First-year Louisville Cardinals (8-5) head coach Scott Satterfield led the team to a 38-28 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the 2019 Franklin American Music City Bowl. Despite moving on prior to last year’s New Orleans Bowl as head coach of the Appalachian State Mountaineers, Satterfield has now led teams to four consecutive bowl victories. Led by redshirt sophomore signal-caller Micale Cunningham’s Music City Bowl MVP performance (350 total yards, 2 TDs), the Cardinals amassed over 500 yards (510) of total offense.
Tennessee Air National Guard f
The Tennessee Air National Guard flyover over the 2019 Music City Bowl featured the C-17 Globemaster, from the Memphis based 164th Airlift Wing.
Hassan Hall KR Louisville
Louisville's Hassan Hall (No. 19 pictured) finished fourth in the nation in kickoff returns in 2019 (30.5 yd/avg, TD) but he had problems getting away from Mississippi State WR JaVonta Payton (No. 4 pictured), S Landon Guidry (No. 35 pictured) and No. 34 Sherman Timbs.
Willie Gay, Jr LB Mississippi State
Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay, Jr. (No. 6 pictured) saved his best for last. With the team missing starting linebacker Erroll Thompson, Gay, Jr. contributed a career-high 11 tackles, one forced fumble and one tackle for loss.
Tyre Phillips OT Mississippi State
Mississippi State LT Tyre Phillips (No. 78 pictured), 6'5 345, often used his size to envelop Louisville OLB Yasir Abdullah (No. 22 pictured).
Micale Cunningham QB Louisville
Louisville's Micale Cunningham rushed for 81 yards on 16 carries as he consistently kept linebackers like Mississippi State's Tim Washington (No. 41 pictured) in constant pursuit. In addition, Cunningham threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore phenom finished 2019 with 22 touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Scott Satterfield holding up the 2019 Music City Bowl trophy
Scott Satterfield continues to win bowl games at a frenetic pace. The Music City Bowl victory marked his fourth bowl game in the last four games he's coached in (didn't coach in the 2018 New Orleans Bowl for Appalachian State). His continued rise has coincided with a Louisville program that could be headed on the way back up the ladder in the ACC.
Clemson sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence accounted for 366 total yards and three touchdowns in leading the Tigers back from a 16-point deficit to defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes 29-23 in the 2019 Playstation Fiesta Bowl. The game MVP got a lot of assistance from ACC Offensive Player of the Year Travis Etienne, who chipped in with 150 all-purpose yards and three scores in the comeback effort.
Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette took his second kickoff return of the season to the house and scored touchdowns three different ways in the team’s 49-24 victory over the USC Trojans in the 2019 SDCCU Holiday Bowl. Along with Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP A.J. Epenesa’s 2.5 quarterback sacks, the Hawkeyes went on a 21-0 run to end the contest.
4 Stanley at the top of his release point
Iowa's Nathan Stanley completed 18-of-27 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns in the team's victory. Stanley, 6'5 240, passed for 68 touchdowns in his Hawkeyes career.
6 Smith-Marsette BEST SHOT of him spinning vs USC KO coverage
Iowa's Ihmir Smith-Marsette (No. 6 seen spinning on USC's Isaiah Pola-Mao) finished fifth nationally in kickoff returns this past season (29.6 yd/avg, 2 TDs). His 2019 Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP performance featured three touchdowns (KR, REC, RUSH) and nearly a fourth on a near touchdown pass.
73 Jackson attempting to turn his hips vs 94 Epenesa on turn-out block
USC's Austin Jackson (No. 73 pictured) gave up a sack and some quarterback pressures versus Iowa's A.J. Epenesa (No. 94 pictured), but he used his immense athleticism and strength to thwart him on occasion.
94 Epenesa uses outside arm-over after pull-through maneuver
It was Epenesa's superior technique, however, that ultimately proved to be the difference in the much-anticipated matchup between the two all-conference performers. On this repetition, Epenesa uses an outside arm over and pull-through maneuver to cross Jackson's feet.
74 Wirfs bends back 26 Mauga
The Iowa Hawkeyes also have two offensive tackle prospects that will be playing on Sundays. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs' (No. 74 seen pictured blocking USC sophomore linebacker Kana'i Mauga, No. 26 pictured) power was evident for much of the night. He was effective pulling in space and displayed agility on outside reach blocks in their variety of offensive run schemes.
Ferentz thankful he's receiving the MVP trophy
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz won the ninth bowl game of his tenure in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes won its third consecutive bowl game.
Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz won his sixth consecutive bowl game for the Bulldogs and did so in dominating fashion. His Bulldogs shutout the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes 14-0 in what turned out to be a dominating defensive performance. The Hurricanes managed just 74 yards on the ground and accounted for 227 yards overall. Walk-On’s Independence Bowl Defensive MVP Connor Taylor had nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
2 Taylor BEASTING on KO cover
2019 Walk-On's Independence Bowl Defensive MVP Connor Taylor (No. 2 pictured) not only contributed nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one pass break-up, but he also showed up on this kickoff cover vs. Miami's K.J. Osborn (No. 2 pictured).
55 Quarterman gets off block to fill vs 33 Henderson
Miami (Fla.) LB Shaquille Quarterman (No. 55 pictured) may be the Hurricanes' most consistent leader. While many of his teammates sat out the game to prepare for the 2020 NFL Draft, Quarterman -who led the team in tackles (107) and ranked second in tackles for loss (15.5) - tallied 11 tackles in his final career game. Despite his efforts, Louisiana Tech junior running back Justin Henderson (No. 33 pictured) finished with 95 yards on 22 carries. Henderson (1,062 rushing yards, 16 total TDs in 2019) earned 2019 Independence Bowl Offensive MVP honors.
5 Sam THROWS 2 Osborn out of the club
With Louisiana Tech All-American CB Amik Robertson sitting out the bowl game to prepare for the draft, senior corner Michael Sam (No. 5 pictured) was out to send a message early in the game. This physical tackle on Miami (Fla.) senior wide receiver K.J. Osborn (No. 2 pictured) set a tone. Sam had 46 tackles, three interceptions and seven pass break-ups in 2019.
15 Rousseau gets off of 77 Stallworth to inside hip
Miami (Fla.) freshman defensive end Gregory Rousseau (No. 15 pictured) had a size challenge versus Louisiana Tech senior OT Gewhite Stallworth (6'8, 320). Rousseau's slippery nature proved to be tough for Stallworth at times. Rousseau is draft-eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft and this season proved to be a breakout. He finished with 54 tackles, 15.5 quarterback sacks (second nationally), 19.5 tackles for losses (seventh nationally), two forced fumbles and one pass break-up.
Holtz estatic with team and emotional holding up the trophy
Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz quietly won his sixth consecutive bowl game for the Bulldogs. During his time in Ruston, Holtz has three nine-win seasons and one 10-win campaign.
Washington head coach Chris Petersen ended his career with a resounding 38-7 victory over his former team, the Boise State Broncos, in the 2019 Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl. Junior quarterback Jacob Eason passed for 210 yards and one touchdown while fellow junior running back Salvon Ahmed added two rushing scores. Junior defensive back Elijah Molden took home game MVP honors with nine tackles, one forced fumble and a 31-yard interception return.
Las Vegas City
The Las Vegas Bowl captures the spirit of the city in mid-December every year.
American Flag with Soliders 2
Our United States military provides a constant presence every year at the Las Vegas Bowl.
26 Ahmed RUNNING to his right again 5
Despite rushing for just 20 yards, Washington running back Salvon Ahmed (No. 26 pictured) scored two touchdowns in the 2019 Las Vegas Bowl. He went over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in 2019 and finished his career with 21 rushing touchdowns. Ahmed -who recently declared for the 2020 NFL Draft- will be one of the fastest running backs available in this year's draft class.
56 Harris MAKES AN EXTREMELY ATHLETIC BLOCK vs 10 Nawahine as 6 McClatcher runs the fly sweep
Washington center Nick Harris (No. 56 pictured) provides mobility as a puller in space for wide receiver Chico McClatcher (No. 6 pictured) on a fly sweep.
Jimmy Lake new HC Washington with Chris Petersen former HC Boise State BEST SHOT 2
Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake celebrates the Las Vegas Bowl championship with retiring coach Chris Petersen. Petersen finished 55-26 during his tenure with the Huskies and 147-38 overall (Boise State, Washington).
Utah State wide receiver/kickoff returner Savon Scarver’s foot speed and elusiveness have put him on a historic pace. Although he has returned just eight kickoffs in 2019, the Aggie speedster is averaging nearly 43.8 yards per kickoff return. As of press date, he is the all-time leader in career kickoff return average in the Mountain West Conference. He has several attributes that distinguish him in this phase of his game.
