We go inside the game of a few prospects who stood out in Kentucky's hard-fought 24-17 victory over the Golden Eagles this past Saturday.
93 Matt Panton 6'5 233 P-Senior
The Australian-bred punter had an outstanding day for the Wildcats. The fact that he averaged 42 yards per punt on nine kicks tells just part of the story. In what proved to be a battle of field position throughout the afternoon, the rugby-style punter often pinned the Golden Eagles deep in their own territory. One of his pooch punts was downed at the one-yard line after a funny bounce and he had another pooch punt that he got off in a respectable 1.22 catch-and-kick time. While he lacked hang time (3.91) on yet another punt that was fair caught at the 15-yard line, he did generate 57 yards in distance on the kick. Despite prototypical NFL-size for a punter, the biggest question mark remains how he would fare kicking from a traditional style.
41 Josh Allen 6'5 230 OLB-Junior
Stats: 5 tackles, QB sack, 3 TFLs, FF
Allen did a fine job of working through traffic to slant inside (from a 2-pt LOLB spot) when the team ran zone blitzes from the wide side of the field. From this same OLB spot, he ran down screens and quick swing passes that worked away from him with positive lateral pursuit angles. When the team attempted to block him with H-back Julian Allen, he used his hands to snatch-and-pull him while maintaining his force as the quarterback flushed his way. Despite somewhat of an angular frame, he translated speed-to-power to nearly post a safety running through Golden Eagles OT Paul Gainer, Jr. from the ROLB spot in the fourth quarter. Allen's ability to slip OTs was evident from either side, and he posted a quarterback sack and forced fumble in the first half. He was equally effective slipping offensive guards when aligned head-up over them. The junior's versatility shined when they used him to walk out over the slot as he changed directions to break with fluidity versus screen passes.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
32 Xavier Thigpen 6'5 240 OLB-Senior
Coming into the game, we knew Thigpen would line up all over the place in DC Tony Pecoraro's multiple schemes. Once again, he was often featured in a stand-up OLB position in the team's amoeba defenses on third down. He flattened effectively to thwart a Kentucky inside run on a 3rd and 6 attempt, displaying adequate flexibility. On this play, Pecoraro had all 11 players standing up prior to the snap. His versatility also showed up when re-mapping his course to stop a potential big kickoff return in kickoff coverage. With his hand in the dirt as a LDE, he still needs work constricting his courses to prevent getting pushed by the pocket. He was at least satisfactory plugging the puller versus power schemes. His leggy nature was a bit evident when attempting to defeat cross-blocks from H-backs on split zone run concepts.
19 Curtis Mikell 5'8 170 CB-Senior
The diminutive Mikell has always overcome his size with zeal and fire. Additionally, he's adept at climbing the ball to fend-off potential catch opportunities down the field for bigger opponents. In this game, he used his bail technique to keep vision on the quarterback before going up to deflect a post pattern away from the Wildcats 6'3, 214-pound sophomore WR Tavin Richardson. His vision came up big when mid-pointing a seam route from the outside-in to nearly pick off another pass when in three-deep zone. He also showed the ability to turn-and-run on a go route when in off-man coverage versus one of Kentucky's faster wideouts in Isaiah Epps. His tackling stood out when defending smoke screens to the Kentucky wide receivers.