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Zi’Yon Hill-Green: Name change, but same game

It is not often that a player changes his name. In Zyon Hill’s case, the Father’s Day change to the new name (nearly a half-year ago) was an ode to his stepfather. Chris Green had been raising Hill since he was one years old.

On the field, there haven’t been many alterations for the 6-foot, 290-pounder’s game. He has always played bigger than his size and that has resulted in a number of challenges over time.

Entering the team’s final game against Texas State, the team needs Hill-Green to put his best foot forward. A win could ensure the Ragin Cajuns a sixth win and possible bowl berth.

But there is more on the line for Hill-Green.

Over the years, he’s dealt with a bevy of scrapes and bruises that have forced some missed starts. In 2021, he even missed time due to a lower body injury.

“His career here started with an injury…..in the summer when he got here,” ULL-head coach Michael Desormeaux said. “It seems like for him it’s been battling that, managing that and pushing through those things his whole career. Our kids see him every day, they know the shape that he’s in after a game.”

It has truly been a full body experience for the sixth-year Super Senior.

Zi'Yon Green-Hill working in the pregame vs. UAB in 2020
Green-Hill (No. 4 pictured) put together one of the better performances in school history this past season,

Despite the setbacks, Hill-Green’s school-record 21.5 career quarterback sacks have come due to a combination of quickness, lower body torque and endurance. Frequently, he has been at his best late in games (see Georgia Southern ’20).

The former Catholic High School (La.) product plays like he weighs at least 20-to-30 more pounds with the heavy-handed approach taking on guards or double teams. Not only does he fight versus double teams, but he can win by playing to half a man as a pass rusher. All in all, it has resulted in an impressive total of 33 tackles for losses. Hill-Green is a big reason the team has played in four conference championship games the last four seasons.

It is a not a fact that gets lost on first-year Louisiana head coach Michael Desormeaux, who himself put up two 1,000-yard rushing seasons as a former standout quarterback at the school.

“On the field, it’s easy to see how important he (Hill-Green) is,” Desormeaux explained. “In the run game, the throw game, he’s constantly putting pressure on the quarterbacks. He wins one-on-one battles. He commands a double team and when he doesn’t get one, he’s a problem for the other team.”

And on the days when Hill-Green has not been able to practice due to the myriad of injury hiccups?

“He’s coaching the D-line, the other guys that are in there,” said Desormeaux. “It’s not a day off for him. That’s why he is able to go out and perform at a high level. The guy knows the defense front and back.”

Hill-Green posted just one tackle versus Florida State in a 49-17 defeat last weekend.

Facing a pass-oriented offense this time around against Layne Hatcher and the Texas State Bobcats, can Hill-Green pick up at least a half-sack to break the school record?

Perhaps as long as things get back to normal and don’t change as they did a week ago.

Notre Dame WBB continues to roll…but tests are coming

The early portion of the Notre Dame’s women basketball season has been all about fine-tuning things for a challenging December schedule.

Over the next two weeks, they face national power UConn and the 14th-ranked Maryland Terrapins. UConn shooting guard Azzi Fudd, the number one recruit in the class of 2021, averaged 30 points per game through the season’s first three contests. The Huskies have five players averaging in double figures.

None are as dangerous as Fudd, however, who has developed a lethal ability to stop her dribble and pull up in the mid-range game. Her quick release means defenders have to close out in a hurry when she shoots from beyond the arc. Fudd sees the floor well and finds her teammates with bounce or chest passes in transition. Her euro step going left is complemented by an ability to finish with her left hand going to the cup.

The Huskies will use high post back screens to free Fudd up cutting to the hoop (2nd QTR/3:17, Texas ’22). She finishes well near the rim.

Her quick hands make her a viable defender as well (2nd QTR/1:10, Texas ’22) and she’s averaged nearly three steals per game through the team’s first three contests.

