Army head coach Jeff Monken led the Black Knights to its third Armed Forces Bowl victory in last-minute fashion. The Black Knights were led by a rambunctious running game that featured running back Jakobi Buchanan. After an injury to starting quarterback Christian Anderson, the team turned to two different quarterbacks, Tyhier Tyler and Jabari Laws, to lead the team down the stretch.
Senior linebacker and team captain Arik Smith garnered Armed Forces Bowl Game MVP honors after posting 12 tackles, two quarerback sacks and two-and-a half tackles for losses in the team’s victory. Junior placekicker Cole Talley banged home the game-winning field goal with no time remaining on the clock to secure the team’s 24-22 victory.
The 2021 Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl was the first of two bowl games in three days to take place at Toyota Stadium, the home of the FC Dallas Burn. The game pitted two teams that entered the game with a combined total of 23 victories. In a contest that largely lived up to the billing, the Brady Hoke-led Aztecs (12-2) took over the contest in the second half to win 38-24. It was just the second loss for the 24th-ranked Roadrunners (12-2), who have turned into one of the nation’s up-and-coming programs under Texas high school coaching legend and 2021 C-USA Coach of the Year Jeff Traylor.
Chavous discusses who won the highly-anticipated battle between UTSA offensive tackle Spencer Burford and SDSU defensive end Cameron Thomas. In addition, he goes inside the bowl game MVP performances from wide receiver Jesse Matthews and safety CJ Baskerville.
The Blazers were led by running back DeWayne McBride (5’11, 215, SOPH), who rushed for 183 yards on 28 carries behind an offensive line featuring LT Kadeem Telfort (6’8, 335, R-JR) and RT Colby Ragland (6’5, 315, R-SR). Chavous breaks down both in the video, along with their star deep threats in tight end Gerrit Prince (6’5, 240, R-SR) and junior wide receiver Trea Shropshire (6’3 195, JR).
On the other side, BYU had a stalwart of its own in star running back Tyler Allgeier (5’11, 220, R-SOPH). Allgeier finished with 192 tough yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. Playing without injured quarterback Jaren Hall (6’1, 205, SOPH), the team turned to the Romneys, Baylor (6’2, 195, SOPH) and Gunner (6’2, 195, JR) to get it done in support. But it was one of BYU’s freshman defenders who stood out. Find out who it was in Corey Chavous’ video in-game report.
The 2021 CSJ Bahamas Bowl features a number of healthy individual storylines, but perhaps none more so than a three-fers approach for one of the nation’s top defenses. Injuries and improved play have been a theme for both teams heading into the contest. Toledo (7-5), led by first-year starting quarterback DeQuan Finn, reeled off victories in four of its last five games. Middle Tennessee (6-6) rebounded from a 2-4 start by winning four of its final six contests to achieve bowl eligibility. The Blue Raiders eventually settled on freshman quarterback Nicholas Vattiato, a Plantation, Florida native, in its last four games. Today, however, we spotlight one of the game’s top defensive minds and a philosophy that has led to eye-popping results.
MTSU Defensive coordinator Scott Shafer’s three-fers
Shafer, the former Syracuse head coach, is one of the more creative defensive minds in all of college football. Shafer-led defenses are known for producing turnovers and touchdowns, and they do so on a regular basis. In 2021, his unit has forced a whopping 18 fumbles (T-2nd nationally), recovered 15 fumbles (T-1st nationally) and picked off 16 passes (314 yards, 3 TDs). For good measure, the team has also returned three fumbles for scores. Their six defensive touchdowns are tied for first in all of FBS football with Nevada and Ohio State. One of the reasons? Shafer’s recruiting philosophy. He talks about recruiting three-fers. Three-fers are high school athletes who play three different positions (in football) and three different sports.
So which players on MTSU’s explosive defense have contributed to his unique philosophy?
