Each week, we rewind the game film to highlight the star-worthy performances that could impact the 2013 draft rankings.
Photo courtesy of Denny Medley, US Presswire.
Little went right for Missouri in a rain-soaked SEC showdown Saturday vs. No. 1 Alabama.
One relative ray of sunshine for Gary Pinkel's team was the stellar play of redshirt junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
Despite often facing double-teams from Alabama center Barrett Jones, the reigning Outland Trophy winner and right guard Anthony Steen, Richardson recorded a game-high 14 tackles, including the sack of Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron that caused every Alabama fan to hold their breath while their star signal-caller was helped to the sideline.
While Bama faithful might have locked onto McCarron as team doctors looked closely at his right knee on the training table, the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Richardson whose efforts captured the attention of talent evaluators.
Demonstrating a unique combination of size, strength and agility, Richardson was a constant burr in the side of McCarron, showing the flexibility and technique to "get skinny" through gaps and pressure the quarterback, as well as force Alabama's running backs to adjust shortly after getting the handoff.
With star quarterback James Franklin sidelined (sprained knee), everything had to go perfectly for Missouri to be able to give Alabama a competitive game. The Tigers hardly got that, fighting the typically dominant size, strength and athleticism from the Crimson Tide, as well as a torrential rain and lightning storm that led to the game being delayed 38 minutes in the second quarter. Even with Richardson's stellar game, Alabama rushed for 362 yards in this contest, often by rushing up the middle.
To do so, they had to trick Richardson, who often lined up in the A-gap between Jones and Steen and consistently beat them with his quickness. The Tide's veteran duo allowed him to do so, at times, giving him a free rush upfield before sealing him off and even occasionally knocking him to the ground with effective trap blocks. Often, however, Richardson bounced back up and pursued hard laterally and downfield, helping to ease some of the concerns scouts have held about his consistency.
With so much attention being heaped upon talented defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Star Lotulelei (among others), Richardson has quietly played just as well this season and he's doing it against SEC competition.
A year ago, the combination of pass rush ability and impressive performances against top SEC offensive lines helped Fletcher Cox emerge as the top defensive tackle in the 2012 NFL draft. Richardson could be poised for a similar leap up draft boards.
*As dramatic as Geno Smith's ascent up the Heisman and NFL draft board had been over the course of West Virginia's first five games in 2012, the balloon certainly popped Saturday in the No. 5 Mountaineers' humbling 49-14 loss to Texas Tech. Smith, who entered the game completing a staggering 81.4 percent of his passes and averaging 12.02 yards per throw this year, saw less than 52.7 percent (29 of 55) of his throws caught for a total of 275 yards in this contest. He did not throw an interception, continuing his streak of not giving the ball up to the opposing defense all season long, but also threw only one touchdown. Smith's previous low for the season was the three he had tossed in a 31-21 win over Maryland Sept. 22. Perhaps most disconcerting for scouts is that Smith and his West Virginia teammates struggled against a defense that frankly isn't blessed with a great deal of future NFL talent. Nevertheless, Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville and defensive coordinator Art Kaufman created a superb game plan that resulted in Smith consistently being forced up and out of the pocket with his receivers struggling to find free lanes, as they'd so easily over the first month and a half of the year.
*Considering that he is the reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Rutgers' linebacker Khaseem Greene hasn't generated the national attention that he deserves. After a dominant performance against Syracuse and their legitimate NFL caliber quarterback Ryan Nassib, however, that may be about to change. Greene was dynamic in this contest, almost single-handedly giving the undefeated Scarlet Knights their sixth victory of the year, posting 14 tackles, three forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery in the 23-15 win. Statistics, however, only tell part of the story. The way in which Greene made his plays is what will have NFL scouts paying close attention. Greene showed some savvy as a pass rusher, coming off the edge to sack Nassib and force one fumble, as well as closing speed on a delayed A-gap blitz to hit the Syracuse quarterback and force another. Greene's versatility was demonstrated in the third quarter on the interception, getting a nice initial shove to knock senior tight end David Stephens to the ground before dropping off to step in front of another senior, wideout Alec Lemon's well-run post route. If Lemon didn't hustle back to tackle Greene from behind 25 yards later, the linebacker may have returned the interception for a touchdown, as he'd successfully weaved through the masses and was breaking into the open field.
*The quarterbacks earned virtually all of the national hype leading up to the USC-Washington game, but Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian created some local buzz prior to kickoff with his praise of cornerback Desmond Trufant. Sarkisian announced that he'd been told by NFL scouts that Trufant, a senior starting his 41st consecutive game, was being rated among the top "two or three" cornerbacks in the country. While NFLDraftScout.com currently ranks the younger brother of Seattle Seahawks' Marcus and the New York Jets' Isaiah Trufant as the No. 4 senior corner in the country, it was easy to see against the Trojans why talent evaluators are so high on the 5-11, 190 pounder. Lining up against both halves of the Trojans' dynamic duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, Trufant demonstrated the agility, fluidity and closing speed to help keep the high-octane USC passing attack largely under wraps. Under new defensive coordinator Josh Wilcox, Trufant has been allowed to play more bump and run, maximizing the athletic ability that some close to him believe is even better than that of either of his brothers. When Trufant was beaten Saturday night it was largely when he bailed out and USC's receivers were able to work themselves free on drag routes across the middle. Scouts appreciate Trufant's coverage skills but furthermore acknowledge that his grade has risen this year because he's been more physical as a run defender. Taking advantage of the national stage, Trufant contributed on special teams in this game, as well, blocking a USC field goal in the third quarter.
*When a team is beaten as soundly as the Texas Longhorns were by Oklahoma in this year's version of the Red River Romp err. ... Rivalry, it is easy to cast blame. Three turnovers by Texas quarterback David Ash certainly didn't help, especially since Oklahoma senior Landry Jones was as accurate on deep and intermediate passes as he's been all season long. The Longhorns' inability to slow the Sooners' ground game, however, played the most critical role in their 63-21 defeat. Typically, when a team struggles to defend the run, the blame can be centered on their front seven. When Texas defense coordinator Manny Diaz reviews the tape what will stand out -- especially by sophomore free safety Mykkele Thompson (No. 2) -- is shoddy open-field tackling on the back end.
It resulted in many of Oklahoma's biggest plays. Thompson was simply run over by the Sooners' Tim Tebow clone, Blake Bell, on his first of four rushing touchdowns on the game. Bell's physicality may have sapped Thompson of his confidence throughout the rest of the contest, as he was tentative when attempting to make open-field tackles throughout the rest of the game. He was in position to make the open field tackle on running back Damian Williams' 95-yard touchdown jaunt in the first quarter but failed to do so and was repeatedly left grasping at air by Sooners' fullback Trey Millard.