This new section breaks down many college football games each week and highlights how 2012 NFL Draft Prospects have performed.
By Charlie Campbell.
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South Carolina 34, Clemson 13
There was a lot of future NFL talent on display in the rivalry game between South Carolina and Clemson. Both teams should have higher rankings in college football given the amount of pro talent they have. The prospect who had the most impressive game was Gamecocks senior defensive end/tackle Melvin Ingram.
The versatile defender started the game strong and put heat on Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd for four quarters. Ingram came close to a sack late in the second quarter. He was in contain to start the play but made a good read and fired after Boyd. He threw the ball away and Ingram’s pressure earned an intentional grounding penalty.
Later in the third quarter, Ingram rushed from tackle and got to Boyd. As he tried to wrap up the signal caller, Boyd ducked free out of Ingram’s grasp and scrambled for a couple of yards. Even though Ingram didn’t get the sack, he made the play on third down to force a punt.
Finall,y Ingram finished with a great rush from the interior to get a sack. He came off the snap and slapped away the hands of the guard. He cut to the inside and burst by the guard to run down Boyd. In the fourth quarter, Ingram had a good rush beating the right tackle and forcing an incompletion. In the final few minutes of the game, he got his second sack. Boyd ran up towards the line of scrimmage and Ingram grabbed him by the jersey to rip him backwards to the ground.
Ingram finished the game with five tackles and played the run well at the point of attack. It was an impressive tape for him as he was disruptive and consistently getting pass pressure. Throughout a strong senior season, Ingram has improved his draft stock. Right now, he looks like an early pick in the second round with the potential to sneak into the first round.
At the beginning of the season, the South Carolina defensive end who was viewed as the better pro prospect was junior Devin Taylor. He has had a quiet season and has been overshadowed by Ingram and freshman Jadeveon Clowney. Taylor had a decent game against Clemson.
He had four tackles in run support and got a lucky sack. Taylor received an early Christmas present when Boyd ran straight into him after he was initially blocked on the play. Taylor finished the season with five sacks, down from 7.5 in 2010. He should return to school and get better before going pro, but there are rumors that the junior intends to enter the draft. Taylor looks like a second-day pick if he does, but if he had a big senior season he could get back into first-round consideration.
Another second-day defensive end prospect in the game was the Tigers� Andre Branch. He had a quality game against the Gamecocks. It started out a little embarrassing as Branch got juked in the open field by South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. He is a good running quarterback, but Branch is a quick-twitch athlete who should have made the tackle. Later in the drive, Branch had an easy sack when he came on a speed rush. The running back was the only player who tried to block him and he whiffed. Branch sacked Shaw to force a field goal attempt.
Just before halftime, Branch cleaned up a jail-house blitz with his second sack of the night. He was blocked on the play but cut upfield while some other teammates forced Shaw up in the pocket. Branch ran him down, and that play forced the Gamecocks to run out the clock in the first half. It wasn’t a picture-perfect sack, but Branch showed good awareness and closing speed. For the season, he now has 10.5 sacks. Branch looks like a quality pick in round two. The lack of consistency from game-to-game is the big concern about him.
Another early-round pick in the game was Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson. The run stuffer is viewed by many to be a first-round pick. He is a one-dimensional player who does not offer much a pass rush. The Tigers were removing him from the game in many pass rushing situations. As a result, in my opinion, Thompson should be a second-round pick. I don’t think of a defensive lineman who is not a three-down player as a good value in the first round.
Officially, Thompson was credited with zero tackles in the game, but that is inaccurate as he jumped in on a few tackles with teammates. Thompson combined with a safety for a tackle 28-yards downfield. Thompson was blocked at the line of scrimmage but he motored downfield to get in position to help dive on the back as he was going down. In the fourth quarter, Thompson had a good run stuff on a rush by Shaw. Thompson pushed off his block and cut over into the hole to stuff the quarterback for a loss of one. He should have gotten half a tackle for a loss on that play.
Overall, Thompson was getting blocked pretty well at the line of scrimmage. He wasn’t being a disruptive force or breaking into the backfield regularly. There were plays where the senior flashed, but overall he did not have much of a presence in the game.
One of the players who could easily get drafted first from either team next April is South Carolina junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. He had a mixed outing against Clemson. Jeffery was targeted on the first drive in the front of the end zone, but cornerback Cody Sensabaugh had good coverage on him and broke up the pass. Later in the first quarter, Jeffery was the target on a deep pass downfield. Sensabaugh was running stride for stride with him making the ball fall incomplete.
