Some notes on the 2nd annual Texas vs the Nation game.
Game's Biggest Loser
That honor goes to Nation coach Buddy Ryan who showed his class by calling Blake Mitchell "a goddamn disaster" when Ryan was interviewed at the end of the first half. Mitchell threw a bad interception on the game's opening drive. On the second drive Mitchell fumbled a snap which was recovered by Texas. On his third drive, Mitchell threw an incomplete pass on third and three. When the Nation's fourth drive started with five minutes left in the first quarter and still no score in the game, Kent Hill was the qauterback and not Mitchell. Ryan didn't put Mitchell back in until the game was down to its final six minutes. The Nation team was down 41-7. After Mitchell completed a two-yard pass, Buddy Ryan called two runs and punted on fourth down. The Nation looked like the more athletic, more talented team overall. Ryan's free to blame his team's abysmal performance on Mitchell and "some [kids] who better be looking for different jobs," but it looked more like a reflection of their coach.
Blake Mitchell (South Carolina) looked like Blake Mitchell. He can show patience in the pocket, make his reads, put the ball where it needs to be, even move around and buy himself some time. Then he'll go and make a poor decision or bad throw, or, as in the game's opening drive, he'll combine both of those things on the same play. But he was one of the more intriguing prospects coming into the game and he certainly deserved more playing time than he received.
Taylor Tharp (Boise State) threw almost twice as many passes as Mitchell and Nick Hill (Southern Illinois) combined, and he led the Nation offense to as many points: zilch. Hill showed some agility and ability to improvise, although he took four sacks mostly due to holding onto the ball too long. He'll be invited to a camp and if he can show enough to the coaches, he could stick on a practice squad somewhere.
Caleb Haine (Colorado State) put up the most yards on the day (165), but threw an interception and was sacked four times. The best overall quarterback today was Adam Tafralis (San Jose State) who threw for 136 yards on 19 attempts, with one TD, no picks, and taking only one sack. More importantly, he seemed to be the most in control of any of the QBs.
It always seems to be easiest for the running backs to excel in these all-star games and this game was no exception. The Texas team's Xavier Omon (NW Missouri State) ran for a game-high 91 yards on just 9 carries. But I was even more impressed by the hard-running style of his teammate Adrian Smith (Bethel College) who put up 42 yards and a TD on 5 carries. Alle Broussard (Missouri Southern) was great at picking up blitzers and scored a TD, but his 5 carries netted only 6 yards.
The Nation's Tim Hightower (Richmond) ran well at times, though too upright, and caught three passes out of the backfield. He was their only running back who stood out.
The Nation fullbacks Carl Stewart (Auburn) and Rolly Lumbala (Idaho) both looked good, while Texas fullback Chris Brown (Tennessee) made a few nice blocks and flashed his receiving ability. Stewart and, especially, Brown need to be more decisive in making their blocks and get into the defender quicker. But Brown has a good shot at being an H-back in the pros.
I would have to go back and watch the game again to get a better since of the offensive line play. Nation center Eric Scott (Kentucky) is one guy who stood out on a number plays, looking good in both pass protection and the run game. Chester Adams also looked good for the Nation, except on one play where he was beat badly by Xavier Mitchell (Tennesse).
Of the receivers, Texas's Danny Amendola (Texas Tech) stole the show. He ran good routes and showed a bit of play-making ability after the catch. But it's another Texas player Jaymar Johnson (Jackson State) who has the most talent and upside. Johnson showed great concentration on his 41-yard reception that was the big offensive play of the day. The Nation's Pierre Garcon (Mount Union) showed good hands and some play-making ability of his own as he returned a punt for a 62-yard score. Tight end Matt Sherry (Villanova) made a couple of nice catches for the Nation team.
Both teams seemed to play better defense with certain middle linebackers in the game. For Texas it was Rodrick Johnson (Oklahoma State). Johnson had the day's biggest hit and made plays all over the field. He did have trouble getting off the block of Eric Scott on one play, but came back a few plays later when he fought threw a bunch of traffic to make a tackle on the sideline.
While not quite as noticeable as some of Robinson's hits, the Nation's Danny Lansanah (Connecticut) had a very solid game. He could be seen fighting off blockers to make tackles and making plays as part of the coverage units. He stuffed Chris Brown at the goal line and nearly made an athletic interception on a tipped ball that just barely touched the ground as he gained control of it.
Eric Foster (Rutgers) also had a stuff at the goalline on a play where he exploded out of his stance and into the backfield. He brought consistent pressure for the Nation and staked his claim to being the best prospect in the game even though he didn't record a sack. Nation DT Frank Morton (Tulane), however, surprisingly recorded two sacks.
Nation Linebacker Steven Octavien (Nebraska) was at his best rushing the passer, but also showed he can stay with a tight end downfield (Chris Brown in this case).
Antwaun Molden (Eastern Kentucky), a big corner, made a nice tackle short of the sticks on a third-and-six, had a tipped pass on a well-timed blitz, and made plays on the Nation's coverage teams. Could very well find his way onto an NFL roster next year, though it might be as a safety.
George Chukwu (Rice) looked good at DT for Texas, as did the mammoth Jason Shirley (Fresno State). DE Xavier Mitchell (Tennesse) was a bigger factor than you could tell from the stat sheet and he gave the Nation offensive line as much trouble as Rob Jackson (Kansas State) who notched a sack and a half.
The Texas defense didn't get to see the field nearly as much as their Nation counterparts, but Rodney Van (UCLA) made the most of it when a pass was thrown in his direction making a great break on the ball to force an incompletion, and early in the game tackling Pierre Garcon after a six-yard gain on third-and-seven. Van also contributed two tackles in run support.
Nation safety Corey Lynch (Appalachian State) had an interception where he showed great ball skills, but he also fumbled his recovery of a blocked punt and, most importantly, whiffed on a couple of tackles that allowed big plays to Texas.
DE/LB Vince Redd (Liberty) played well for the Nation. He contributed on special teams, was in on a number of tackles, and held the edge on a misdirection play, stopping it for no gain. He could be a backup outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.