Arizona State guard Josh Christopher’s ball handling continues to impress in the open court, and it has actually been an impressive part of his game since his days as a Las Vegas prepster. Early in the second half against Arizona (11-3, 5-3), Christopher used a crossover, kept his balance and then finished at the cup for a bucket while drawing the foul, eventually finishing for a three-point play (2nd Half/16:36, Arizona ’21). The former five-star recruit is averaging 16.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for a Sun Devils team that has largely disappointed in 2020-21.
Later, he ran the court and just missed an opportunity for a transition shot block due to a goal tend. On the team’s next possession he knocked down a corner three off the catch-and-shoot to tie the score at 48. If it wasn’t enough, he was seen hustling for a loose ball to try and save a ball going out of bounds in-between those sequences.
Christopher contests versus drives to the basket in transition defense without fouling, even when giving up baskets in these instances (2nd half, Arizona ’21). Fouls, however, have been an issue in his first 11 career contests, posting four or more in five games. Becoming a more efficient passer within half court sets is an area that he could also look to improve the rest of the season.
His activity has to be a factor in all phases because he isn’t efficient behind the three-point line (25%), yet shoots 45% from the field and is excellent from the free throw line (85%). As a unit, the Sun Devils have a tendency to play in spurts. After Christopher nailed a three-pointer at the 2:24 mark of the second half to put Arizona State (4-7, 1-4) up 82-77, the Wildcats ran off the last seven points of the game to close out an 84-82 victory.
Last Saturday’s Pac-12 matchup featured two teams with playmaking wide receivers, but one team’s work in the trenches decided the outcome. Colorado (5-1) defeated Arizona State (3-3), 28-21, behind a seven-play, 80-yard drive in the third quarter, where the Buffaloes offensive line dominated the Sun Devils defense. Head coach Mike MacIntyre (pictured above) has his team playing at a high level in the middle of the year. DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions in this in-game report:
Colorado offensive line
The Buffaloes offensive line has powered Colorado to an undefeated start to the season. The Buffaloes front five has been able to keep junior quarterback Steven Montez (6’5, 235) clean and has opened lanes for senior running back Travon McMillian (6’0, 210). The Buffaloes are one of only three FBS teams to have a player in the top 20 in rushing yards, passing yards and receiving yards per game. Colorado’s offensive line held the Sun Devils to three tackles for loss and zero sacks. It must have impressed Montez, who invited his entire line to the postgame press conference. The group is headlined by senior right tackle Josh Kaiser (6’6, 300), who has the ability to play both tackle positions.
1 N’Keal Harry (6’4, 214) Arizona State WR-Junior
Harry is a big-bodied wide receiver, who knows how to use his size against smaller cornerbacks. The junior has a knack for seemingly being unfazed when catching the ball in traffic. Harry also has a shiftiness to his game that allows him to serve as a punt returner for the Sun Devils. The projected Day 1 wide receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft suffered a thigh injury as a result of taking a big hit on a punt return. The injury forced him to miss most of the second half. For the game, he finished with three catches for 62 yards. On the season, Harry has 34 catches for 481 yards and five touchdowns.
2 Laviska Shenault, Jr. (6’2 220) Colorado WR- Sophomore
Shenault Jr. does a little bit of everything offensively for the Buffaloes. The wide receiver lined up in the slot, on the outside and took direct snaps out of the Wildcat formation against the Sun Devils. Not many players in college football move with the fluidity of Shenault, Jr. The sophomore wideout accounted for all four of the Buffaloes touchdowns on Saturday, scoring two as a wide receiver lined up out wide and two from the Wildcat position. Through more than a quarter of the season, Shenault Jr. should be considered as a Heisman candidate. The DeSoto, Texas, native has 51 receptions for 708 yards and has scored six receiving touchdowns. He’s added four more rushing scores on the ground.
Perhaps no running back has made a more indelible mark on college football’s first month than Memphis’ Darrell Henderson. The former South Panola High School (Miss.) star has been a factor since his arrival on campus, but this could become a season to remember.
Through three games, he is averaging nearly 14.5 yards per carry while leading the nation in rushing yards (521). He is also tied for second in the country with six rushing scores. The added strength he put on this offseason could explain some of his early season success (https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/sports/college/memphis-tigers/football/2018/08/04/memphis-tigers-football-darrell-henderson-mike-norvell-aac/858753002/). Over the course of the last three seasons, DraftNasty has gotten the opportunity to see Henderson play live on three different occasions. Here are some of the attributes which make him such a difficult player to get on the ground.
Some of Henderson’s best moves come in-between the hash marks setting up second and third-level defenders. To get there with ease, he runs with a center of gravity low to the ground that allows him to bounce off would-be tacklers. This becomes evident on the team’s outside zone (stretch) run game principles versus force defenders.
The patience that he shows in allowing his offensive linemen to reach block defenders creates cutback lanes for him back into the middle of the field. In the clip pictured to the left, he forces UCF free safety Tre Neal to overrun a tackling angle that results in a 30-yard touchdown scamper in the 2017 AAC Championship Game. Neal weighs 215 pounds and Henderson -standing 5-foot-8- checks in around the 205-pound mark.
SPEED-to-POWER/YARDS AFTER CONTACT
Henderson gets to full speed in a hurry once he hits the accelerator button. A combination of lower and upper body power allows him to run through tacklers. Versus Georgia State last Friday, he buckled freshman safety Chris Bacon once he burst through the line of scrimmage. Later in the first quarter, Bacon overran Henderson on a top-down angle as Henderson displayed his ability to stop-and-start with relative ease on an outside stretch play. It resulted in a 54-yard touchdown that showcased his game-breaking speed.