Midway through the first half Jeffery went into the locker room. It turns out the junior broke a bone in his hand, but he returned to finish the game. A bit later in the second quarter, Jeffery caught a wide receiver screen and had a nice run for 11 yards. Late in the third quarter, he ran downfield and was thrown a deep ball but the pass fell incomplete. Again Sensabaugh was running with Jeffery. He was holding on to the corner’s jersey to keep him from beating him to the lofted pass. The big wide receiver could have been called for a penalty.
In the fourth quarter, Jeffery made a tough catch for a touchdown. Sensabaugh was running with him, but it was a perfect throw laid out in the back of the end zone. Jeffery tracked it down and dragged his feet to complete the score. Sensabaugh was in good position but didn’t make a play on the ball. Jeffery finished the day with two receptions for 29 yards and a touchdown, plus a broken bone in his hand. He is labeled as probable for South Carolina’s bowl game.
The lack of separation and foot speed is a concern for Jeffery’s draft status. All year cornerbacks in the SEC have done a good job of blanketing him. He has a midsection that could use some trimming. If Jeffery lost some extra flab it could help improve his speed. If the junior declares for the draft, as expected, he has the ceiling and upside to be a first-rounder.
Another special receiving target in this game was Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen. He has had a fantastic senior season and established himself as the top tight end in the 2012 draft class. Allen has been underutilized and could have produced more. He caught a nine-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Allen came in motion and sprinted out to the flat. The pass was dumped off to him and he turned upfield. Allen took two hits as flew through the air to land in the end zone. It was his only catch of the game.
Allen did a quality job as a blocker in the ground game. He looks like an early pick in the second round.
The final prospect for 2012 worth mentioning was South Carolina senior cornerback Stephon Gilmore. On the Gamecocks first defensive play of the game, he had a big blitz off the edge and hit Boyd as he threw the ball. The errant throw was almost intercepted but fell incomplete.
For most of the game, Gilmore was quiet, but that was in part because he had quality coverage. In the fourth quarter, Gilmore gambled and tried to jump a route to get an interception. The ball went by Gilmore and into the hands of receiver Sammy Watkins. He ran downfield for a gain of about 20 yards. Depending on how South Carolina coaches Gilmore, it could have been a blown assignment. Some teams want the corners to gamble while others prefer them to play it safe. He has a lot of physical tools and looks like a second-day pick.
Stanford 28, Notre Dame 14
The last regular season game for the nation’s top draft prospect, Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck, wasn’t a masterpiece but it was a solid game that led to another Stanford win what could be his final collegiate home game.
Over the last few weeks, Luck hasn’t been as sharp as he was earlier in the season, and part of that is from him facing better defenses than Stanford saw throughout the first half of the season. Luck has still been playing well, but the expectations are so high that if he doesn’t have perfect performances, they are deemed disappointing.
After punting on the first drive, Luck got the Cardinal moving on the next possession. He made a good throw on a roll out on third down. Another throw on the run put the ball inside the 10. Luck finished the drive with a perfect decision to go to his 6-foot-8 receiver on a fade pass against a short cornerback.
On the next drive, the signal caller was off the mark with a pass too high for an open receiver. A play later, Luck was fortunate he didn’t throw an interception since his pass went straight to an Irish defender.
A bit later, the Fighting Irish took advantage of a bad decision by Luck. The Cardinal went to set up a screen and the signal caller had a defender on him immediately. He tried to force the pass into a crowd, and Notre Dame intercepted the errant throw. The pick was returned deep into Stanford territory. The Fighting Irish missed a field goal on the possession.
Luck came back on the next drive to move the ball with some precision passes. He hit tight end Coby Fleener on a deep out route. Fleener turned upfield and dragged a defender a few yards before crossing into the end zone. The 28-yard touchdown pass gave the Cardinal a 14-0 lead. That touchdown pass put Luck in front of former Stanford quarterback John Elway as the school’s all-time leader in touchdown passes.
Just before halftime, Luck operated the two-minute drill well. He threw a good completion for 15 yards before running for about 15 on a couple of carries. A few other passes moved the ball inside the 20. With just over 10 seconds left, Luck threw a strike to wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who was running a dig route. He cut upfield and scored. It was a great decision by Luck. He saw his first two options were double covered so he moved to his fourth option to exploit man-to-man coverage.
After having some good success in the first half, Luck wasn’t able to put up any points in the third quarter. He had some passes off the mark, but the Notre Dame defense deserves credit for playing well.
With just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Luck tossed a 55-yard touchdown pass to Fleener. He broke wide open running down the middle of the field. Luck threw a perfect strike, hitting him in stride at the 25-yard line and he sprinted into the end zone.
