Stanford 28, Notre Dame 14
The last regular season game for the nation's top draft prospect, Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck, wasn't a masterpiece but it was a solid game that led to another Stanford win what could be his final collegiate home game.
Over the last few weeks, Luck hasn't been as sharp as he was earlier in the season, and part of that is from him facing better defenses than Stanford saw throughout the first half of the season. Luck has still been playing well, but the expectations are so high that if he doesn't have perfect performances, they are deemed disappointing.
After punting on the first drive, Luck got the Cardinal moving on the next possession. He made a good throw on a roll out on third down. Another throw on the run put the ball inside the 10. Luck finished the drive with a perfect decision to go to his 6-foot-8 receiver on a fade pass against a short cornerback.
On the next drive, the signal caller was off the mark with a pass too high for an open receiver. A play later, Luck was fortunate he didn't throw an interception since his pass went straight to an Irish defender.
A bit later, the Fighting Irish took advantage of a bad decision by Luck. The Cardinal went to set up a screen and the signal caller had a defender on him immediately. He tried to force the pass into a crowd, and Notre Dame intercepted the errant throw. The pick was returned deep into Stanford territory. The Fighting Irish missed a field goal on the possession.
Luck came back on the next drive to move the ball with some precision passes. He hit tight end Coby Fleener on a deep out route. Fleener turned upfield and dragged a defender a few yards before crossing into the end zone. The 28-yard touchdown pass gave the Cardinal a 14-0 lead. That touchdown pass put Luck in front of former Stanford quarterback John Elway as the school's all-time leader in touchdown passes.
Just before halftime, Luck operated the two-minute drill well. He threw a good completion for 15 yards before running for about 15 on a couple of carries. A few other passes moved the ball inside the 20. With just over 10 seconds left, Luck threw a strike to wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who was running a dig route. He cut upfield and scored. It was a great decision by Luck. He saw his first two options were double covered so he moved to his fourth option to exploit man-to-man coverage.
After having some good success in the first half, Luck wasn't able to put up any points in the third quarter. He had some passes off the mark, but the Notre Dame defense deserves credit for playing well.
With just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Luck tossed a 55-yard touchdown pass to Fleener. He broke wide open running down the middle of the field. Luck threw a perfect strike, hitting him in stride at the 25-yard line and he sprinted into the end zone.
That was the last pass of the night for Luck as he finished the game 20-of-30 for 233 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. It wasn't a perfect game from him, but he was efficient enough to lead Stanford to victory. There is no doubt that Luck is still the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Fleener totaled 97 yards on four receptions and those two touchdowns. He looks like a solid second-day pick and could be the second tight end selected next April.
Stanford left tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro both had good games. Some of the other Cardinal offensive linemen had some struggles but Martin and DeCastro were solid. They opened up holes in the ground game and were sound in pass protection. Both Martin and DeCastro are first-round picks. DeCastro could return to the Cardinal for his senior season.
Another future first-round pick in this contest was Irish wide receiver Michael Floyd. Notre Dame switched quarterbacks part way through the evening after their starter struggled. The switch limited Floyd?s production. He got his game started with a nice catch on an out route to get a first down for Notre Dame. The senior caught a number of short passes before making a big play in the third quarter.
Floyd ran a quick out and got separation from the cornerback. The ball hit him and he cut up to cross into the end zone for a short touchdown catch. Early in the fourth quarter, Floyd did a good job of beating press coverage and making a tough catch along the sideline for a good gain.
A few minutes later, Floyd made a great 25-yard catch along the sideline. He fought off a defender at the line of scrimmage and made a leaping catch, just over another defender. Floyd got one foot down before coming down hard out of bounds. He finished the game with eight receptions for 92 yards and one touchdown. Floyd's stock should remain unchanged.
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eiftert had an overall good game for the Fighting Irish. The junior has been very good this season as a good tandem receiving option with Floyd.
Eifert had some good catches downfield stretching the deep middle of the Stanford defense. He went up and made some tough catches and took some hard hits while holding onto the ball. Late in the third quarter, Eiftert had a bad drop when he started to look to the open field before securing the football.
Eiftert finished the game with four receptions for 79 yards. If tight end decides to enter the draft, he looks like a second-day pick. Eifert (6-6, 249) is a very good receiver who needs to improve on his run blocking for the next level.
The final potential first-round pick in next year's draft in this game was Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o. The junior linebacker is the heart and soul of the Fighting Irish?s defense. He leads the team in sacks and tackles this season.
Early in the game, Te'o had a good rush on an interior blitz that caused a holding penalty. Later in the second quarter, he had a good open field tackle of Luck when the signal caller ran up the middle of the field.
Other than those plays, Te'o got in on some tackles in run support. He finished with eight tackles in the game. Te?o was generally quiet and did not produce any splash plays against Stanford. The junior remains a first-rounder if he declares for the draft.
