Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
College football fans may not have come down from their Saturday high just yet. Except for Ohio State fans, who are surely wringing their hands at the timing of their first loss under Urban Meyer. As teams pursued victory in their conference championship showdowns and regional rivalries, several prospects stood out. Let’s get to it.
Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma
Bedlam was bedlam. It was a game filled with viable draft prospects dueling it out in the cold. Between the late letdowns and big plays, there was quite a bit to take away.
Diminutive Oklahoma receiver Jalen Saunders stole the show. Between his 64 yard punt return touchdown (which is new to nobody), his long run up the sideline on a double reverse, and his flag route touchdown reception to put Oklahoma ahead on the final drive, Saunders was the game’s difference-maker. When the ball is in his hands, great things happen for the Sooners. That won’t change in the NFL, but there are still questions about his route running and traditional receiver skills.
Gabe Ikard had an up and down day from the inside of the Sooner offensive line. He has always been a skilled mover and solid blocker in space, which showed up in the screen game. He also handled the interior rushers of Oklahoma State with a sound anchor and extension to lock out. Ikard was still challenged at the point of attack physically, never truly controlling defenders to create space in a powerful way.
Any disruption Oklahoma’s offense hemorrhaged from the interior likely came from Calvin Barnett. He made a heads-up play to bat a pass in the first quarter, but didn’t have much success as a rusher otherwise. He was productive against the run throughout, controlling blockers to dominate the point of attack and spinning back into holes on multiple occasions. It was a solid showing for a defensive tackle prospect who has solid upside with some technical development in the NFL.
One of the most improved cornerback prospects in this year’s class is Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert. His size and length came through for him on Saturday, where he put his ability to disrupt plays at the catch point on display. Gilbert also looked more comfortable in and out of his backpedal, anticipating and jumping a hook route with precision at one point. His missed interception on Oklahoma’s final drive will give him nightmares, but it probably should have been reviewed.
The other highly-touted cornerback in this frosty affair was Oklahoma’s Aaron Colvin. Colvin was up and down in run support, which is par for his course. He did flash in press coverage at the line of scrimmage, using his hands well to jam Cowboy receivers and reroute with effectiveness. His day was rather quiet though. No news may be good news.
In more disappointing news comes Oklahoma State receiver Tracy Moore. He failed to adjust to a poorly-placed yet catchable ball and had a shocking drop, both on third down. Moore didn’t even record a catch until the Cowboys’ final offensive drive, emerging wide open after Clint Chelf pumped a wide receiver screen to the outside. A disappointing day at the office for Moore.
Central Florida vs. SMU
A Paris Hilton book signing could have drawn a bigger crowd than this American Conference showdown, but a few hundred fans did come out to brave the chill.
Blake Bortles is the player everyone’s eyes were on in Dallas and rightfully so. For Bortles, it ends as another efficient outing in which he led the Knights to a hard-fought victory. The conditions played a role early, but Bortles settled in as the game went on and was more effective in the second half.
A few intermediate balls died in the wind for Bortles in the first half, one that was a dropped interception. His issues with stride and throwing base are still hindering his velocity, which only showed through more in the cold. It wasn’t all bad news though. Bortles made great decisions throughout and showed the eye discipline to find receivers on the move. On one specific play, he held a zone cornerback underneath of the smash route he wanted with his eyes before delivering for a solid gain. His exploits to intermediate areas and middle of the field came through for him again en route to a solid outing.
Auburn vs. Missouri
S-E-C. S-E-C. S-E-C. Okay, so this wasn’t your traditional SEC championship scoreline, but it was a highly entertaining game without a doubt.
Tre Mason stole the show in Gus Malzahn’s high-flying offense. 304 rushing yards is nothing to sneeze at, but they didn’t come entirely cheap for Mason. His urgency through holes and ability to fit thru them, no matter how small, was important. Once he found space at the Missouri second level, it meant big yardage. His ability to make the first man miss and pick up yardage after contact allowed him to pick up tough yardage as well. It took a Herculean effort on a big stage, but welcome to the Heisman discussion Tre Mason.