That was the last pass of the night for Luck as he finished the game 20-of-30 for 233 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. It wasn’t a perfect game from him, but he was efficient enough to lead Stanford to victory. There is no doubt that Luck is still the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Fleener totaled 97 yards on four receptions and those two touchdowns. He looks like a solid second-day pick and could be the second tight end selected next April.
Stanford left tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro both had good games. Some of the other Cardinal offensive linemen had some struggles but Martin and DeCastro were solid. They opened up holes in the ground game and were sound in pass protection. Both Martin and DeCastro are first-round picks. DeCastro could return to the Cardinal for his senior season.
Another future first-round pick in this contest was Irish wide receiver Michael Floyd. Notre Dame switched quarterbacks part way through the evening after their starter struggled. The switch limited Floyd�s production. He got his game started with a nice catch on an out route to get a first down for Notre Dame. The senior caught a number of short passes before making a big play in the third quarter.
Floyd ran a quick out and got separation from the cornerback. The ball hit him and he cut up to cross into the end zone for a short touchdown catch. Early in the fourth quarter, Floyd did a good job of beating press coverage and making a tough catch along the sideline for a good gain.
A few minutes later, Floyd made a great 25-yard catch along the sideline. He fought off a defender at the line of scrimmage and made a leaping catch, just over another defender. Floyd got one foot down before coming down hard out of bounds. He finished the game with eight receptions for 92 yards and one touchdown. Floyd’s stock should remain unchanged.
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eiftert had an overall good game for the Fighting Irish. The junior has been very good this season as a good tandem receiving option with Floyd.
Eifert had some good catches downfield stretching the deep middle of the Stanford defense. He went up and made some tough catches and took some hard hits while holding onto the ball. Late in the third quarter, Eiftert had a bad drop when he started to look to the open field before securing the football.
Eiftert finished the game with four receptions for 79 yards. If tight end decides to enter the draft, he looks like a second-day pick. Eifert (6-6, 249) is a very good receiver who needs to improve on his run blocking for the next level.
The final potential first-round pick in next year’s draft in this game was Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te’o. The junior linebacker is the heart and soul of the Fighting Irish�s defense. He leads the team in sacks and tackles this season.
Early in the game, Te’o had a good rush on an interior blitz that caused a holding penalty. Later in the second quarter, he had a good open field tackle of Luck when the signal caller ran up the middle of the field.
Other than those plays, Te’o got in on some tackles in run support. He finished with eight tackles in the game. Te�o was generally quiet and did not produce any splash plays against Stanford. The junior remains a first-rounder if he declares for the draft.
The most impressive defender in the game was Stanford’s Chase Thomas. The senior outside linebacker was putting heat on the quarterback all night. He and the Cardinal front seven overwhelmed the Fighting Irish�s offensive line and made it difficult for the Notre Dame offense to get in any kind of rhythm.
Thomas had a big hit on the quarterback on one of his first plays of the game. That hit knocked out quarterback Tommy Rees for a series. Later in the first quarter, Thomas used an outside move to beat the tight end. He sacked Rees and forced a fumble that was recovered by the Cardinal.
Later on, Thomas had another sack leading a convoy of defenders onto the signal caller. He finished the game with five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. This performance should definitely help Thomas stock. He now has 8.5 sacks on the season. If Thomas can add some more bulk to hold up against NFL offensive linemen, he should become a starting linebacker quickly. Thomas is very intelligent with good instincts and the speed to crash the pocket. Right now, he looks like a second-round pick.
Wisconsin 45, Penn State 7
One of the best draft matchups of the weekend was Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still taking on Wisconsin and their excellent offensive line led by senior right guard Kevin Zeitler. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, that matchup was completely one-sided, just as the game was, as Zeitler clearly defeated Still.
Early in the game, Zeitler had impressive stops single blocking Still on consecutive pass plays. Later in the first quarter, Zeitler put Still to the turf to open up a hole for running back Montee Ball. Throughout the first quarter Wisconsin was running well behind Zeitler, and he was typically going against Still.
In the second quarter, Still made his presence felt. He went on a stunt and Zeitler was blocking the other tackle. Still shoved away Peter Konz’s backup, Ryan Groy, and sacked quarterback Russell Wilson. Other than that play, Still was silent against the Badgers. Wisconsin ran the ball with success straight at Still all game. Other than that one play, he didn’t get any pass rush.
In the third and fourth quarter, Still was getting manhandled by the Badgers� offensive linemen. He was getting moved and pushed around to open up holes for the ground game as Wisconsin blew out Penn State.
Entering the game, Still looked like a first-round pick, and he probably remains a first-rounder right now because the defensive tackle class is extremely weak and the position is always in demand. The game against the Badgers definitely hurts Still’s stock.
