NFL prospects Mason Rudolph, Sam Darnold pass big tests, Josh Allen fails
Some of the top offensive talent in college football were tested Saturday but not all stepped up
It may be too early to talk Heisman but the best players in college football are already being tested. A few guys are acing every question, some are barely passing and occasionally someone fails out of the elite tier. For the elite offensive skill players in college football that had week 3 tests, here's how they fared.
On the surface, Pitt may not seem like much of a test for Rudolph, but this Pat Narduzzi defense is one week removed from holding Penn State's Trace McSorley to 164 yards passing on the road. It had another chance to make a statement with the Pokes coming to Pittsburgh for a morning game, but the only statement was made by Rudolph and his 497 yards and five touchdowns. The 59-21 score probably wasn't even as close as the score indicates, and Rudolph, thanks in part to his loaded group of wide receivers, looked like a Heisman Trophy favorite.
Fitzgerald handed LSU the worst beatdown it has taken since 2014 by dropping 37 on Dave Aranda's vaunted defense. Coming into the week, LSU was fifth in the nation in total defense and had given up 63 rush yards in two games. Fitzgerald rushed for 88 himself and scored two touchdowns on the ground. He also threw for two more scores and 180 more yards. The yardage may not be gaudy, but his ability to threaten LSU's edge defenders allowed the Bulldogs to plow their way to an easy win and should thrust Fitzgerald into Heisman contention.
Johnson may not have been included on this list before the Texas' double overtime loss to USC but after his seven-catch 190-yard receiving performance, he deserves to be mentioned among college football's elite moving forward. He's 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, and he put a true freshman quarterback on his back for much of Texas' valiant showing in Pasadena. Johnson has flashed plenty prior to Saturday night's breakout performance (seven catches 125 yards vs. Maryland) but as Texas continues to iron out its new offense under Tom Herman, his role and profile should only expand.
Tennessee's offense had nothing to offer on Saturday afternoon, except Kelly. He finished with 19 carries for 141 yards and a touchdown with 96 more yards receiving. Playing in an offense that had no ability to sustain drives, his big plays were critical to giving the Vols a chance to win the game, and his ability to break tackles on the second level were clinical. I think Kelly introduced himself to the nation on Saturday and will step into the debate as the SEC's best back. The only thing that keeps Kelly from the A range is a drop on Tennessee's final drive that would have given the Vols the lead and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that resulted in a long kickoff return and eventual score for Florida.
Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Test: Tom Herman's 6-0 career record against top 25 teams | Grade: B+
This game was far from perfect for Darnold, but Darnold was perfect when the game was on the line. His game-tying, 37-second drive featured a jump-pass to avoid a free rusher that flipped the fortunes of everyone involved. Darnold showed the clutch gene that few possess, elite or otherwise, and after only producing 14 points through the first 59:23, he ultimately finished with 397 yards passing, three touchdowns and was just about perfect in the game's closing minutes.
I'm not going to give a failing grade to a kid that threw for 463 yards and four touchdowns, but for all of Rosen's dead-eye marksmanship, he was responsible for some devastating friendly fire, too. Rosen threw two bad interceptions and one of those was a junior varsity type decision that resulted in six points for the Memphis defense. He's the only reason UCLA was in the game, but even dating back to the Texas A&M game, he gets away with some bad throws and bad decisions that leave you scratching your head.
This one really should be graded on a curve. We should look back after the season and see what all the quarterbacks have done against this Clemson defense because through three games nobody's been able to do anything, including the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Through Saturday, three opposing quarterbacks over two games had accounted for 98 yards of offense total against Clemson. So in comparison, Jackson's two touchdowns and 254 yards of offense seems Herculean. He may take a step back in the Heisman race but Jackson still looks special.
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Test: Mississippi State's improved defensive front | Grade: C
At 5.1 yards per carry, it wasn't a horrible night for Guice, but in a big road test, Mississippi State's defense limited him to only 76 yards on 15 carries and he only added one catch for three yards. That's not a performance that's going to scare off NFL teams but it's not the transformative outing that LSU needs from a guy that is its only legitimate superstar on offense. New LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada may need to go back to the drawing board to find ways to get Guice back on track.
Allen may have all the tools that the NFL could want, but he's 0-2 this fall in opportunities to showcase them against Power Five opponents. Allen finished the night against Oregon 9-of-24 passing for 64 yards. It was an even worse performance than his two-interception showing against Iowa in a 24-3 loss to open the season. Allen has ability. He just doesn't have any help and you need some help to be among college football's elite. He's out of the discussion after Saturday night. We'll revisit him come draft time.
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