Monday, December 21, 2009

Games Notes: St. Petersburg Bowl

Rutgers closed out the 2009 campaign with their ninth win of the season. It was their fifth straight bowl appearance and fourth consecutive bowl win under Head Coach Greg Schiano—the best five-year run in the school’s history. If this performance is any indication, with standout freshmen like quarterback Tom Savage and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, the best may be yet to come for the New Jersey state school.

* Best Pro Prospect: OT Anthony Davis, Rutgers

Anthony Davis
was arguably Coach Greg Schiano’s biggest recruiting coup. When a jersey kid decides to stay home rather than go to sunny Southern California to play for Pete Carroll, it’s big news in the college football world. The junior has prototypical size (6’ 6”, 325 pounds) and is more athletic than your typical tackle…which is why he projects as a left tackle at the next level and is a likely first-round pick.

Davis used his size and lateral quickness to protect quarterback Tom Savage and displayed his athleticism with the ability to pull, even on plays designed to go right. He has not quite dominated or played with the consistency that some would like, but his talent is unquestioned. It appears the St. Petersburg Bowl was his final game as a Scarlet Knight, as Davis will hold a press conference on Tuesday, were it is expected he will announce his intention to declare for the 2010 NFL Draft.

* Youth Is Served – Offense: Freshman quarterback Tom Savage from Rutgers (294 yards, 2 TDs) was inconsistent and barely completed half of his passes (14-27). But when he was good, he was really good (21 yards per completion). The 6’ 5”, 230 pound Savage owns a major league fastball—his 65-yard touchdown pass to senior wide out Tim Brown was a frozen rope and hit Brown in stride. To open the second half, the Scarlet Knights came out throwing and Savage connected with fellow freshman Mohamed Sanu on 61-yard pass over the top of the UCF defense. The pass was a little underthrown—if Savage hit Sanu in stride it probably would have been six—but it was a safe pass that ensured a completion. They connected again later in the drive from 11 yards out for the score—Savage did a good job moving in the pocket.

Savage needs to work on his accuracy as too often his balls sail over the heads of his intended targets. One pass to an open Brown at the first down marker (on a third down) would have been uncatchable even if the wide receiver was a foot taller. On another attempt he simply overthrew Sanu, who was streaking open down the field for a would-be touchdown. On his interception, Savage’s effort was high again and landed in the hands of a Central Florida defender. We need to remember—Savage is a true freshman that wasn’t even an early enrollee. With more experience and some polishing of technique, the Pennsylvania native could be a first-round pick in two or three years. You can’t teach 6’ 5” or the type of arm strength Savage brings to the table.

Savage did a nice job getting away from the pass rush, for a pure pocket passer—not to run or to complete a pass, but just to throw it away—which is important.

Another offensive player oozing with potential is the aforementioned Sanu. The freshman is a wide receiver that is built like a running back, particularly from the waist down. That’s why the Scarlet Knights use him in their Wildcat formation; his lower body strength allows him to be effective running between the tackles, and his five-yard run from the formation gave Rutgers an early 7-0 lead. Sanu doesn’t mess around; he looks to his the hole hard and fast.

Even though he is still raw as a wide out, Sanu uses his hands well to catch the football and he had a heck of day as a receiver, snagging four passes for 97 yards and a touchdown—numbers which could have been better had Savage not left some big plays on the field. At 6’2”, 215 pounds the first year wide out is tough for one defensive back to bring down.

When the Rutgers coaches finally allowed him to throw out of the Wildcat, Sanu didn’t get much help from his receiver, or should we say tight end—freshman tight end D. C. Jefferson dropped the pass, running before he really had control of the ball. Jefferson checks in at 6’6”, 245 pounds and could be a big time player down the road.

Sanu’s biggest mistake of the night was a muffed punt inside the 10-yard line, which set UCF up for a game-tying touchdown in the first quarter. Some may blame it on the dome, but Sanu would have been better off letting the ball go.

