Florida State 41, Pittsburgh 13
This game was dominated by Seminoles redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, but he isn't draft eligible, so he won't be a focus in the recaps this season. Aside from him, there were plenty of talented players for NFL scouts to examine in this game.
Perhaps the top prospect for next April was Florida State junior defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. He flashed as a freshman and sophomore, so many are expecting him to turn into a dominant player this year. Jernigan was quiet early in the game and Pittsburg was doing a nice job of keeping him from making a big impact.
Jernigan busted through the line in the third quarter to drop a running back for a loss of two yards. During garbage time in the fourth quarter, Jernigan swam around the center to get free and run down quarterback Tom Savage for a sack. Jernigan showed how fast he was by closing on Savage in a hurry.
There is no doubt that the 6-foot-2, 292-pound Jernigan has some explosive speed and some strength to battle linemen. However, he looks very undersized for the NFL and his frame could be close to maxed out. The junior may only be a fit as a three-technique in a 4-3 defense. It will be interesting to see how Jernigan is viewed by scouts.
Elsewhere on the Florida State defense, middle linebacker Christian Jones had a solid start to 2013. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior was an active defender who made his presence felt defending the run and pass. He collected a nice tackle total in the run game and showcased nice tackling ability.
With the Seminoles looking to ramp up their pass rush, Jones was used as a defensive end in obvious passing situations. The results were pretty good for his first game. He got a few hits on Savage and came close to a sack in the third quarter. Later in the same quarter, Jones used an impressive speed rush to beat the right tackle and blast Savage.
While it is nice to see Jones' versatility to rush the quarterback, a lot of NFL teams want to see how he performs in pass coverage, especially teams that run a 4-3 defense. They want to see if Jones can get deep down the middle, pick up receiving targets in zone, defend tight ends and cover lots of ground. Hopefully, Jones' skills will be displayed in that manner this season.
Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner had a rough start to his season. The senior fumbled a first-quarter kickoff, but was lucky to have a teammate recover the loose ball. Playing in the slot, Joyner had a nice blitz to sack Savage in the third quarter. Joyner got to Savage in the fourth quarter for his second sack. The 5-foot-8, 190-pounder looks like a slot corner and special teams contributor in the NFL.
One other Seminoles prospect worth mentioning is junior tight end Nick O'Leary. He had a big night. O'Leary got open in the middle of the field for a 24-yard, first-quarter touchdown reception. The athletic tight end beat a safety with a double move. On Florida State's next possession, O'Leary caught a short touchdown pass on a goal-line play-action. He picked up another score in second-half garbage time when he released off the line on a play-action and got wide open for a 10-yard touchdown. O'Leary (6-3, 248) is a nice weapon in the passing game and this tape will help him with NFL scouts.
Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald had a frustrating season opener. The senior easily could have had a three- or four-sack game if he had been able to get Winston to the ground every time he grabbed him. Early on, Donald had the Florida State signal-caller in his grasp for a sack, but let Winston slip away. In the second quarter, Donald beat the right guard with a speed rush and was able to get enough of Winston to cause him to fall on his knee for a sack. Donald got ahold of Winston again in the fourth quarter, but couldn't bring him down before he dumped off the ball. Donald had some tackles against the run, but he was pushed around some as well.
Like Jernigan, Donald (6-0, 285) is undersized for the NFL. He is stoutly built, but probably only fits as a three-technique in a 4-3 defense. Donald has some serious pass-rush ability with 11 sacks as a sophomore and 5.5 as a junior. The senior probably won't get drafted in the early rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft, but he could become a nice value pick.
The Panthers honored legendary receiver Larry Fitzgerald during this game, and junior wide out Devin Street did an admirable job of imitating Fitzgerald's big-play abilities when he was playing for the school. On the first third down of the game, Street got open on an out route against double coverage. He broke a tackle from a safety and ran for 10 more before getting taken down. Street set up a first-and-goal later on the drive with a slant of about 15 yards.
Street (6-4, 190) made a great catch late in the game for a 52-yard gain. He got a step on the cornerback and safety while hanging onto the ball as he was hit. Street totaled six receptions for 141 yards against the Seminoles. It was an impressive performance from Street and should definitely help his draft stock.
Washington 38, Boise State 6
The top prospect on either team for the 2014 NFL Draft is Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but he was suspended from this game because of a DUI arrest during the offseason. One would think that would make Huskies senior quarterback Keith Price's job much harder, however Price proved that he could excel without his top target. Price had a strong debut season as a starter in 2011, but regressed badly during 2012.
The game started poorly for Price as his first throw was intercepted. He forced the quick-drop pass to a covered receiver, but the defensive back easily jumped up to pick off the pass. Price bounced back by throwing a perfect long ball to a receiver streaking down the far side of the field. It was a phenomenal throw that led the receiver away from the cornerback and safety; the gain went for 42 yards. Throughout the night, Price threw a lot of precision passes to move the chains for the Huskies.
Price lofted in a pretty 38-yard touchdown pass to Kasen Williams during the third quarter. He beat his cornerback heading towards the back corner and Price made a good throw. The junior Williams (3-68) could have a big season with Price showing major improvements over his sophomore campaign.
Later in the third quarter, Price rolled out and threw a strike into the back of the end zone to Joshua Perkins for an 18-yard score. Price completed 23-of-31 passes for 324 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for the evening. His accuracy, mobility, decision-making and field vision looked supremely better over 2012. The senior has started off this season in impressive fashion.
