Category Archives: Football

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).

DraftNasty lenses: Aaron Fuller 5’11 188 WR-Washington

Today, we go inside our lenses with  Washington senior wide receiver Aaron Fuller.  Fuller -who caught five passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday versus Eastern Washington- continues to impress with his high-flying antics.

Photography by: Corey Chavous, DraftNasty Magazine

 

 

NCAA FB Week 1 report (8-31-19): DBs stand out

There were a number of defensive backs who stood out in Week 1 of the 2019 college football campaign.  We take a look at seven who made their respective marks.

Saeed Holt 6’0 195 DB-Sophomore Toledo

Notable stats vs. Kentucky, 8-31-19: 10 tackles, TFL

The Rockets used Holt in a number of ways around the line of scrimmage and in coverage.  He closed off the edge late in the first quarter to record a tackle for loss one play after coming up to deliver a shot versus Kentucky 6-foot-6, 247-pound freshman tight end Keaton Upshaw in the flats.  For a team that lost two of its better players from its 2018 secondary –CB Ka’dar Hollman (6th round, 185th overall, 2019 NFL Draft, Green Bay Packers) and S Josh Teachey– Holt’s 10 tackles and one tackle for loss provided relief for defensive coordinator Brian George.

Nevada Secondary

Notable stats vs. Purdue, 8-30-19:

  • 6 Tyson Williams 5’9 195 DB-Sophomore: 12 tackles
  • 25 Daniel Brown 5’11 185 DB-Senior: 5 tackles, TFL, 2 INTs and PBU
  • 1 Berdale Robins 5’9 185 DB-Junior: One tackle, 3 PBUs
  • 4 EJ Muhammed 5’11 190 DB-Senior: 10 tackles, FF
  • 5 Emany Johnson 6’2 210 DB-Freshman: 7 tackles

Nevada defensive backs Daniel Brown (No. 25 pictured) and EJ Muhammed (No. 4 pictured) both had big contributions in Nevada’s 34-31 victory over Purdue last Friday night.

The Wolf Pack defensive backs entered last Friday night’s contest against Purdue knowing that they would have a tough test.  Aside from having to slow down Boilermakers All-American sophomore receiver Rondale Moore, the team also had to slow down All-Big Ten tight end Brycen Hopkins and two four-star recruits in freshmen David Bell and Milton Wright.   Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 stack defensive requires multiple roles for a number of defensive backs.  Each of the five aforementioned names had big impacts.

Brown displayed good feet and eye discipline in zone coverage early in the game on a key red zone pass break-up off of a wheel concept to Purdue slot receiver Jackson Anthrop.   He matched his career interception total with a slick grab off of an ill-advised third down and 10 throw by Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar.   The senior cornerback then grabbed his second interception of the game with at the 0:38 mark of the fourth quarter to set up Nevada’s game-winning field goal.  Nevada used a three-deep zone where Johnson broke from the deep one-third to knock away a Sindelar pass intended for freshman receiver Bell.  The tip resulted in Brown’s second theft. 

Muhammed -who started two games in 2018 before going down to injury- tackled with intensity most of the night.  He forced and recovered his own strip off of Wright in the second quarter to stop a Purdue offensive drive.  The tackling of he, Robins and Williams helped stymie much of Purdue’s offensive attack in the second half.  Moore was limited to just three receptions for 10 yards in the second stanza of the game.  In addition, Sindelar completed just 3-of-9 passes for 10 yards and one interception in the fourth quarter.

Myles Wolfolk 5’11 205 DB-Junior North Carolina

Notable: 6 tackles, 2 INTs (33 yards)

New North Carolina defensive coordinator Jay Bateman knew he would need a big game from his secondary to slow down the South Carolina offensive attack led by quarterback Jake Bentley.  Wolfolk delivered in a big way.  After initially starting his career as a nickel corner/linebacker for the Tar Heels, he has since moved full-time to the safety position.  Coming off an injury-plagued 2018 campaign,  the junior safety twice earned the team’s new turnover championship belt with interceptions off Bentley.   On the game-winning pick, the former high school wideout displayed the ability to bait the Gamecock quarterback.   On a third down and 10 from the North Carolina 26-yard line, Bateman ran a version of a zone blitz (brought four rushers and dropped his strong defensive end into the middle hook area) which tasks Wolfolk with curl-flat responsibility towards the short side of the field.  After he took his initial drop, Bentley thought he had an open crossing route to his No. 4 receiver (coming from the strong side) because Wolfolk stayed outside the numbers to the weak side No. 1 X-receiver while reading the quarterback’s eyes.  As soon as Bentley let go of the ball, the former high school wideout took a B-line path to the crossing route and picked it off with ease.  The pick sealed the win for the Tar Heels and got the ACC a much-needed victory over an SEC opponent in head coach Mack Brown’s return to Chapel Hill. 

“We’re all aiming to get this (belt) every week,” Wolfolk explained while wearing the turnover belt in the locker room after the game. “This week was mine and I’m blessed to say it.” https://www.thestate.com/sports/college/acc/article234615997.html

 

 

 

 

DraftNasty lenses: Zack Moss 5’10 222 RB-Utah

Utah running back Zack Moss returns in 2019 with the hope of finishing what he started just three seasons ago.  The Hallandale, Florida native suffered a knee injury prior to the Oregon game and was lost for the remainder of his junior campaign.  Despite the injury, Moss managed to rush for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in just nine games.   The school’s fourth all-time leading rusher’s health will go a long way in determining the Utes’ fate in the Pac-12 South. 