But it is her three-point shooting prowess that Notre Dame has to contain. She will most likely be the best guard they’ve faced since 2021-22 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year (media) -Cal’s Jayda Curry- put up 24 points on them in a 90-79 victory earlier this month. In that contest, Curry hit on 44-percent of her nine three-point attempts and the Golden Bears knocked down 41-percent of their 22 three-point attempts.

Maryland is led by first-team All-Big Ten guard Diamond Miller. Miller, a former New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, actually committed to Maryland despite interest from Notre Dame during the recruiting process. Miller was also one of the nation’s top recruits back in 2019.

She runs the floor in transition, attacks defenders going to her right or left and finishes with strength around the basket. In addition, she is a factor cutting to the basket in the team’s half-court sets. Miller was named the Big Ten’s Player of the Week after scoring 32 points and putting up 10 rebounds versus Baylor on November 20th. Miller is shooting a career-high 40-percent from beyond the arc. It has been a bounce-back year for Miller thus far.

Before they get to either of those battles, the Fighting Irish have a tall task with Arizona State (4-0) this Saturday.

Notre Dame allows opponents to hit just 34-percent of their field goals through four games. Their guards rebound the ball extremely well and have for the past two seasons. Maddy Westbeld leads the team with two blocked shots per game and 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Sonia Citron -the 2022 ACC Freshman of the Year- leads the team with nearly eight rebounds per game.

Notre Dame forward Maddy Westbeld's activity complements fellow guards Dana Mabrey and Olivia Miles
Notre Dame forward Maddy Westbeld (No. 21 pictured), a 2021 first-team All-ACC selection and ACC Freshman of the Year, has averaged nearly 13 points and seven rebounds (6.8) per game in her career.

On the offensive boards, they are led by former Longhorn center Lauren Ebo. The former Penn State Nittany Lion started 30 games for Texas in 2021-22 and scored in double figures 13 times. Against California earlier this season, she posted eight points, three offensive rebounds and made all six of her free throw attempts before fouling out. She had five turnovers in the contest.

Olivia Miles shooting a free throw versus California in 2022
Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles excels on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. She averaged nearly four steals per game (3.5) through the team’s first five contests.

The Fighting Irish have a backcourt that complements each other well. First-team All-ACC guard Olivia Miles is a slasher who is still trying to gain a level of consistency shooting from beyond the arc. She runs the floor well, finds teammates with vision and wrecks havoc defensively. Through five games, Miles -the team’s leading scorer- was averaging three-and-a-half steals per contest. Turnovers have been an issue for Miles, as she averages less than a 2-to-1 (1.88:1) turnover-to-assist ratio.

If you’re looking for an equalizer, it would have to be Notre Dame point guard Dara Mabrey. She is savvy, competitive and never afraid to take the big shot. The former Virginia Tech Hokie is a 39.5-percent career three-point shooter and ranks as nearly automatic from the free throw line (84-percent career). Turnovers have also been an issue at times for Mabrey.

Notre Dame HC Niele Ivey giving a hand to 2021 ACC Freshman of the Year Maddy Westbeld
Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey stood out as a player at Notre Dame, assistant coach and led the Fighting Irish to the Sweet 16 in just her second season as head coach.

Head coach Niele Ivey is beginning to put her stamp on the program after following legendary head coach Muffet McGraw. The team’s combination of young talented players like Westbeld (2021 ACC Freshman of the Year), Miles and Citron complement a tough mix of veteran transfers in Ebo, Mabrey and Kylee Watson (Oregon). Could the recipe take the Fighting Irish from last year’s Sweet 16 appearance to a Final Four appearance in 2023?

The upcoming tests this month could provide some clarity.

Collins’ vision and calm stand out

St. Louis Billikens point guard Yuri Collins -the nation’s assist leader through five games- has improved his assist-to-turnover ration in his third year on campus. His best performance came against Memphis earlier this month, when he produced 22 points and nine assists in the team’s home upset of the Tigers.