Zeitler should get a boost from this game. He was completely effective against one of the best defensive tackles in football. Zeitler could be one of the first choices in the second round.
Ball benefited greatly from Zeitler’s blocking of Still. Ball has had a prolific season, and all year he has been putting the ball in the end zone. Ball got going on Wisconsin�s second possession and helped move the ball downfield. On the first play of the second quarter, he powered his way into the end zone with a one-yard touchdown run. A short time later, Ball appeared to be stuffed on a third-and-three stretch run to the perimeter. He threw a defender to the ground with a stiff arm, and sprung free for a good gain.
Late in the first half, Ball ran into the end zone again with a short touchdown run. He almost scored his third touchdown of the game after catching a shovel pass on an interior screen, rumbling 15 yards downfield to set up the Badgers inside the five-yard line.
In the third quarter Ball scored from nine-yards out. He made a jaw-dropping lateral cut to side-step a safety and exploded into the end zone for his third score of the game. Ball ran for 16 yards on a drive to move the ball into Penn State territory. He finished the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run. On the next possession, Ball took a carry at his own one-yard line and bounced a run outside to pick up 28 yards.
Ball finished the game with 156 yards on 25 carries with four touchdowns. He is knocked because some label him as a system back, but Ball has produced in ways that other Wisconsin running backs have not. He has 34 total touchdowns this season and could break Barry Sanders� single season record with six more touchdowns in his final two games. Ball looks like a late first-round or second-round pick if he decides to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
Another second-day pick from Wisconsin could be wide receiver Nick Toon. He has had a steady senior season that has improved his draft stock.
Toon started the game with a 14-yard reception. Later in the first quarter, he duplicated the play with a gain of about 15 on a slant route. At the end of the first half, Toon came open running a cross in the end zone and caught a short touchdown pass. He finished the game with 42 yards on five receptions with a touchdown. He looks like a second-day pick.
Throwing Toon the ball accurately on Saturday was Badgers senior quarterback Russell Wilson. He was highly efficient against Penn State. Wilson had a nice touchdown pass to tie the game at seven in the first quarter. Throughout the first half, he moved the ball well with some short, precision passes. Wilson also took off on a 20-yard run on a key third down to extend a scoring drive. He took off again with another run of 19 yards to set up a first-and-goal for Wisconsin. At the end of the first half, Wilson threw a short touchdown pass to Toon.
In the second half Ball ran wild and Wilson didn’t throw many passes. He finished the game 18-of-28 for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson (5-11, 201) is undersized and that likely puts him on the third day of the draft.
Virginia Tech 38, Virginia 0
There were two future NFL cornerbacks in the in-state rivalry game between Virginia and Virginia Tech. Virginia’s Chase Minnifield entered the game having a better senior season than Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley. Neither player had a game that will significantly help or hurt their draft stock.
Hosley started the game with a good tackle in run support. On the next play, he made a tackle on a short swing pass to a wide receiver. A few plays later, Hosley had tight coverage to force an incompletion on a deep slant. The next drive saw him make another tackle in run support.
Hosley almost allowed a big play after a receiver broke off his route and went deep after seeing the quarterback scrambling. The pass was overthrown and fell incomplete. The next play, Hosley went back and returned a punt 38 yards. He zig-zagged his way across the field and couldn’t maintain his balance as he got clipped by a defender. It set up Virginia Tech in Virginia territory.
Late in the second quarter, Hosley was beat on an out route for a gain of about 15 yards and a first down. He made a couple of tackles downfield running over from zone coverage in the third quarter.
With the Hokies enjoying a big lead, they played mostly zone coverage and gave up short completions. Hosley did well in zone coverage. Right now he looks like a second-round pick.
To get the game started Minnifield had a bad play. He was mugging the receiver as he ran a go route downfield. The wide out went up over Minnifield’s back and made a big reception of about 30 yards. A penalty on Minnifield was declined. Later on the drive, he was flagged for a facemask.
In the second quarter, Minnifield broke up a pass downfield intended for Jarrett Boykin. Minnifield was called for pass interference, but a holding penalty canceled out the penalty. It was a tough call on Minnifield as he was going for the ball and trying to make an interception but his chest collided with Boykin before the ball arrived, drawing the flag.
The rest of the game was quiet from Minnifield. Overall, he had good coverage and wasn’t allowing receivers to get separation. The game might hurt Minnifield’s stock slightly. He has played very well overall this season.