The first-team All-C-USA safety was a star quarterback at West Limestone High School (Ala.), where he rushed for over 3,000 yards, passed for over 1,000 yards and tallied 1,004 receiving yards. The former state championship basketball player is the unquestioned leader of the defense, combining a coach’s intelligence with positive movement skills. After back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, Blankenship has largely returned to his 2018 form, when he picked off four passes and returned one of the interceptions 100 yards for a score. His angles have been hit-or-miss at times as a tackler, but he typically posts at least one highlight film play per game. Blankenship was forced to miss over 40 days of summer workouts in 2020 due to quarantine for COVID-19, but never tested positive. That absence gave him an even stronger appetite to be around both teammates and coaches, whom he steadily gives credit to both on and off the field.
“It starts off just listening to the coaches,” Blankenship said when asked about his long run of big plays at the school. “It’s all about your teammates on the plays you make.”
He finished third on the team in 2021 with 10 tackles for loss, returned a fumble 90 yards for a score and forced two fumbles. The respect he has for those around him is definitely reciprocal.
“He has a high football IQ. Good vision. Patience. Very good football player,” Shafer said of Blankenship. “There’s a comfort factor there.”
Blankenship recently received an invite to the 2022 East-West Shrine All-Star Game in Las Vegas, Nevada.
3 Quincy Riley 6’0 181 CB-R-Freshman MTSU
The next of Shafer’s three-fers who stood out in 2021 was Riley, a former A.C. Flora High School (S.C.) product with blazing recovery speed.
Riley won the South Carolina Class 4A state track and field championship with a blazing 10.48 100-meter time back in 2019. His confidence on the field allows for him to jump routes early in the down, as UTSA quarterback Frank Harris discovered early in 2021 when trying to throw an out pattern to Riley’s side that he picked and nearly took back the distance.
Injuries have been a bit of a hiccup for Riley, who missed four games in 2021. Technically, he is eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft after having played in three games back in 2019, his first year on campus. During that season, a season-ending injury also thwarted his charge. In fact, the first-team All-C-USA freshman corner posted five interceptions for 153 yards (TD) in just eight games this season. In 2020, prior to injury, he picked off two passes (77 yards) in an All-C-USA freshman campaign.
So what other sport made him one of the three-fers?
“He was a great basketball player in high school,” Shafer said.
Yes. Another player who fits the bill. And in football, he stood out playing wide receiver at the prep level, notching over 300 yards receiving as a senior with six special teams scores.
91 Jordan Ferguson 6’2 262 DL-Junior MTSU
The permanent team captain rounds out our list on Shafer’s philosophy, although the defense is littered with players who fit the bill. Ferguson is actually tied with another of the three-fers, safety Gregory Grate (5’11, 197, JR), for the team lead in forced fumbles (three). The Cartersville High School (Ga.) product plays a variety of roles for the team, as he aligns at defensive tackle, defensive end and rush outside linebacker. In fact, he has seen time as a personal protector on the punt team.
In high school he was a star tight end, racking up 15 touchdowns as a junior alone. Shafer found him somewhere else.
“He played high school basketball as a kid,” Shafer said. “Great leader. He is capable of playing inside or outside (on the defensive line). Ran practices for the team when we weren’t there.”
The second-team All-C-USA performer certainly was there for the team in 2021, when he notched career-highs in sacks (eight), tackles for loss (16.5), forced fumbles (three) and quarterback hurries (14). In the team’s bowl-clinching win versus Florida Atlantic, he took a fumble return back 71 yards for a score.
The three-fers don’t stop with those three, no pun intended, as second-team All-C-USA linebacker DQ Thomas (80 tackles, 5 QB sacks, 14.5 TFLs, FF, 2 INTs (43 yds, TD), 2 PBUs) was a powerlifter at the prep level. Versus Virginia Tech, he ran down quarterback Braxton Burmeister for a sack and was in on several pressures. The Oxford, Mississippi native is the school’s all-time leader in tackles for loss (51.5) heading into his final career game.
But it all goes back to the former collegiate quarterback drawing up the defenses and his own unique recruiting philosophy. Shafer’s mix of pre-snap defensive movement (involving safeties and linebackers), zone blitzes, six-man pressures, five-man fire zones and multiple looks leads to confusion for opposing offenses.
