It is time to veer off the beaten path to a degree, as the Watcher initially concentrates on two games which did not possess a great amount of talent, but had two big eaters in particular requiring attention.
Then Oklahoma State and Nebraska receive the spotlight.
Head Scout Brent Sobleski leads you down the path of last weekend’s watching.
Navy once again upended Notre Dame.
Earlier in the year, the Watcher discussed some of the complexities and issues with defending the Midshipmen’s triple option attack from an assignment viewpoint.
It was interesting to see how the Fighting Irish would attack the system, and how one particularly important defender would perform.
Ian Williams had to leave the game at the 7:21 mark in the third quarter after getting his legs chopped out from underneath him. The senior will miss four to six weeks after suffering a torn MCL in his left knee. Unfortunately, it may end the senior’s career if Notre Dame cannot immediately reverse their fortunes.
To add insult to injury, the nose tackle was not playing well leading up to said point.
As a defensive lineman approaches a game against an opponent that thrives on the option, their linemen are required to fire off the ball straight ahead consistently, while using the cut block to their advantage. Many defenders do not like having to ward the blockers from their knees down after down. It is a tough test which should highlight a crucial aspect of playing as a 0 technique, hand play.
Williams was not up to the task most of the game.
The nose tackle was struggling as Navy’s center Brady DeMell consistently got into the defender’s body. Williams could not hold both ‘A’ gap responsibilities in the Irish’s three man front. The end result was Navy fullback, Alexander Teich, gashing the interior of Notre Dame’s defense and having a career day.
Williams was not establishing his hands quickly or effectively. He was not warding off cut blocks. He struggled to work his way through traffic. He did not require double teams on a consistent basis. He was able to throw a few linemen off their blocks, but it was far too little and too late.
Already considered undersized for the position (6’2” 305), Williams draft stock took a hit on multiple fronts against Navy.
There was not much to watch outside the play of Williams among Notre Dame’s roster. Star receiver Michael Floyd sat out due to injury. Top tight end Kyle Rudolph was already lost for the season entering the game. Jumbo guard prospect Chris Stewart (6’5” 351) is immobile and stiff in his play. It is another tough season for the Fighting Irish faithful.
Another name of consequence regarding potential future NFL nose tackles is Hampton’s Kenrick Ellis.
Both Ellis and Williams will require a lot of attention because of a rarity of talent at the position, yet more teams are running the 34 in the NFL than ever before.
Ellis, in particular, has two qualities which cannot be taught.
First, the defensive lineman is 6-feet-5-inches tall and 340 pounds (although there is a discrepancy according to Hampton’s official site), ideal size for a two gap defender.
Second is Ellis’ penchant for hustling every single down he is on the field, a rarity for a talent of his girth. The interior defender makes numerous plays down the line of scrimmage and from the opposite side of the field by scraping and taking angles properly while not giving up on plays.
Statistically, Ellis jumps off the page as well. How many defensive linemen lead their conference in tackles per game? Hampton’s defensive focal point does just that averaging over 10 tackles per game entering this past weekend’s contest against South Carolina State.
As one watches his play closely, the South Carolina transfer lacks polish.
Everything starts with the stance. Ellis does not start with a good base as his footwork is often spread too far apart. Heal-to-toe is the rule of thumb, but Ellis does not always abide, particularly seen in his first half of play. As a result he does not fire off the ball with the same type of coiled explosion seen from other contemporaries.
The second half, a difference was seen. Coming out of the intermission, a coach must have lit a fire in his belly and corrected some of Ellis’ issues. His footwork improved, and he became harder to handle off the snap. A permanent correction is required for Ellis to play to his fullest.
Two other issues were presented.
Ellis does not have violent hands, a requirement for those playing nose tackle. This may push him outside to defensive end in the 34 since he does not deliver a strong blow off the snap nor controls even FCS offensive lineman.
Also the defender is not a fluid athlete. He plods as he runs and does not appear to posses much flexibility in his hips and knees. As a result, how many times has one watched a 340 pound man get pushed around and knocked over by inferior talent? Ellis was found on the ground after a few plays.
Ellis has a lot of potential, but he is raw.
Now it is time to move away from the underappreciated, yet invaluable, space eaters and discuss some more high profile skilled prospects.
Nebraska versus Oklahoma State presented one of the most entertaining match-ups of the season to date.
Top rated cornerback Prince Amukamara led the Blackshirt Defense into Stillwater attempting to cover the nation’s top pass catcher, Justin Blackmon. The two did not disappoint.
Blackmon, a redshirt sophomore, is especially intriguing and recently came within the scouting spotlight. Many overlook young underclassmen, until those players cannot be ignored any longer.
Not only is Blackmon the nation’s leading receiver, the only target currently with 1100 plus yards, but he also has three more touchdown receptions than anyone else (14). And he averages nearly 18 yards per catch. A tough draw for any cover man, including Amukamara who is arguably the best in the nation.
Blackmon lit up the Nebraska defense to the tune of five catches for 157 yards.
The receiver possesses fantastic body control and reliable hands. He runs good routes, always giving his quarterback the opportunity to make a throw. He adjusts to the ball in the air remarkably well. He has the ability to stretch the field, at least he showed as much against the Cornhuskers.
He will have to show more competence releasing off the line when jammed and re-routed. Currently, Oklahoma State’s spread offense does not lend much to this transition, and Nebraska did not show an overt amount of cover two.
Despite Blackmon’s big day, Amukamara displayed the skills which have him generally regarded as a top ten talent.
The cornerback is particularly fluid in the hips transitioning easily while running down the field with any assignment. He jams at the line well, when asked. He could be more physical tackling, but he is willing. No receiver beat the senior clean throughout the day.
Blackmon’s biggest gain came when Amukamara clearly got caught looking in the backfield during a fleaflicker. Blackmon sold the route, and Amukamara had to chase. He was still in position to make the play but could not locate the football in time.
Amukamara’s one downfall came as he did not have a good feel for the pressure on his back. He needs to be able to ride an opponents hip and understand angles and leverage. A few catches came when he was already in position but failed to do as such.
Overall, Nebraska’s coaches had no issue leaving their best player out on the island. His skills were apparent, but he had some struggles.
Finally, it is time to return to the play of the hogs.
Nebraska has the best pair of guards in college football. Keith Williams and Ricky Henry pave the way for the ‘Huskers top rushing attack.
Williams may be entering the conversation as the top ranked guard in the upcoming class. After watching his play the past few weeks, it is obvious he is nasty. He moves well laterally and in space. He delivers a blow while firing off the ball hard. He explodes through his hips while getting extension. And his recognition during stunts and blitzes has been commendable.
Williams may not be as physically dominant as a Mike Iupati, who was drafted in the first round this past year, but he has the talent to be a top guard prospect which become invaluable when drafted in the second or third round.
Henry is a very good college football player, but he does not have the same all around skill set as his bookend. He is not as big, as powerful, and can be thrown off blocks. He does take a nice first step out of his stance, but he is best when asked to block within the “phone booth”.
Remember…the eye in the sky does not lie, and the Watcher sees all.