushers.
Lewan was hurt with less than five minutes remaining in the game. He limped off the field with what looked like a right knee injury, and his backup promptly gave up a sack. A serious injury would most likely cause Lewan to return for the 2013 season. Overall, he has the potential to be a starting left tackle in the NFL and just needs more development with improved technique.
On the defensive side of the ball, the draft prospect who had the most eventful game was Alabama cornerback DeMarcus Milliner. He entered the game as a first- or second-round pick after leading the Crimson Tide's defense in interceptions as a backup in 2011. Milliner replaced Dre Kirkpatrick as a starter and had a strong start to the season.
Milliner had a diving pass breakup on his first defensive play of the evening. He missed an open field tackle in the open field a few plays later which set up an easy third-down conversion for Michigan. The junior made up for it with another pass break up on a quick slant.
Milliner intercepted a terrible pass from Robinson at the end of the first quarter. Milliner had run wide receiver Roy Roundtree out of bounds, so there was no receiver in the area. That made it as if Milliner had caught a punt. He had a nice return to set up Alabama at the Michigan 17-yard line.
Milliner had a pass breakup on a third down to start the second quarter. He allowed a step of separation in man one the receiver's go route, but recovered to knock the jump pass away for an incompletion.
It wasn't all good for Milliner; he fell down in man coverage late in the third quarter, allowing his receiver to walk into the end zone with an easy 44-yard touchdown. That one mistake got the Wolverines on the board for only the second time all evening.
Even though Milliner was responsible for a touchdown being scored, he may have had the best game and the biggest impact for Alabama's NFL-talent-lade defense. Milliner is physical with receivers and gets away with some arm bars, but he is smart about his contact. He also is big, quick and agile. Milliner has real man-coverage potential and looked like a future first-rounder against Michigan.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley was another Crimson Tide defender who had a great game. He was active and around the ball in run defense as well as pass defense. He also provided a big splash play; Mosley dropped back into zone coverage and picked off a pass from Robinson. After reading the signal-caller's eyes, Mosley cut in front of a receiver to make the catch and race into the end zone from about 20 yards out.
It is clear that Mosley is very athletic and fast. His strength in pass coverage is perfect for the passing-driven NFL. That could push Mosley's stock higher. He currently looks like a late first-round or early second-round pick.
Denard Robinson gutted out a tough game for tbe Wolverines, but, overall, he was greatly outclassed by Alabama's defense. He did have a huge gain with a 71-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon with a a well-thrown ball. That set up a short touchdown run by Robinson. Otherwise, the senior quarterback struggled to move the ball. He completed 11-of-26 passes for 200 yards with a score and two picks.
Robinson (6-0, 193) is fast and is a great athlete, but he doesn't have the height or passing ability to be a quarterback in the NFL. He should move to running back or wide receiver. At best, Robinson will probably be a mid-rounder.
Clemson 26, Auburn 19
This ACC/SEC matchup featured two teams with the potential for high-powered offenses, though the score didn't end up that way. There were a number of good NFL prospects to watch in this Tigers battle. Auburn's best weapon to limit Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was defensive end Corey Lemonier. Boyd was without his best receiver, sophomore Sammy Watkins, who was suspended, but wide out DeAndre Hopkins is an early-round draft prospect in his own right.
The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Lemonier also had to contend with Clemson senior running back Andre Ellington. Lemonier fired between the offensive tackle and guard early in the game to swallow up Ellington for a loss of five yards. The ball-carrier got some revenge on passing play, hitting Lemonier with a nice chip block to help take him out of the play.
Boyd threw a strike downfield on on a third-and-long for a gain of about 20 to Hopkins. They hooked up again later on the same drive for a nice gain inside the Auburn 10-yard line. The offense stalled on the goal line, and Clemson settled for a field goal.
Boyd broke out for nice run and a good gain of 11 yards later in the first quarter. Around the same time, Lemonier hobbled off the field with the training staff looking at his knee or ankle. He returned to the lineup after a few minutes of being examined.