Making Price's job a lot easier was the running of junior running back Bishop Sankey. He pounded between the tackles, including a short touchdown run, and showed some burst to get into the second level. Sankey's shiftily weaved his way through defenders to get a nice average per carry. He ripped off a 23-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter by taking a draw off right tackle and cut around defenders to get into the end zone. Sankey ran for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder is an undersized back who looks like a change-of-pace or skat back in the NFL.
Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is an early-round draft prospect and was named the preseason Mountain West defensive player of the year. Against the Huskies, Lawrence was largely a non-factor. There were some plays on which he knifed into the backfield, but Price was getting rid of the ball so quickly he was neutralizing the pass rush.
Lawrence exploded by the tackle in the second quarter on a third-and-1 and had a grasp on Sankey in the backfield, but missed the tackle as Sankey ran for a first down. The next play saw Lawrence pressure Price out of the pocket. Lawrence chased down Price after the next snap and grabbed hold of his ankle from the ground so teammate Tyler Horn could finish off a sack. The Huskies ran the ball well and were going at an extremely fast pace. Boise State's defense was on its heels all night.
Lawrence (6-3, 244) has a nice burst and some good hands to shed blocks, but he clearly needs to add strength if he is going to remain on the defensive line. For the NFL, his best fit could come as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Louisville 49, Ohio 7
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater entered the season as the top quarterback prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft. His peformance against Ohio helps prove why he is held in such high regard.
Bridgewater's first drive was a passing clinic. He fired a bullet to complete a deep out before hanging tough to deliver a pass on a third-and-7 for a first down with a blitz coming into his face. Bridgewater showed mobility on rollouts, good arm strength and extreme accuracy. The drive finished with him rolling to his left and lofting in a 34-yard touchdown. He was 6-for-6 for 77 yards and a score on that possession.
Bridgewater was quickly in the end zone again with a beautiful back-shoulder throw in the front corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. Ohio had tight coverage on Damian Copeland, but Bridgewater beat it with a perfect throw. His first incompletion was a perfectly thrown ball down the middle of the field that Copeland dropped. Bridgewater's third touchdown pass came off a play-action. He was pressured and scrambled to his right before throwing to a wide open Devante Parker.
On the flip side, Bridgewater's first interception of the season came a few minutes into the second quarter. Parker and Bridgewater weren't on the same page as Parker kept running a post when Bridgewater thought Parker would cut underneath the safety. Instead, the ball flew right into the defensive back.
Bridgewater recovered to move the ball down the field in the last few minutes before the half. He showed great arm strength on some deep outs. Beidgewater finished the drive by hitting his receiver for a 40-yard touchdown pass on a corner post.
After halftime, Bridgewater kept Louisville a perfect 9-for-9 on third downs when he tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass. It was a great throw that led the receiver to the back of the end zone. The next drive ended when Bridgewater was strip-sacked on a fourth down, but the fumble was a recovered by a teammate. That was the end of his day as Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong put in the second-string as his team was blowing out the Bobcats.
Bridgewater finished the season opener completing 23-of-29 passes for 355 yards with five touchdowns and an interception. On a number of throws, he should great poise in the pocket and was patient to let his receivers work themselves open. The junior was utterly unstoppable and put on a near flawless performance against Ohio. He displayed a complete skill set in dominating fashion. It validated his rating as the top quarterback prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft.
A teammate of Bridgewater who was formerly a projected first-rounder is running back Michael Dyer. He was a star at Auburn before bouncing around from a few schools because of off-the-field issues. Dyer saw limited playing time in his Louisville debut. Dyer got his second carry of the year during the third quarter and ripped off a 46-yard touchdown. He had a huge hole and burst downfield for a big run. Dyer totaled 48 yards on four carries. He needs to stay out of trouble and be very productive to prove himself worthy of a draft pick.
Alabama 35, Virginia Tech 10
Everbody knows that Alabama has a ton of NFL talent who will be drafted over the next few years. However, the star of the season opener was an unknown commodity heading into Saturday night. The player who had a coming-out party was Alabama junior wide receiver Christion Jones. He did his best Devin Hester with a punt return (74 yards) and a kick return (93 yards) for a touchdown in the first half. The kick return was especially impressive as he spun off a tackle to break free down the sideline. In the third quarter, Jones streaked down the field and made an over the shoulder catch for a 38-yard touchdown. This game was huge for the junior and it definitely puts him on the map for NFL scouts.
Entering the 2013 season, there has been some debate about Crimson Tide senior quarterback A.J. McCarron. Some believe that he has a limited physical skill set and is just a game manager. Others say that McCarron is worthy of a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and is a future franchise quarterback in the NFL. Prior to the season, sources told WalterFootball.com that they don't see McCarron grading out as a first-round pick. He's had an easy living with a great run game, offensive line and defense.
Early on against Virginia Tech, McCarron made a nice play on a third down to extend a possession as he rolled out and threw a strike on the sideline for a first down. McCarron threw some nice passes on a few drives in the second quarter before making a terrible throw. The senior threw off his back foot to a perfectly covered wide receiver. Hokies senior cornerback Kyle Fuller picked off the pass to set up Virginia Tech in Alabama territory. McCarron later lofted up a nice pass to Jones for a 38-yard score.
Overall though, McCarron did not have an impressive game that answered any of the questions about his passing ability. He didn't illustrate a stronger arm than in 2012 and threw some passes off his back foot when he didn't need to. McCarron's accuracy wasn't as strong as his receivers weren't as wide open as they often were last year. McCarron finished 10-of-23 for 112 yards with a touchdown and interception. This first game of the season didn't do anything to improve his draft stock.
