This past Saturday I attended the Pitt-USF contest at Heinz Field and came away very impressed with the Panthers' performance. They are a balanced team that has a good shot to win the Big East. On the whole, the Big East gets a bad rap, but Saturday's contest showed that it's a physical conference that is a bit underrated.
From a draft perspective, the headliners going into this game were a trio of defensive ends: Pitt's Greg Romeus and USF's Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie.
Of the three, I came away most impressed with Romeus. He looks like the most well-rounded 4-3 end prospect. Romeus is well put-together with ideal size -- at 6-6, 270. The junior prospect did a great job against the run; he proved to be adept at stacking O-linemen at the line of scrimmage and was able to use his hands to disengage from blocks and fall back into plays against the run. He made an outstanding tackle on RB Mo Plancher in which he was able to bring down the 200-pound runner with one hand after he attempted to make a cut inside. Romeus also showed good discipline in containing USF's read option.
Against the pass, Romeus is a power speed-rusher. He lacks great quickness with his first step but the does a great job generating power and leverage coming off the edge. He also showed above-average closing burst. Personally, I see Romeus as a prospect who will come off the board in the first two rounds.
Like Romeus, USF junior DE Jason Pierre-Paul is blessed with tremendous measureables (standing 6-6, 260). He has an extremely thick lower body and an impressive 81-inch wingspan. While all those factors certainly have him on scouts' radars, this guy isn't the complete prospect we thought he was heading into this game. A junior-college transfer, Pierre-Paul hasn't played a ton of high-level football, and it shows in his lacking instincts. Pierre-Paul did a nice job keeping blockers off him with his hands, but he struggled with the physical nature of this contest -- he struggled when the Panthers ran the ball at him. Pitt was able to keep him in check as a pass-rusher by having a running back chip him, which provided further evidence of his difficulties with physical blocking. We have him projected to go in the first two rounds, but another year of seasoning could do wonders for Pierre-Paul.
Of this trio, Selvie might be the most instinctive player. He is quick off the snap and frequently gets into the backfield. However, USF's marquee player doesn't look like the same guy he was a few years ago in terms of explosiveness and closing burst. (That's not to say that he doesn't make big plays.) Selvie shows some tightness in his hips in space, and his slim lower body brings concerns about his ability to anchor against NFL tackles on running plays. Those weaknesses probably mean that Selvie is going to have to be a 3-4 OLB at the NFL level. This disruptive, instinctive player should be a mid- to late second-round pick come April.
• USF corner Jerome Murphy's stock take a hit with his poor showing Saturday. On the plus side, this kid has good size (at 6-0, 186) and is blessed with athletic ability and change of direction. What seems to be killing is a lack of discipline and bad awareness in coverage. In the first quarter, he bit on a play-action fake that allowed Pitt TE Mike Cruz to get open for a touchdown. Then in the second quarter he was beat by Pitt wideout Jonathan Baldwin beat him for a 40-yard touchdown. After consistently getting beat by Baldwin for most of the game's first 30-plus minutes, Murphy was benched in the third quarter and did not return. We had Murphy as a late-second-round prospect, but he didn't perform like one.
• Speaking of Baldwin, Pitt's sophomore is really developing into a star out wide. In fact, if he were eligible to come out this year, I think he'd rank among the top 5, if not the top 3, players at his position. He runs well with easy, long strides and speed. He also does a great job tracking the ball and adjusting to it. On the aforementioned 40-yard touchdown catch, Baldwin was expecting the ball to be thrown over his inside shoulder, when it came to the outside he was able to adjust and easily make the catch. At 6-5, he was able to get many jump balls. Baldwin is definitely making a major statement to scouts that he is a big-time prospect.
• Pitt's receiving threats go beyond Baldwin; TE Dorin Dickerson, whom we had graded as an undrafted free agent coming into the year, is also creating some buzz. The Panthers' offensive coordinator, Frank Cignetti Jr., has done a good job of using Dickerson's athletic ability in the passing game. Dickerson has good size and gets great breaks. He uses his hands well and is a mismatch for defenses. Although he's not a great blocker, he could be an effective player at the H-back position in the NFL. With his improved play, I could see Dickerson coming off the board in the fourth or fifth round.