Boyd moved the ball well in the two-minute drill late in the first half. He was rocked by Lemonier on one pass, but got the ball out in time for a nice completion. The next play, Lemonier got home. He stumbled from a cut block, but got up and charged around the corner. Boyd stepped up in the pocket and held onto the ball too long as Lemonier chased him down from behind.
Lemonier didn't react quick enough to a run by Boyd in the third quarter, and the quarterback blew right by him. Ellington had a nice pickup of Lemonier after he beat the right tackle around the edge. Boyd showed excellent escapability on a numerous plays.
The Clemson signal-caller had success moving the chains through the air to Hopkins all evening. The wide out was very adept at exploiting soft spots in zone coverage.
The real mistake from Boyd happened early in the fourth quarter when he threw a pass off the mark. His backup tight end had it go off his finger tips as he reached back for the ball. It deflected into the arms of an Auburn defender.
Clemson struck back a few mintues later as Boyd lofted in a fade pass to Hopkins in the back corner of the end zone. He made a phenomenal catch while being interfered with by the defensive back. The scoring toss gave Clemson a 23-19 lead.
Boyd ran for a first down on third-and-5 during the next drive. It was a clutch play and very impressive. He felt the rush coming from behind him and used his interior clock to escape pressure. Against Auburn, Boyd was 24-of-34 for 214 yards with a touchdown and an interception. It was a quality game from the junior and he made some big plays in the second half to help push his team to a win.
Hopkins was Boyd's best target, catching 11 receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown. The speedy and sure-handed Hopkins was a mismatch receiver who Auburn struggled to cover. Both Hopkins and Boyd looks like early-round picks in the 2013 or 2014 NFL Drafts.
Lemonier appeared to be dealing with injuries as he was out of the game for a lot of snaps in the second half. He came back for some plays, but it looked like Auburn was being selective about using him. He did enough in the first half to show off an impressive skill set.
The player who helped his draft stock the most in the game was Ellington. He had a banner night to help lead Clemson to a victory. Ellington had one of the best runs a running back will have all season halfway through the second quarter. He took a the ball off of right tackle, and when a linebacker grabbed him and spun him around, Ellington put his hand in the ground to help maintain his balance and spun free. Ellington kept upright for a few steps before springing back up and sprinting across the field. The senior exploded down the field for a 68-yard run. It set up a touchdown run for the backup running back as he regained his breath on the sideline.
Ellington (5-10, 190) had success running between the tackles. That was impressive because in past seasons he was better used in space and didn't pick up many yards after contact running up the middle. Ellington really ran well during perimeter runs and sweeps. He is quick to get turned upfield and weaves his way around defenders.
Ellington basically sealed the win with a 45-yard run with three minutes remaining. He started up the middle and kicked it out to the left side before runnning by a few tired defenders. That carry set up Clemson with a first-and-goal along with pushing Ellington over 200 yards for the game; it also led to the wing-sealing field goal. He totaled 234 yards on 27 carries.
Lest we forget, Auburn has a couple of pro prospects on its offense as well. Senior wide receiver Emory Blake and senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen both have the skill sets to be play-makers in the passing game.
Blake burned man coverage in the first quarter with a go route down the middle of the field. He faked a move towards the sideline and that allowed him to get a ton of separation from the defensive back. The ball was dropped in precisely to him for a 53-yard touchdown.
Blake's second reception didn't occur until almost midway through the third quarter; a 25-yarder crossing the field in zone coverage. The 6-foot-2, 183-pounder should've had the ball worked to him more often, but Auburn's offense was unable to take advantage of him. He totaled 108 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. Blake looks like he could get second day consideration.
Lutzenkirchen made his presence felt late in the second quarter when he ran a route straight down the middle seam. Nobody bothered to cover him and he hauled in an easy 38-yard reception. Lutzenkirchen (6-5, 255) had some nice blocks in the ground game, too. He also got open a number of other times, but wasn't thrown the ball. He finished with 72 yards on four catches.
There was another senior tight end who impressed, Clemson's Brandon Ford. The team had a lot of success moving the chains with him. Ford has served as a backup for the past few years, and had a nice coming out party versus Auburn. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder has quickness and route-running, but he also dropped a couple of passes. Ford totaled five passes for 51 yards. He is a tight end worth watching this season.