The star of the game was Virginia Tech junior running back David Wilson. He is having a huge season, and this was just another dominant performance. Wilson started the game strong and had his way with the Virginia defense. He was physical and finished his runs well. Wilson broke into the end zone in the third quarter with a 27-yard run. He showed his speed, balance, and moves to get by defenders and into the end zone.
In the second half, Wilson ripped off a few good runs being only one player short from breaking a run downfield. Early in the fourth quarter, it happened as he ran straight up the middle with a 38-yard touchdown run.
Wilson finished the game with 153 yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns. If the 5-foot-10, 201-pounder enters the 2012 draft, he could be a second-day pick. If Wilson returns for his senior season, he would be one of the top backs in the nation and could improve his draft standing.
Cavaliers senior defensive end Cam Johnson has had a frustrating season. That was the case again against the Hokies. He was held in check all game and did not make any plays. Johnson looks like a third or fourth-round pick.
Virginia Tech wide receiver Jarrett Boykin had a good game for Virginia Tech. In the second quarter, he ran a nice post route out of the slot and caught a 16-yard touchdown reception. He finished Saturdday with four passes for 44 yards and one touchdown. Boykin is an early round-pick on the third day of the draft.
West Virginia 21, Pitt 20
There were three interesting pass rushing prospects for the 2012 draft in the game between West Virginia and Pitt. The Mountaineers feature defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller while the Panthers have defensive end Brandon Lindsey. All three are potential second-day prospects with the possibility of slipping to the third day of the draft. All three logged sacks in this, their second to last game of the season.
The player who many believe will get selected first among the trio is Irvin. He had 14 sacks last season as a situational pass rusher. This year, Irvin is an every down player who gets some extra blocking attention on passing downs. He entered the game with 5.5 sacks on the season. Early in the game, Irvin had a tackle running down Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri from behind after he took off running. On the next play, a third-and-13, Irvin got blasted on a pass rush and was knocked flat on his back by the left tackle.
Irvin had a tackle in the second quarter in run support when he was unblocked on a play. In the third quarter Irvin got planted. He rushed from the left side. As he started to go back up towards the line of scrimmage, guard Lucas Nix came charging in and sent Irvin flying with a massive block.
Late in the fourth quarter Irvin got a coverage sack. He was initially blocked but then, juked by the tackle and guard to cut up the middle and get the sack with linebacker Najee Goode also getting to Sunseri. Irvin capped the win for West Virginia when he sacked Sunseri and forced a fumble. On the play Irvin went deep around the corner. Sunseri held onto the ball too long and stepped up in the pocket a few steps. Irvin ran up and slapped the ball out of his hands. It was recovered by a Pittsburgh offensive lineman who ran with it a few yards before being tackled to end the game. Overall, Irvin played a quality game that will help his season-ending stat line.
Irvin (6-3, 236) is all speed. He is very undersized and often, offensive linemen treat him like a rag doll. Irvin gets knocked down easily and run through in the ground game. In the NFL, he is going to have to be a linebacker. Irvin could be a situational pass-rushing linebacker in either a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, but does not look like he has the size and power to hold up on blocks against NFL offensive linemen. Irvin could be a good contributor if used correctly. He looks like a second or third-round pick for a team that doesn’t need a starter and can use him in spots. That makes him more of a luxury pick for the latter half of the second or third round.
The more complete player between the two West Virginia ends is Miller. He has the strength (6-4, 268) to hold up in the ground game while also using it in pass rushing. Early in the game Miller had a good pressure, and even tackled the quarterback a few minutes into the second quarter. On a quarterback run, he had a clutch tackle a couple yards short of the first down. In the third quarter, Miller had a good rush where he showed an impressive motor. Miller was initially blocked but he kept fighting and freed himself up to run down the quarterback who stepped up in the pocket.
Late in the fourth quarter, Miller made some huge plays to help seal the win for the Mountaineers. He worked his way to sack Sunseri for a loss of two yards on the first play of the Panthers� final drive. Miller was rushing from defensive tackle and got some penetration with a bull rush. He disengaged and tackled Sunseri as he stepped up in the pocket. A few plays later, Miller charged into Sunseri for another sack and a loss of 10 yards. On both plays, Miller showed some strength to get free and the speed to close on the quarterback.
Miller has a nice combination of size and speed. West Virginia moves him around a lot along the defensive line and that sometimes doesn’t put him in good matchups to rush the passer. Miller had nine sacks as a sophomore and junior at defensive end. He is an underrated prospect who is a sleeper on the second-day of the draft.
Lindsey made his presence felt in the first quarter when he dropped into coverage on a third-and-three. Lindsey saw a short pass to the running back and exploded into the back with a big hit for no gain on the play. It was an impressive play that will really appeal to teams running a 3-4 defense in the NFL.