Since his insertion into the team’s kickoff return game back in 2017, Scarver has excelled on right returns that feature a double team. During this season (2017), the Aggies would occasionally double team the R4 (fourth man in from the outside-in) on the opposing team’s kickoff coverage unit (with their right tackle and right guard). One of the reasons he is effective on these types of returns surrounds his ability to swerve through traffic. His swivel hips allow him to stay on a north-south trek without losing speed. Many of these returns during that year featured a five-man front (left tackle, left guard, center, right guard and right tackle) on the Aggies kickoff return team (five men on the front line).
On this kickoff return against New Mexico State in the 2017 Arizona Bowl, Scarver’s balance and underrated core strength prevent him from losing speed as he navigates through traffic. Prior to any of that happening, however, it is his underrated ability to catch the ball coming forward that allows him to get on top of the kickoff return unit. Many of the all-time best kickoff returners gain one-to-two steps by creating a lean with their posture as they field the ball.
Scarver’s 101-yard kickoff return against Nevada on October 19, 2019 came out of a 4-2 kickoff return front (six-man front). Normally, many of these fronts feature four of the blockers in the six-man front aligned 10-to-12 yards from the ball. The two centers (right center and left center) normally align approximately 15-to-20 yards from the ball in-between the left guard and right guard. On this return, the Aggies front featured the two centers aligned 10 yards from the kickoff team with its left and right guards aligned in-between the tackles and centers.
This front allows the Aggies left tackle (37 Sam Lockett, 6’0 190, S-FR) and left guard (25 Jarrod Green, 5’11 180, CB-SOPH.) to execute a double team on the fourth man in from the right (Nevada’s L4 in their blocking designation). At that point, Scarver is asked to pop the return going to his left. As opposed to bouncing the return, he squeezed it back vertically off the block of the team’s right wing (47 Logan Lee, 6’4 245, TE-JR.) versus the third man in from the right side (Nevada’s L3). It took just one small swivel from Scarver to elude Nevada’s placekicker in the middle of the field. Once he did, the former Centennial HS (Nev.) prep level track star easily ran away from Nevada’s kickoff coverage unit en route to his 101-yard touchdown. The former 21.5-second 200-meter speedster once set a state record with a 37.8-second time in the 300-meter hurdles. He is not going to be caught once he reaches his top gear.
Areas of improvement
When we first saw Scarver back in 2017, we felt as if he had an opportunity to develop into a top-notch wide receiver prospect as well. While he can break down the cushion of unsuspecting defensive backs, he has not been totally reliable as a pass receiver. He let a quick slant carom off of his shoulder pads against LSU in the fourth quarter after beating Tigers senior cornerback Kristian Fulton off the line of scrimmage. A possession earlier, his speed varied on a post route and then he was unable to wrestle the ball away from LSU safety Grant Delpit.
Of quarterback Jordan Love’s three interceptions versus LSU, two were on targets to Scarver. On the first interception, he beat LSU cornerback Derek Stingley off the line of scrimmage on a fade pattern but Love underthrew the ball and Stingley picked it off. Overall, his physical ability shined on occasion against LSU’s cornerbacks but he wasted too much time at the line of scrimmage. Physical corners can deter his paths.
At this point, he has morphed into an elite return specialist by trade. For him to become a dual-threat in the true sense of the word, Scarver needs to return to his early season form. If so, he could help re-ignite Love’s draft stock over the last month of the season. The two should be on more of the same page in their third season together.
Several of the nation’s top defenders have made their marks by forcing the football out of the opposition’s grasp. We take a look at four standouts who continue to impose their will.
Elijah Riley 6’0 205 CB-Senior Army
Riley ranks as one of the more physical cornerbacks in all of college football. His confidence rarely varies on the field (after either making or giving up a big play). His ability to jam wide receivers provided former Army defensive coordinator Jay Bateman (now DC at North Carolina) plenty of options for the nation’s eighth-ranked defense in 2018. Thus far in 2019, the Black Knights are still allowing just a little over 200 yards passing per game.
Versus Oklahoma in 2018, Riley challenged wide receivers in man coverage, tackled eventual Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray one-on-one in the open field and saved another would-be touchdown with an open field tackle. He stood his ground and challenged the Oklahoma wide receivers. Against Michigan in Week 2 of the 2019 campaign, he displayed his knack for timing blitzes and his ferocity as a tackler. Riley is a prospect with positional flexibility on Sunday afternoons. Don’t be surprised if teams project him to a strong, H-linebacker or free safety position (which he played some in a backup capacity earlier in his career).
Jake Hansen 6’1 225 LB-Senior Illinois
Hansen entered the collegiate ranks as a lightly-regarded two-star recruit from East Lake High School (Fla.). Fast forward four years later and the team captain ranks as the heart and soul of the team’s talented linebacker corps.