Florida 27, Bowling Green 14
The Florida Gators have a lot of junior defensive talent that could be in the 2013 NFL Draft next April. That group includes defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins, safety Matt Elam and defensive end Dominique Easley. Senior linebacker Jon Bostic is a third-day prospect at this point.
The most impressive prospect in this game was Floyd. He was a wrecking ball at the line of scrimmage and took up residence Bowling Green's backfield. Early in the contest, The 6-foot-3, 295-pounder fired through his gap to tackle a running back in the backfield for a loss of a couple yards.
Floyd was busting through the line and causing disruption throughout the game. He got a pressure and hit on the quarterback on a key play to start the fourth quarter. The pass came out very hard and Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson pulled in an interception.
Floyd bowled through the offensive line in the fourth quarter, foring a tackle for a loss and almost forcing a fumble. While he didn't really produce a massive stat line, NFL scouts will love to see the disruption he caused. Floyd looks like an early-round pick in the 2013 or 2014 NFL Draft.
Elam was active and around the ball for the Gators. He was called for a pass interference in the first quarter while being matched up in man coverage. Elam stood out with solid fills in run defense.
Florida senior running back Mike Gillislee had some nice runs including a 15-yard touchdown run. He had a beautiful touchdown run in the second quarter which showcased cutting and breakaway speed. Gillislee started up the middle before bending around the right side to get to the sideline. He juked a safety and sprinted down the field for a 38-yard scoring run.
Gillislee ripped off a 28-yard carry on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter. He totaled 147 yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns against Bowling Green. He was a potential late-rounder to start the season, but more Saturdays like the season opener, and the 5-foot-11, 209-pounder can push for mid-round consideration.
Northwestern 42, Syracuse 41
This contest featured a mid-round quarterback prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft, Syracuse signal-caller Ryan Nassib. He had a strong junior season for the Orange and is a sleeper prospect who could surprise this year.
Nassib threw a nice strike for 17 yards in the middle seam for his first throw of the game. He moved the ball with some accurate intermediate passes later in the first quarter. The senior made a big play on a third down when he scrambled forward before shovel-passing the ball to a running back in space. The gain went for 34 yards and set up a field goal.
Nassib took off for a nice run of close to 15 yards in the second quarter. That set up his offense close to the end zone, and Syracuse took the lead with a touchdown run a few plays later.
Nassib threw some nice strikes including a deep slant that was dropped by his receiver. The signal-caller had a pass intercepted in the second quarter, but it wasn't his fault. The running back had the pass hit him in his hands, but it popped up in the air and was picked off. It got worse for Nassib on the next drive. A blitzing linebacker gave him a hard shot to the midsection as he threw incomplete on third-and-long. Nassib rolled around on the ground for some time, but he returned to the field on the next possession.
Nassib was 16-of-26 at halftime and had racked 155 yards and the interception. The senior got red hot in the second half, dominating the Northwestern defense. He abused the Wildcats; cornerbacks with deep passes and led a furious comeback-attempt after the Orange fell far behind.
Nassib started the comeback with a touchdown drive midway through the third quarter. He had some gains with through the air and on the ground. Nassib finished the possession with a clutch play on third-and-goal. He rolled to his right and threw a dart to his receiver running an out toward the back of the end zone.
With eight seconds left in the third quarter, Nassib tossed a 50-yard bomb to a wide open receiver; the cornerback had fallen down after a double move. Nassib aired it out and the receiver paused for the ball before walking into the end zone. The Orange were still trailing, but the score made it 35-27 entering the final 15 minutes.
Nassib kept smoking the secondary on the next possession as he moved the ball down the field along with some nice gains from the ground game. The signal-caller threw a short touchdown toss to bring Syracuse within two, but the two-point conversion was slapped away by Northwestern.
Nassib lofted in another deep ball on the next possession. This one cruised for 41 yards as the receiver had a step and the ball was perfectly placed toward his backside shoulder. It was an NFL throw that beat tight coverage. That set up the Orange around the Wildcats' 30-yard line.
Nassib killed the corners once again with a deep ball just a few plays lafter. He hefted in a touchdown pass, and once again the corner fell down on the play. It was the fourth unanswered touchdown pass by Nassib to lead Syracuse for a huge comeback.
