After going on hiatus for a week, the Notebook returns with an eclectic quintet of contest selections. One will not find any reports on the blowout in Eugene or Texas’ lambasting of Oklahoma State. No. Instead, this week highlights games which range from the opposite sides of the spectrum schematically to a couple lesser programs are thrown into the spotlight. Plus, one crazy game took place for Iowa.
The day began as the fourth ranked Iowa Hawkeyes found themselves down by two touchdowns in the third quarter to the Indiana Hoosiers. An opportunistic defense and an offensive explosion in the fourth once again propelled Kirk Ferentz’s program to the win column. When looking at Iowa’s potential pro prospects, two big cogs are their bookend offensive tackles. At right tackle, Kyle Calloway is a typical strongside blocker: a stout run blocker that does have his deficiencies athletically. For example, in multiple instances in this game (and in previous viewings), Calloway had to bail out early in his pass set, opening his shoulders, crossing his feet, and rallying to drive a defender or two wide. He could be helped if he were more consistent with his initial punch which oft times is a bit too wide to control a defender on a regular basis. Meanwhile, his counterpart on the left side, Brian Bulaga, has yet to really hit his stride since returning from an illness. This athletic and at times overpowering blindside protector has been erratic in both his pass and run blocking.
To the credit of each of the tackles, they certainly had their hands full with arguably the best senior duo of defensive ends in the nation. The Hoosiers have a former national sack leader in Greg Middleton and a very athletic prospect opposite in Jamie Kirlew. Middleton in particular played well. His speed rush beat the tackles on a few occasions, though quarterback Ricky Stanzi generally had some room to step up on the pocket. Middleton also held up against the run by keeping his shoulders square and not being driven or run laterally against Iowa’s zone stretch offense. Kirlew brings a different game to the table as opposed to his teammate. He is listed at 259 pounds which is twenty five pounds lighter than Middleton and uses his quickness to really beat opponents off the edge and make plays in the backfield. This end has registered over 12 tackles for loss each of the last three years. Kirlew certainly has some pro potential as a 34 outside linebacker. These two play off each other extremely combining for 43.5 quarterback sacks and 75 tackles for loss the past three seasons.
Iowa has their own tough defense. Particularly, their junior defensive end Adrian Clayborn has played at a very high level this season. Clayborn is a traditional 43 end in Iowa’s base defense that is very strong at the point of attack. He has continued to develop as a pass rusher with a team leading 6.5 sacks. His squat frame and strong hands allow this defender to really control some offensive tackles and blow them back off the ball. Linebacker Pat Angerer continues his yeoman’s efforts in the middle with 89 total tackles. He has shown some trouble working through traffic. While junior Tyler Sash continues to be Johnny-on-the-Spot with a momentum shifting interception for a touchdown after the ball bounced off numerous other players. This defense is disciplined and simply waits to pounce on opposing mistakes.
Now, football purists should have loved to watch the match-up between a resurgent Temple program visiting Annapolis to take on the Armed Forces’ elite football squad, Navy. A game which featured a total of 68 yards passing between both units. Neither team is particularly littered with NFL caliber talent, but a few names should be mentioned.
Andre Neblett is a defensive tackle for the Owls with a ton of upside. Athletically, this 300 pound man can reportedly do a back flip and post 37 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench-press. As a football player, his efforts against Navy were dominant at times and underwhelming at others. Neblett can be very explosive off the ball in short areas. Multiple times he absolutely destroyed the Midshipmen’s powerful center by firing off the ball low and hard while blowing up Navy’s Midline. Other times, he was seen accepting blows instead of delivering. Obviously, when Neblett was not able to reestablish the line of scrimmage, Navy was able to gain large chunks of yards. It will be interesting to see if this type of effort is seen throughout, or merely a result of facing Navy’s triple option attack which continually attacks defensive linemen with cut blocks.
Offensively, Temple is a power running attack with an outstanding freshman to note for future years. Bernard Pierce has now tallied back to back two hundred yard rushing games. This runner has nice size at 6 feet even and 212 pounds. Up front is an improving and powerful bunch of offensive linemen. The lone senior is left tackle Devin Tyler. This blocker has plenty of area to improve. He is stiff as a pass protector and always leads with his head run blocking. Actually the team’s best run blocker may be an extension of their offensive line. Senior tight end Steve Maneri is a powerful blocker with a large frame at 6-feet-6-inches tall and 275 pounds. He may have the build to develop into an offensive lineman if given time to develop at the next level. He is also fourth on the team in receptions.
Over in Big Twelve country, a game of complete contrast to the aforementioned was underway as the pass happy offenses of Kansas and Texas Tech met.