The most impressive defender in the game was Stanford's Chase Thomas. The senior outside linebacker was putting heat on the quarterback all night. He and the Cardinal front seven overwhelmed the Fighting Irish?s offensive line and made it difficult for the Notre Dame offense to get in any kind of rhythm.
Thomas had a big hit on the quarterback on one of his first plays of the game. That hit knocked out quarterback Tommy Rees for a series. Later in the first quarter, Thomas used an outside move to beat the tight end. He sacked Rees and forced a fumble that was recovered by the Cardinal.
Later on, Thomas had another sack leading a convoy of defenders onto the signal caller. He finished the game with five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. This performance should definitely help Thomas stock. He now has 8.5 sacks on the season. If Thomas can add some more bulk to hold up against NFL offensive linemen, he should become a starting linebacker quickly. Thomas is very intelligent with good instincts and the speed to crash the pocket. Right now, he looks like a second-round pick.
Wisconsin 45, Penn State 7
One of the best draft matchups of the weekend was Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still taking on Wisconsin and their excellent offensive line led by senior right guard Kevin Zeitler. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, that matchup was completely one-sided, just as the game was, as Zeitler clearly defeated Still.
Early in the game, Zeitler had impressive stops single blocking Still on consecutive pass plays. Later in the first quarter, Zeitler put Still to the turf to open up a hole for running back Montee Ball. Throughout the first quarter Wisconsin was running well behind Zeitler, and he was typically going against Still.
In the second quarter, Still made his presence felt. He went on a stunt and Zeitler was blocking the other tackle. Still shoved away Peter Konz's backup, Ryan Groy, and sacked quarterback Russell Wilson. Other than that play, Still was silent against the Badgers. Wisconsin ran the ball with success straight at Still all game. Other than that one play, he didn't get any pass rush.
In the third and fourth quarter, Still was getting manhandled by the Badgers? offensive linemen. He was getting moved and pushed around to open up holes for the ground game as Wisconsin blew out Penn State.
Entering the game, Still looked like a first-round pick, and he probably remains a first-rounder right now because the defensive tackle class is extremely weak and the position is always in demand. The game against the Badgers definitely hurts Still's stock.
Zeitler should get a boost from this game. He was completely effective against one of the best defensive tackles in football. Zeitler could be one of the first choices in the second round.
Ball benefited greatly from Zeitler's blocking of Still. Ball has had a prolific season, and all year he has been putting the ball in the end zone. Ball got going on Wisconsin?s second possession and helped move the ball downfield. On the first play of the second quarter, he powered his way into the end zone with a one-yard touchdown run. A short time later, Ball appeared to be stuffed on a third-and-three stretch run to the perimeter. He threw a defender to the ground with a stiff arm, and sprung free for a good gain.
Late in the first half, Ball ran into the end zone again with a short touchdown run. He almost scored his third touchdown of the game after catching a shovel pass on an interior screen, rumbling 15 yards downfield to set up the Badgers inside the five-yard line.
In the third quarter Ball scored from nine-yards out. He made a jaw-dropping lateral cut to side-step a safety and exploded into the end zone for his third score of the game. Ball ran for 16 yards on a drive to move the ball into Penn State territory. He finished the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run. On the next possession, Ball took a carry at his own one-yard line and bounced a run outside to pick up 28 yards.
Ball finished the game with 156 yards on 25 carries with four touchdowns. He is knocked because some label him as a system back, but Ball has produced in ways that other Wisconsin running backs have not. He has 34 total touchdowns this season and could break Barry Sanders? single season record with six more touchdowns in his final two games. Ball looks like a late first-round or second-round pick if he decides to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
Another second-day pick from Wisconsin could be wide receiver Nick Toon. He has had a steady senior season that has improved his draft stock.
Toon started the game with a 14-yard reception. Later in the first quarter, he duplicated the play with a gain of about 15 on a slant route. At the end of the first half, Toon came open running a cross in the end zone and caught a short touchdown pass. He finished the game with 42 yards on five receptions with a touchdown. He looks like a second-day pick.
Throwing Toon the ball accurately on Saturday was Badgers senior quarterback Russell Wilson. He was highly efficient against Penn State. Wilson had a nice touchdown pass to tie the game at seven in the first quarter. Throughout the first half, he moved the ball well with some short, precision passes. Wilson also took off on a 20-yard run on a key third down to extend a scoring drive. He took off again with another run of 19 yards to set up a first-and-goal for Wisconsin. At the end of the first half, Wilson threw a short touchdown pass to Toon.
In the second half Ball ran wild and Wilson didn't throw many passes. He finished the game 18-of-28 for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson (5-11, 201) is undersized and that likely puts him on the third day of the draft.
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