Entering the 2012 season, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas was viewed as a potential high first-round pick after he produced a huge sophomore season. Thomas had an awful junior year with terrible passing accuracy and bad decision-making. Playing against the top team in the nation in the season opener provided Thomas with an opportunity to show he was improved as a senior.
Early in the first quarter, Thomas threw a perfect pass on a deep crossing route for a 34-yard gain. HaHa Clinton-Dix made a touchdown-saving tackle as the Crimson Tide's last defender.
Thomas was pick-sixed by Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri during the second quarter. Thomas' receiver quit on the route as he heard footsteps. That left an opening for Sunseri to jump in front of the wide out. Sunseri cruised into the end zone from 35 yards out. On his next pass, Thomas overthrew an open receiver running free down the field. An accurate pass probably would have resulted in a 79-yard touchdown.
Thomas later threw an ill-advised pass off his back foot that was nearly intercepted in the end zone by the Crimson Tide. It was well covered and almost took away points from the Hokies. Thomas struggled to complete passes during the remainder of the game. His accuracy was off as he missed some openings in the secondary. Thomas also got little help from his wide outs. They were awful at getting separation from Alabama's defensive backs and committed a number of ugly drops. Thomas finished the game 5-of-26 for 58 yards with an interception. He and his receivers were overmatched in this game, but it also illustrates why Thomas' draft stock has fallen dramatically. He needs to show big improvements in the weeks to come.
While Alabama lost three offensive linemen to the 2013 NFL Draft, left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio returned and many view him as having the potential to be a high first-round pick of the future. Kouandjio had a bit of a slow start in last year and restarted that trend in this outing. He was called for a holding on a first-and-goal during the first quarter. However, Kouandjio made up for it by opening up holes on a few runs to lead to a T.J. Yeldon touchdown. Kouandjio was flagged for his second holding call later in the first half when he was beat around the corner by a defender, but Kouandjio didn't really need to hold because the play was going to the far side.
The first play from scrimmage in the third quarter saw Kouandjio hit a great kick-out block to spring Yeldon for a big run. Later in the third quarter, Kouandjio was nearly beaten for a sack by J.R. Collins on a speed rush, but McCarron got rid of the pass. Overall, it was a moderately disappointing outing for Kouandjio. He'll have to play better in order to get consideration as the top offensive tackle prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Crimson Tide senior right guard Anthony Steen had a mixed outing as well. He had defensive tackle Luther Maddy blocked early on, but as McCarron scrambled up toward the line of scrimmage, Maddy was able to chase down the signal-caller. In the third quarter, Steen had his man blocked but McCarron held onto the ball for a long time. Eventually, Steen's man came free to chase down McCarron from behind. Overall, Steen didn't help himself against Virginia Tech.
Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley entered the season as a projected first-round pick by some. He made a number of solid tackles in run support and a pass pressure on a blitz to help force an incompletion on a third down. On Jones' kick return for a touchdown, Mosley hustled to block the final player who could have stopped Jones. Mosley missed a few tackles in this contest, but put together a solid performance that adds to his impressive body of work.
Alabama defensive linemen Ed Stinson was playing tough at the line of scrimmage all night. He had a nice tackle for a loss in the third quarter after Virginia Tech allowed him to come unblocked. He made another impressive tackle on a back in a third-and-9 situation. Stinson also contributed to a fourth-quarter sack with a few other teammates. The 6-foot-4, 290-pounder showed some quickness and power at the line of scrimmage. It was an impressive performance for Stinson that will help his draft stock.
Crimson Tide junior safeties HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri had good games. They both were solid in pass coverage and contributed in run defense. On the first play from scrimmage, Clinton-Dix flew up to stop a run for no gain. He took some false steps versus the Hokies' Trey Edmunds and was unable to recover after the wide out cut back. That resulted in a 77-yard touchdown. Clinton-Dix had an interception bounce off his hands on an overthrow by Thomas early in the fourth quarter. Still, both Clinton-Dix and Sunseri flashed big-play ability against Virginia Tech.
Other than Jones, Fuller was the player who did the most to seize the spotlight. Prior to his interception, he had an impressive pass breakup on a pass downfield. Fuller had good coverage and showed off some vertical leap when he skied high to smack the ball away. Fuller had good coverage on Amari Cooper in the third quarter that prevented a deep completion. Fuller got his hand in at the right time to force an incompletion. He had some other good tackles against the run.
It was an outstanding performance by Fuller to really help his draft stock start an upward trend this season. The senior had good agility to turn and run with receivers. He was smart to read the eyes and hands of Cooper to make the deflection. Fuller showed off ball skills and was flying around the field. If his draft stock soars thos year, it will be this performance that got it started.
LSU 37, TCU 27
There was a good draft matchup in this battle. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett is considered one of the better corners in college football and had the challenge of defending a talented LSU aerial offense. Tigers quarterback Zack Mettenberger, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are all physically gifted players. All four of the prospects had some impressive moments during the season opener.
Verrett had a nice hit coming over from zone coverage on a receiver and a solid open-field tackle on a running back. In tight coverage on Landry, Verrett reached around to slap a pass away in the end zone. He could have been called for a pass interference, but it looked like a good no-call.
