2021 College Football: Week 8 Scouting Notes

Week 8 Scouting Notes

Real life got in the way a bit for the week 8 slate of games, as I had some family commitments, but I still managed to sneak a couple of games in…

This looked like a good week to not overindulge as there were no top 25 matchups, but that didn’t stop the drama unfolding in typical fashion. There were a lot of almost upsets, with Arizona pushing Washington, Navy scaring the life out of Cincinnati and a 1-win Kansas team giving a resurgent Oklahoma all they could handle. But it was Illinois who did manage to get a shock result over the line, beating Penn State in overtime, well about a million overtimes it seemed…

Anyway, on to the two games I did get an in-depth look at, and we’ll start with a one-sided Thursday night affair in the American.

Tulane @ SMU

I’ve been very eager to clamp eyes on SMU as they had rolled to a 6-0 start, without generating much noise doing it. In those 6 wins the standout one is against a very decent TCU side, so whilst all the talk is about (and rightly so) Cincinnati from the American, SMU are quietly putting together a nice season of their own. This game was never really close, apart from a mini Green Wave revival at the start of the second half, but SMU looked good in all phases and even had the luxury of letting star running back Ulysees Bentley IV have most of the night off. They do have a very tough run of Conference games coming up in Houston, Memphis and UCF, but I’m hopeful they can win all of those to set up a mouth-watering match-up against Cincinnati on November 20th. On what I’ve seen here, SMU may just have the Offense to finally test that awesome Bearcat defense. 

Anyway back to this game and I’ve picked out Four Mustangs, all on Offense, who really impressed.

Tanner Mordecai, Quarterback, 6’3 218lbs, Junior

A former 4-star recruit at Oklahoma, Mordecai sensibly transferred out of Norman to try his luck elsewhere, somewhere where he didn’t have to worry about Spencer Rattler or Caleb Williams as competition. He has walked into the starting spot vacated by Shane Buechele at SMU, and the biggest compliment I can pay him is that this team hasn’t missed a beat with him at the controls.

It’s easy to see how he was such a high recruit, as his poise, mechanics and leadership are top drawer, and he certainly made a very good first impression on me. He put up some gaudy numbers in this one, he was 42-30-427-3-0 passing and even managed 34 yards and a touchdown on the ground too. This is a Tulane team that kept the score close with Oklahoma earlier in the season, but they currently rank 128th in total Defense, with only Arkansas State and South Florida below them in all of the FBS. Whilst they played hard here, the secondary was severely over-matched and Mordecai spread the ball around with ease, completing passes to ten different players. I liked how he moved around in the pocket and remained calm under pressure, but I will say that his receivers bailed him out on numerous occasions making some really big time catches on slightly inaccurate throws. That really was the only knock on this first watch of him, but I’m hoping to catch at least a couple more SMU games as they hit the meat of the schedule.

Jaylon Thomas, Offensive Tackle, 6’5 326lbs, Senior

I’ve been a fan of Thomas since his 2019 tape, where he graded really highly for me in the games I saw. He was good in the three games I caught of SMU in 2020 also, so I was eager to see if he was keeping this good run up on my first watch of 2021, but, to my bemusement, Thomas didn’t start this game. In fact, SMU moved regular starting center Alan Ali over to play Left Tackle instead, with no sign of Thomas at all early on in this contest. It took an injury to Right Tackle Marcus Bryant (who we’ll talk about later) that forced SMU to move Ali over to the right side and insert Thomas back into the line-up at Left Tackle. 

What followed was 32 snaps of sheer dominance from Thomas, as he handled the pass rushers with ease and was a force in the run game, moving effortlessly to the second level and creating holes. This left me very confused, as what I was watching was the same player I’d seen in the previous two seasons, so I had to take a deeper look at why he didn’t start this game.

 On further investigation it looks like he started the first two games of the season at Left Guard, and the next three at Left Tackle, but it appears he graded really poorly in two of those games and was benched for this game and the previous one against Navy. 

If the benching was meant to light a fire under him then it certainly seemed to work, as he was a monster when he was in there, so I can only hope now that he keeps that Left Tackle job for the rest of season, and shows us what he showed here again.

Danny Gray, Wide Receiver, 6’1 199lbs, Senior

SMU have three quality Wide Receivers, all of whom should get drafted in the next two years. Rashee Rice will more than likely be a 2023 prospect, but Reggie Roberson and Danny Gray should both get selected in the 2022 draft, and perhaps even break into day two territory if they continue to put up these kinds of numbers. I love what Roberson was doing last year before he suffered a bad injury, and whilst he played well here it was his mate Gray who stole the show in this game.

When your nickname is “Big Play” you better live up to it, and Danny Gray did here. He had 8 catches for 140 yards and ran a whole variety of routes from the outside and showcased some very strong hands. He looks smooth in his routes and breaks, and he isn’t afraid of coming over the middle either where he gets the most out of his YAC ability. He can also stretch the field vertically and is a weapon with his speed alone, but he has more to his game than just speed and in fact he represents a pretty nice complete receiver profile. 

I think if Roberson can show us he is healthy for the remainder of the season, then he’ll get drafted first, but Gray can certainly turn some heads with more games like this, and with his athletic profile I think you’re looking at an early day three type of player.

