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.”
We spotlight a hard-charging safety, two hybrid defensive line prospects, an underrated SEC wideout and a couple of intriguing tight ends in our breakdown of the American team’s Day 2 practice at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Mac Jones QB Alabama in 2021 Senior Bowl
Alabama QB and Heisman Trophy finalist Mac Jones excelled with his ball placement on Day 2. He was quick in his decision-making all week. He demonstrated touch on back-shoulder (Red Zone) or tear drop throws during one-on-one periods (see Palmer, Day 2). The inaccurate throws were occasionally present on passes to running backs out of the backfield.
Georgia TE Tre' McKitty catches ball 2021 Senior Bowl, Day 2
Georgia and former FSU TE Tre' McKitty caught just six passes for the Bulldogs in four games this past season. On Day 2, however, he displayed savvy running routes and competed as a blocker. During the week, he made a number of terrific grabs and won several times versus man coverage.
Former Tennessee WR Josh Palmer catches ball away from frame in 2021 Senior Bowl (Day 2)
Former Tennessee WR Josh Palmer displayed all of the necessary tools during the week to suggest he can become a better pro than collegian. His stride closed the cushion on defensive backs. Palmer exhibited body control and long arms to snag passes from his frame, particularly on bootleg concepts. He had his way versus man coverage on several occasions during the week. His biggest weakness? A tendency to hop when getting into his inside or outside releases versus press-man coverage.
Kellen Mond deep in pocket 2021 Senior Bowl (Day 2)
Alabama LT Alex Leatherwood (No. 70 pictured) generally was solid during the week, but still set a short corner at times. Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond (No. 12 pictured) flashed during the week, but ball security continued to be an issue for him in the pocket (drops ball near end of Day 2). FSU DL Marvin Wilson (No. 21 pictured) versus Tennessee OL Trey Smith and Kentucky OL Drake Jackson had an up-and-down week.
Shawn Davis attempts to pick off pass during drills 2021 Senior Bowl, Day 2
American QB Kellen Mond attempted to get this pass in-between coverage (two-deep) but former Florida safety Shawn Davis could not reel in this interception attempt. Davis is known for his hard-hitting style, but he did intercept five passes over the last two seasons. The former Miami Southridge Senior High School (Fla.) product competed well, yet displayed some rigidness in pass coverage during the week.
Quintin Morris TE Bowling Green State, 2021 Senior Bowl
Bowling Green State's Quintin Morris showed his former wide receiver skills during the practices. With that said, he did have some instances where he rounded some cuts and allowed safeties to undercut him (Gillepsie, Day 1, INT). We were impressed how he came back on Day 2 and competed as a blocker, even recording a knockdown in a team period versus a linebacker. He still gets thrown around when sustaining, but that didn't stop him from running his feet through the whistle as a down tight end on Day 2 versus Sam linebackers.
Cam Sample DE-Tulane William Bradley-King DE-Baylor 2021 Senior Bow
These two defensive linemen caught our eyes during the week. Both did so for different reasons. Bradley-King was slippery inside and showed heavy hands versus tight ends. Sample was able to beat turn protection as a three-technique DT on Day 2, and kept fighting once walled in DL/OL pass rush drills. These are two hybrid-type prospects due to their willingness to mix it up as run defenders. Sample can perhaps be a third down defensive tackle and Bradley-King may be able to play some left defensive end.
There were several players who stood out during Day 1 of the American team practices at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl. We go inside a few plays and give some of the notes from our film review in our photo gallery breakdown.
Richie Grant S-UCF 2021 Senior Bowl
Former UCF safety Richie Grant (No. 27 pictured) is known for his ball skills, but he couldn't snag this interception in the rain during the last team period on Day 1 of the American practice. During the week, he took very good angles out of centerfield and covered slot wideouts effectively. He was not as effective in coverage versus tight ends.
Jamie Newman throws the ball in the rain 2021 Senior Bowl
Former Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman (No. 7 pictured) earned a reputation in school for coming through in the clutch. During the rainy conditions on Day 1 of American practices, Newman displayed his skill throwing on the move.
13 Shi Smith and Kadarius Toney run crossing routes in the 2021 Senior Bowl
As former Central Arkansas cornerback Robert Rochell clues the quarterback, South Carolina's Shi Smith (No. 13 pictured) and Florida's Kadarius Toney (No. 1 pictured) run mirrored crossing routes. Both receivers left balls on the ground during the week but were generally effective working the middle of the field and beyond.