LSU was throwing away from Verrett, but he made his presence felt midway through the second quarter when he sacked Mettenberger on a blitz for a loss of seven. Verrett allowed a seven-yard reception, but he had tight coverage on Beckham on the play and it was a superb catch. On the same drive, Verrett went high to slap the ball away, but he was called for a pass interference. Verrett was a step behind Beckham during the third quarter, but he closed the distance with the ball in the air to slap away the pass for an incompletion. Overall, Verrett had a solid game and showed he could match up with LSU's passing talent.
Mettenberger made some nice throws to move the chains throughout the game. Landry made a superb sideline catch in the first quarter. Later, Mettenberger hit Beckham for a 26-yard gain on a dig route that saw him slash across the field to get extra yards after the reception. Mettenberger tossed an impressive deep ball on a post for Beckham on the next play that took LSU to the six-yard line.
After some good completions to Beckham and Landry, Mettenberger threw an excellent deep ball to Beckham, who dropped the pass. It wasn't an easy catch with a defender trailing, but Beckham should have caught the ball for what would have been at least a 50-yard reception, if not a touchdown. Beckham dropped another deep ball a little bit later along the sideline.
In the fourth quarter, Beckham had a huge 75-yard kick return after TCU had just cut LSU's lead to three points. It was a big boost for the Tigers when they needed it. That set up Mettenberger to connect with Landry who made a great catch in traffic. Landry slipped away from the defender and bolted into the end zone.
Mettenberger iced the game with a beautiful back-shoulder throw to Beckham for a big gain and first down. Mettenberger completed 16-of-33 passes for 251 yards with a touchdown. He played better than the numbers indicate. The senior has a live arm and looks to have improved his feet and mechanics over the offseason. Beckham (5-118) and Landry (8-109) both had fine starts to the season.
TCU quarterback Casey Pachall has a quality skill set, but drug issues derailed his collegiate career in 2012. After taking time away for treatment, Pachall is back as Horned Frogs' starting quarterback. His first couple of throws were closer to interceptions than completions. Pachall was picked off during the third quarter when he threw a bomb into double coverage. It was a ball up for grabs and LSU's Jalen Mills came down with the ball. With the Horned Frogs offense struggling, Pachall was benched. He completed 9-of-16 passes for 74 yards and an interception. Pachall needs to have a huge season to get drafted, so this isn't the way he would have wanted it to start.
LSU junior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson is considered to be one of the best interior defensive linemen in the nation. The game didn't start well for him as he jumped offsides on the first play for the Tigers' defense. Johnson was double-teamed by a guard and center all evening. Still, he was tough against the run and made some tackles. The junior also had a few pass pressures.
While Johnson had a diminished impact, the double-teams absorbed set up fellow tackle Ego Ferguson to have a huge game. Ferguson was living in the backfield with big plays against the run and pass. He had some good pass rushes as well. Johnson and Ferguson (6-3, 309) could be a lethal combination this season. They each could prove to be early-round picks.
LSU senior safety Craig Loston had a mixed outing against the Horned Frogs. He lost a pick-six opportunity by not looking at a pass that was deflected. Loston went in for a big hit and didn't show the awareness to see the tipped pass fluttering his direction. He took a terrible angle to get beat on a 26-yard touchdown, too. The receiver ran a jet sweep and Loston came upfield too quickly.
Late in the third quarter, Loston saved a touchdown by coming over the top to push a receiver out of bounds following a 35-yard reception. He also had a big pass breakup on a play that would have been a big gain for TCU. Loston has the skill set to play at a high level and develop into an early-round pick. It will be interesting to see if he is able to do that this season.
The final player worth mentioning is LSU junior left tackle La'el Collins. He had an excellent game blocking for Mettenberger. Collins also was superb at opening holes in the ground game. The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder was expected to remain at left guard this season, but he had an impressive debut protecting the blind side. If Collins continues this level of play in matchups against Alabama and Florida, his draft stock could skyrocket.
Clemson 38, Georgia 35
The Tigers versus Bulldogs was the marquee matchup of the first week of the college football season. Senior quarterbacks Tajh Boyd (Clemson) and Aaron Murray (Georgia) are both pro prospects with Boyd entering the season with the potential to be first-rounder. Murray isn't held in as high of regard in the scouting community, but he could be a top-100 selection.
It turned out to be Boyd's night even though his receivers had a habit of letting him down. Boyd made an impressive play in the first quarter as he dodged pressure, rolled out and threw accurately to star receiver Sammy Watkins for first-down yardage. To finish the drive, Boyd ran the ball into the end zone from four yards out. He later faked a handoff and threw about a 15-yard bullet to Watkins. The speedy receiver shed a tackle and exploded down the field. No Bulldogs defender could catch Watkins as he sprinted for a 75-yard score. Boyd did a nice job of adjusting his arm angle to avoid defenders and get the ball to his wide out.
Watkins drew a pass interference penalty later in the first half on a bomb downfield, but ge also muffed a punt that was recovered by Georgia at the Clemson 30-yard line. Overall, Watkins (6-127) had a good game and looked like the 2011 version who was one of the most explosive weapons in college football. He looks poised for a massive season to make him a first-round pick next May.
During the second quarter, Boyd had some rough moments and wasn't in rhythm. He made a bad decision on a short throw that was dropped by a Georgia linebacker in what should have been an easy interception. Later, Boyd banged his way into the end zone for a game-tying touchdown heading into halftime. He also had a few good passes that would have produced first-down yardage, but his receivers dropped catchable balls.
