Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
Anyone who tuned into this game for entertainment purposes probably left wishing they had those three hours of their lives back. From the perspective of draft prospect analysis, there were numerous nuggets mined from this game.
Michigan State’s defense has had to make reparations after the departures of the likes of William Gholston, Anthony Rashad White, Chris Norman, and Johnny Adams.
The Spartans don’t seem to have broken stride though, limiting an anemic South Florida offense to six points while scoring two defensive touchdowns. They terrorized opposing quarterback Bobby Eveld with a consistent swarm of blitzers, headed up by Max Bullough and Denicos Allen.
At only 5’11” 218, it’s tough to project Allen to an NFL role. It’s tough to argue with his production in this outing though. He put two big hits on Eveld as a blitzer, one of which forced an interception. He also batted a ball and just missed a sack in the fourth quarter on a double A gap blitz. His speed is predictably his biggest asset. He used it to chase plays all over the field and get into great positions in coverage. Allen struggled to fight through congestion in the middle of the field to fit the run through. His lack of size and strength is evident when tasked with taking on blocks at the point of attack. He’s well-adjusted as a highly undersized linebacker when it comes to tackling technique and anticipation of play, but it’s tough to believe that can get it done in a traditional linebacker role in the NFL.
While Max Bullough has the size you look for in a Mike linebacker, his play leaves much to be desired. This game didn’t change that. Bullough continued to show struggles reading keys and letting them take him to the ball. His inability to diagnose plays quickly forces him to take on blockers instead of beating them to spots and making plays. He also showed a lack of discipline on a few occasions when it came to run fits, leaving a big hole up the A gap due to overpursuit on one play. Bullough was disruptive as a blitzer, where he and Allen caused mayhem on a number of cross fire blitzes from the middle. He’s certainly an instinctive football player, but he doesn’t exhibit a high football IQ. His game is just littered with inconsistencies, which is troubling when you consider his athletic upside isn’t extraordinarily high.
Talented cornerback Darqueze Dennard had a quiet outing, minus two plays he’d like to have a second go at. The first was a dropped interception he may have taken for six points had he not let it bounce right off his numbers. Eveld and a receiver had a miscommunication on the outside and credit Dennard for keeping his eyes on the quarterback and driving on the ball. Dennard has shown plus ball skills in the past, so this may be an isolated play. The other was a long completion he allowed. Dennard played a press bail technique at the snap, turning towards the receiver in man coverage against a nine route. He even turned his head to locate the football in a timely fashion, but the receiver used a subtle push off to free space for a big reception on his back shoulder. Making that play is a tough ask for a cornerback. Dennard played with proper route leverage and showed fluidity to turn and run. He showed good physicality on a number of occasions as a tackler and getting physical with receivers as well. It wasn’t a bad performance, but Dennard left a bit of meat on the bone.
Safety Isaiah Lewis made his mark on a number of plays, but probably not in the way he would have liked. There were two very similar plays in which Lewis drove on a post route from outside and ran right through the receiver trying to play the ball, each getting flagged for pass interference. Lewis also gave up a reception (Eveld only completed six passes on the day) for a first down on a corner route in which he had inside leverage and couldn’t limit separation well enough out of the receiver’s break. He did show up well enough in run support, making a few tackles in the box with notable strength and aggressiveness. It’s still a day he would like to forget. At a relatively small 5’10” 208 and without overly impressive athleticism, Lewis looks like a borderline squad player in the NFL.
Kurtis Drummond’s future prospects aren’t quite as bleak. A week after snagging an impressive one-handed interception against Western Michigan, the junior safety put in another strong outing. He was consistent making tackles in space and got ball carriers to the ground when they found open space. He may not be the most powerful tackler, but he certainly looks reliable. Drummond showed off some route anticipation ability and got into some great positions in coverage. He’s both bigger, at 6’1” 201, and more athletic than his teammate on the backend. That showed on Saturday and is promising for Drummond’s future if he continues to develop in East Lansing.
Offensive tackle Fou Fonoti didn’t enter the fray until late into the second quarter and left in the third. He looked physically overwhelmed in numerous confrontations with Aaron Lynch, struggling to match for length. Fonoti also exhibited some balance issues when it came to resetting his feet on contact and generally played with sloppy footwork. The right tackle will probably come away from this performance with much to be desired.
All of South Florida’s notables come from the defensive side of the ball and are headlined by highly-touted defensive end Aaron Lynch. The sophomore transfer from Notre Dame was quite disruptive with the snaps he was given, but lacked that finishing element to his game. Lynch exhibited a quick get-off combined with violent hand usage to overwhelm blockers on first contact. He utilized a variety of pass rush moves including a rip, swim, and spin move. He forced hurried throws and put a couple hits on the QB, but was unable to finish on most occasions because of his high pad level. At 6’6”, he needs to do a better job sinking his hips to drop his pads. Instead he tried to use a swim move too often and exposed his chest. Lynch’s hips also appeared to be a bit stiff when he needed to bend around the corner, even losing his footing and ending up on the ground a few times. Lynch is only a sophomore and still has some developing to do, as expected, but showed impressive baseline traits in this outing on which he can build.
Defensive end Ryne Giddins had a limited snap count and didn’t get much done while he was on the field. He too often overwhelmed on initial contact, despite using his hands quite well. As a pass rusher, a lack of explosiveness kept him from threatening the edge. He was able to bat away the hands of a pass rusher and get a hit on the Spartan quarterback once though. The scarce playing time he got didn’t enable him to get into any kind of rhythm and kept him from making an impact.
The pulse of the Bulls’ defense, middle linebacker DeDe Lattimore had a very active day at Spartan Stadium. Lattimore showed a quick read and react to diagnose plays and get to the football. His instincts enable him to pick up on what the offense is doing. It’s an important part of his game, because he both light at 6’1” 237 and lacks significant speed to pursue the football. Lattimore left a bit to be desired when he had to take on blocks. Linemen at the second level were able to latch onto his pads and drive him backwards on multiple occasions. He also took poor angles to perimeter plays and was simply outran by ball carriers on other plays. His fortunes were a bit better in pass coverage, where he showed an ability to follow the quarterback’s eyes and get into passing lanes in the middle of the field. Lattimore’s playing style and smarts make him a productive college player, but his upside moving forward is rather limited.
Safety Mark Joyce didn’t have his name mentioned often, but showed a few things that are worth noting. His footwork was an issue in man coverage, often with tight ends, where he was sloppy in backpeddling and transition. The Spartans passing attack found other places to pick on, so Joyce didn’t get on the end of too many balls. In run support, Joyce made a few tackles in space but didn’t get involved in the box too often. He did make an impressive tackle for loss in a goal-to-go situation by running through the outside shoulder of a lead block and sealing the edge. It will take a more competent and sophisticated passing attack to get a feel for Joyce’s merits as a coverage safety.