• Pitt's dramatic improvement this season has a lot to do with Bill Stull's play under center. The senior quarterback took a lot of heat from the media after struggling last season. Cignetti has done a good job keeping the reads simple for Stull. He's getting the ball down the field with guys in space. Stull has good size and frame and is extremely accurate. This guy has gone from a free agent not even on the board to a guy who's probably going to be drafted. Stull is going to have to go to a team that is consistently and effectively coaching quarterbacks; he needs nonstop coaching to develop. If he goes somewhere like Green Bay, where they do a great job with the position, he could have success at the pro level.
Around the nation
• Alabama didn't play well in its 12-10 win over Tennessee, but DT Terrence Cody (Scouts Inc.-rated No. 27) made sure it was a win. Cody blocked two field goals including the potential game-winner. "It was real emotional and thrilling," Cody told the Mobile Press-Register. "I knew it was crunch time. Once I knocked him ([Cory] Sullins) on his back, I just closed my eyes and reached up with my left hand."
• Clemson's thrilling 40-37 overtime win against Miami was fueled by two Tigers in the Scouts Inc. Top 100. C.J. Spiller (No. 17) and Jacoby Ford (No. 65) raced to the house with the game-winning TD. Spiller had a school-record 310 all-purpose yards. "That's all my guys out there working for me," Spiller told the Greenville (S.C.) News. "I keep saying it, but without the blocks I've been getting, without all that help, I couldn't do any of this. I really have the easiest part after those blocks are made, I just have to read it and let my speed take over."
• As impressive as Colt McCoy (No. 18) was in the Longhorns' 41-3 thrashing of the Missouri Tigers, the "Goon Squad" may have been equally as impressive. What is the "Goon Squad"? Rod Muckelroy (No. 39) and Earl Thomas (No. 30) explain to the Austin American Statesman. "The Goon Squad, it means all out. That's all it means, is going all out on every play," Muckelroy said. "It means throwing your body around without a care. It means making the tackle no matter what it takes. It means having fun."
But the Goon Squad is not about injuring quarterbacks. Or injuring anybody.
That's not what the term "goon" really means?
"No," Thomas said. "It's about effort. It's everybody flying to the ball with a team effort. It's not about having T-shirts or even making a big deal about it. We try and keep it to ourselves. I didn't know anybody told anybody about it."
"I was just going up to him to say he's a heck of a receiver," Clausen said. "He was making plays left and right, and he's a real good talent."
Gunnell, who had a career-high 10 receptions for 179 yards and a touchdown, saw it differently. "At the beginning of the game, he was out there chirping and talking trash," Gunnell said. "And then he went out and just pushed [BC receiver] Justin Jarvis for no reason. I looked at him and said, 'What are you doing?'
"Afterwards, he was trying to be all friendly. It just rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed real fake. He tried to push one of my teammates. He tried to say good game. I thought it was phony."
• It's not often the USC defense gets picked apart. But the Oregon State Beavers did so, racking up 482 total yards and scoring 36 points in a loss. S Taylor Mays (No. 10) expressed his dismay to the Los Angeles Daily News. "They spread our defense out and picked away," Mays said. "It was frustrating."
• Penn State LB Navorro Bowman (No. 19) put on a whale of a performance in the Nittany Lions' 35-10 win at Michigan. Bowman had 11 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery and one sack after a slow start in which Penn State watched the Wolverines march down the field for a touchdown. "We were starting off slow, flat-footed," Bowman told the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader "After that first drive, we sat down, calmed everyone down and we were ready to rock like it was the third quarter.
"It was up-tempo and [Michigan] did a great job with that. We just caught up to it and started playing our game."
• As if the Minnesota Golden Gophers didn't have enough problems such as losing three of their last four and scoring seven points in their last two games: They could lose WR Eric Decker (No. 32) for a while to a left foot sprain. "It's a tough loss; he gives our team inspiration," Gophers coach Tim Brewster told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. "He's a good football player, but you know what, next man up."