Boyd threw a pretty 31-yard touch pass to Zac Brooks in the third quarter for a touchdown. It was a miniscule window, but Boyd beat the coverage with a perfect pass. The ball dropped in over the helmet of the defender into the shoulder of his receiver. Boyd and Watkins moved the ball together on another third quarter drive for a field goal.
Boyd had another excellently thrown deep ball dropped by his receiver. On a third-and-goal midway through the fourth quarter, Boyd hit his tight end for a nine-yard touchdown. Boyd broke the tackle of a linebacker on the next play to run for about six yards on a third-and-4. To finish the game, the signal-caller completed 18-of-30 passes for 270 yards with three touchdowns. He ran for 42 yards on 13 carries and two scores on the ground. This gritty performance by Boyd helps his bid to be a first-round, a potentially high, pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
In contrast, Murray didn't do enough to answer the doubts about his ability to make clutch plays against good opponents and his ability to handle pass pressure. Murray made some nice throws to move the ball down the field in the first half and led two touchdown drives. In the second quarter, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley beat the left tackle and buried Murray into the turf.
Murray held on to the ball too long on the next possession and didn't secure the football as he had pressure coming in his face. The senior fumbled the ball away to Clemson and it set up the Tigers in the red zone. Murray had a great oppurtunity after Watkins' muffed punt, but blew it when he made a terrible throw to a defensive lineman who dropped into coverage. Murray did a bad job of reading the field and - perhaps his lack of height left him unable to see Crawford beyond his offensive line - he threw the ball right to the defender.
Murray had a mental mistake at the start of the third quarter with a delay of game penalty. Beasley bull rushed through the left tackle to sack Murray on the possession. He came back to help set up a touchdown by tossing a pass to his fullback in space. On the next drive, Murray had a nice completion on a buttonhook that set up his receiver to take off downfield for a big gain.
Murray worked another drive against a prevent defense and dove into the end zone from a yard out, but that was his last shot at points. He completed 20-of-29 passes for 323 yards with zero touchdowns, one interception and one fumble. Performances like this cause Murray to be viewed more as a potential backup rather than a starter in the NFL.
A few other prospects are worth mentioning. Beasley enjoyed a nice game putting pressure on the quarterback and showing some pass-rushing skills as he recorded a couple of sacks. This could be the start of a season that prompts Beasley to improve his draft standing.
Clemson junior running back Roderick McDowell enjoyed a breakout performance after serving as a backup the past few seasons. McDowell had a lot of huge runs to help produce points for the Tigers. He finished the evening with 132 yards on 22 carries. McDowell should produce a big season with teams defending Boyd's passing ability. The junior's a prospect worth keeping an eye on going forward.
Texas A&M 52, Rice 31
There were a lot of eyes on Texas A&M due to the NCAA controversy surrounding star quarterback Johnny Manziel. After a turbulent offseason for the Heisman Trophy winner, many were wondering how he would perform in his first action of the season. The redshirt sophomore was suspended by the NCAA for the first half of the opener. Scouts have told WalterFootball.com that Manziel has first-round ability, but maturity concerns could blow his shot at the first round. The talent and immature behavior were both on display against Rice.
Manziel entered the game in the third quarter with the Aggies up 28-21. His first play saw him drop back to pass before taking off on an 11-yard run after not seeing an open receiver. The drive started in Rice territory, but ended with Manziel taking a sack and the Aggies settling for a 44-yard field goal.
On the next drive, Manziel hooked up with Mike Evans for a 23-yard touchdown. It was a short slant that saw Evans break a tackle to get into the open field. Manziel delivered a nice strike with good mechanics on the throw. He repeated that with a bullet to Malcolm Kennedy for a good gain. The next play saw Manziel check down the ball to running back Ben Malena, who scooted into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown.
Manziel's third touchdown toss came after he rolled to his right and hit a wide open Evans, who ran to an opening after Manziel started to scramble. After the score, Manziel received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for trash-talking two Rice defenders. He also had two celebrations for taunting the NCAA with a mock autograph and counting money.
That was the end of Manziel's day as he finished 6-of-8 for 94 yards with three touchdowns. He ran for 18 yards on six carries. Manziel showed improved footwork and mechanics in his limited time. That could help Manziel in the view of NFL evaluators over the course of the 2013 season, but the lapses in judgement have to stop, or he will turn off a lot of coaches.
Entering the season, Aggies left tackle Jake Matthews was considered the top offensive line prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft. He played right tackle for three seasons before going to the blind side this season. The senior was utterly dominant in pass protection during the first half. He was blocking and mirroring his defensive ends with ease. Bull rushes were stood up and speed rushes went nowhere. In the ground game, Matthews was winning his blocks, but he wasn't destroying defenders.
A rare sight was seen in the third quarter when Matthews was beat for a sack on a stunt move. He seemed to hesitate to engage the guard and let him slip to the inside to sack Manziel. After that shocking play, Matthews bounced back to protect his quarterback well and open holes in the ground game. He was excellent aside from that one play, so his high draft billing should remain unchanged.
Aggies redshirt sophomore wide out Mike Evans caught seven passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Senior running back Ben Malena ran for 81 yards on 12 carries and an 18-yard touchdown reception. Both prospects produced good tapes.
Texas A&M junior cornerback Deshazor Everett was suspended for the first half of the game. Following his return, he dished out some massive hits and had good coverage on receivers. Rice sophomore wide out Jordan Taylor had a great first half, but Everett did a nice job of blanketing him after halftime.