Northwestern answered with a touchdown, and Nassib was unable to get the Orange another score after getting the ball with under 40 seconds remaining. Still, he set school records with 66 pass attempts and 479 yards through the air. The senior completed 45 passes with four touchdowns and one interception.
Nassib showed excellent decision-making against the Wildcats. He was very smart with the football, used his legs when he had to and took what the defense gave him. The 6-foot-2, 229-pounder is not an elite athlete and doesn't have a powerful arm, but he is a heady, accurate quarterback who is a good game-manager. Nassib looks like a nice fit for an NFL West Coast offense. It was a gritty performance and it should give him a nice stock up to start out his senior season.
Illinois 24, Western Michigan 7
Sleeper prospects are the unexpected and the unknown. Hence the sleeper nature of Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder. He has produced some video game-like statistics for the Broncos, and was one of the most productive signal-callers in college football last year. However, Carder, in facing Illinois, was battling against a host of NFL Draft prospects.
Defensive end Michael Buchanan, outside linebacker Jonathan Brown, defensive tackle Akeem Spence and cornerback Terry Hawthorne lead a tough Illini defense. All of them are potential selections for the 2013 NFL Draft. The senior Buchanan is a second-day prospect with rare speed and athleticism. He has the athletic potential to rise up draft boards.
It was evident throughout this contest that Carder was missing wide receiver Jordan White. He was a prolific college receiver in 2011, and Carder's go-to guy last season. With White in the NFL, Carder had the frustration of a lot of dropped passes versus the Illini. It started early as he threw a perfect pass on a dig route, but the ball was dropped.
Maybe it was the frustration, but midway through the first quarter, Carder telegraphed a pass as he rolled out to his right. Hawthrone jumped the route and almost made a diving interception. Carder was lucky that Hawthrone dropped the ball. Carder bounced back on the next play and threw a perfect strike for a first down to his tight end. The Broncos signal-caller stood tough in the pocket and delivered the ball as he got creamed by Buchanan.
Buchanan made two plays on the next series to get his defense off the field. He batted down a pass on third down and then did almost exactly the same on fourth down. This time though, Buchanan tipped the pass up in the air and intercepted it. It was an extremely athletic play as he jumped high into the air to deflect the pass and then was able to adjust to snatch the loose ball.
Carder took another shot from Buchanan later in the first half, but still threw a perfect pass to a receiver downfield. Carder rolled to his left on the next play and threw into double coverage. Safety Earnest Thomas dove for the pass and intercepted it.
Buchanan stuffed a run for a loss of one yard as soon as Western Michigan got the ball back. The play was a zone-read run and he penetrated the backfield. Buchanan sacked Carder on a third down on the Broncos final drive of the first half. Buchanan started out the play at right end, but cut up the middle on a stunt. He shook then off a guard before dragging down Carder. It was a dominant first half for Buchanan with an interception, a sack, a tackle for a loss, a pass batted down, and a number of other pressures and hits on the Western Michigan quarterback.
Carder had some nice throws, but dropped passes continued to plague the Broncos. He threw a perfect back shoulder throw deep down the far sideline just before the fourth quarter. It beat Hawthrone and set up Western Michigan just outside the end zone. Carder fired a strike on the next play, and his receiver powered into the end zone for the team's first touchdown of the season.
After a couple of more nice throws, Carder was hit as he threw by Buchanan and Spence. Illinois cornerback Ashante Williams jumped the route, intercepted the ball and coasted into the end zone for a pick-six. Carder had held onto the ball a bit too long as Buchanan and Spence were closing in.
Carder completed 26-of-43 passes for 239 yards with a score and three interceptions. It was a tough day for him as his receivers and offensive line gave him zero support. As a result, he couldn't improve his draft stock by having a good game against one of the best defenses he'll see all season.
Buchanan, on the other hand, had a fabulous season debut. The senior was consistently hitting the quarterback to go along with his big plays of the sack and the interception. Illinois has produced some great athletes in recent years who had huge seasons that pushed their stocks into the first round (Whitney Mercilus, Vontae Davis, Rashard Mendenhall, etc.). Buchanan could be next in line and at least got things going in the right direction with his performance against Western Michigan.
