The biggest match-up of Week 9 was the Michigan State/Michigan affair, and unfortunately I haven’t got hold of the tape of that one to do a deep dive on yet. I really wanted to get a good look at the Spartans, and the highlights at least suggest this is a very good team, who may have some say in the Big Ten title race.
I did get to analyse three games in depth though, and we’re at that stage of the season where I want to get eyes on as many different teams as possible, so that lead me down a dark alley of Thursday night football (Friday morning for us) in the American and two teams with a combined record of 5-9……
South Florida @ East Carolina
I usually get a couple of games in of these bottom tier American teams per season, and this was my first look at both of these. It was a decent game, with highlight plays squashed in between severe mediocrity, but it did throw up a couple of USF Bulls who, whilst unlikely to get drafted, certainly were impressive here and worth talking about.
Donovan Jennings (Left Tackle, 6’5 338lbs, Senior)
Jennings is a four-year starter at Left Tackle with almost 2000 career snaps under his belt. He always stands out when I’ve watched USF in the past and he did so again here, looking comfortable protecting the edge and combined nicely with Left Guard Demetris Harris (who also impressed) to open some nice holes in the run game. Now ECU’s Edges were not great and didn’t threaten at all, so this wasn’t his sternest test and looking at his previous games this year he seems to have struggled a bit against the bigger teams like NC State, Florida and BYU. He’s built more like a Right Tackle and you have to imagine that’s where he’ll start out in an NFL training camp, but I like him inside at Guard where I think he can move people off the ball without the worry of playing out in space against NFL Edge’s, who will be a different proposition to what he faces most weeks in the American.
He will certainly be one my underrated guys and hopefully I’ll catch USF again before the season ends, against better competition.
Kelvin Pinkney (Defensive Tackle, 6’2 315lbs, Senior)
I had to look back through my previous seasons notes to find anything on Pinkney, and all I found were a couple of average game grades from 2020. This performance then seemed to come out of nowhere as he was totally dominant, virtually unblockable and disruptive throughout, and ended the game with a very impressive 7 tackles, 1.5 for a loss. Obviously I’m not going to assume that he’s worked his way into the draftable range with just one great effort here, and the fact that he’s a five year player at USF would make you inclined to think that perhaps this is an anomaly, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on big old #96 when I catch them again.
Dustyn Hall (Guard, USF). Demontrey Jacobs (Right Tackle, USF). Kelley Joiner (Running Back, USF). Antonio Grier (Linebacker, USF). Mekhi LaPointe (Safety, USF). C.J Johnson (Wide Receiver, East Carolina). Teagan Wilk (Safety, East Carolina).
Texas @ Baylor
I saw Texas a couple of weeks ago in that Red River Showdown thriller, so I was paying more attention in this game to the Baylor prospects. The Bears have somehow moved to 7-1 on the season after winning this one, and I must admit they have some really talented players on Offense and Defense who should be playing on Sundays in the near future. Before we start chatting about the three Bears who impressed me the most, I feel I need to shout out Texas Quarterback Casey Thompson. Here is a guy who stepped in when Sam Ehlinger got hurt in their bowl game last year and ripped off 170 yards and 4 Touchdowns on just 8 completions! Somehow, he managed to lose the vacant starting job to Freshman Hudson Card, but thankfully he has won that job back now, and although the results haven’t been going his way, he has looked very impressive indeed.
Right, let’s dive into these Baylor boys…..
Abram Smith (Running Back, 5’11 221lbs, Senior)
I have no previous notes on Smith at all.
His story though is a very intriguing. He was low on the depth chart at Running Back for his first two seasons (2018 & 2019), and then was moved to Linebacker for the 2020 campaign. He was then moved back to Running Back for this season, and to say he has gone off would be an understatement. He currently sits eighth in the entire nation with 116.25 yards/game but has the best average out of all the guys above him, with a whopping 7.38 yards per carry.
Now we know this Texas defense, and let’s face it most, if not all, Big XII defense’s aren’t very good, but these are not numbers you can instantly dismiss, and now I’ve seen him in action he very much looks the part of a next level talent. Being a bigger back he certainly doesn’t mind initiating contact with defenders, and he displayed nice balance here too, rarely being troubled by the first tackler. He’s more than just a power back though as he has surprising wiggle to him too and made some lovely cuts to space, which got him big chunk yards in this game.
Now we haven’t seen too much in the passing game, so we can’t grade his hands yet without more tape, but his Pass Protection is really good, so there is potential here to be a three down back in the NFL.
There will be plenty of questions to answer before the draft, like is this a one season wonder? Why did he take so long to crack the starting line-up? But if he can continue this level of production, whilst looking this natural as a player until the season ends, then we’re talking about a fast-rising prospect who ticks a lot of boxes.
R.J Sneed (Wide Receiver, 6’1 203lbs, Senior)
Sneed seems to have been around forever, which to a degree he has, as he’s a fifth year Senior. For the first four of those years he was catching passes from the inconsistent Quarterback Charlie Brewer, but now Baylor have Gerry Bohanon under center. Bohanon has some accuracy issues too, but he certainly has a bigger arm and puts plenty of zip on his passes, and Sneed and fellow Wide Receiver Tyquan Thornton are reaping those rewards. You can argue that Thornton is probably the better draft prospect out of the two, but Sneed has nice size and speed and is very consistent, the type a Quarterback relies on when needs must. He moved the chains consistently in this game, creating easy separation, mainly from the slot, and showed nice strength at the catch point when he was challenged. He is one of those classic late round receivers, who does everything well but nothing great, yet carries value to NFL teams through consistency and reliability.