* Youth Is Served – Defense: Freshman linebacker Steve Beauharnais may not be listed as as a first teamer on the Scarlet Knights’ depth chart, but he was all over the field making plays—seven tackles and two sacks to lead the team. He has good size (6’ 2”, 230 pounds), runs well and displayed impressive athleticism. Beauharnais can bring it, and delivered several hard hits throughout the contest. The outside linebacker can play the run and get after the quarterback. He was occasionally fooled on a play-action passes, but most freshman linebackers aren’t polished in coverage. That will come in time.

Junior defensive end Jonathan Freeny can really fly coming off the edge and has the speed to be an effective pass rusher. Sophomore defensive end Justin Francis displayed impressive athleticism, while fellow sophomore defensive tackle Eric LeGrand came off the bench to make a tackle for a loss. The undersized, but quick LeGrand is cut from the Eric Foster cloth. Don’t be surprised to see this quartet form the nucleus of the Scarlet Knights’ front seven in 2010, along with freshman defensive tackle Scott Vallone (two tackles for a loss) and sophomore linebacker Manny Abreu.

* Senior Watch: Rutgers had to play almost the entire game without their top defensive player, cornerback Devin McCourty. The standout suffered an eye injury, which was not deemed to be serious after he was taken to a Tampa hospital. In addition to his cover skills, McCourty is an absolute special teams dynamo who did not get the opportunity to display his skills in St. Pete.

Other Rutgers defenders who were looking to impress the NFL scouts were MIKE Ryan D’Imperio and defensive end George Johnson. The closer he is to the line of scrimmage, the better D’Imperio is. He made several plays along or near the line of scrimmage, including a tackle for a loss. He is great at attacking against the run and could be a late round steal in the upcoming draft. The New Jersey native lacks ideal size but has good bulk at 245 pounds and could be a fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Johnson brings a different skill set—he is fast and athletic coming off the edge, but a bit undersized for a down lineman. For that reason, he may shift to outside linebacker to play on Sundays, also in a 3-4 alignment. Johnson’s top skill is rushing the passer and while he did not record a sack, he didn’t go unnoticed.

Wide receiver Tim Brown’s touchdown catch and run was aided by the UCF safety, who took a poor angle. However, scouts couldn’t help but notice Brown’s breakaway speed. The Florida native was questionable at best heading into the contest with a hamstring injury, but is explosive in the open field—like he’s shot out of a cannon. The diminutive pass catcher caught four balls in all, for 99 yards. His 5’ 8”, 165-pound frame will work against him come draft weekend, but don’t be surprised if Brown works his way onto an NFL roster.

Right tackle Kevin Haslam doesn’t have the upside of Anthony Davis, but he more than held his own against the UCF pass rush. He has good length and frame, with the ability to bulk up a bit.

Central Florida: The UCF Knights came in with a big three on defense—junior end Bruce Miller, senior defensive tackle Torrell Troup and senior end Jarvis Geathers—and for the most part, they failed to impress. Miller recorded eight tackles, but other than his one sack, the majority of his tackles were down the field. On most passing plays Miller was handled by the Rutgers offensive tackles. He is undersized and should return for his senior campaign, but regardless of when he leaves school, Miller will likely have to play outside linebacker at the next level.

Troup made only three tackles, but probably had more impact than Miller. Interior linemen—other than Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh—don’t always get to stuff the stat sheet. Troup flashed some ability to get into the backfield and hold off blockers, but more was expected of the senior in this game if Central Florida was going to pull off the upset. Geathers was a non-factor in the game. He is even more undersized than Miller and will have to learn to play standing up if he wants a chance to stick with an NFL team.

Junior wide receiver Kamar Aiken had a solid game, including a pair of touchdown grabs among his four receptions (65 yards). His 35-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter to close the gap to 21-17 was UCF’s most impressive offensive play of the evening. Aiken has both length and size, making him a tough one-on-one cover. Freshman receiver Quincy McDuffie made only one reception, but that was enough to show his speed as he exploded after the catch for 22 yards. He is a speedster, an all-purpose type guy, who is dangerous when he gets his hands on the football. As a kick returner he totaled 171 yards on six returns for an average of 28.5 yards per return, bolstered by his game-opening 65-yard return.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Ciszak Rutgers Athletics