He has been nearly automatic from the stripe (81-percent), but has surprisingly taken a step back shooting from long range (27-percent). Collins, a first-team All-Atlantic-10 performer in 2021-22, led the NCAA in assists per game as a sophomore.

So how does he get it done?

Generally, it starts with allowing the game to come to him. Rarely out of control on the floor, he changes speeds as a ball handler to draw defenders. In many of these instances, Collins already has an outlet in mind.

His entry passes (particularly bounce passes) are accurate and offer his low post options to catch the ball in rhythm on the way up to the cup.

People are beginning to take notice of his multi-faceted skill-set, but none one is more grateful his own head coach, former Kentucky point guard Travis Ford to have him back in the mix.

“(It was) an incredible phone call. It was a great feeling,” Ford said about talking to Collins after he had made the decision to return. “We talked, and when I hung up there was a celebration in the office, no question. We’re so excited that he’s going to be running our team, as he should be.” (https://www.ksdk.com/article/sports/college/slu/slu-point-guard-yuri-collins-returns/63-244b5ce3-5937-4aa5-8690-9352cad281e9).

Many remember Ford from his time at Kentucky as a starting point guard in the early 1990s after transferring from Missouri. At the time, he set a single-season record for three-point field goals at Kentucky on his way to All-SEC honors.

As for Collins, he can be posted up by taller personnel on the low block (see McCadden, 1st half, Memphis ’22) if caught with an unfavorable switch during half court possessions.

Yuri Collins PG-St. Louis shooting a free throw vs. Memphis
St. Louis point guard Yuri Collins is currently hitting 81% of his free throws in 2022-23.

The 6-foot frame could become a problem for him defensively in certain matchups, although he does compete favorably on that end of the floor.

His range does not allow him to shoot with a quick trigger release, so the team often sets ball screens for him to attempt some of those shots from the wing (2nd half, left wing, Memphis ’22).

The postseason will be huge for the senior point guard if he decides to enter the NBA Draft. If he can prove capable of hitting consistently from outside to extend defenses, then his NBA prospects would increase three-fold.

If not, then he may be regulated to playing overseas, but the floor general plays with a calm that definitely creates some future possibilities.

In fact, he went through the NBA evaluation process a year ago before deciding to come back for the 2022-23 campaign.

Wright on time

The 2022 season couldn’t have started out any better for Vanderbilt quarterback Mike Wright. After ending the prior season with respectable performances against Missouri, Ole Miss and even Tennessee, Wright was named a team captain prior to the year.

His foot speed, decision-making and improved passing fundamentals all stood out during the team’s summer training camp. It was during that time that he held off a strong push from former starter Ken Seals and highly-touted incoming freshman A.J. Swann.

In Vandy’s season opener, Wright accounted for four total touchdowns, with two coming on the ground and two via the airwaves. He led the team’s postgame celebration and it was on to the next week against Elon. In that contest, he delivered with a career-best four touchdown passes to go along with two more on the ground. Perhaps most encouraging was the touch he showed on a 75-yard touchdown pass to true freshman speedster Jayden McGowan in a 245-yard passing performance.

At the time the Commodores were beginning to pick up steam as a much-improved offense with Wake Forest coming to town. On a wet, rainy afternoon, Wright struggled in the first half with turnovers and inaccuracy throwing the ball. He was benched in the second half and his number was called sporadically over the next five weeks as Swann (who threw two touchdown passes in the second half vs. Wake Forest) held onto quarterbacking duties.

Down 17 points against Missouri, Wright came off the bench for an injured Swann to lead one touchdown drive in a three-point loss.

He also came off the bench for an injured Swann against South Carolina, throwing for 145 yards and one score.

Fast forward to the contest versus the 24th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats just a couple of weeks ago.

Swann was no longer in the lineup due to the aforementioned injuries and Wright got the start.