The consensus for the #2 OT spot has mostly been a flavor of the week type to this point, but redshirt sophomore left tackle Greg Robinson has thrown himself firmly into the discussion. His effectiveness in the running game was nothing short of mesmerizing. He strikes with violence, latches, and drives until he plants defenders into the turf. His usage in a run game and play-action predicated offense will raise questions, but Robinson’s size, athleticism, and mentality made believers out of many on Saturday.
Auburn star pass rusher Dee Ford had a bit of a stinker. Missouri attacked him in the running game and took advantage of his inability to play with strength at the line of scrimmage and set an edge. Ford was marginally more productive as a rusher, where he was unable to overset the right tackle with his speed for long stretches. His natural athleticism is hard to write off, but Ford is stuck in the wrong scheme right now and isn’t producing consistently enough.
Defensive dynamo Kony Ealy came up with some big plays for Missouri but also felt the wrath of Greg Robinson on a few occasions. His two forced fumbles were game changers. He put his versatility on display with production from the edge and the interior, which is something teams will love when they throw his name up on their draft boards.
Missouri receiver L’Damian Washington had one of his quietest games of the year, only bringing down 3 catches. He reeled in a 12 yard reception in the first quarter while making a catch in traffic, but his absolute need to let passes hit his chest is a big worry when he sees passing windows that are much more narrow on Sundays.
Ohio State vs. Michigan State
With the Big Ten in the spotlight, numerous draft prospects made their cases for NFL scouts. It’s not all roses though. There were a few who did themselves no favors.
Darqueze Dennard put in the type of shift that most have come to expect from him. That being one where opposing offensive coordinators stay away entirely and have no luck when they do muster up the courage. Dennard was an island in man coverage, shutting down the Buckeyes’ vertical passing team with his athleticism, positioning, and ball skills. His development throughout his senior season has him piquing at the right time.
Indianapolis wasn’t as kind to inside linebacker Max Bullough, who was unusually quiet defending the run. His read and react to the Buckeyes’ ground game didn’t come through as Ohio State varied their calls up front. Bullough’s run fits found cul-de-sacs of interior lineman pinning him from Carlos Hyde on a consistent basis. For a linebacker who isn’t going to time out on the athletic end of the spectrum, Bullough must play with better instincts.
Buckeye workhorse Carlos Hyde put in a workman-like effort per usual. His patience to let blocks develop in the inside zone attack is a big reason for his success. He picked up tough yardage throughout the game by churning his legs and maintaining balance through contact, growing increasingly more effective as the game wore on. His inability to break off a single run of 20+ was a complement to the tackling in the Spartans’ secondary, but a reality of what Carlos Hyde brings in the open field.
Ryan Shazier made some important stops in the running game and put his incredible athletic ability on full display. Pursuing sideline to sideline or shooting gaps into the backfield, his ability to close on ball carriers in a flash is the hallmark of his game. He didn’t always handle blocks well though, getting peeled off the turf after a few different plays. Shazier’s pass coverage was shaky as well. Losing his composure and throwing a forearm shiver into a Michigan State receiver on third and long was one thing, but poor route recognition in zone coverage also showed up. Shazier made a few plays for the highlight reel, but this wasn’t one of his better showings.
The biggest game-changer on Ohio State’s defense was C.J. Barnett, in both good and bad ways. Barnett showed his aggressive side and made numerous tackles in the box, which is what he does best. He also got beaten on an out and up for an early Spartan touchdown after taking an overaggressive angle rolling over the top of a Bradley Roby blitz. He momentarily made up for that by jumping a hook route for an interception in the 3rd quarter.
However, Barnett would gaffe again in the fourth quarter though. He let a Spartan tight end slip behind him for an easy touchdown reception on a rollout throwback. Barnett seemed to have the route diagnosed on the crucial third down play, before inexplicably allowing the tight end to get behind him. The performance as a whole leaves more questions than answers from Barnett.