Terrel Bernard (Linebacker, 6’1 222lbs, Senior)
Everyone should have a Terrel Bernard on their team. He is the catalyst of the Defense, the vocal leader and more importantly the tone setter. He has been good for the last couple of seasons now, but he seems to be turning it up a level in his final season in Waco, and there are some big draft media outlets making noise for him now.
He was impressive here, always around the ball and he was instrumental in limiting possibly the best Running Back in the nation (Bijan Robinson) to a paltry 43 yards rushing at a 2.5 average. This is a very underrated Baylor team in general, but the Defense really surprised me in this game, as they dominated the trenches and let Bernard and fellow Linebacker Dillon Doyle clean up plays. Bernard finished the game with 7 tackles, half for a loss, a pass break-up and a couple of Quarterback pressures, very good numbers against an explosive Offense.
Now he won’t be everyone’s cup of tea come draft time as his size will certainly come into question, but he has a better chance of being valued more these days than he would have done just five years ago. Teams will take a chance now on these small, instinctive and quick Linebackers, and if he stays healthy and productive for the rest of the season, he certainly could go in the top 100.
Dillon Doyle (Linebacker, Baylor). JT Woods (Safety, Baylor). Tope Imade (Guard, Texas). Ovie Oghoufo (Edge, Texas).
Penn State @ Ohio State
I’d covered both these teams in depth once this season, but their fortunes have changed a fair bit since I last saw them. I watched Ohio State’s loss to Oregon in week two, and Penn State’s win over Auburn in week three, but since then Penn State have been rolled three times in a row now, while Ohio State have not lost again and boast one of the best Offense’s in the country.
I did not think this game would be remotely close, but it was, and if it wasn’t for two bad mistakes by Penn State Quarterback Sean Clifford, I believe the Nittany Lions would have won this game. Clifford will not be an NFL Quarterback, but I have a soft spot for him as he is a very entertaining College Quarterback who always seems to make plays for his team. Apart from those two bad plays (a fumble on a sack returned for a TD and terrible interception) he was his usual entertaining self, spreading the ball out to his playmakers and watching them do their thing. The big three Wide Receivers for Penn State (Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington & KeAndre Lambert-Smith) all were exceptional in this game, but we won’t write too much about these guys as they are top end prospects. I would have written about Penn State Edge Arnold Ebiketie, but I did that in their week three write-up against Auburn. In fact in that write-up I said, “If he can show up on the biggest stages (Ohio State & Michigan) then I think we’ll start to hear big draft hype over him, and rightly so.” Well, we can tick that Ohio State box off now as he absolutely destroyed highly ranked Buckeye Left Tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, so for me that just leaves Michigan now for him to show us he can be a day two guy.
I’ve chosen a Penn State Defensive Tackle who has impressed me this season, but is way down the rankings right now, and a highly rated Ohio State Edge who has slipped a bit down draft boards this season, but should climb back up with more games like this.
Derrick Tangelo (Defensive Tackle, 6’2 308lbs, Senior)
Tangelo is a Duke graduate transfer who impressed me a lot during his time with the Blue Devils. He moved up a level this season to play with Penn State, and for me at least, he has continued to look good. Now he isn’t a stat sheet filler, and whilst stats are misleading you do need to have a bit of production to go with the impressive play. The problem seems to be finishing plays with Tangelo. He will consistently win off the snap and create a problem for the Offense, but he doesn’t take advantage of the situation, and will either lose leverage and contain or miss a tackle. If he can put it all together then you have a big explosive man, with active hands, who will be a problem, but we need to see more finish for him to get drafted, as guys like these can be found anywhere these days.
Zach Harrison (Edge, 6’6 272lbs, Junior)
During summer scouting I had Harrison as Edge three in this class, only behind Kayvon Thibodeaux and Aidan Hutchinson. It’s safe to say he isn’t living up to the lofty billing I gave him, but this performance against a very decent Offensive Line is giving me renewed hope. It took a little while for him to warm up in this game, in fact during that first quarter I was thinking he was in for another no show as he had seemed to have no joy at all against the big Tackles. What we saw from the second quarter onwards was sheer pass rush dominance, a clinic on how to win in a variety of ways. By the end of the game he had left highly regarded Left Tackle Rasheed Walker a broken man and undraftable. Harrison is so long and he can bend too, which means he can reach the top of the arc quickly and use his length and bend to get around the Tackle in a flash. He can also counter inside, again using his arms to keep the Lineman off his chest and burst up field. Now like Tangelo he is missing the end product somewhat, having just two sacks through seven games, but with Harrison the traits are all there and at a very high level, and you know the NFL will overlook production for traits, as proved by the selection of Odafe Oweh in the first round last year.
Now I’m not going to say that Harrison is a first round player, especially as this Edge class is potentially very deep, but if he comes out and tests well he will be hard to overlook in the top 50 for sure.
Garrett Wilson (Wide Receiver, Ohio State). Luke Wypler (Center, Ohio State). Paris Johnson (Guard, Ohio State). Cameron Brown (Nickel, Ohio State). Jahan Dotson (Wide Receiver, Penn State). Parker Washington (Wide Receiver, Penn State). Juice Scruggs (Guard, Penn State). Brenton Strange (Tight End, Penn State). Arnold Ebiketie (Edge, Penn State). Ji’Ayir Brown (Safety, Penn State). Joey Poter Jr (Cornerback, Penn State).
By Keith Lucken – @lordlucken