While Buchanan had a great showing, Spence had an impressive day as well. He was very tough at the point of attack and e routinely bulled his way into the backfield to cause disruption. Spence blew through his gap between the center and right guard in the third quarter to sack Carder. It was a nice speed rush by Spence and resulted in a loss of nine.
Spence helped force a pick-six in the fourth quarter and also had a tackle for a loss in run defense after he blew by the center. Spence plays nose tackle in the Illini's 3-3-5 defense, but looks better as a pass-rushing three-technique or a nose tackle in a four-man front for the NFL. The junior could be a second-day pick if he enters the draft next April.
Outside linebacker Jonathan Brown was pretty quiet in the first half of this game. He made a nice open field tackle to stop a receiver for a short gain and almost had a leaping interception when he dropped into zone coverage. However in the third quarter, Brown forced a fumble with a hard hit on a receiver. The outing against the Broncos was a solid start to the season for Brown.
Michigan State 17, Boise State 13
The Boise State and Michigan State battle didn't feature as much pro talent as it would have a year ago. Both programs lost a number of good prospects to the NFL. While the teams didn't have as many elite players, there were a few good prospects worth watching.
Spartans defensive end William Gholston has been projected by many to have a breakout season. He has a tremendous physical skill set with the potential to be a standout performer.
Gholston drew a favorable matchup against Boise State's new left tackle, Charles Leno, Jr. It was Leno's first start after filling the role that had been occupied by Nate Potter over the past couple of years. Overall though, Leno had a good game going against Gholston.
Gholston had a pressure on the first drive to force an incompletion. He went unblocked on the play given some kind of busted assignment as Leno blocked down on the play. Gholston had a nice pressure and batted a pass away later on in the first quarter.
Gholston was very quiet during the second half. He saw some double-teams, but mostly was single-blocked. Overall, it was a disappointing start to the season for the junior. He was inconsistent getting off blocks and didn't show explosion off the snap, good pass-rushing moves or mismatch speed around the edge. Gholston will need to pick his game up in the weeks to come if he is going to have a breakout year.
One prospect who stepped up with a massive game to get his season started well was Spartans running back Le'Veon Bell. He carried Michigan State to the win as its passing game struggled. The 6-foot-2, 237-pounder showed off his power and durability.
Bell had a tremendous run on the first drive of the game. He hurdled a safety 15 yards past the line of the scrimmage to get a gain of 23 yards. Bell finished the drive by running over a defender for a short touchdown run. He had nine total touches in the 12-play drive.
Bell had an impressive 12-yard run later in the first quarter on which he shook off an ankle tackle, spun away from a defender and accelerated to the second level. It wasn't all good for him, as he had an easy dropped pass in the second quarter. Bell made up for it just before halftime with a 30-yard run up the middle. He cut his way around one defender before finishing the run well with a few defenders dragging him down. The junior had over 100 yards on 20 carries at halftime.
Bell started the third quarter by catching a screen pass and accelerating into the secondary for a gain of about 20 yards. He provided a highlight-reel run on the next possession. After being stuffed at the line of scrimmage, Bell broke five tackles in a row before reversing field and running to his right. He sprinted downfield for a 35-yard gain. The run took the Spartans from their own five-yard line to close to midfield.
Bell churned out some tough yards in the fourth quarter. He also had a great block in blitz protection. Bell took a sweep during the fourth quarter and turned the corner for a five-yard touchdown run. He carried a cornerback on his back as he crossed the goal line.
Bell carried the ball 44 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos. He also caught six passes for 55 yards. It was a phenomenal game that should give Bell's stock a nice boost to start the season.
Another prospect of note was Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams. He was viewed as a second-day pick at kickoff. Adams gave up a long reception late in the second quarter. He was beat on a pure go route to let the ball inside the five-yard line.
Adams had a nice open-field tackle on a screen pass in the fourth quarter, and on the next play, he had a tackle for a loss on a run blitz. Adams is a tough corner, but giving up long passes down the field will hurt his stock.
