Probably the most encouraging news from the past week was the decision to play football this Fall by the Big Ten, Pac 12 and MAC. By the beginning of November, all three of those conferences will begin playing football. I do NOT really care that some teams will play 8 games, others 10 games, etc. The point is it’s more football. And thanks to the SEC getting under way last weekend, we have more quality football to talk about already.
Under the heading of “stranger than fiction” was the fact that VA TECH chose to play its scheduled game against NC State despite the fact that they were without 23 players and 4 coaches because of positive COVID-19 test results and a few miscellaneous suspensions. And they won!!! This whole pandemic just gets curiouser and curiouser, as Winnie The Pooh might observe.
This is clearly the year of validation for that old saying from program vendors at football games, “Get your program here. Can’t tell the players without a program”. It’s really true this season. With the floodgates having opened big time, plus so many underclassmen declaring for early entry into the NFL each year, uniform numbers are switching hands (or should I say shoulders?) in record numbers. If you are going by football annuals, which pretty much use rosters from last season, players are suddenly changing uniform numbers for the end season of their college careers and you need to double check number changes. Take my word for it.
This week’s player evaluations are looking like a who’s who in the QB world. The forward pass is the dominator of modern play calling. As the MIKE LEACH era began at Miss State, Stanford transfer QB K.J. COSTELLO (#3) threw 60 passes in his debut. Hope his arm strength is up to this. He went 36/60, yes 60, in the upset Win over LSU, 44-34. COSTELLO had a few hiccups with his new receiving teammates on some timing throws, but overall, he burned a “new” LSU secondary group for 623 yards and 5 TD’s. He also threw 2 INT’s, giving him something to work on. The most impressive part of his performance to my eyes was how accurate most of his long throws were. His deep throws were floated high and dropped right into the bucket for his receivers. COSTELLO looked quite comfortable overall and has begun his quest to climb into the Top 100 Prospect rankings by the end of the season. Really good start I’d say for the 6’5/225 hurler. What a transition he’s making from Stanford Coach DAVID SHAW’s ground and pound Offense out in Palo Alto to the air raid attack of MIKE LEACH.
Don’t feel too sorry for star RB KYLIN HILL, who came back for his senior campaign after toting the rock for 1,350 yards last season. Poor KYLIN (#8) only had 7 carries in the win on Saturday. But wait a minute… he caught 8 passes for 158 yards and a TD. The biggest question about HILL, and his game, from NFL scouts was whether he could catch the ball. They are gonna find out now, and it looks promising already for the guy who caught only 18 balls all of last season. Under the new coaching staff he may look like the second coming of CLYDE EDWARDS-HELAIRE/LSU, who went from back-up status to First Round Draft Pick based on his work doing the same kind of things for LSU last season. HILL is 5’11/210, which is not as stout as EDWARDS-HELAIRE, but he has the tools to be what most NFL teams are looking for as part of their RB corps.
It’s not all gloom and doom for the LSU team that has lost so much talent to the NFL. 14 LSU players were selected in the April NFL Draft. All of them are on NFL rosters right now. Then they lost another handful of guys to Covid Opt-Out and are prepping for the 2021 NFL Draft. But Coach O recruits well, be it high school players or the transfer portal. They still have talent and will improve as the new players fit into their system. I was quite impressed with North Dakota State transfer JABRIL COX, who is playing LB in the tradition of recent ilk like Davin White. COX is 6’2/230 and very athletic. It would appear that the jump up from FCS to FBS is going to be a smooth one. For the day against the BULLDOGS, COX recorded 6 tackles, 4 of them solo, had 1 sack and an INT that he turned into a Pick-6. He runs well and defends the run or the pass with equal energy and FBI. In their system, with the skill and productivity he is showing already, I think we can project him into a Top 100 Prospect, with a chance to vault himself into the First Round of the next Draft. Watch him closely Draftniks.
So who was the leading tackler returning to the LSU Defense which lost 1/2 of their top tacklers from last season? Well, it was JaCOBY STEVENS (#7 this year) with 92. He has been listed as a S and certainly he plays there, and well. He recorded 3 INT’s and 6 PBU’s last season, but he looks a bit heavier to me (6’2/230) and I saw him working a LB spot most often against Miss State. STEVENS also had an impressive day’s work on Saturday, with 6 Tackles, 4 solo, 2 sacks, and 2 fumble recoveries. STEVENS may not be quite as athletic as ISAIAH SIMMONS from Clemson, now Arizona Cards, but he certainly gets the job done in multiple roles. He’s all over the field, with evil intent for opposing offenses. He’s a fun watch for folks who like a little Defense mixed in with today’s high octane offenses. Count me in with that crowd.
I would expect more than a few names to emerge from both LSU and Miss State rosters over the next couple of months. Just to give you a quick for instance, in the second half of the opener, I was impressed with the work of State DL MARQUISS SPENCER (#42). He’s listed as 6’4/300 and he caught my eye when on consecutive plays, he recorded a QB sack followed by a big hit on a wideout who tried to cut back after the catch and was flattened by SPENCER. He showed more flashes, and based on his size, I could see him fitting nicely into a Base 3-4 scheme NFL Defense as a DE, who could also provide inside pass rush out of a DT slot in passing downs. Possibly a Day 3 prospect here.