Illinois head coach Lovie Smith describes Hansen as “a football junkie.” His reactionary skills in coverage are impressive, evidenced by his first interception of the season versus Akron. On the play, he broke instinctively as an underneath defender in two-deep zone to record the pick. His ability to jar balls loose has grabbed the attention of the nation. The senior linebacker currently leads the country with seven forced fumbles. He is just as impressive timing blitzes, disguising defensive looks, covering tight ends or closing distances going sideways.
Joe Gaziano 6’4 275 DL-Senior Northwestern
Gaziano’s impressive resume’ is hard to match in terms of productivity. To put it in perspective, the Wildcats senior defensive lineman already has forced 10 career fumbles and broken up 11 passes (through October 26, 2019).
He aligns at the three-technique defensive tackle, right or left defensive end, and as an occasional two-point stand-up outside linebacker. While much of his success comes from positive hand usage and timing, he does contain a bit of rigidness changing directions. As evidenced by his game-changing strip-sack, forced fumble in the 2018 SDCCU Holiday Bowl, he can regain his footing after initially getting chipped while maintaining his courses.
Patrick Jones II 6’5 270 DE-Junior Pittsburgh
Jones’ flexibility is aided by a nimble, light-footed nature. The Panthers defensive end’s sinewy nature allows him to long-arm offensive lineman from the outside-in as a left defensive end (Ohio ’19). His quickness to stab linemen creates immediate separation. Defensive coordinator Randy Bates will occasionally use him in a cocked two-point alignment from the right outside linebacker spot in his four-man fronts. From this alignment, Jones II is adept at winning on inside movement (Duke ’19). In this same game (Duke ’19), he won by dipping his inside shoulder (right) when coming out of his four-point stance to force a fumble in the third quarter.
Blessed with a 34-inch vertical jump at over 260 pounds, the former Virginia high school product has a game that has blossomed this year after serving an apprenticeship role in 2018 (23 tackles, 4 QB sacks, 7.5 TFLs, FF).
For years, the safety tandem of Jovante Moffatt (6’0, 210, Sr.) and Reed Blankenship (6’1, 196, Jr.) has reigned terror on Conference USA football. Last Saturday’s contest against Marshall only served to further the pair’s growing reputation nationally. Blankenship registered six tackles in a solid performance while Moffatt tallied 14 tackles, a pass break-up and two timely athletic interceptions. We go inside the strengths of each player.
C-USA Defensive Players of the Week (9-9-19, 10-7-19)
Moffatt displayed a lot of the necessary NFL characteristics during his C-USA Defensive Player of the Week performance against Marshall last Saturday. He first baited Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green by hanging on the near hash to the short field as a deep post one-third safety. Moffatt leapt over cornerback Gregory Grate to snag the skinny post in mid-air. Later in the game, he picked off an out route by Green when aligned as an underneath zone defender. He displayed his hand-eye coordination by plucking the ball on his inside-out break to the sidelines while reading the eyes of the quarterback. It was a defining performance for the senior after shoulder injuries forced him to miss most of what was shaping up to be a defining 2018 campaign (appeared in just four games).
Blankenship, pictured, was a multi-dimensional athlete at West Limestone HS (Ala.). During his time at the prep level, he rushed for over 3,000 yards (3,192), passed for over 1,000 yards (1,056) and also posted over 1,000 yards receiving (1,004). In the process, he accounted for 46 touchdowns.
Middle Tennessee defensive coordinator Scott Shafer puts a lot on the plates of the fellow team captains. As opposed to playing either from solely a stationary strong or free safety role, the pair is interchangeable. They align in the deep middle one-third post, as eighth men in the box, curl-flat defenders, and even come off the edge as pass rushers. The disguises they coordinate prior to the snap of the ball can fool quarterbacks on a week-to-week basis.
Blankenship -who was named the C-USA Defensive Player of the Week after a two-interception performance against Tennessee State earlier this year (9-5-19)- is an aggressive tackler. He put some impressive hits on his resume' coming downhill with vengeance in earlier 2019 contests versus both Iowa and Michigan. In his career, he has accounted for 215 tackles, two quarterback sacks and 15 tackles for losses.
Moffatt's flexibility is adequate but he can be late to adjust his angles on occasion. In the move area as a man-to-man defender, he has the occasional tendency to open his hips to turn-and-run a tick too late. He makes up for it with adequate balance and a solid weave backpedal. He learned a lot from former Blue Raiders safety and current Tennessee Titans All-Pro safety Kevin Byard. As Moffatt put it, "KB was here a lot and it helped me a lot." Some of his other favorite NFL safeties include Pro Bowlers Malcolm Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles) and Micah Hyde (Buffalo Bills).