During the fourth quarter, Everett blasted a receiver off a pass deflection and was mistakenly ejected for targeting. The ejection will cause him to be suspended for the first half of the second game of the season as well. Everett has size, strength, physicality, speed and athleticism, but needs to play disciplined football to have a shot at being an early-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Rice senior running back Charles Ross made the most of his season opener. He was running over Aggie defenders repeatedly including bowling over defenders on a 19-yard touchdown catch. Ross (6-1, 230) showed real power and physicality with his downhill running against Texas A&M's defense. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry for 800 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Ross powered his way into the end zone on two short touchdown runs. He ran for 109 yards on 20 carries with two receptions for 24 yards. With three touchdowns against the Aggies, the senior had an impressive day to help his bid to get on scouts radar.
Ohio State 40, Buffalo 20
This game featured two of the best outside linebacker draft prospects for the NFL in Buffalo's Khalil Mack and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier. Both players were play-makers behind the line of scrimmage last year. In 2012, Mack had 21 tackles for a loss while Shazier had 17. Mack plays an easier conference schedule than most prospects, so the Buckeyes would provide a good opportunity to gauge him against better competition.
Mack was held in check for the majority of the first quarter and look overmatched. He had one nice rush in the first quarter going against left tackle Jake Mewhort. Mack rocked Mewhort back with a big push to get close to Braxton Miller. Mewhort grabbed a hold of Mack to keep him from tackling Miller and the penalty was called.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Mack came alive. It started when he bullrushed the right tackle into the pocket. Mack then shed the tackle and started to drag down Miller with a teammate helping him finish the sack. Mack got another pressure against the right tackle on the next play. A bit later, Mack shed a block from Mewhort to almost sack Miller, but the shifty quarterback broke out of his grasp.
While Mack (6-3, 248) missed that sack, on the next snap he made a game-changing play. Mack recognized a screen being set up and backed off of Mewhort, who tried to cut block him. Miller's pass came Mack's direction and he snatched the ball. Mack beat a few Buckeyes receivers in the race to the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown return. On the next possession, Mack beat the right tackle with a speed rush and dip to sack Miller.
Mack made yet another massive play in the third quarter with a sack-fumble that set up Buffalo at the Ohio State one-yard line, but the play was negated because of a facemask penalty on Mack. He grabbed and yanked the offensive linemen to the side by the facemask to get free. On the same drive, Mack shed a block in space to make a tackle on a receiver for no gain on a play in the flat.
During the second half, Mack saw more double-team help as the Buckeyes' right tackle was being abused by Mack and Buffalo. Mack also was pulled from the field to avoid injury after the outcome was decided. The 6-foot-3, 248-pounder started slowly, but he was extremely impressive with how he adjusted to become a game-changer against perhaps the best opponent he will play all season. This tape will help Mack's chances of being a first-round pick next May.
Shazier had a nice play where he shed the block from an interior lineman and stuffed the ball-carrier for no gain. Two plays later, Shazier stayed home and stopped a draw on a third-down run to force a punt. He had another nice play where he held strong against a block from a lineman and stopped a run for no gain. Shazier blitzed up the middle the next play to force an incompletion on a third down. At the end of the first quarter Shazier dropped into coverage and tipped a pass for an incompletion. He also had a tackle on a receiver in the open field.
In the second quarter, Shazier was carted into the locker room with cramps, but he came back early in the second half. Shazier was burned on a wheel route by a running back for a 26-yard reception early in the fourth quarter. That set up Buffalo at the Ohio State three-yard line. Shazier looked uncharacteristically stiff to flip his hips and run. A few plays later, he bounced back to stop the running back on third-and-goal at the one-yard line. This outing shouldn't hurt or help Shazier significantly.
Braxton Miller is a dual-threat quarterback who needs to develop his passing ability. The junior is showing progress from his sophomore season. Miller lofted in a 46-yard touchdown pass and did a nice job of leading his receiver into the end zone past coverage. The Buckeyes' second possession saw him make an accurate throw on the run for his second touchdown pass.
In the second half, Miller had to leave the game a few times because of cramps, but he came back and made a 40-yard run from out of his own end zone to midfield. Miller had nothing open and ripped through the secondary for a big run. Miller finished the game 15-of-22 passes for 178 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He ran for 77 yards on 17 carries as well. Right now, Miller looks like a player who should return for his senior year.
Ohio State's Bradley Roby, a top cornerback prospect, was suspended for this game because of some legal trouble stemming from an incident at a bar earlier this summer.
Miami 34, Florida Atlantic 6
Miami used to be the best program for producing NFL draft prospects, but that pipeline of talent has dried up in recent years. The 2013 season could be the beginning of a resurgence if senior quarterback Stephen Morris has a big year. Miami had a warmup game against Florida Atlantic before taking on perhaps the best defense it'll see all season in the Florida Gators in Week 2.
Throughout the game against Florida Atlantic, Morris showed that he has a nice arm with good zip on his passes. Last year one of the bigger issues that Morris had was some inconsistency in his accuracy and ball placement. The first outing of the year made it look like Morris has improved in those areas.
Generally, Morris was throwing his passes on time and hitting his receivers in stride. He threw the ball up for grabs in the middle of the first quarter and it was almost intercepted. A few plays later, Morris had a well-thrown pass dropped in the end zone by a freshman wide receiver. Morris recovered threw another perfect pass on a deep post, but that ball was also dropped by the same receiver. He was running free down the middle of the field with nobody between him and the end zone.