He credits MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill for being open to his various suggestions during games.
“He’s open to thoughts before, during and after games,” the longtime defensive coordinator said.
And with three head coaches on one coaching staff (Stockstill, Shafer and former Clemson HC Tommy West), perhaps they meet the three-fers philosophy on their own.
After all, as Shafer put it, “there’s nothing we’re afraid to communicate.”
Over the course of Washington Huskies defensive lineman Ryan Bowman’s career, he’s been a versatile, intense playmaker. As his play has proven, average size is only part of his story. The unique combination of savvy and power often allowed him to out-muscle the competition, if you will. We look inside his game in our breakdown on the former Husky and give a sneak preview of our scouting report.
What makes this player NASTY…(Strengths): Football player! Former walk-on who made himself a factor in the Pac-12. Has played LB, DE and OLB. Sudden on line spikes to beat OGs from the RDE spot (four-technique, QBH, 2nd QTR, BYU ’19). Wins on these types of spikes from the stand-up two-point LOLB spot due to quickness (tackle vs. Holani, 4th QTR, Las Vegas Bowl ’19). Sinks his hips and got around the OG vs. BYU in 2019 to force a QB sack (FF, FR-TD). Times snap counts and will crease the backfield (TFL, Colorado ’18). From the OLB spot, he displays some LB-like ability to capture contain vs. speed sweeps to force the ball back inside (2nd QTR, Las Vegas Bowl ’19). Uses spin/roll moves when OTs set high against him to his outside hip (Oregon State ’19). As an interior DL, he spins out of blocks to make tackles inside (UCLA ’18). In these moments, he extends his inside hand as he makes the move. Deft roll moves elude OTs (tackle, third down, 3rd QTR, USC ’19).
The Nevada Wolf Pack have a host of NFL prospects in this year’s draft class. Prior to its 2021 Quick Lane Bowl matchup versus the Western Michigan Broncos, we dive into the team’s prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft.
12 Carson Strong 6’4 220 (E) QB-Junior
* Football IQ/Howitzer/Toughness * Attacks all 53 1/2 yards of the field * Carson Palmer-type * Creativity?
7 Romeo Doubs 6’2 200 WR-Senior
* Carries pads/Creates panic for the DB * Positive deep ball tracker * Aligns at multiple spots/North-south punt returner * Concentration lapses
35 Toa Taua 5’10 210 RB-Senior
* Low center of gravity * Excellent hand-eye coordination (catch vs. Purdue, 4th QTR, 2019) * Bounces off tacklers * Ball security (left too many footballs on the turf)
19 Cole Turner 6’6 240 TE/H-back-Senior
* Comfortable working in-between hash marks * Catch radius/Red Zone threat * Mike Gesicki-type/Positive space blocker * In-line blocking question marks/Bulk?
99 Dom Peterson 6’0 295 DL-Senior
Leverage/lateral quickness/productivity (21 career QB sacks)
Trevor Lawrence (Pro) Clemson: Ranked #1 by 247Sports, Rivals, & ESPN Consensus No. 1 recruit coming out of high school who exceeded the many expectations that were placed upon him. Lawrence showed ultimate poise as a true freshman going undefeated and winning the national championship with 347 yards passing and three touchdowns. He won various awards during his time at Clemson, finishing his career with a 34-2 record. Lawrence was taken first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft (Jacksonville Jaguars) and he was widely regarded as the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012 (Indianapolis Colts).
Justin Fields (Dual) Ohio State:Ranked #1 by 247Sports, Rivals, & ESPN Fields committed to the Bulldogs and played in 12 of 14 games as a freshman. However, with Jake Fromm being set as the starter, he decided to transfer to Columbus. Fields became the third Buckeye QB in the last 50 seasons to win his first 13 starts. He threw for over 3,000 yards in his first season as a full-time starter with a 41-to-3 touchdown-to- interception ratio. He added over 1,000 rushing yards with 19 touchdowns in his career. Consistency was a concern for many when it came to Fields at the next level, and he ended up going 11th overall in the first round to the Chicago Bears. Many seem to have forgotten when he was a supposed 1A to Trevor Lawrence. I haven’t.