Perhaps the receiver with the most expectations this season on the Alabama football roster is junior All-American Jerry Jeudy. However, the one player who continues to prove capable of ascending his game through the season’s first three weeks is fellow junior DeVonta Smith.
When he first came out of Amite High School (La.), Smith weighed in the 157-pound range. While he has put on some pounds to add to his slender frame, he still hovers around the 175-pound mark. Surprisingly, it is his penchant for going across the middle of the field that draws high marks. But when asked about whether or not his heart starts to beat a little bit faster when going across the middle with linebackers and safeties coming across at him prior to the team’s 2018 contest versus Ole Miss by AL.com, Smith had the perfect response.
“No. Not at all,” Smith responded matter of factly.
The greatest thrill of his career up until this point may be his game-winning touchdown catch in the 2018 College Football Playoff national championship game against Georgia. In an offense that often utilizes four or five wide receivers/tight ends, the opportunities are limited. It is a fact not lost upon Smith.
“No matter who it is, which one of us gets it we can all make the same play,” Smith told AL.com back in 2018. “When a play is called, you never know whether you’re going to get it or not. You just wait for the quarterback to throw it.”
Smith vs. South Carolina, 9-13-19: In-game report
Despite improved bulk from his prep level days, Smith's strength is still a bit of a question mark. In Saturday's game against South Carolina (9-14-19), Gamecocks CB Jaycee Horn raked a ball out of his hands on a slant route that resulted in a pass deflection. Although he contains a deft drop-step speed release, defensive backs do lean their frames on him at times on his inside releases versus press-man.
Last Saturday's contest against South Carolina flashed Smith's slippery skills after the catch. On a couple of his receptions, he used one-step cuts to get initial room from CB Jaycee Horn. Then, on a quick post/slant concept in the third quarter (9:42 mark), he used a slick sidestep to elude South Carolina safety J.T. Ibe in the middle of the field. The result? A 42-yard touchdown reception.
Smith's ball skills and arm length (pictured here versus Georgia DB Richard LeCounte in the 2018 SEC championship game) both stand out. On Saturday in Columbia, however, his eight-catch, 136-yard, two-touchdown day may have hidden his best catch of the afternoon. At the 13:20 mark of the second quarter, he made one of his textbook leaping grabs over the top of South Carolina CB Israel Mukuamu, who stands 6-foot-4, 200 pounds. It was an example of the talent Smith possesses when adjusting to the ball in the air.
Most locksmiths specialize in rekeying, repairing, opening and modifying. Some numbers have meaning in the process, while others do not. It fits perfectly with what Smith communicated to AL.com when asked about whether he had accumulated the most receptions on the squad through Week 2 of the 2018 campaign.
Betiku’s activity last Saturday versus UConn was noteworthy, but should have been expected after his Week 1 performance against Akron. The graduate transfer from USC dealt with offseason hip surgery in 2018 but has responded favorably since coming to Champaign. While his snap count reactions vary, he displays very good play strength. From either a right-handed or left-handed stance (RDE or LDE), he works to press his inside shoulder versus the offensive tackle’s high shoulder to press the pocket over the top. Many of his sacks thus far in 2019 have come from him finishing through the down. In a defense that has been effective running line games, his activity winning on spikes (stunts that attack the inside shoulder of offensive linemen) has been noteworthy through two weeks. He currently leads the nation in quarterback sacks (6) and tackles for losses (7.5).
From either a right-handed or left-handed stance (RDE or LDE), he (No. 47 pictured at the top of the screen) works to press his inside shoulder versus the offensive tackle’s high shoulder to press the pocket over the top. Many of his sacks thus far in 2019 have come from him finishing through the down.
In this pregame repetition prior to the UConn game on September, 7, 2019, Betiku is matched against Illinois 6-foot-6, 320-pound left tackle Vederian Lowe (No. 79 pictured). Due to Lowe's bulk and width, Betiku's feet do not point in a direction towards the quarterback. This causes him to get pushed up the field initially. Despite containing definitive play strength, bigger offensive tackles can sometimes engulf and shield him from the action on his up-and-under rip moves.
This photo represents how the upward movement of his rip move allows him to circle over the top of Lowe (No. 79 pictured). In addition, his activity winning on spikes (stunts that attack the inside shoulder of offensive linemen) has been noteworthy through two weeks. He currently leads the nation in quarterback sacks and tackles for losses.