Early in the second quarter, Morris dropped in a beautiful touch pass for 33 yards on the far sideline. He showed toughness while making the throw and getting hit by a defensive lineman. Morris had a run of about 20 yards down the middle of the field on the next drive. He made a beautiful throw at the end of the second quarter between two defenders to fit a ball into junior tight end Clive Walford for a 16-yard touchdown. Finally, a receiver made a play for Morris as Walford made the catch while taking a hard shot from the safety.
Morris made a dumb decision in the third quarter that led to his first interception of the season. All of his receivers were covered and hr seemed to panic. Morris and his receiver weren't on the same page, so the signal-caller threw the ball straight to a Florida Atlantic defender deep in Miami territory. Luckily for Morris, the Hurricanes' defense kept the ball out of the end zone.
Morris' night was done early in the fourth quarter. He completed 15-of-27 passes for 159 yards with a touchdown and interception. The senior is off to a decent start for the year, but will need to eliminate his mistakes in order to have a shot as a high pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
There has always been hype about Miami's Seantrel Henderson (6-8, 345) since he was the nation's No. 1 recruit coming out of high school. Henderson has had a disappointing career, but there was hope and hype that he was poised for a big senior season. That took a serious hit when Henderson wasn't in the starting lineup. He did rotate into the game during the first half at right tackle.
The Hurricanes had some success running behind Henderson with running back Duke Johnson and others. He showed the strength to blast open holes when he stayed low and drove his man downhill. There were also some plays where Henderson missed his block. He wasn't dominating or mauling defenders at the line of scrimmage. Henderson had a false start in the third quarter and was beat for a pressure on the quarterback in the fourth. The sesnior needs to play better against Florida and in the weeks to come in order to get top-100 consideration next May.
Ole Miss 39, Vanderbilt 35
There were some good draft matchups in this SEC battle. Ole Miss junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief and Vanderbilt cornerback Andre Hal are both potential early-round draft picks. Also working to contain Moncrief was Commodores senior safety Kenny Ladler.
Hal had impressive coverage on a pass deflection in the first quarter. He started out in zone and covered a receiver running a crossing route towards the middle. Hal let him leave his zone and showed the awareness to spin around to turn and run with a receiver slipping behind him along the sideline. Hal ran with the receiver and slapped a pass away in the end zone. On the next play, Hal ran up to force a receiver out of bounds short of first-down yardage. That forced Ole Miss to settle for a field goal.
Shortly later Hal allowed a 12-yard reception, but claimed that the receiver pushed off on him. Moncrief caught a short swing pass and ran nine yards for a first down a third-and-2. Moncrief was well covered by both Hal and Ladler late in the first quarter. Overall, the Rebels struggled to get Moncrief involved as he fell silent for stretches. One swing pass they threw him saw Hal clean his clock.
In the third quarter, Moncrief beat Ladler down the seam to get open in the deep middle of the field. Bo Wallace threw a good pass to hit the receiver in stride and the gain went for 39 yards. Later, Moncrief ran a deep post against Hal in man coverage but Hal was able to stay with him. He reached around to slap the pass away, but the officials called a lousy pass interference penalty. Hal had good coverage on the play.
Hal got revenge on a jump ball in the end zone. He beat Moncrief to slap the pass away for an incompletion. Moncrief finished the game with 56 yards on five receptions. Hal was impressive with tight coverage all night. He displayed nice feet, ball skills, awareness, and the agility to turn and run. Hal definitely helped himself with a good tape for NFL evaluators. Moncrief didn't do enough in the season opener to improve his draft standing.
Ladler's first tackle came while stopping a touchdown at the one-yard line, however Ladler received the hit rather than delivering it. Later in the first half, he made a nice tackle five yards past the line of scrimmage to keep the back from breaking into the open field. Ladler got in on a number of tackles, but also had some plays where he didn't get off blocks and was seemingly slow to react. This wasn't a game that will help his stock.
Moncrief wasn't the only quality receiver prospect in this game. Vanderbilt senior wide out Jordan Matthews is one of the top receivers in the nation and has the challenge of working with a new quarterback. On the first drive, Matthews used his big body to move the chains when he got open running a slant through zone coverage for a gain of about 12.
Matthews made a 28-yard reception on the first play of the second quarter, again running a slant through zone coverage. The pass was high, but he did a great job of adjusting to snatch the ball over his head. Matthews then slashed through the secondary for good yardage. Another of his catches set up a Commodores touchdown.
Just a short time later, Matthews put Vanderbilt in the lead. He caught a quick swing pass on the line of scrimmage and took off down the sideline. Matthews got a great block from Vanderbilt's slot receiver that took out two defenders and was able to outrace the other defensive backs to get into the end zone.
Matthews fell quiet for a while before converting a third down with a 14-yard catch running through a zone. Later, he moved the chains again with a leaping catch, but paid for it by being blasted by a safety. Matthews was hurting after the play to the point that he was vomiting on the field. Still, Matthews was able to beat his corner running down the sideline a little bit later to make a pretty 40-yard catch. It came on a fourth-and-18 that set up Vanderbilt to take the lead with a minute and a half remaining. Ole Miss quickly answered with a 75-yard touchdown run. A last-ditch pass to Matthews hit him in the hands, but he dropped it and the ball was intercepted on the deflection.
Matthews totaled 10 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown for the evening. It wouldn't be surprising if he has big production again this year. The senior reminds me of former Baylor receiver Terrance Williams, a third-round pick of the Cowboys last April. Matthews looks like a big possession receiver like Williams. Matthews is very polished as a route-runner, hands catcher and is generally sure-handed. However, Matthews doesn't look like he has a second gear to be a speed threat in the NFL.