Let’s skip to another team and their passing attack, while staying in the SEC. How about DAN MULLEN’s Gators? And how about KYLE TRASK, who may go down as one of football history’s all-time late bloomers. Remember that until his senior year in high school, he could not win a starting spot because he was playing behind D’ERIQ KING. Then he sat for a couple years in Gainesville.
TRASK broke through last season when Gators starter FELIPE’ FRANKS was lost to injury. MULLEN inserted TRASK into the starting QB spot and FRANKS has since transferred to Arkansas. TRASK stepped up to complete 67% of his throws, including 25 TD’s and only 1 INT. Once he got rolling last Saturday, he was unstoppable for the Ole Miss Defense. The more I watch TRASK, the more I see CARSON WENTZ coming out of college. He has a nice, solid frame at 6’5/235. His arm is above average in strength, and most of his throws look accurate to my eyes. He has nice mobility to extend plays and throws well on the run. He acts like he has a high FBI and gains confidence from his teammates with every passing game. The Ole Miss offense, under new HC LANE KIFFIN, is good and going to get better. So wisely, MULLEN had TRASK keep his foot on the accelerator all day. When the gun sounded on a 51-35 Gators W, TRASK had completed 71% of his throws for 610 yards. He passed for 6 TD’s and 0 INT’s. I have him solidly entrenched in my Top 100 Prospects, and if he sustains this pace he could end up in Round 1.
Now let’s flip to his top weapon on Offense, TE KYLE PITTS (#84), a 6’5/235 Junior that has emerged as the team’s top offensive weapon and is a sure fire First Rounder next Spring after he declares for early entry into the NFL Draft. The Gators top 3 WR’s last season are all in the NFL right now, leaving the top target job up for grabs. I think PITTS has already slammed the door shut on other targets. He led the Gator receivers in catches last season with 54. The nightmare matchup for defenses, PITTS used his combination of top end TE speed, size/length, and reliable hands and was impossible for the Rebels to stop. He finished the day with 8 receptions for 170 yards and 4 TD’s. He is likely going to break school and SEC receiving records for TE’s this season. You know I luv player comparisons, so how about if I say he reminds me of a pretty fair TE by the name of KELLEN WINSLOW, SR. By the way, I should mention that PITTS has worked to improve his blocking over the past off-season.
As I mentioned, the Ole Miss Offense under new HC LANE KIFFIN looked pretty dynamic itself in the loss to the Gators. Their top weapon last Saturday was the quick and elusive WR ELIJAH MOORE (#8), a junior that led Rebel receivers with 67 catches in 2019. He picked up right where he left off last season, catching balls and eluding tacklers all day long. He caught 10 balls for 227 yards on the day. Yards after the catch are a forte’ of his. He’s a dynamic playmaker who may excel on gadget type plays at the next level. He returned Punts last season and certainly looks shifty enough to improve in that job. KIFFIN is going to get this guy the ball whenever possible. He’s a junior that I suspect will jump to the pros after posting some big numbers in 2020. He’s off to a great start.
I also want to mention one more Gator player here. EVAN McPHERSON (#19) is a Junior Place Kicker deluxe, who may be the next guy in a recent line of kickers and punters that have plied their wares quite effectively in Gainesville. His punting partner from last season, TOMMY TOWNSEND, is spending his Rookie season punting and holding for the CHIEFS. McPHERSON is a solid, mechanically sound kicker with a nice steady stroke. He hit 17 of 19 attempts last season, without a whole lot of fanfare. He’s accurate and can kick the long ones. Against Ole Miss, he was 6/6 on extra- points and 3/3 on FG’s, with a long of 55-yards. The Gators staff has total confidence in him. They had best enjoy his work because he may not be around much longer. As I have already mentioned in recent weeks, this looks like a strong group of kicking/punting prospects around college football this season. Keep the faith if your favorite NFL needs help in these areas. The next Draft could place at least a half-dozen Punters/Kickers on 2021 NFL rosters.
I got my first look at highly touted CMU transfer TONY POLJAN (#87), now playing TE for Virginia. The big (6’7/250) guy caught 33 balls for Central Michigan last season in a run oriented Offense in Mt. Pleasant. POLJAN took his talents to Charlottesville and even though HC BRONCO MENDENHALL likes to run a balanced attack, his current starting QB is rather erratic in his throwing accuracy. POLJAN sure looks the part, but more than a few throws were something less than accurate. In spite of the less than precise passing attack, the Cavaliers beat Duke and POLJAN caught 4 balls for 44 yards. I intend to watch UVA again in about a month in hopes that the Offense is clicking. Then I’ll see how POLJAN is progressing. He looks to have decent potential as an inline blocking/receiving piece for an NFL running attack.
I just want to make one mention of an outstanding play during the Kentucky/Auburn game. No doubt all of you reading this have heard the phrase “flip the field” a time or two in your football watching career. In this game, I feel like I saw the text book example of that concept. Kentucky had been stopped at their own one-yard line and were forced to punt. In came All-SEC first team Punter MAX DUFFY, who posted a net average of 44.6 yards last season. Having just enough room to get his punt off, he crushed it, way over the Auburn punt returner’s head around midfield. The punt had the proper spin and rolled into Auburn territory. It finally rolled dead at the Auburn 24. A 75-yard punt that truly did flip the field. Amazing stuff. And yes, senior DUFFY should be a legit 2021 NFL Draft target for some teams in need of better punting.
My space has run out before my notes have, but I will save those notes for another time.