Reminiscent of the rainy afternoon versus Wake Forest -although much colder overall- and Wright had a chance to erase any memories from that early season outing. He led the team to a game-winning drive with just 32 seconds remaining and finished it off with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Will Sheppard. His most impressive throw on the drive may have been an incomplete corner route to Sheppard versus man coverage on a third down. He came back on the subsequent fourth down (4th and 11) to make a clutch downfield 40-yard throw to wide receiver Quincy Skinner, Jr.

Wright also found time to rush for 126 yards in this contest, which included a 59-yard touchdown scamper in the first half. On that run, the 21.8 200-meter sprinter’s speed brought back memories of his 87-yard jaunt against Hawaii in the team’s opener.

Last weekend, he helped author an upset versus the Florida Gators on the strength of three touchdown passes.

In back-to-back weeks, he battled two potential NFL quarterbacks in Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson.

Despite not starting for much of the season, the Georgia product has thrown 12 touchdowns to just four interceptions. In addition, he has averaged 7.4 yards per rush on 63 carries (5 TDs).

His 17 total touchdowns are the most from a Vanderbilt quarterback since 2018.

In a day and age where the transfer portal is often the fastest option for many collegians, the speedy Wright decided to slow down and play the long game. When a second opportunity arose, he sprinted through the finish line with an unabated confidence and calm.

As a result, the Commodores captain has a chance to accomplish something only six other quarterbacks (Whit Taylor, Chris Nickson, Mackenzi Adams, Jordan Rodgers, Larry Smith, Kyle Shurmur) have had a hand in over the last 40 years…lead the team to a bowl game.

Two of those bowl teams (2008, 2011) had quarterbacks share time during the year.

Perhaps this team will be the third.

And he will operate against another backup quarterback in former Michigan signal-caller and new Tennessee starter Joe Milton III.

Or did Wright ever think he was the backup?

After the team’s opening victory versus Hawaii, Wright said, ““Winning is hard,” he explained. “That’s what we want to be this year, and we just took a growing step today.”

The next step could very well lead to a bowl game if he can find a way to lead his team to another ” hard” victory over the nation’s 10th-ranked team in the Tennessee Volunteers.

In any case, his insertion back into the team’s starting lineup has come Wright on time for the Commodores.

NickNok

No matter when you turn on the film, Wisconsin OLB Nick Herbig shows up.

To the tune of 21 quarterback sacks and 36 tackles for losses over a three-year period (through 11-19-22).

Look no further than last year’s 2021 Las Vegas Bowl.

In that contest, he was dominant from the first through fourth quarter.

Final stat line: 7 tackles, 2 QB sacks, 2.5 TFLs

But his presence shows up well beyond the numbers.

In the Iowa contest a couple of weeks ago, he set the edge versus offensive tackle Jack Plumb on the first play of the game. The result? He dropped him to the ground with a simple two-hand jolt.

Is Herbig even 6-foot-2? That is the question many NFL teams will have to ponder when projecting him to the outside or inside exchange linebacker spot (most likely Will linebacker).

New Orleans Saints linebacker Zach Baun had a similar impact as a rush artist for the Badgers, but has since struggled in his transition to off the ball linebacker in the NFL.

The difference?

Baun was much more of a one-year wonder in terms of dominant production.

Herbig has averaged over a tackle for loss per game (1.2) since arriving on campus three years ago.

And how he does it is different.

He sets the edge versus tight ends (see 3rd QTR, Las Vegas Bowl ’21-Chenal’s tackle for loss).

By no means are there not repetitions where he can look outmatched versus longer personnel (see vs. Diesch, 3rd and 9, 2nd QTR, Las Vegas Bowl ’21). At the same time, however, his combativeness allows him to run through bigger tackles off the edge with an element of ferocity (QB sack, 4th QTR, vs. Scott, Las Vegas Bowl ’21).

He bends his knees well to break down for space tackles and generally plays with solid footwork. He gets on top of offensive tackles due to no false steps coming off the line of scrimmage.