Late in the second quarter, Lindsey had an impressive sack. He cut upfield and got deep around the pocket. Lindsey shoved away left tackle Dan Barclay and cut up the pocket to take down Smith for a sack. Later in the third quarter, Lindsey got half a sack as he and a few teammates converged on Smith to tackle him a few yards short of the first down.
Overall Lindsey played a fine game. His run defense needs more work for the NFL. He could be a second-day pick.
Pitt senior guard Lucas Nix played pretty well in the game. It was the offensive tackles who really struggled with the West Virginia pass rush. Nix looks like a third or fourth-rounder.
The Mountaineers got a number of coverage sacks and one of the players who played well downfield was senior cornerback Keith Tandy. He had good coverage all game. Tandy is a scraper who looks like a solid third-round pick.
Boston College 24, Miami 17
Another good draft matchup among the Friday afternoon games was Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly going against Miami running back Lamar Miller. The junior Kuechly could have been playing in his last collegiate game as Boston College is not bowl eligible. Miller is a redshirt sophomore who will have a tough decision to make on if he should return to school for his junior season or enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
By making a few tackles, Kuechly rewrote record books. This season, he set the record for career tackles in both the ACC and Boston College. Early in the game, Kuechly showed excellent field vision and intelligence when he blasted Miller for a loss of seven yards on an end around.
A few plays later, Miller got revenge when he broke off a 79-yard touchdown run. Miller ran behind the right side and hit the open field. The right guard got a block on Kuechly and that sprung Miller to race downfield. He has too much speed to be caught from behind. It was the longest touchdown run by a Hurricanes player in over a decade.
Later in the first half, Kuechly made a nice open-field tackle in pass defense to stop a receiver a yard short of the first-down yardage. The next possession saw Kuechly run across the field and put a hard hit on a fullback who caught a short pass. On the next play, Kuechly was running with wide receiver Tommy Streeter deep down the middle of the field. The pass was lofted in by quarterback Jacory Harris and Kuechly almost intercepted the ball. It went out of his hands and bounced off Streeter to fall incomplete. The junior linebacker was mad he didn’t intercept the pass, but the incompletion forced a punt.
On Miami’s next possession, Kuechly got tackled by the left guard and Miller broke into the open field. He juked by a safety and sprung down the sideline for a 25-yard gain. No holding penalty was called for Kuechly getting tackled. At halftime, Miller had 104 yards rushing on only six carries with a score. Kuechly came up with a big tackle in the third quarter. The Hurricanes were backed up on their own one-yard line. They threw a pass in the flat and there was open grass for the back. Kuechly came up and smothered the back for a gain of only a couple. If Kuechly had missed the tackle, Miami probably would have had a good gain. A few plays later, he tipped a pass by leaping into the air downfield, but the Hurricanes still caught the deflected pass.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Kuechly made a superstar play. He read the eyes of Harris and cut in front of the receiver to make an interception. Kuechly raced down the sideline and stiff armed would-be tacklers a few times, diving into the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown return. His pick-six was a great cap to his career if he decides to enter the draft. The score turned out to be the game-winner for Boston College. Kuechly looks to be solid in the top 20 picks of the draft.
In the second half, Miami fell behind and Harris kept throwing interceptions so Miller did not get much of an opportunity to run the ball. Miller had a great run where he bounced off a defender and sprung into the open field for a long run. A defender dove and tripped Miller to make the tackle, but it was a run of 50-60 yards. Unfortunately for him, the run got canceled out by a holding penalty.
Miller finished the game with 114 yards on 12 carries with his touchdown. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder has a special combination of size and speed. If Miller enters the draft, he looks like a second-round pick, although he could get consideration in the first round.
The game also featured third-day prospect in Miami senior wide receiver Travis Benjamin. He is a speedy slot receiver type for the NFL. On the first play of the game, Benjamin burned the Boston College secondary on a go-route. He flew down the field and caught a bomb that was lofted into him from Harris. The gain went for 60 yards and put the Hurricanes at the Eagles� 20-yard line.
Benjamin caught a deflected pass on a third down late in the third quarter. It was a clutch catch that got Miami out of being deep in their own territory. The gain went for about 15 yards. In the fourth quarter, he gave a poor effort on a jump ball.
It has been a quiet season for Boston College senior cornerback Donnie Fletcher. It got better for him when he outfought Benjamin and came down with an interception. The play was reviewed and the Eagles got the ball on the 44-yard line. Benjamin finished the game with two catches for 74 yards. He should remain on the third day of the draft.