JT Daniels (Pro) USC Trojans: Ranked #2 by 247Sports & Rivals, #3 by ESPN Daniels enrolled at USC in 2018 and started every game he played. He showed some promise, however a knee injury in the 2019 season opener ended his campaign prematurely. Kedon Slovis took over and played exceptionally well, causing Daniels to transfer to Georgia. He finally got his opportunity late in the year, starting the final four games, all wins for the Bulldogs. In those contests, he threw for over 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Daniels returned to Georgia for the 2021 season and, if he can build on last year’s momentum, may very well set up his pathway into the NFL.
Tanner McKee (Pro) Stanford: Ranked #3 by 247Sports, #4 by Rivals, & #5 by ESPN McKee spent most of the last two years in Brazil as a missionary. He made his collegiate debut in 2020, but appeared in just one game. The highly-touted 6-foot-6, 228-pounder will look to solidify his collegiate career in 2021 as a first-time starter. To do so, he will have to fend off senior Jack West.
Justin Rogers (Dual) TCU: Ranked #2 by 247Sports & Rivals, #4 by ESPN Rogers entered the Horned Frogs program as the highest rated recruit of the Gary Patterson-era. However, a devastating injury suffered as a senior in high school never really opened an opportunity at TCU. He threw just one pass for Texas Christian and -after seeing no game action in 2019- Rogers transferred to UNLV. He appeared in two games last season and will look to compete for the starting job in 2021. Standing in Rogers’ way is left-handed 6-foot-5 sophomore Doug Brumfield.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson (Dual) UCLA: Ranked #3 by 247Sports, #2 by Rivals & ESPN Thompson-Robinson has seen consistent action in all three seasons for the Bruins. In 2020, he was named second-team All-Pac-12 after completing 65% of his passes with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in five contests. DTR also displayed his dual-threat rushing capability by accounting for over 300 yards and three touchdowns on 55 attempts. Facing a brutal schedule in 2021, the strong-armed veteran has a legitimate chance to become the high-riser of the 2022 NFL Draft’s quarterback class. Thompson-Robinson has first-round talent.
Jarren Williams (Dual) Miami: Ranked #4 by 247Sports, #8 by Rivals, & #6 by ESPN Williams saw brief action as a freshman, with most of his playing time coming in 2019. He completed 61% of his passes with 19 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. However, Miami finished the year 6-7 and put out a futile effort in their bowl game (2019 Independence Bowl). Williams transferred to Garden City CC following the year and their season was cancelled due to COVID-19. He then enrolled at USF, where the former U.S. Army All-American is entrenched in a four-way battle for playing time amongst four contenders. The list includes former UNC quarterback Cade Fortin.
Matt Corral (Pro) Ole Miss: Ranked #5 by 247Sports, #3 by Rivals, & #6 by ESPN Corral took over as the Rebels starting QB last season following limited action in his first two years. He finished the year completing nearly 71% of his passes with 29 touchdowns, while also adding over 500 rushing yards and four more scores to his season totals. Corral displayed his ability as a big-time thrower of the football in 2020. He passed for at least 300 yards in seven of 10 games, but he needs to cut down the turnovers (14 INTs, 4 fumbles-3 lost).
Tyler Shough (Pro) Oregon: Ranked #6 by 247Sports & Rivals, #15 by ESPN Shough appeared in five games as a redshirt freshman in 2019. In 2020, he took over as the team’s full-time starter, completing nearly 65% of his passes with 13 touchdowns in seven games. Following a disappointing end to the season, Shough decided to transfer to Texas Tech, where he’ll look to help turn a program around and build his draft stock over the next few years.
Phil Jurkovec (Dual) Notre Dame: Ranked #5 by 247Sports & Rivals, #9 by ESPN Jurkovec saw minimal snaps during his first two seasons with the Fighting Irish due to a depth chart that included 30-game winner Ian Book. He transferred to Boston College and became the team’ starting QB in 2020. He threw for over 2,500 yards with 17 passing touchdowns and added another three rushing scores on the ground. Another impressive campaign in 2021 could land him as a mid-round selection in next year’s draft. He has certain characteristics that attract evaluators at the next level, including an ability to fit the ball into tight windows.
Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater has all of the requisite tools to suggest he can become an intriguing starting option for NFL teams. The 37-game Big Ten starter is light on his feet and finishes assignments with tenacity. Despite weighing in the 305-pound range, Slater plays a much bigger game on Saturday afternoons. The Clements High School (Tex.) product has shown an ability to play on either side of the offensive line.
Is it recovering from an Achilles injury and multiple bicep tears to make it on the doorstep of professional football? Using your offseason to travel to Costa Rica and spend time with local youth imparting knowledge on sports and other life skills? Earning two degrees in six years?
All of the above. Most impressively, this is the resume of one person, Ohio State’s Justin Hilliard.
However, a meniscus injury forced him to miss the 2015 U.S. Army All-American game and from there, the hits kept on coming.
During his first three seasons in Columbus, Hilliard suffered consecutive injuries to his bicep.
“I’ve had so many times where, like you said, I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to push through,” Hilliard told Spectrum News before the 2021 National Championship against Alabama. “The first three years here at Ohio State were probably the toughest because year after year I had a bicep tear in my left, a bicep tear in my right and then a bicep tear in my left again.”
During his first three seasons, Hilliard only played in 17 games total and compiled 18 tackles.
Long road back
Things started to look up in 2018 when he recovered from the biceps injuries and began to contribute as a backup and a special teamer. But like his fortunes up to that point, he dealt with another tough blow.
During spring practices in 2019, the former five-star recruit suffered another blow to morale when he tore his Achilles.
“The first thing that went through my head is that was probably my last practice and the last rep I’ll ever play football,” said Hilliard, when he reminisced about the injury.
“Climbing the hill”
If not for his father and a conversation with head coach Ryan Day and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Hilliard would’ve put away his cleats… but he pressed on and as fate would have it, he would get another chance.
“It was some hard times, but we made it, we made it. There was times where Justin had to lift me up. There was a lot of times when I had to lift Justin up,” Carl Hilliard, Justin’s father said according to an article in Cleveland.com. “But when we look back at it overall — only thing I can say is, ‘God is Good.’ No weapon formed shall prosper.”
Despite the grueling rehab, Hilliard returned six months later and played 12 games in the 2019 season.
After the NCAA granted a sixth year of eligibility to Hilliard, it looked like he would be relegated to being a backup and a special teamer because the starting linebacker corps was manned by fellow NFL prospects Tuf Borland, Pete Werner and Baron Browning.
But once again, life had other plans. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Browning and Borland to miss time and Hilliard turned in career performances with his newfound opportunity.
Against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game, he had nine total tackles, two for loss, one interception and a fumble recovery. His interception stopped the Wildcats from taking a double digit lead in the third quarter and showed off the athleticism that helped him as a youth baseball player.
The storybook ending would not conclude there. Hilliard had back-to-back eight tackle games in the College Football Playoff semifinal and final, against Alabama and Ohio State.
“A lot of people hit me up, almost surprised that I can still play at that level,” He said. “I promised myself after I tore my Achilles that if I wasn’t feeling like I can still play at the level I wanted and achieve those high expectations (I set) for myself, I wasn’t going to keep playing.”
In the two combined contests, he finished with 16 tackles, three for loss and a fumble recovery.
And a month later, he put an exclamation point on his collegiate career. Hilliard had a standout performance during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Alabama.
On the field, Hilliard catches the attention of scouts with his ability to contribute on special teams. They will also like that he played snaps at each linebacker position in college.
But the real value of Hilliard will be his ability to climb the hill and conquer adversity head on. A hill can have bumps and be rocky, but the former Buckeye is a walking testimony that reaching the top comes with appreciation and gratification.
“This whole journey, man, it’s been tough but it’s been such a blessing at the same time,” said Hilliard.
The junior Buffalo Bull running back has made a mark with his elusive yet powerful running style. He currently ranks as the 212th best player on our Big Board.
