All posts by Corey Chavous

2019 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Gallery

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.

Louisville cruised to its first bowl victory since the last time they were in Nashville (2015 Music City Bowl). During the 2015 Music City Bowl , game MVP Lamar Jackson accounted for 453 total yards (4 TDs). The 2019 Franklin American Mortgage Music Bowl MVP this time was redshirt sophomore quarterback Micale Cunningham, who totaled 379 yards (2 TDs).

2019 Playstation Fiesta Bowl Gallery

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.

2019 SDCCU Holiday Bowl Photo Gallery

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.

The Hawkeyes used a 21-0 run to extend away from the USC Trojans 49-24 in the 2019 SDCCU Holiday Bowl.

2019 Walk-On’s Independence Bowl Photo Gallery

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.

2019 Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl Photo Gallery

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.

Maestro of Returns

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.

Technique

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.

Top-end speed

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.

The Aggies used an inverted 2-4 kickoff return alignment on their first return versus Nevada in 2019. The two guards (left and right) align at the 45-yard line in-between the tackles (aligned at the 49-yard line) and centers (aligned at the 46-yard line).

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.

Scarver caught five passes for 90 yards in a 23-17 win over San Diego State on September 21, 2019.

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.

Forcing the issue

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

Along with his three forced fumbles in 2019, Riley has four tackles and six tackles for loss through eight games. His physical playing style is a big reason the Black Knights ranked 21st in the nation in pass defense in 2018. His standout performance against Michigan in 2019 (13 tackles, 2 QB sacks, 2 TFLs, FF) caught the eyes of NFL scouts.

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 (No. 35 pictured) began his 2019 campaign with an eye-opening performance against Akron (7 tackles, INT, FF). It continued when he earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after posting 11 tackles, QB sack, TFL and two forced fumbles versus Wisconsin on October 19, 2019.

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 (No. 97 pictured) had five tackles, QB sack and one forced fumble versus Ohio State in Week 8 of the 2019 campaign.

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

After a slow start to the season, Patrick Jones II (No. 91 pictured) has compiled 9.5 tackles for losses in the last five games.

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).

C-USA tandem continuing to leave mark

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)

Alabama’s Locksmith

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

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.

Smith’s response?

“I don’t keep up with stats.”

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akD2oUl51rg

DraftNasty lenses: Oluwole Betiku, Jr. 6’3 250 DE-Illinois

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).