Kuechly wasn’t the only good linebacker prospect in this game. Miami linebacker Sean Spence is a potential second-day pick. He is extremely fast and instinctive plus is a good tackler. Spence is a second-day pick because he is undersized. The 6-foot, 224-pounder has enjoyed a strong senior season.
In the first quarter, Spence fired into the backfield on a stretch run. He wrapped up the ball carrier and tackled him for a loss of a yard. Just after halftime, Spence was slow to work around a pile in the secondary. That made him late to get to the tight end, who ran by a reaching Spence to get into the end zone. The score gave Boston College a 17-14 lead in the third quarter.
On the next drive, Spence made a play in the backfield to stifle the running back. A teammate made the tackle while he was on the ankle of the ball carrier. Spence was active and around the ball against the Eagles. He had a fumble recovery late in the game but it was ruled that runner was already down when the ball came out. Spence is a solid second-day pick.
Miami safety Ray Ray Armstrong played well against Boston College. He had two good tackles that stopped a back from the open field. Armstrong was the last man in position to prevent a run from being broken downfield, and he made those clutch tackles. One was on a third-and-long that forced a punt. Armstrong has tons of athletic ability. He’s big and fast. Armstrong could be a second-day pick next April.
LSU 41, Arkansas 17
The SEC West grudge match between LSU and Arkansas featured a lot of future NFL draft picks. The Razorbacks have the best passing attack in the SEC, and it was going up against a fabulous defense filled with playmakers. Arkansas junior quarterback Tyler Wilson and senior wide receiver Jarius Wright have had some big games this season, but they had to go against the top cornerback that is projected to be in the 2012 NFL Draft in the Tigers� Morris Claiborne.
On the first play of the second quarter, Wright ran an excellent route from the slot. He started on a slant, faked to the outside, cut back to the inside and Wilson’s pass hit him in stride. Wright cut up the field and banged his way into the end zone to give Arkansas the lead with a 13-yard touchdown.
Later in the first half, Wright dropped a pass that would have gone for a first down. He had a step on Claiborne, who stumbled out of the break, but had the ball go through his hands. The play before, the Razorbacks got a good gain after Claiborne fell down and his receiver came open as a result.
Aside from those plays where he lost his footing, the Tigers cornerback was providing tight coverage and not letting his receivers get open. Wright was one of the receivers who struggled overall against Claiborne. In the fourth quarter, Claiborne showed why he is the top cornerback in the nation.
Wilson threw a deep ball along the sideline for Wright, and Claiborne got high to meet the ball at the highest point over him. The corner was tackled quickly, but his fifth interception of the season set up LSU at midfield. A couple plays later, the Tigers ripped off a big touchdown run to open up a 38-17 lead over the Razorbacks.
Wright and his fellow receivers, Joe Adams and Greg Childs, were not factors in the game as the LSU secondary defended them very well. Senior safety Brandon Taylor, senior cornerback Ron Brooks, and sophomore safety/cornerback Tyrann Mathieu all had good games. Brooks had a big sack early in the game. Mathieu had a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown along with some forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.
Despite being very undersized, Mathieu should be a potential first-rounder in 2013 or 2014. Taylor looks like an early pick on the third day of the draft, and he could force his way into the discussion in the third round. Brooks is a third-day draft pick.
Claiborne had a game that confirmed he is a future top-10 pick. His speed and coverage abilities are outstanding. It would be shocking if he decided to return to LSU for his senior season.
Wilson finished the game 14-of-22 for 207 yards with one score and one interception. He has performed well in his first season as a starter. Wilson has a strong arm with good accuracy. He should stay for his senior season. With another productive season and the coaching from Bobby Petrino, Wilson could challenge to be a first-rounder in 2013. If he enters the 2012 draft, the Razorbacks signal caller would probably be a second-day pick.
Wright (5-10, 180) finished the game with two receptions for 27 yards with his touchdown. He looks like mid-round pick. The seniors Adams and Childs are probably third-day picks right now.
An interesting player in the game was Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette. He has been on a hot streak with six sacks and three forced fumbles in his last three games entering the matchup with LSU. Prior to that Bequette was having a quiet senior year. The Tigers shut him down, and he was a non-factor. This game will hurt his draft stock and push him towards the fourth round rather being a third-rounder.
Another potential second-day pick is LSU junior wide receiver Rueben Randle. The 6-foot-4, 207-pounder had an excellent game against Arkansas. He ran good routes, made tough catches and picked up good yardage after the catch. Randle led the Tigers� passing attack with some huge catches that led to points for LSU.