Larry Rountree III running in the 2021 Senior Bowl (Day 1)
Grambling State's OG David Moore and ECU OL D'Ante Smith seal Northwestern LB Paddy Fisher and Baylor DE William Bradley-King as Missouri's Larry Rountree III finds the cutback lane. SMU H-back Kylen Granson (No. 83 pictured) contributed with a kick-out block. Rountree III had a strong 9-on-7 Red Zone period on Day 1.
American offensive line making their fits on Day 1 of 2021 Senior Bowl practices
The American offensive line fits its blocks up perfectly on this play. Tennessee's Trey Smith (No. 73 pictured) fits Auburn LB KJ Britt (No. 33 pictured) and No. 83 Kylen Granson set up his block versus FSU safety Hamsah Nasirildeen. Alabama offensive guard Deonte Brown (No. 65 pictured) is measuring his trek to LSU LB Jabril Cox (No. 19 pictured).
Grambling State OL David Moore battles Iowa DT Chauncey Golston
Grambling State OG David Moore (No. 60 pictured) inside used his mammoth size to frustrate Iowa DL Chauncey Golston. Golston's ability to play inside or outside, however, stood out during the week. FSU defensive end Janarius Robinson's width (pictured vs. SMU's Kylen Granson) allows him to compete well versus tight ends on the edge.
Amercian Day 1 Notes, Part 3 DraftNasty film review
We included one snippet of our four-part film study from Day 1 of the American practices. To view our full breakdown from the 2021 Reese's Senior Bowl practices, please check out Corey Chavous' 2021 NFL Draft Guide.
The Mountaineers rolled the Mean Green in the inaugural 2020 Myrtle Beach Bowl by a score of 56-28. We take a look at several prospects that we’ve had our eye on this season.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
6 Camerun Peoples 6’2 202 RB-Sophomore
For Peoples it was all about getting downhill over the course of the last year. In 2019, he missed most of the season with a knee injury. How would he return in 2020? The results were a bit up-and-down, as he put the ball on the turf four times (fumbles). In the 2020 Myrtle Beach Bowl, the game MVP displayed a build speed stride that often outpaced the angles of North Texas’ defense. His upright running style is offset by his quick one-cut ability. He scored on an outside zone late in the second quarter, displaying very good straight-line speed. Continued flexibility gains are in order for the redshirt sophomore.
12 Zac Thomas 6’1 210 QB-Senior
Thomas came into the season as perhaps the Sun Belt’s most ballyhooed quarterback, but his final stanza ended on a bit of a sour note. He struggled with decision-making in the Coastal Carolina contest and -despite a bounce back performance against Troy- ended the final month with the ball largely out of his hands. His impact as a running threat gradually faded over the final month of the year.
70 Cooper Hodges 6’4 295 RT-Sophomore
Hodges works his hands on the outside lanes. On Peoples’ 64-yard touchdown run near the end of the second quarter the sophomore finished a knockdown block by simply running his feet through the long arm of the defensive end. His hinge blocks on the backside of run away are technique-sound. He is a player to keep an eye on moving forward.
51 John “Baer” Hunter 6’3 295 RG-Senior
Hunter’s name is appropriate because he runs down the opposition. Hunter won to the spot versus North Texas DT Dion Novil on a reach block and then he flipped his hips to cut him off on the team’s outside zone run schemes (on more than one occasion). The former defensive lineman displays good hip torque on contact. He possesses good vision to pick up linebackers running through his gap control on run action away. The questions on Hunter revolve around length and whether he can transition into the center spot.
9 Demetrius Taylor 6’1 295 DL-Senior
Taylor posted one quarterback hurry and just two tackles in this contest. Taylor’s impact can largely go unnoticed until it doesn’t. He plays bully ball on the edge and has been one of the stronger players in the conference dating back to 2017. He finished his career with 35.5 tackles for losses and at least part of his emergence began with current Kentucky defensive line coach and former CFL standout Anwar Stewart (https://journalnow.com/sports/college/asu/app-states-demetrius-taylor-has-the-talent-to-make-a-big-impact-his-position-coach/article_7bdadc68-9943-5133-bc25-f7bfcb73f097.html).
North Texas Mean Green
97 Dion Novil 6’4 330 NT-Senior
This was a game that Novil needed to put a stamp on what had been a productive senior campaign, but he was reached and scooped by Appalachian State RG John “Bear” Hunter on Peoples’ long touchdown run near the end of the second quarter. His inactivity in this game was evidenced by a final line that included zero tackles. He was moved off of the ball versus double teams due to a tendency of playing on his toes (3rd QTR/0:21). Perhaps more disconcerting was the fact that he was unable to adjust his game versus the Mountaineers angle blocking schemes.