Marcus Bryant, Right Tackle, 6’8 314lbs, Sophomore

I had no idea who Marcus Bryant was before this game, as he had only 150 freshman snaps last year, and none in the games I’d seen. This was a very pleasant surprise indeed, as what I got to see was an athletic, strong and clever young Right Tackle. As previously mentioned, this Tulane Defense as a group is pretty bad, but you still have to do your job no matter the competition, and Bryant did that effortlessly. He looked so natural and comfortable, particularly in Pass Protection, where he has good outside space awareness, and strong hands to control edges. At 6’8 he looks the part, but he isn’t one of these too big/too heavy Right Tackles who struggle with speed, in fact his athleticism on display here makes me think his future could well be at Left Tackle, and that would increase his appeal to the NFL.

Unfortunately, he got injured in the third quarter and didn’t come back in, but I’m hoping it was just a precautionary measure rather than a long-term injury. He got rolled up from behind and those ones can be nasty, but let’s hope it isn’t and he can come back this season and help this impressive team stay unbeaten.

Only a true Sophomore so not draft eligible yet, he certainly has made a good first impression and I’ll put him on my watch list for the rest of the season, if he can return from the injury.

Honourable Mentions:

Turner Coxe (Edge, SMU), Elijah Chatman (Defensive Tackle, SMU), Will Jones (Defensive Tackle, Defensive Tackle, SMU), Michael Pratt (Quarterback, Tulane), Tyjae Spears (Running Back, Tulane), Shae Wyatt (Wide Receiver, Tulane), Adonis Friloux (Defensive Tackle, Tulane), Nick Anderson (Linebacker, Tulane). Jaylon Monroe (Cornerback, Tulane). 

USC @ Notre Dame

This is one of those classic rivalry games that I don’t usually get to see, but with Sky Sports showing all Notre Dame home games this season, this was too good an opportunity to pass up. I’ve seen Notre Dame a couple of times so my main focus was on the Trojans and their two Drakes (London and Jackson).

The match-up we were all looking forward to was USC receiver Drake London up against Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, but unfortunately the Fighting Irish star Safety was hurt early in the first quarter. Reports suggest that the injury isn’t serious, which is great news for the draft, but cost us what would have possibly been an epic match-up. Whether Hamilton would have been able to stop London’s immense performance we’ll never know, but the Trojan Wide Receiver is putting on one hell of a show this year. Notre Dame’s Cornerback Clarence Lewis may never sleep again after being tortured here, but he isn’t the only Corner in the College Football world to have their dinner money taken by the big play Receiver. I had London as WR #1 heading into the season and I can’t see how he won’t be come draft day after the season he is putting together.

The “other” Drake, USC Edge Drake Jackson also had himself a nice day, albeit against a very average Offensive Line. I wasn’t so high on Jackson during the summer scouting, but he is looking much more physical and sturdier against the run this year and seems to have more ways of winning as a pass rusher then he did a season ago. I’m still not there on top half of the first round for him, but he’ll almost certainly carry a round one grade for me come the Draft.

The game itself was a bit of a one-sided affair, despite the efforts of the two Drakes, and Notre Dame ran out comfortable winners. These teams boast a couple of really good Running Backs who I like a lot but are very different in stature and style…

Kyren Williams, Running Back, 5’9 199lbs, RS Sophomore

Kyren Williams really looked good in 2020, his first year of starting for the Irish. Statistically at least, he isn’t having the same kind of year this year, but he looked good when I saw them against Cincinnati and he was terrific here in this game, so I guess I must be his good luck charm! He is really quick footed, jumping and cutting in short spurts and it seems he always makes that first defender miss. He isn’t one of those backs that has happy feet though, his movements are never wasted, and he rarely gives up negative plays. He seemed to always gain the important yards in this game and proved his worth as a receiver too with 6 catches, consistently moving the chains for his team. This was his best rushing output of the season so far, with 138 yards at a 5.5 average and two touchdowns. In summer scouting it was easy to see how he stays on the field for all three downs as his hands, and his Pass Protection, maybe the best of this crop of draft eligible Running Backs. 

Some teams won’t like him because of his size, but he plays bigger than that, and although not a burner, he has adequate speed to suit his style of play.

If I were him, I’d definitely be coming out this year as it’s hardly a stellar class, and the 2023 group looks to be sensational, so getting in now may make him quite a bit more money than waiting another year.

Keaontay Ingram, Running Back, 6’0 215lbs, Senior

Keaontay Ingram was a four-star recruit who stayed in state and played three years for the Texas Longhorns. I always felt he looked good there, but his time will always be marred by a couple of highlight bad plays. In 2019 against LSU, he dropped a fourth down touchdown catch when he was wide open, but his most famous error was his fumble at the goal line against TCU last year that cost the Longhorns what was going to be a comfortable win. These mistakes affected his play and his mental health, and he would eventually concede carries to the very highly touted Bijan Robinson. This led to his decision to transfer to USC, and he seems to have rediscovered his high level of play out in the sunshine of Southern California. 

Ingram is a totally different type of Back to Kyren Williams. He is built much bigger, happy to take on contact and willing to grind out those tough yards. But he is more than just that, he can make people miss too, and shows great vision at times cutting back to running lanes that open up away from the designed path. 

He, like Williams, had his best rushing numbers of the year in this game, gaining 138 yards, at a 5.75 average and a score. He isn’t the best receiving back or the best Pass Protector either, so his draft value will be much lower than that of Williams, but the change of scenery for this season has made him relevant again, and a possible late round draft pick

Honourable Mentions:

Jalen McKenzie (Right Tackle, USC), Chris Steele (Cornerback, USC), Jarrett Patterson (Center, Notre Dame),  Michael Mayer (Tight End, Notre Dame), TaRiq Bracy (Cornerback, Notre Dame).

Follow Keith on Twitter – @LordLucken

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