To get his game started, Randle caught a 14-yard gain on an out route. He fought through a defender to get more yards before going down. Late in the second quarter, Randle had a good gain of 19 yards. He sat down in zone coverage about 10 yards downfield and dodged a few defenders while going through a tackle to set up the Tigers deep in the Razorbacks� territory. The next play LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson threw a bullet to him for a good gain on an out route.
In the third quarter, Randle made a clutch catch on a third down to get the Tigers a first down. He was hit quickly after securing the ball but held on while being tackled. Later on the same drive, Randle broke off his route to run deep when he saw his quarterback scramble outside the pocket. He lofted the ball into Randle for a 38-yard gain to the Razorbacks� 17-yard line.
Randle caught a good slant in the fourth quarter for a nice gain. He finished the game with nine receptions for 134 yards. Randle had three times as many catches as the next nearest Tiger receiver. The game really helped his draft stock. He should return for his senior season. If Randle has a big season, he could improve his draft stock and make sure that he would go in the top 50 of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Nebraska 20, Iowa 7
The game between Nebraska and Iowa featured an excellent matchup for the 2012 NFL Draft. Hawkeyes wide receiver Marvin McNutt has been one of the most productive wide outs in the nation. Matching up against him was Cornhuskers senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. McNutt looks like a late first round or second-round pick. Dennard looks like a middle pick in the first round.
Throughout the game, Dennard got the better of the matchup, holding McNutt in check. On one of the first plays of the game, the Nebraska corner broke up a pass intended for McNutt. Dennard closed in a hurry after starting a few yards back from the standout Iowa receiver and slapped the ball away. Later, Dennard had tight coverage on McNutt on a shallow cross. The corner forced an incompletion on third down and the Hawkeyes had to punt.
In the second quarter, McNutt got a pass for a gain of five yards. Dennard pushed him out of bounds immediately after the catch was made. Later in the game, a pass was thrown behind McNutt. Reaching back, he juggled the ball and Dennard almost snatched the pass out of mid air, but the pass fell incomplete.
With under five minutes left in the game, McNutt beat Dennard for a good gain. The pass was lofted into McNutt and dropped into his far shoulder, away from Dennard. The Nebraska corner was stride for stride with McNutt and had tight coverage. It was just a perfect throw to McNutt that went for 26 yards.
Later in the fourth quarter, Dennard was called for a holding penalty while defending McNutt. Dennard continued the contact and was tugging on McNutt’s jersey after five yards from the line of scrimmage. On the final play of the game, Dennard had tight coverage on McNutt on a slant. The pass flew incomplete.
Dennard played an excellent game. He showed the ability to take away the top receiver from an offense, and not just any receiver, but one of the better receivers in college football. The game definitely will boost Dennard’s stock and drop McNutt slightly. For the Hawkeyes wide receiver, it was a rough game because he couldn’t get separation in man coverage from Dennard. For the majority of the game, he was in man coverage and McNutt did get open against him. McNutt finished the game with four receptions for 29 yards.
Another Nebraska defender who had a good game was senior linebacker Lavonte David. He entered the game as a second-round pick. David got the game started with a good blitz to force an incompletion in the first quarter. A bit later he made a clutch tackle of running back Marcus Coker. On a third-and-four, he was about three yards downfield when David cut him down a yard short of the first down. David made a good read and exploded to the spot to meet Coker.
In the third quarter, an Iowa tight end pushed off David, drawing a penalty. After making the catch, he caught up to him and put a good hit into his side. David ripped the ball out and Nebraska recovered the loose ball. Obviously the Cornhuskers declined the penalty.
In the fourth quarter, David blitzed up the middle and sacked the quarterback. He allowed a reception late in the fourth quarter. David was in zone coverage but a little late coming over to pick up the tight end. A few plays later, David almost had an interception when he jumped a pass and broke it up. On the play, David was called for a holding penalty on an Iowa receiver. There was contact but it was a questionable call.
With the exception of that one reception by the tight end, David was excellent in pass coverage. His foot speed and quick-twitch athleticism allow him to run with receivers downfield. The Hawkeyes tried to throw to their tight ends and backs, but David had excellent coverage. Overall he had 7-10 tackles with a forced fumble. David is an ideal Will (weakside) linebacker in many 4-3 defenses, especially a Cover 2 defense. It was a a good game from him and confirms his stock in the second round.
Iowa has two cornerbacks who could be second-day picks in junior Micah Hyde and senior Shaun Prater. Both played reasonably well against Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers kept the ball mostly on the ground and the two corners weren’t really tested. In the second quarter, Hyde made a good tackle on third down to stop a receiver a yard short of the first down. Later in the second half, Prater broke up a pass in the end zone. It helped force Nebraska to settle for a field goal. He and Hyde shouldn’t have their draft stock impacted.
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