Tennessee 35, N.C. State 21
Even though the North Carolina State versus Tennessee game didn't project to have a big impact on the top 25, it was perhaps the best NFL draft talent matchup of the first week of college football and one of the most anticipated for the season. The reason for that was the matchup of North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson against Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter and Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. Among that trio, Amerson entered the game as the top-rated cornerback prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft and a consensus top-10 pick.
Amerson was simply phenomenal in 2011, having of the best seasons in college football history for a defensive back. The sophomore totaled 13 interceptions to lead the nation. That set both school and ACC records and was the second highest total in FBS history.
Bray and Hunter showcased first-round talent in their own right, but both were held back by injuries in 2011. While Amerson was completely healthy during the offseason, he had a nightmarish performance to start his junior year.
Bray burned Amerson for a 41-yard touchdown pass to junior wide out Cordarrelle Patterson just four minutes into the game. It was a straight go route that saw Patterson run right by Amerson and get a yard of separation. Bray lofted the pass in perfectly to give the Volunteers a 6-0 lead.
Bray targeted Amerson again before the first quarter was out. Receiver Zach Rogers ran a deep post route down the middle of the field and Amerson couldn't turn and run with him. The ball, once again, was lofted in perfectly by Bray; this time for a 72-yard touchdown. Rogers had a good three to four yards of separation on Amerson.
Just before halftime, Bray threw a rope to Hunter for a gain of 20 with Amerson trailing on a crossing route. Bray tried to do a QB sneak for a touchdown on third-and-goal with just 15 seconds left in the half. He got pushed back once, but was able to extend the ball to the goal line. However, Bray lost the ball and it was recovered by the Wolfpack. Replays showed a potential touchdown for the Volunteers signal-caller, but the ruling on the field was upheld. Bray was 15-of-24 for 226 yards with two touchdowns at the half. Hunter had three receptions for 22 yards.
Bray moved the ball down the field on a few drives in the third quarter to help his team put points on the board. He and Hunter hooked up for a clutch 15-yard reception on a third-and-five early in the fourth quarter. A couple plays later, Bray threw a beautiful deep ball, but it went through Hunter's hands even though the defensive back had tight coverage. Hunter dropped another pass with Amerson covering him closely.
All in all it was a solid game for Hunter. He doesn't look as fast or as explosive as he was before his torn ACL almost a year ago. That should come back in time. Hunter caught nine passes for 73 yards.
Bray had a superb game for Tennessee. He showed off his cannon for an arm, good field vision and a big pocket presence. The junior's footwork and accuracy looked improved compared to his sophomore season. The accuracy still needs work, but offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has done a good job of improving Bray's passing technique. He was 27-of-41 for 333 yards and two touchdowns against N.C. State. Bray clearly has the skill set to be a first-round pick in 2013 or 2014.
Amerson had a nice tackle for a loss in the third quarter. He fired into the backfield after reading the run well. Amerson was beaten on a slant for a gain of about 15 and a first down a few plays later. Overall, this was a terrible first game for Amerson. He can show his character and ability to bounce back in the weeks to come. The Tennessee game will have teams testing Amerson on deep passes and go routes. He may not have the hips to turn and run with speedy NFL receivers. This contest could be the start of him sliding from the top 16 to the second half of the first round.
It was a breakout game for the junior college transfer Patterson. The junior wide out took an end around through the Wolfpack defense late in the first quarter and crossed the field to break free down the sideline. He outran the defense to the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown run, his second score of the game. Patterson had six receptions for 93 yards at halftime. He didn't record a reception in the second half but showed some game-breaking speed and could be a force this season with Bray throwing him passes. Patterson broke out across college football with this performance.
The Volunteers' offensive line had a good game. It was sound in pass protection and run blocking. Tennesse junior center James Stone had a good game. He lost his starting spot last year, but looked good against the Wolfpack. Offensive tackle turned left guard Dallas Thomas has very consistent in winning his blocks. He had a great start to his senior season, and looks more dominant at guard than he did at tackle.
Bray wasn't the only quarterback for NFL scouts to watch in this game; North Carolina State signal-caller Mike Glennon is a pro prospect and entered the season as a mid-rounder.