The Jayhawks of Kansas have two particular talents which will receive close scrutiny from scouting circles. First is junior wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe. The Red Raiders kept this offense under wraps for most of the day and Briscoe’s play suffered for the most part even though he still posted 9 catches for 110 yards. Most of Briscoe’s damage was done on simple underneath routes. Though it is readily apparent the size and strength of this receiver’s hands posses, despite one easy drop. The second prospect of note is safety Darrell Stuckey. This senior is impressive physically and a solid tackler, but his play in the open field in this game was less than spectacular taking bad angles. In a pass happy game which would generally expect a lot from the play of a top safety prospect, Stuckey was more effective in the box or even blitzing.
Texas Tech also had its problems offensively. Most of this was due to poor quarterback play, but the offensive line struggled in stretches as well. Senior guard Brandon Carter pulled a hamstring during the team’s first offensive series and missed the rest of the half. He did return in the second half, and greatly helped an anemic running attack. Carter is not very athletic, but he is very big and his positioning was outstanding to help open up the offense to a degree. In the fourth quarter, the Red Raiders were finally able to really open up and put points on the board.
Tech’s defense was much better throughout the game. Senior defensive end Brandon Sharpe has been this unit’s top performer, and he is as good as his namesake. This defender has now registered 10.5 quarterback sacks this year. Sharpe is not a speed rusher off the edge, but rather dominates by doing the little things well. He runs his twist stunts effectively. He continually uses his hands to keep his jersey clean. He hustles. And despite his listed size at 6-feet-3-inches tall and 254 pounds, he appears quite powerful against much bigger offensive linemen.
As the night games took form Arkansas simply ran over, around, and past a woeful Eastern Michigan program. Ryan Mallett was once again a focal point. Recently, head coach Bobby Petrino admitted that he would like to see more touchh on the passes from his quarterback. Clearly this redshirt sophomore signal caller can throw the ball through a wall, but his completion percentage has dipped dramatically against the Razorbacks three biggest opponents. Against Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi; Mallet’s completion percentage went as low as 34.3 percent and no higher than 44.4. So the thought of consistently hitting those short to immediate throws with a little less velocity could certainly help this area of his game. The Eagles of Eastern Michigan were the perfect medicine as Mallett completed 14 of his 16 pass attempts. This talented prospect stayed in the game much longer than many expected during this route, but he was still able to hit some very nice throws over the top as well.
Clearly, new head coach Ron English has his hands full while trying to establish an identity for his MAC program. After losing their top player and prospect, senior quarterback Andy Schmitt, to injury earlier this season; this program has been in complete disrepair. Another senior with some promise, running back Terrance Blevins, has been relegated to mop up duty. Their only player of consequence is a transfer that followed English from Michigan, even after taking a year off of football. That player’s name is Johnny Sears. Sears is a cornerback by trade but does basically everything on the team. He is their kick returner. He is their gunner on punt. He is the team’s top athlete. And only one of Mallet’s 14 completions was made directly in his coverage. Sears is still a fringe prospect at best, but he is about the only reason to watch the Eagles program currently. Bravo for the effort they did put forth in the second half of this particular game.
This past Tuesday saw a fantastic finish to two of the better MAC programs. Bowling Green was able to pull out a last second victory against the previous conference champions, the Buffalo Bulls.
Freddie Barnes was the biggest name in this contest. When everything settles, this Bowling Green product should be a finalist (and potentially the winner) of the Belitnikoff award as the nation’s top wide receiver. Barnes is the only player in the country that can boast his 8 catches for 122 yards was actually a “down” performance since he had averaged over 12 catches per game prior to this meeting. When the game was on the line though, it was Barnes who came through with the game winning touchdown catch. Early in this game, Buffalo did a great job frustrating this highly productive receiver. They did so by challenging the receiver at the line. Something no other team has done effectively to date. Barnes was only able to get open with crossing routes underneath. As the game wore on, he was able to beat the press coverage over the top and began making plays. The win certainly can heal his wounds of not putting up his typical numbers.
Another reason Buffalo was able to contain Barnes for most of the night because of their fine tandem of safeties. Davonte Shannon is arguably the very best prospect the MAC has to offer. This junior is a nice sized and athletic safety that played deep third or half throughout the entire contest. Mike Newton is the smaller of the two safeties, but a bigger hitter. Newton does a nice job flying up into the action and form tackling.
As for Buffalo’s offense, it does lack some punch after the departure of graduating quarterback Drew Willy and the shoulder injury sustained to their program’s all time leading rusher James Starks. One name of note is tight end is Jesse Rack. Naaman Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin are two fine senior wide receivers that garner most of the attention. Rack quietly goes about his business as a fine blocker off the edge, stretching the seam on occasion, while now tied for the team lead with 6 receiving touchdowns.
Check back in the coming weeks for updates, while the previous incarnations can be found below!