What makes this player NASTY…(Strengths): Built well. Outstanding boxer-like feet. Can tap dance in the hole and make safeties miss (Wade, 1st QTR/14:48, Penn State ’19). Sticks his foot on inside spins to find room on the edges and will look to not go out of bounds. Spins on first contact instinctively (3rd QTR, Bahamas ’19). Four-or-five-yard runs turn into highlight film runs. Shifty stop-and-start quickness is aided by acceleration (42-yd TD, Rutgers ’18). Sticks his right foot in the ground, drops his right shoulder into tackler and leans forward for three or four yards (1st QTR, Penn State ’19). Displays energy on his stiff-arms when bouncing runs (EMU ’18). On gap-schemed runs to the right, he flashes quick burst. On goal line runs, he lowers his pad level and runs through LBs with a low center of gravity (TD, Bahamas ’19). Takes a hip away from LBs in the open field. Lead blocks for fellow RBs with vengeance. Translates speed-to-power along the sidelines vs. CBs who come up to tackle (runs over Castro-Fields, 2nd QTR, Penn State ’19). He’s an instinctive open field runner in the screen game.
Weaknesses: Lacks a true home run gear once he gets into the open field. Eighth men in the box surprise him at times and his reactions have been less than stellar (3rd QTR/8:01, Liberty ’19). Can he get himself out of a mess (3rd QTR/6:33, big hit along sidelines, Liberty ’19)? Speed begins to die out at the 25-yard mark. Struggled with injuries down the final back half of his junior campaign. Injured his right leg in the 2020 MAC Championship game, left the game and came back with a brace on the leg. Struggled in that game and did not play in the team’s bowl game. Zero receptions in 2020.
Other Notes: Attended Saint-Vincent Pallotti HS (Md.) and rushed for 2,045 yards and 23 TDs as a senior • Accounted for 558 all-purpose yards in one high school contest (Riverdale Baptist) • Twin brother, James, plays football for Buffalo • 2018 (14 gms, 6 sts, 2nd Team All-MAC, MAC Freshman of the Year): 183 carries for 1,013 yards (5.5 YPC) and 14 TDs; 7 receptions for 62 yards • 2018: Started 11 games at RT • Rushed for 298 yards and 6 TDs vs. Bowling Green on 11/29/19 • 2019 (1st Team All-MAC): 312 carries for 1,799 yards (5.8 YPC) and 19 TDs; 13 receptions for 209 yards (16.1 YPR) and TD • 31 carries for 301 yards and 4 TDs vs. Bowling Green on 11/17/20 • 36 carries for 409 yards and 8 TDs vs. Kent State on 11/28/20 • 2020 (6 gms, 1st Team All-MAC): 141 carries for 1,072 yards (7.6 YPC) and 19 TDs • Career Stats: 636 rushes for 3,884 yards (6.1 YPC) and 52 TDs; 20 receptions for 271 yards (13.6 YPR) and one TD • 2021 Buffalo Pro Day: 9 1/4″ hands, 28 3/4″ arms, 68 3/4″ wingspan, 19 reps-25 lbs, 4.57 40-yd, 30″ VJ, 9’9″ BJ, 7.03 3-cone, 4.35 20-yd SS
Time to get NASTY (Our Summary): One of the big things that Patterson has improved on is ball security. After fumbling the football four times in 2018, he has put the ball on the ground just once the last two seasons. He didn’t finish the 2020 season as strong as he did in 2019, when he finished the season with six straight 100-yard rushing games. He plays low, balanced and contains excellent vision to find cutback lanes. While he doesn’t have blinding speed, Patterson gets to his top speed in a hurry and surprises opponents with his low center of gravity. On top of that, he actually shows better receiving skills than one would imagine from a running back with zero receptions in 2020. Much like former Buffalo running back Branden Oliver (Chargers), the wear-and-tear of so many carries began to add up for Patterson. Backup running back Kevin Marks, arguably as good of an NFL prospect, carried the load for the Bulls much of the postseason in 2020.