Glennon connected for a 49-yard pass when he had his receiver wide open in busted coverage. It still was a nice play by Glennon as he scrambled forward while keeping his eyes downfield. Glennon had a good gain in the first quarter taken away by a penalty, but also threw a bullet inside the five-yard line that his receiver dropped.
Glennon kept moving the ball down the field on the next drive with accurate throws. Tennessee had some big holes in its zone coverage, and the Wolfpack quarterback was making the team pay. However, he was picked off by Tennesee cornerback Prentiss Waggner late in the first quarter. It was a good play call by the Volunteers that caught Glennon by surprise with a cornerback playing quarters coverage when he thought they would be in traditional Tampa 2 or man coverage.
Things got worse on the next possession as Glennon was hit and fumbled the ball into his end zone. A teammate recovered the ball going out of bounds to allow a safety rather than a touchdown.
Glennon beat Waggner for a 38-yard reception to the Volunteers' 13-yard line late in the first half. It was a nice throw and Waggner had tight coverage, but he didn't play the ball well as he mistimed his jump and allowed the ball to over him.
The signal-caller made a bad decision a few plays later as he scrambled and ran around aimlessly in the pocket. Glennon should've thrown the pass away, but was sacked and fumbled. He was fortunate the ball was recovered by a teammate.
Glennon was 13-of-23 for 208 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception at halftime. He showed some good decision-making in the third quarter by running for a first down on third-and-four. Unfortunately, Glennon made a mistake late in the quarter by throwing deep down the middle of the field. He didn't see the middle free safety and it was an easy interception as the safety had read his eyes to jump the route.
Glennon responded with a five-yard touchdown toss at the start of the fourth quarter. He scrambled forward unnecessarily, but kept his eyes downfield. That backed off a defensive tackle and let him loft a high pass to a leaping receiver in the back of the end zone.
Later on, Glennon threw a deep out and cornerback Eric Gordon undercut the route as the ball floated. Gordon's return set up Tennessee well into North Carolina State territory. Glennon was picked off with just a few seconds remaining in what was basically a Hail Mary attempt.
Glennon was 27-of-46 for 288 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions against the Volunteers. His game wasn't as bad as his stat line indicates, and he made a number of good throws that will impress NFL talent evaluators. Glennon should remain as a mid-round prospect after his fourth-year debut.
South Carolina 17, Vanderbilt 13
College football is back, and with it comes thought of the 2013 NFL Draft. There were a few good pro prospects on display tonight for the opening game. The big-name feature of the evening belonged to South Carolina junior running back Marcus Lattimore, who enters the season as the consensus top-rated, draft-eligible running back prospect for next April.
Lattimore was one of the best freshman players in the nation two years ago, and immediately took the SEC by storm. He was off to an excellent start least season, but the sophomore was knocked out by a torn ACL in his left knee. Lattimore worked hard and dropped weight this offseason to be ready for this opening game.
The 6-foot, 218-pounder had a rough start, fumbling the ball away on his very first carry. It was just a routine tackle and he put the ball on the ground. Clearly Lattimore's ball security is a bit rusty after not sustaining hits while rehabbing his injured knee. That was the only fumble of the night for the junior.
Lattimore bounced back on his next carry. On a zone-read run, he cut to a hole on his right to get into the second level of the defense. Lattimore then split two defenders before bursting into the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown run. NFL teams that run zone-systems will like the vision and patience that he displayed.
Lattimore showed off his passing-game skills on the next few drives. He had an impressive blitz pickup of a defensive back and a nice reception on a check down for good yards. Lattimore had a few other nice runs in the first half. He had rumbled for 64 yards on 12 carries by halftime.
Lattimore was quiet in the third quarter, and the Gamecocks play-calling shifted away from him. However in the fourth quarter, he caught a short pass and powered his way through a few defenders for a first down. Lattimore had another nice reception on that drive and later made a good block, too. The standout ball-carrier finished the game off for South Carolina with a one-yard touchdown plunge that was the winning score.