“It’s a great presence. Him rushing off the edge, it’s nothing like it,” Badgers cornerback Alexander Smith explained. “He’s one of the best in the country. It helps us a lot on the back end and in the secondary. We don’t have to cover for that long.”

Nick Herbig (No. 19 pictured) walked out over Arizona State's tight end Jalin Conyers in the 2021 Las Vegas Bowl
Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig leads the Big Ten in sacks (through 11-19-22), but he has also broken up six passes over the last two seasons.

Herbig does flash some coverage capability dropping into the curl-hook areas of the field on some of the team’s zone blitz concepts (see NMSU ’22), but has largely been used to create havoc in the backfield.

Can he snap the pictures in a timely fashion to produce in an exchange linebacker capacity?

Will it matter if Herbig continues to defeat tackles? His suddenness complements enough pop to jolt back offensive linemen.

Even if he doesn’t make it at that position, however, there are other examples of players in his size/weight/speed ratio who have begun to have success rushing the passer.

While many point to Baun’s slow transition to the NFL, what about New Orleans Saints 2019 seventh-round draft pick Kaden Elliss? Elliss had to wait to get an opportunity as a late-round draft pick, but he has slowly turned into a viable pass rusher at 238 pounds.

In fact, Elliss has nearly as many starts this season (six) as Baun’s over a three-year period (seven).

In Herbig’s case, the actual final measurements (he was just over 200 pounds entering Wisconsin) could be the most important part of his evaluation process.

Regardless of the weight, everyone believes in the recipe. Just ask Wisconsin’s top pro prospect and fellow team captain, defensive tackle Keeanu Benton:

“Nick’s a dawg,” Benton said. “Even when he was gone (due to injury), he was bringing that energy on the sideline. Making sure everybody was upbeat. That’s my dawg. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him.” (https://badgerextra.com/a-healthy-nick-herbig-changes-wisconsins-defense/video_6b99a110-45ee-5821-ada2-ccb27aa6d202.html).

Bates progresses…but how much?

Early against Michigan on November 11th, former Memphis and current Eastern Michigan star guard Emoni Bates worked without the ball. On one out of bounds play in particular, he re-set and hit a jumper from the corner. His long range stroke has continued to improve or at least remain intact.

Bates is more of a quick than high-riser. This aids above average foot speed in the open floor (1st Half/17:42, UM ’22). That burst actually enabled him to finish a follow dunk in the lane (1st Half/6:48, UM ’22) and cut to the basket (one-hand dunk) in the second half. His overall width can make up for any deficiencies in terms of true bounce.

Dating back to his prep level playing days, the range has always gone well beyond the arc. He hit a 25-footer from the wing against Michigan.

During the first half of this contest, Bates actually was part of an Eastern Michigan squad that led the 22nd-ranked Wolverines at one point. There were fallaway jumpers off one foot, step back three-pointers from 28 feet and drives to the basket through contact.

A strong suit in his game revolves around handle. It is more reminiscent of a 6-foot-1 guard than 6-foot-10 wing player.

Emoni Bates dribbling the ball during the 2021 Nike EBYL
Months after starring in the 2021 Nike EBYL, Bates reclassified to the 2021 recruiting cycle before enrolling at Memphis.

There have been more stretches this season where Bates has played within the scope of the offense. It is important to remember that he skipped his senior year of high school. The inaugural season at Memphis basically represented his senior year after re-classifying to the 2021 recruiting cycle.

After a tumultuous 2022 offseason that featured a number of off the court headlines, Bates has settled down.

Playing with one of his old teammates from the Bates Fundamentals AAU squad could be part of the positive acclimation to the MAC.

Orlando Lovejoy -a 6-foot-2 freshman guard- is currently averaging nearly nine points per game for the team.

But starting a season fast isn’t anything new for Bates. As a freshman at Memphis in 2021-22, he began the year by making 50-percent of his first 18 three-point attempts (three games).

