With a limited number of games on the Week 0 slate, I decided, perhaps foolishly, to go through the tape of Fresno State’s blowout win over Connecticut. Why do that game I hear you say……Well, UConn didn’t get on the field at all in 2020, cancelling their season due to COVID, so this was the first chance to see some of their guys for well over a year. Whilst not a powerhouse for NFL talent, they have produced 17 draft picks in the last decade, including one first (CB Byron Jones), two second rounders, and four third rounder picks, so talent does roll through, and they have a couple of guys in this current group worth looking at more closely.
Fresno State have a couple of high profile NFL draft picks in the last decade too (QB David Carr and WR Davante Adams), but playing in the Mountain West does mean a lack of exposure to the general college football fan, so when a match-up like this comes along early in the season, it’s worth jumping on and seeing if anyone catches your eye.
The game itself was close until early in the 2nd Quarter, but a fumble returned for a TD by the Fresno State defense seemed to change the momentum, and a rusty UConn team never recovered.
Now getting blown out 45 – 0 you’d think there wouldn’t be any noteworthy UConn performances, but, and this is why I love this sport so much, even during a shellacking a couple of guys really stood out and deserve to be written about.
Travis Jones, Defensive Tackle, 6’5”, 333lbs
This guy was the best player on the field. That is an incredible statement for a defensive player on the wrong end of a blow-out, but he just jumps off the screen at you and was like a man amongst boys in the trenches. If those height/weight numbers listed are correct, then it’s time to get excited, as this guy is powerful, quick and technically great. Guys like this don’t grow on trees.
The stat line reads one tackle, that’s it, but don’t be fooled; on a better team with better players around him, he’d fill up the stat sheet easily. He was constantly in the Fresno backfield causing havoc, and against one of the better offensive lines he will face, he dominated.
As the game wore on, Jones did tire a bit, but the game was played in 100+ degree weather and UConn only had 3 DT’s play in the game, so it was unsurprising by the fourth quarter he was less effective, but I’ve seen enough here to plant a flag for this guy.
Looking at the schedule, UConn get some nice games against decent opposition throughout the season (Purdue, Wyoming, Vanderbilt, UCF and Houston), but I’ll be looking forward to their matchup against Clemson on the 13th November, and we’ll see then if we have a legit top 100 guy in Jones.
Lwal Uguak, EDGE, 6’4” 280lbs
This guy has a great back story. His family fled the civil war in South Sudan and settled in Edmonton, Canada. His brother plays college basketball and their cousin is Luol Deng who was the 7th overall selection in the 2004 NBA draft.
Clearly there’s good athletic bloodlines, and this is very noticeable in Uguak’s play. What’s also very noticeable is that he is getting by on this athleticism alone for now, as at times he appears to have no idea what’s going on. The flashes we see though are enticing, and he looked longer and leaner than his given measurables, in fact he looked at times, like Odafe (Jayson) Oweh.
I wasn’t overly keen on Oweh as a prospect, but the NFL loves these raw athletic Edges, and if he continues to flash like he did here, especially in their bigger games this year, I can see this guy going early day three as a project.
Ryan Van Denmark, Offensive Tackle, 6’7” 304lbs
Van Denmark is considered UConn’s best NFL prospect by most scouts, so this was my chance to see what all the fuss is about.
Certainly in the early going he played well, looked very comfortable in pass sets, and was moving guys in the run game. As the game wore on though he got sloppy and conceded a few pressures, giving up inside leverage too easily and being beaten quickly.
I’ll give him a bit of a pass for this because, as we said before, the game was played on the surface of the sun, but I’ll need to see improvement from him to give him anything more than a late round grade.
Kevin Atkins, Defensive Tackle, 6’2” 307lbs
A lot like UConn’s Travis Jones, Kevin Atkins jumps out on tape immediately. A much shorter and stockier guy than Jones, but equally as strong and quick as his opposite number, Atkins dominated the inside throughout. Great get off at the snap, straight into the Interior Offensive Lineman’s chest and controls immediately. Atkins disengages quickly and displays good play awareness and ball location – He blew up many plays that his teammates cleaned up, so a lot like Jones his stat line doesn’t stand out, but he was a menace throughout. He was so dominant that UConn ended up benching their starting Center in the second half.
Now unlike UConn, Fresno State were able to rotate guys in regularly, so Atkins only ended up playing 32 snaps, which was exactly half the total snaps available, so he was able to flash throughout the game.
I didn’t see any Fresno State games in last year, but I had favourable notes on Atkins from 2 games in 2019, so this is someone who is firmly on my radar now. In what looks like a very average interior defensive line class for 2022, he may well be an early day three type of guy.
Ronnie Rivers, Running Back, 5’9” 195lbs
Rivers actually broke his own father’s TD record at Fresno State in this game, which was pretty cool to see.
Rivers is an excellent college Running Back, but I think these types of Running Backs are littered throughout the college game, and with no elite trait to cling to they fall to the end of the draft.
Having said that, Rivers does have great hands as shown on his TD catch and run, but I think he is smaller than listed, probably not a great athlete, and not overly effective in pass protection, which adds up to nothing more than a third down back in the NFL.
He is fun to watch though and will put up some big numbers in this offense.
Follow Keith on Twitter @lordlucken