South Carolina 27, North Carolina 10
To start the college football season, the eyes of the nation were on the top prospect for the NFL: South Carolina superstar defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. North Carolina senior left tackle James Hurst had the opportunity to help his draft stock if he played well against Clowney. Tar Heels senior quarterback Bryn Renner is also an early-round draft prospect and needed to show some toughness in the pocket. With Clowney coming off the edge, Hurst's pass-protection skills and Renner's ability to stayed poised would be put to the test.
Clowney flashed his impressive ability, but he didn't make any splash plays against North Carolina. In the first half, Clowney had a nice rush that split the right tackle and guard to allow him to apply some pressure to Renner. Clowney had a second-quarter mental mistake when he jumped offsides on a fourth-and-2. The penalty was declined because Renner made a bigger gain via a completion. Clowney registered his first tackle of the half while in pursuing Renner out of the pocket and running him down two yards past the line of scrimmage. Clowney came close to a safety on that play. He then got in on another run tackle in pursuit nine yards past the line of scrimmage. Clowney had an even better rush that saw him get free from Hurst and dive on top of a sack pile that been started by the Gamecocks' interior linemen. Inclement weather then temporarily suspended the game.
After the weather delay, Clowney came close to a sack on an inside speed rush from defensive tackle. On another rush, he got a shove on Renner and later finished the night with a good rush jetting by the right tackle, but Renner slipped out of Clowney's hands.
On obvious third-down passing attempts, Hurst did a quality job of protecting his quarterback - although he did have a questionable holding call. There were a few times where Clowney tried an outside rush, but Hurst held him up to keep him off of Renner. Hurst did a particularly nice job on one deep drop of riding Clowney around the pocket. While Hurst was never blowing Clowney off the line of scrimmage, he was kept him from making impact plays and hitting his quarterback in the backfield.
It was evident during the game that Clowney's conditioning was subpar. His snap count didn't warrant him being as tired as he was; he clearly took some plays off. Sources recently told WalterFootball.com Clowney lacked a good work ethic in his conditioning and took a significant amount of plays off last year. Both issues were given further proof in the season opener. While Clowney didn't make any game-changing plays, his presence had a huge impact from a game-planning perspective. The Tar Heels constantly worked the ball away from him in the ground game and utilized quick passes to the other side. This tape won't help Clowney, but it probably won't hurt him significantly with NFL evaluators.
Overall, Hurst helped himself against South Carolina. He could use more strength to move linemen in the ground game, but he showed good feet and quickness in his pass drops. The senior could be best utilized in the NFL as part of a zone-blocking system. Hurst allowed Clowney some penetration upfield during their one-on-one pass-blocking matchups, but kept Clowney from getting any sacks or hits on his quarterback. Hurst helped himself in that regard.
Renner had a rough start to this game, but settled down and made some impressive throws. He seemed antsy in the pocket during the first quarter, which effected his accuracy. Renner had tight end Eric Ebron open along the sideline, but badly overthrew him. A few plays later, Renner overthrew another open receiver on the sideline. He came back to hit Ebron for a nice reception in the middle of the field to convert a third-and-8 in the second quarter. It set up a first-and-goal from the four-yard line. Renner then connected on a four-yard touchdown pass to Quinshad Davis. As the game progressed, Renner stood tough and delivered some nice throws in the middle of the field. He completed 26-of-42 passes for 194 yards with a touchdown and zero interceptions. However, Renner definitely didn't help his stock against the Gamecocks. Meanwhile, Ebron (3-32) had a solid performance other than the high pass that went of his hands in the fourth quarter.
South Carolina defensive end Chaz Sutton had a rough start to the season. The senior was called for a bad, unnecessary facemask penalty in the second quarter that gave the Tar Heels a first down after they were stopped on a third-and-long. Late in the second quarter, Sutton flashed some skill when he shed a block and stuffed a running back for no gain on a third-down run. Sutton (6-5, 263) has real talent, but could stand to be more consistent. He should see good rushing opportunities this season with teams going away from Clowney. Overall, Sutton helped himself against North Carolina.
Tar Heels defensive end Kareem Martin is also a NFL prospect. He recorded a good tackle from behind on a run by quarterback Connor Shaw, but that was about it. Martin missed a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-2 in the first quarter that allowed the Gamecocks to convert the attempt. He had decent pass-rush penetration throughout this contest, but generally couldn't get to Shaw. Late in the first quarter, Martin got a nice pressure by cutting through the right tackle and guard to flush Shaw out of the pocket. Martin came close to a sack midway into the second quarter, but Shaw slipped by on a scramble to the sideline. In the ground game, Martin had some underwhelming moments although he did have an impressive tackle for a loss when he knifed through the line on the first play after the weather delay. This tape definitely won't help his cause.
A defensive prospect who could have helped himself somewhat was North Carolina safety Tre Boston. He made nice open-field tackles on a receivers during a crossing route and a screen. Boston got trucked by running back Mike Davis in the third quarter, but Boston got enough of Davis to get him on the ground to prevent what could have been a long touchdown run. Boston did have an ugly play on a 75-yard touchdown run by Davis; Boston took a bad angle and came up short chasing down the back from behind. While it wasn't a flawless night, Boston showed good range and the ability to tackle receivers and backs in the open field. Overall, this tape could help him.