And the rest of the season?

Bates connected on just 27.5-percent of the remaining 58 three-point attempts.

He was marginally effective as a free throw shooter, did not distribute the ball efficiently and turned the ball over too often in his minutes on the floor. Increasingly, he relied on low percentage shots.

In the four games since the breakout Michigan performance, some of those trends have reappeared. The three-point shooting has not slowed down at all, as Bates continues to connect at nearly a 45-percent clip. Prior to his collegiate years, Bates was at least a competent distributor. Increasingly, the Eagles (1-5) use him as both an on or off the ball performer.

Emoni Bates G-Bates Fundamentals
Eastern Michigan small forward Emoni Bates has connected on 44-percent of his three-point field goals through the team’s first five games in 2022-23.

The results have not always yielded succinct ball distribution.

In fact, he has a nearly a one-to-three turnover-to-assist ratio (1:2.8) through five games.

The most notable regression has been the shots inside of the three-point stripe. If you strip away the nine two-point field goals against Michigan, Bates has hit just 30.4-percent of the two-point field goal attempts in his last four games.

Defensively, he continues to be a work in progress. Getting stronger will be a key for Bates as he transitions to the next level. Injuries were a major part of the inconsistent freshman season at Memphis.

Overall, the first five games of the year for Bates has shown notable strides, but there is still work to be done.

But the most important part of the progress may very well be defined by how those around him have accepted him.

“He wanted to come here because he felt at home, he felt comfortable, he felt connected to his teammates,” Eastern Michigan head coach Stan Heath said. “All those things matter. Fit matters. When players choose schools, they should go where they fit.

“He fits here and he feels real comfortable.” (https://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/college/2022/11/12/he-fits-here-comfortable-back-home-emoni-bates-puts-on-a-show-at-lca/69640228007/)

Just in the Nick of time

There has to be a place for Appalachian State’s Nick Hampton on the next level.

If there is a play to be made, the Mountaineer will find a way to make it. In 2022, he changed his number from 31 to nine. There has been no subtraction from his steady four-year run of production.

Over the course of the last four seasons (through 10-2-22), Hampton has tallied 36 tackles for losses. That total includes 24.5 quarterback sacks.

Not bad for a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder.

Nick Hampton OLB Appalachian State
There are few defenders who have been productive as Mountaineers OLB Nick Hampton.

So how does he consistently win rushing the passer?

Although relatively high in his two-point stance, he can turn the corner when running the hoop. Hampton uses his 81-inch wingspan to keep blockers off of his frame when twisting from the outside-in on stunts (3rd and 9, 3rd QTR, ECU ’21).

Cleaning up the false step that he has getting out of his two-point stance at either outside linebacker spot could be a focus. Even with it, he transfers speed-to-power on occasion versus much bigger offensive tackles.

Nick Hampton lines up on the kickoff team
Nick Hampton has made a number of plays on the team’s kickoff team during the course of his career.

Team have to prepare for the work he puts forth on the kick coverage units as well, where his skill at dislodging from blockers has paid dividends in the past (see 1st QTR, ECU ’21).

In 2022, Hampton has gotten off to another fast start after finishing second in the Sun Belt Conference with 11 quarterback sacks as a junior.

The former Westside High School (S.C.) product puts up amazing numbers in the weight room (600-lb sumo deadlift according to Appalachian State’s website-https://appstatesports.com/sports/football/roster/nick-hampton/7624) and matches them with similar production on the field. He should impress with his testing numbers whenever he declares for the draft.

However, it is the numbers he puts up on the field that continue to draw praise from opposing teams.

Want proof?

Check out his miles per hour when chasing some of college football’s fastest players (runs down ECU RB Keaton Mitchell, 3rd QTR, ECU ’21).

Mitchell hit 22.6 miles per hour on an 81-yard touchdown run against Old Dominion in 2022. This is this fastest time recorded in college football this season.