 

 

 

Week 1 Preview, 8-31-19: Auburn defense vs. Oregon offense

Oregon’s offense heads into the 2019 campaign with a huge contest looming versus an Auburn defense that ranked 30th in the nation in opponent third down conversions a season ago.  They are led by a defensive line that features three disruptive edge rushers in Marlon Davidson, Big Kat Bryant and Nick Coe.  Coe led the Tigers with seven quarterbacks sacks in 2018. 

Oregon QB Justin Herbert’s ability to throw under pressure will be key in the team’s Week 1 matchup versus Auburn.

Davidson has occasionally shown the ability to peel (come off of his pass rush to cover RBs) versus quick running back flares to the flats (see UGA ’18-third quarter).  As we spotlighted in the Tigers dominating 63-14 win in the 2018 Music City Bowl versus Purdue, even backup front seven personnel (i.e. Bryant) are capable of reacting to tipped passes.

Auburn OLB/DE Big Kat Bryant (No. 1 pictured) returned a tipped ball (by No. 94 Tyrone Truesdell, pictured) for a 20-yard TD interception return in the second quarter of the 2018 Music City Bowl.

It makes this a tough defensive line to puncture even if they aren’t recording sacks. The team’s front seven accounted for 15 of Auburn’s 54 pass break-ups (T-30th in the nation) in 2018.  Bryant, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 253 pounds, accounted for three of those pass break-ups despite starting just three games.

Derrick Brown vs. Oregon interior OL

Throckmorton, pictured, has started at four different positions on Oregon’s offensive line heading into 2019.

Auburn defensive lineman and 2020 NFL first-round draft prospect Derrick Brown can win on twists/stunts, displays range and is capable of using his vision versus double teams.  It will be important for 2018 second-team All-Pac-12 LG Shane Lemieux -a  38-game starter entering 2019- to win on his angle/cut-off blocks versus Brown’s quickness.  The Ducks have to take away snaps from the Tigers defensive front with some semblance of a running attack.  Brown  may match up slightly better with the Ducks’ most versatile lineman, right guard Calvin Throckmorton (has actually played more at the tackle spot).   In 2018, Oregon ran much more than they passed on first down.  Passing on that down early in this contest could halt Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele from hiding the defense’s intentions in obvious passing situations. 

Herbert vs. Auburn third down disguise

For Herbert to enjoy sustained success in this contest, he and his offensive line have to be cognizant of Auburn’s multiple disguises and line games on third downs.  Dating back to his freshman campaign, he has protected the football relatively well.  However, Auburn tied for 24th in the nation a season ago with 14 interceptions.  Eight of the players responsible for 11 of those picks return, led by senior cornerback Javaris Davis.  Davis -the team’s longtime nickel back- enters 2019 with six career interceptions and one touchdown, and his pre-snap identification on this all-important down could help Herbert decipher the team’s final coverage.

There are times when Steele will show a five or six-man pressure look in the pre-snap and then rush just four defenders with a two-or-three-deep zone behind it (see Purdue, Music City Bowl ’18, 3rd and 10, 2nd QTR/14:14).  In these instances, Herbert’s patience will be tested.

Oregon’s answer may be a dummy snap count that will attempt to force Auburn to show its hand.  Herbert often looks to the sideline for the pre-snap adjustment before running the play (3rd and 8, 1st QTR, SJSU ’18-defensive pass interference).   In Week 3 of the 2018 campaign, San Jose State DC Derrick Odum would sometimes keep his linebackers and defensive linemen in stationary positions prior to bringing six-man pressures (3rd and 15, 1st QTR, incomplete pass, QB hit).  In these instances, Herbert displayed pocket toughness to deliver the ball while getting hit by the unblocked blitz threat. 

On the next five Oregon third down attempts (San Jose State ’18), the Ducks posted a false start (3rd and 9, 2nd QTR), an incompletion to a tight end in the end zone while backed up (3rd and 13, 2nd QTR), a one-yard completion (3rd and 13, 2nd QTR), an 11-yard completion (3rd and 8, 2nd QTR) and an incompletion (3rd and 8, 2nd QTR).  Many of the coverage concepts included two-or-three-deep zones mixed with split safety looks.

So what was the common theme prior to these third downs?

San Jose State’s front seven (led by former NT Boogie Roberts) wreaked havoc on first and second down.  The team’s linebackers reacted to what they saw and forced the action.  An inability to create forward movement in the running game (2.7 yards per carry) caused Oregon to stay in third and long much of the afternoon.  For the game, the Ducks converted 39-percent (7-of-18) of its third down attempts.  To even reach that mark against the Tigers front seven, Oregon OC Marcus Arroyo has to create manageable third downs for Herbert and his offensive line. 

There will be many games for Auburn to study when attempting to corral one of the 2020 NFL Draft’s top quarterback prospects in Herbert.  One could argue that the Michigan State defensive performance in the 2018 Redbox Bowl ranks at or near the top of the list.  Surprisingly, however, the job done by San Jose State DC Derrick Odum in slowing down Oregon’s offense has some intriguing hints for Auburn DC Kevin Steele.

 

 

2019 2nd Annual Silver Bluff HS Gridiron Golf Tournament, 6-28-19

Silver Bluff High School hosted its second annual Gridiron Golf tournament at the Midland Valley Golf Club in Graniteville, South Carolina on June 28, 2019. Here is a look at some of the images from the weekend.