NFL talent evaluators might have been hoping to see North Carolina State senior Mike Glennon step forward in a tight quarterback race. Instead, they saw him fade to the background as Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy enjoyed the most impressive performance of the Music City Bowl's top NFL prospects helping to lead the Commodores to a 38-24 victory on Monday.
|Stacy's ended his collegiate career just as he began it... impressively. (US Presswire)|
Stacy, a 5-foot-9, 210-pound dynamo who entered the game ranked by NFLDraftScout.com as a late round prospect, flashed the patience, lateral agility and leg drive that has led other relatively unheralded backs to surprise in the NFL. The Commodores leaned heavily on their senior running back in this contest, giving him 25 carries (107 yards and a touchdown) from a variety of formations, including the Wildcat. He likely would have toted the rock even more had he not suffered an apparent ankle injury in the fourth quarter. After sitting out a series, Stacy returned.
Durability has been a key question for Stacy throughout his career. He showed immediate playmaking ability as a freshman, but suffered through multiple leg injuries over his first two seasons. Since that time, however, he's proven to be one of the country's better backs, rushing for a school-record 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010 (5.9 yards per carry) and nearly duplicating those numbers this year (1,141, 10 touchdowns) this season. He leaves Vanderbilt as a two-time Second Team All-SEC running back and the school's all-time leader in rushing yardage.
Despite these accomplishments, Stacy will be fighting history as no Vanderbilt running back has ever heard his name called in the first seven rounds of the NFL Draft. While Vanderbilt has struggled to churn out pro prospects at running back, Stacy is clearly deserving of NFL consideration.
His natural running skills were apparent on the summer tape I did on him entering the year and prompted CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman to highlight Stacy as one of the Ten Underrated Players fans should watch during the bowl season. The bowl game performance was simply an appropriate cap to a strong final two seasons in the SEC.
While Stacy ended his collegiate career on a high note, the same can't be said for Glennon.
As he has virtually throughout his two seasons as NC State's starting quarterback, Glennon flashed the arm talent that has led to some lofty NFL projections. Unfortunately, the same struggles in a collapsing pocket also were obvious throughout this game as Glennon threw three interceptions, each of which demonstrated the poor decision-making and inaccurate passing that has caused NFLDraftScout.com to rank Glennon much lower than others in the scouting community virtually all year long.
The 6-foot-5, 232 pound Glennon began the game well, stepping up in the pocket, spreading the ball and making pinpoint passes that required both NFL-caliber velocity and touch. He threw multiple catchable passes that simply went through the hands of his intended targets, which makes his statline (35-for-53, 383 yards) appear all the more impressive -- if not for the three interceptions.
On his first interception, just as he was being pressured, Glennon lofted a deep ball down the right sideline toward sophomore receiver Bryan Underwood. Unable to fully step into the throw, Glennon underthrew it, making it an easy read and interception for Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler, who was sitting back in Cover-2. The pass came while NC State was deep in its own territory and gave the Commodores (up 7-0 in the first quarter) the ball at the 45-yard line.
As curious as Glennon's first interception was, his second was worse.
Again, deep in his own territory, Glennon attempted a skinny-post down the seam to Underwood, who was well-covered. Vandy corner Eric Samuels did a terrific job of catching the ball, as it was on him right as he turned to look back but it was a play he made nonetheless. Returning the ball 12 yards to the NC State 18-yard line, Samuels' turnover came on first down and with just 54 seconds remaining in the half. Rather than the Wolfpack being in position to whittle away at Vanderbilt's 21-14 lead, instead they saw it doubled when Jordan Rodgers hit his favorite target, Jordan Matthews, for a touchdown two plays later.
Glennon successfully guided the Wolfpack down the field on the opening drive of the third quarter. Down just two touchdowns and hitting big-gainers for 18 and 26 yards, it appeared that NC State might take back momentum.
Instead, facing third-and-2 and in field-goal range from the 25-yard line, Glennon inexplicably tossed a deep ball into coverage down the left sideline to true freshman wideout Charlie Hegedus. Vanderbilt defensive back Trey Wilson stepped in front of Hegedus to win the jump ball, intercepting the pass and racing 65 yards to the 35-yard line, putting the Commodores in position to kick a field goal and extend their lead to 17.
Glennon has the physical traits scouts are looking for and, as such, will continue to earn plenty of attention. As my colleague Dane Brugler pointed out, an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl will give him plenty of opportunity to resurrect what "falling" stock he might have after this game.
Ultimately, scouts will have to ask themselves how a relatively immobile and inexperienced quarterback who struggles as the pocket collapses is going to fare against the increasingly exotic blitz packages in the NFL? This wasn't, after all, the first time Glennon has struggled in this kind of environment.