Lattimore took over on the next drive, picking up runs of 11 and 22 yards. He helped the Gamecocks grind out the clock, and on the final drive, he made a block for quarterback Connor Shaw so the signal-caller could run for a first down on a third down to seal the win. Lattimore totaled 108 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. He also caught three passes for 21 yards
Overall, Lattimore doesn't look like he has quite the burst and speed that he had before the injury. That will take more time to come back, but there is no reason to think that his quickness won't return once the junior is further removed from the injury. He was hurt only 10 months ago.
Lattimore showed his power by breaking tackles regularly and picking up significant yards after contact. He runs with excellent pad level. It was a quality start to the season for Lattimore, and he still looks like he has early-round potential.
Gamecocks defensive end Devin Taylor entered his senior season a possible second-day pick. He had a somewhat disappointing junior season after registering 7.5 sacks as a sophomore. Taylor had six sacks in 2011, but that was much less of an impact compared to defensive line teammates Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney.
Taylor lost his gap-integrity early in the game on a third-down run. He pursued upfield and the ball-carrier ran right through the gap that he left. Taylor was textbook on the next play, shedding a block to tackle the running back in the backfield for a loss of two yards.
Taylor was frustratingly inconsistent throughout the game. The senior would disruptively flash on some plays and cause havoc in the backfield with run defense and some pass pressure. He has some real quickness and strength.
However, there were also plays where Taylor was not holding down his gap and gave up yardage. He played contain on numerous passing plays, and that took away pass-rushing opportunities. Taylor was single-blocked virtually all night yet he wasn't able to consistently generate a pass rush. Overall the opening game against Vanderbilt won't help Taylor's stock.
A mid-round quarterback prospect from this contest is Vanderbilt signal-caller Jordan Rodgers. He is the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Jordan doesn't have the skill set of his big brother, but he has a decent arm and some mobility.
Rodgers had a nice completion on a check down early in the game to set up a first-and-goal situation. The scoring opportunity was squandered as the Commodores quarterback made a terrible throw across the field on a screen pass that had blanket coverage. Gamecocks senior linebacker Shaq Wilson made the interception and returned it to around midfield.
Rodgers finally got Vanderbilt on the board in the second quarter. He hit junior wide out Jordan Matthews on a seam route and Matthews out ran the defense for a 78-yard touchdown. It was a perfect throw from the 24-year old signal-caller.
On the next drive, Rodgers got away with a bad pass, throwing across his body and across the field. The ball floated over a defender's hand for a nice completion, but it was a throw that is unacceptable in the NFL and a type of pass that can easily lead to an interception. Rodgers over threw an open receiver in front of the end zone on third down later in the same drive, forcing the Commodores to settle for a short field goal.
At halftime with the score locked at 10, Rodgers had completed 8-of-13 passes for 164 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews had five receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Rodgers had a nice scramble on a third-and-long in the third quarter that set up a conversion on fourth-and-inches. That drive led to a go-ahead field goal for the Commodores. Rodgers then hit Matthews on a slant down the seam for a 22-yard gain. They connected again a few plays laster for a nice completion. Trailing late in the fourth, Rodgers lofted a deep pass into Matthews, but the receiver was interfered with and couldn't hold onto to the pass. No call was made by the official.
Rodgers was unable to lead Vanderbilt to a comeback win, but he battled hard and held his own against a formidable SEC defense. Rodgers completed 13-of-25 passes for 215 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He still looks the part of a third-day quarterback.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Matthews had a real coming out party against South Carolina. The junior wide out hauled in eight passes for 148 yards and a touchdown. He showed a nice mix of size and speed. 2012 could be a big season for Matthews in James Franklin's offense, so the Commodores receiver is definitely worth keeping an eye on as he takes on the SEC with a competitive quarterback.
There were a few other prospects of note. Gamecocks safety D.J. Swearinger had a nice pass breakup just in front of the end zone. He also had tight coverage on Matthews, but got away with that pass interference in what was the final play for Vanderbilt's comeback effort.
Commodores' running back Zac Stacy was held in check by the Gamecocks. He ran for 48 yards on 13 carries. Another player that stood out was Vanderbilt junior safety Kenny Ladler. He flashed with some nice plays. Ladler is a new starter this season and looked good against South Carolina.