So how fast is Hampton?

He gets to most of his destinations in just the Nick of time.

JARED

In today’s world of college football, freshmen are often tasked with making an immediate impact. How many can get it done in a variety of ways from a mental perspective?

Quarterback Grayson McCall returned from a late injury against Georgia State the week prior to not only lead the Chanticleers to a 34-30 back-and-forth victory over Georgia Southern, but he did it to the tune of 335 yards passing with 34 more yards on the ground.

Grayson McCall rolling to his right vs. Georgia State in 2022
Coastal Carolina QB Grayson McCall is asked to run a spread triple option attack which features RPO slants/posts and outside the numbers throws.

For his efforts, McCall was named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week. With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, McCall threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Tyler Roberts on a post route in-between two defenders to cut Georgia Southern’s lead to 24-21.

So who else was he throwing the ball to?

Enter Jared Brown. His 61-yard touchdown reception versus the Eagles put the Chanticleers 28-27 in the fourth quarter. It was the team’s first lead since the beginning of the first quarter. Needless to say, Head Coach Jamey Chadwell was not surprised.

“He (McCall) pumped to the right, they covered a couple of guys there to the right…he found Jared, we had great protection,” Chadwell explained. “He had a huge pocket that was very clean, and he put that throw right over there and then JB (Jared Brown) has some speed. He outran all those guys.”
——Coach Chadwell Radio Show (October 5, 2022)

Brown came into the season perhaps lightly regarded with the addition of Georgia State transfer Sam Pinckney, who has been no slouch either in his teal and black debut season (28 receptions for 377 yards, 13.5 YPR, TD).

But teams preparing for the Chanticleers have to take notice of the ever-emerging redshirt freshman, currently ranked fourth in the conference in yards per reception through five weeks (20.63).

Why?

Jared Brown goes in motion for the Chanticleers
Jared Brown (No. 14 pictured) is often brought in motion for the Chanticleers or lines up in the backfield as part of their triple option spread attack.

You don’t know where Jared Brown will line up. On the first play of the Georgia State contest (9-22-22), he lined up at an offset position (shotgun) in the backfield and scored on a 50-yard wheel route reception from McCall up the left sidelines. Later, he outpaced the Panthers defense after receiving a forward pitch from McCall on a 53-yard touchdown reception that was originally scheduled to be a pitch on a triple option.

Two 50-yard plus touchdown receptions in one quarter.

They bring him in motion as part of the team’s triple option spread attack as the pitch element. He comes in speed motion to provide eye dirt for linebackers when they’re running their speed inside zone reads. He lines up outside or in the slot.

Remember that part when we talked about him being a redshirt freshman.

At this point, he is shining in a myriad of roles.

That glow is reminiscent of Jared.

You know, the jewelry.

So far, he’s been a gift for the Chanticleers.

Avila continues to flash voracity

The TCU running game has been on fire this year and part of the reason revolves around the team’s interior offensive line. Led by Esteban Avila (6’4 339) and SMU transfer Alan Ali (6’5, 300), there are a number of possibilities down-to-down with their inside run schemes.

Look no further than TCU’s fourth quarter goal line touchdown against SMU two weeks ago. The Mustangs aligned in a three-man front with two stacked linebackers. Ali (6’3, 300) sat on zero-or-one-technique nose guard Terrance Newman early in the down, allowing Avila to quickly climb to SMU linebacker and Oregon transfer Isaac Slade-Matautia. After left tackle Brandon Coleman controlled defensive end DeVere Levelston, it provided a walk-in touchdown for running back Emari Demercado.

Earlier in the third quarter, Avila flashed an adequate ability to get out in front for Demercado on a screen pass that netted a big gain for the Horned Frogs. On the play, Avila hit a moving target in space (LB Shanon Reid) to open up hidden yardage for Demercado.

Both of these plays occurred while Avila manned the left guard spot.