Since arriving on campus, Henderson has showcased capability on special teams. Although he has just four tackles in the course of his career, three came during his freshman campaign in 2016. On his 18 career kickoff returns, he has averaged 22.5 yards per return with one score. Overall, this is not an area (special teams) to expect to see him in much during the year, but he will show up as a kickoff returner and punt cover guy in big games (see 2017 AAC Championship Game). As seen in the picture , he runs with passion as a kickoff returner.
Vision is one of the top characteristics many college recruiters identify at the running back position. Aside from the outside zones, the Tigers used a combination of weakside one-back powers in 2017. The team would pull its backside guard and tackle while blocking down with the center, guard, tackle and tight end on the front side of the formation. When they did, it was Henderson’s job (from an offset shotgun alignment) to find a crease and get vertical quickly. They also employ him at the Wildcat quarterback in the shotgun to add an insert blocker on outside runs. His cutback ability shines on these types of schemes.
As a freshman in 2016, the team used him on wheel routes from the offset running back position. In these instances, he’s shown the ability to snag passes away from his frame (3rd and 6, Cincinnati ’16, vs. 3-cloud defensive look). They also occasionally use him in the screen game to the weakside of their formations away from speed motion (by the Z-WR) to the strong side. Versus Georgia State last Friday night, he lined up at the No. 2 slot position to run a quick out in the team’s Empty Gun Spread Trips Left formation. Henderson averages 11.5 yards per reception for his career (53 receptions, 6 TDs).
Despite 319 touches in three seasons, the eighth-leading rusher in Mississippi high school history has fumbled just twice during his time in school. He holds the ball high and tight to his frame and rarely allows it to swing loose from his frame.
AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
Despite the ball security, Henderson does have a tendency to run as a left-hand dominant runner. Even when he is running to his right he is most comfortable with the ball in his left hand. Take a look on the picture to the right. Henderson is running a right kickoff return towards the right sidelines versus UCF in the 2017 AAC Championship Game with the ball high and tight in his left elbow. While he is also able to jump cut and make defenders miss with sudden stops in momentum, he carries some tightness in the lower body. As a tightly-wound athlete, he has to pay increased attention to flexibility moving forward. He was unable to play in the 2017 Liberty Bowl versus Iowa State due to an undisclosed lower body injury.
Regardless, the former 2014 Mississippi Gatorade Football Player of the Year has increased his production at a time where the Tigers are transitioning from All-AAC quarterback Riley Ferguson to former Arizona State quarterback Brady White. In three games, White has thrown 10 touchdowns to just one interception. In his own estimation, Henderson is a big reason the transition has been so smooth.
“I love it,” White said, when asked about having Henderson lined up behind him. “It makes my job easy. You just hand the ball off and watch him run to the end zone. It’s been a huge help to have that guy in your backfield.” (–https://gotigersgo.com/news/2018/9/14/football-henderson-white-lead-tigers-past-georgia-state-59-22.aspx)
The Michigan State Spartans turned in an impressive bounce back season in 2017. Mark Dantonio’s crew finished the season 10-3 after going 3-9 the previous season. With 19 starters returning from last year’s team, the Spartans could have an outside chance of sneaking into the College Football Playoff. They take on Utah State, Arizona State and Central Michigan in non-conference play and will take on Big Ten rivals Michigan and Ohio State at Spartan Stadium. Sandwiched in between the non-conference schedule are match-ups against the Wolverines and Buckeyes and a road contest versus Penn State. A good barometer for the Spartans in their 10-plus win seasons has been their ability to stop the run and run the ball. Last season, Michigan State finished seventh in the nation in yards allowed per game and averaged 167 rushing yards per game (63rd overall). Running back L.J. Scott (6’1, 229) enters his senior season as the team’s feature back and alongside quarterback Brian Lewerke (6’3, 212, Jr.), he will be tasked with carrying the offensive load. On defense, defensive tackle Raequan Williams (6’4, 300, Jr.) will be a run-stuffer. With a strong season, he could join other former Spartans defensive linemen William Gholston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Shilique Calhoun (Oakland Raiders) in the NFL.
Troy’s player to watch
Joe Bachie 6’2 233 LB-Junior
The junior was a stabilizing force for the Spartans defense after they lost LB Riley Bullough to the NFL in 2017. Bachie finished last season with 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions. Since Dantonio has come to Michigan State, he has been able to hang his hat on a middle linebacker to run the defense. If Bachie can turn in another productive season, he will join the ranks of Max Bullough, Riley Bullough and Darien Harris, all of whom have spent time in the NFL.
Game of the season
November 10th vs. Ohio State
As usual, the Buckeyes will field a team as competitive as anyone in the nation. If anyone has been able to compete with Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes it’s been Mark Dantonio. The Spartans coach holds a 2-4 record vs. Ohio State and is the only coach to beat Meyer in the Big Ten multiple times. In last year’s matchup, the Spartans lost to the Buckeyes, 48-3, in Columbus.
DraftNasty’s Prospect Watch:
Khari Willis 6’0 215 S-Senior
The Spartans have several senior prospects worth keeping an eye on in 2017. Perhaps none can help their NFL hopes more than Willis. Despite 2017 being his first year as a full-time starter, the former high school running back has blossomed into one of the Big Ten’s most active safeties. While he will occasionally overrun some tackles due to over-aggressiveness, he generally breaks hard on the ball in pursuit from the inside-out. On top of that, he demonstrated a sufficient ability to open-and-run with wide receivers when defending vertical concepts a season ago (see Western Michigan ’17). He’s had some slight durabilty hiccups, but the 2017 Honorable mention All-Big Ten safety is primed for an impact senior campaign.
The Spartans will run through the early part of their schedule with flying colors but Draftnasty’s Troy Jefferson is predicting a home loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in November, reminiscent of their 2014 season.