When Ali left the game briefly in the third quarter due to injury, Avila slid over to the center position. This is the spot he started at during his second-team All-Big 12 campaign as a junior. As a left-handed snapper, he is most comfortable in pass protection going left, but his overall awareness remains more than satisfactory at the position.

TCU Steve Avila practicing center snap vs. SMU in 2022
TCU offensive lineman Steve Avila, pictured, has started at all of the three interior line spots for the Horned Frogs. He moved to center for a couple of snaps against SMU when starter Alan Ali went down to injury.

The question for NFL teams will inevitably revolve around his projection in zone-based run schemes. The Horned Frogs All-Big 12 lineman most likely projects in a man blocking scheme due to a few hiccups reaching opponents laterally on a consistent basis. With that said he started at all three interior line spots as a sophomore in 2020. The theme has continued thus far in 2022.

The four-year starter gobbles up defenders half or equal to his size and -once he gets his hands on the opposition- can be tough to dislodge from down-to-down. The quick hands alternate when punching while sitting down to anchor. His trunk strength and bulk frequently wins for him in the elevator battles without having to jump around to catch his opponents.

As is typical of most Horned Frogs, Avila showcases voracity on the field.

Here’s Johnny

The Florida State Seminoles (4-1) lost a hard-fought 31-21 contest to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-1) last weekend, but it did not take away from the early season performance of wide receiver Johnny Wilson (6’7 235). The Pacoima, California native and Arizona State transfer had limited productivity for the Sun Devils due to a 2021 hamstring injury.

Wilson’s touches go back-and-forth depending on the team’s game plans from week-to-week. What doesn’t get noticed is the blocking downfield that has been at least adequate through five games. This provides him with possibilities as an F or H-back-type for the next level.

It has not all been perfect.

FSU WR Johnny Wilson versus LSU in Week 1 of the 2022 campaign
Wilson (No. 14 pictured) is often required to use his 6-foot-7, 235-pound frame to block opponents in the run game.

In some of those cases, Wilson has overrun crack block opportunities versus safeties (see vs. Burns, 3rd QTR, LSU ’22). In addition, the former Sun Devil was unable to corral a potential slant-and-go touchdown grab in the end zone versus the cornerback when LSU safety Jay Ward knocked the ball out of his hand (3rd QTR, LSU ’22).

Those missed chances do not erase the numerous pass interference penalties he has drawn versus quick, fluid cornerbacks (see Clark, Louisville ’22). The stride length (five yards in first three steps) presents different pictures for cornerbacks. Wilson tallied nearly 150 yards in this contest (7 receptions, 149 yards, TD vs. Louisville ’22). He turned around Cardinals safety Kenderick Duncan, Jr. on a post route that led to a 69-yard catch-and-run. His full extension high-point touchdown grab in the fourth quarter versus cornerback Jarvis Brownlee, Jr. was artistic. All three of his touchdowns this season have come in the fourth quarter.

There are still some high-level opponents for him to overcome the rest of the year. NC State’s defense should provide one-on-one opportunities if they commit to stopping FSU’s powerful ground game. Can they shut down the Seminoles three-headed monster of running backs Treshaun Ward, Trey Benson and Lawrance Toafili? The trio has combined for nine rushing touchdowns. Conversely, the Wolfpack defense is allowing a measly 3.4 yards per carry and ranks 15th nationally in rushing defense (as of 10-3-22).

If so, then Wilson’s size and catch radius have to win in isolation on the outside for the Seminoles. Perhaps surprisingly, FSU ranks 35th nationally in passing offense (278 YPG) thus far in 2022. This represents nearly a 77-yard improvement over last season’s final totals. Wilson’s 18.8 yards per reception (19 catches) certainly ranks as a big part of the team’s sudden resurgence through the air.

Tomorrow’s performance could bring more spotlight for the budding star in Tallahassee.

Here’s Johnny.