Scouts Inc. was in Columbus over the weekend to take in the USC-Ohio State matchup, and it was an impressive sight in all ways. The Horseshoe is one of the most intimidating stadiums we've seen, and USC even added to the atmosphere with its pregame ritual of saluting its band as the team entered the field.
The action on the field is what truly held our interest, though, and we came away impressed with some prospects but disappointed in others. Here are the top five scouting points we took away from USC's 18-15, come-from-behind victory:
1. The USC offensive line
Trojans LT Charles Brown looked very good against the Buckeyes. He has gotten stronger in the lower body and looked light on his feet in pass protection, not giving up a sack all night. Brown also excelled on the short pull around the edge, adjusting well on the move and doing a good job of covering up defenders in space. He also has improved his ability to stay engaged as a run blocker and at one point pancaked Ohio State DE Thaddeus Gibson in impressive fashion. With plenty of NFL scouts and even a few general managers in attendance Brown's showing has moved him solidly into the second-round discussion.
The rest of the USC offensive line struggled, though, particularly LG Jeff Byers and RT Tyron Smith. Both were exposed throughout the game with Smith struggling to handle Gibson's speed on the edge and Byers being dominated by Cameron Heyward. Both Byers and Smith appeared to lack the quickness and leverage to deal with the athleticism of the OSU ends.
2. The play of Gibson and Heyward
The Buckeyes have one of the most disruptive defensive end tandems in the country. Heyward is a power-to-speed rusher off the edge who knows how to get tackles off-balance and then beat them with athletic ability, and he can also shift down to play over the outside shoulder if the guard and be a stout presence in the middle. That is where he dominated Byers.
Early in the second half Heyward held his ground and then worked down the line from the backside and exploded on the ball carrier, dropping him for a minimal gain on second down, and then came up with a sack on third down to end the drive. That two-play sample illustrates Heyward's strength inside, his high motor and relentless pass-rush ability. He's still a junior but Heyward got himself squarely on the radar of NFL scouts with his performance in Columbus.
As for Gibson, he is more of an Aaron Maybin-type player who has a very quick first step and great suddenness with his pass-rush moves. He knows how to change things up on offensive tackles and shows great closing burst to the quarterback once he gets around the edge. Gibson is a gifted athlete, but much like Maybin he needs to get stronger at the point of attack against the run. Brown was able to push him off the ball at times and Gibson needs to play lower, but he's also a junior and has time to become more stout and prove to scouts he can hold up as a three-down player.
For a look at a pair of USC prospects who boosted their stock, the Trojans' new starting linebackers and the play of Matt Barkley and Terrelle Pryor, as well as notes from around the country, become an ESPN Insider.
3. The play of USC DE Everson Griffin and TE Anthony McCoy
Griffin is a junior who has not lived up to his high potential to this point but he seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder against the Buckeyes and looked like a man with something to prove. He has a thick frame and has improved his lower-body strength, and his upper body is put together very well, and he did a good job holding up against the Ohio State running game when he played with his hand in the dirt. Even more impressive, though, was his ability to play a stand-up defensive end role when USC went to a 3-4 look.
The Trojans dropped Griffin into coverage from that look on several occasions and he looked good getting into his drops. He got to his zones and showed good awareness, and even though he looked a bit stiff in the hips at times the versatility to play that kind of role will certainly help him in the eyes of NFL scouts.
McCoy also showed well against the Buckeyes, flashing improved speed to stretch the seam and great ball skills. McCoy has as good frame and knows how to use it to shield the ball from defenders, a skill he displayed on a key reception on USC's game-winning drive. He attacks the ball in the air and knows how to bring it down. And while McCoy is not a dominating blocker in the running game he does move his feet well, uses good hand placement to lock on and sustains his blocks to the whistle. He projects as a fringe second-rounder right now but could improve his stock if he continues to play like this.
4. USC's linebacker play
Four Trojans linebackers were taken in the 2009 NFL draft -- Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga and Kaluka Maiava -- and it appears USC missed them even more than expected. Ohio State did not run for big yards (88 total) against the Trojans but it is apparent USC does not have nearly the same the range or pass-rush ability at linebacker this year, and the intimidating physical presence is missing as well.
ILB Chris Galippo is an assignment-sound player who will be in position to take advantage of mistakes -- as he did on a first-quarter interception against OSU -- but he does not explode up the middle as a pass-rusher like Maualuga did. Galippo also does not seem to play with the same aggressiveness and is just not as much if a playmaker as we're used to seeing from USC linebackers.
On the outside, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan are more drag-down tacklers than big hitters and they missed some tackles against the Buckeyes. They also lack the same explosion off the edge that Cushing and Matthews had and they are not as disruptive to opposing quarterbacks. The overall youth and inexperience of the group is obviously a factor, and while this is just not the same caliber of defense we are used to seeing from the Trojans all three still have time to get themselves into the NFL discussion before their careers are over.
USC's Barkley obviously has the physical skills to be an outstanding player and NFL prospect, but he grew up some in front of the huge crowd in Columbus as well. Barkley was off the mark a bit early in the game and made a big mistake throwing across his body on a second-quarter interception, but on the very next drive he stood tall in the pocket and delivered a pair of big throws for first downs while taking hits. The Trojans settled for a field goal on the drive but you could see Barkley becoming more confident with each play.
The same scenario unfolded in the third quarter, with Barkley struggling a bit but coming back to make good throws and lead the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. He is obviously headed toward becoming the next USC quarterback to move to the next level, following the likes of Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez and others. Barkley is not a finished product and will make some mistakes, but he showed plenty of mental toughness to go with his thick build, strong lower body, strong arm and quick release.
Pryor, on the other hand, seemed to take a step back in this game. He did make some good throws at times and bounced back from a first-quarter interception, but overall he made too many mistakes did not appear to be processing the defense well. Pryor rushed some throws and his accuracy is questionable, flaws that were illustrated on a pair of mistakes near the goal line.
On a first-and-goal in the first quarter Buckeyes TE Jake Ballard got behind the defense and headed to the back corner of the end zone, but rather than dropping the ball in high over Ballard's shoulder Pryor rifled the ball in his direction and had the pass batted down. In a similar situation in the third quarter Pryor scrambled and got free to his right, but again he put too much heat on the ball and missed a wide-open receiver in the end zone low and away. Both drives ended with field goals instead of easy touchdowns that could have turned the momentum of the game.
Pryor also needs to maintain better focus. He could be seen jawing with USC players during timeouts and looked panicked at times late in the game. He is a sophomore, yes, but he still shows too much immaturity in too many situations. Pryor has the physical tools but needs to zero in on his responsibilities and assignments and let everything else take care of itself. At this point in his career Pryor is very much a Vince Young-type of player, a quarterback with all the skills in the world but serious questions to answer about whether he can exhibit the passing skills and mental toughness to be an NFL quarterback.
Around the Nation
• Become the MAC all-time leader in total offense? Check. Help upset Michigan State in East Lansing while you set the record? Checkmate. Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour (Scouts Inc.-rated No. 54) accomplished both feats Saturday as CMU stunned the Spartans 29-27 on Andrew Aguila's 42-yard field goal as time expired. LeFevour, who threw for 328 yards, three TDs and one interception, more than made up for his mediocre performance the week before. "My pride was hurt ... a little bit," he said. "I felt like (the 19-6 loss) was my fault, and I didn't want to feel that way this week."
• It wasn't smooth, but the Texas Longhorns and QB Colt McCoy (No. 19) finally found their rhythm in Laramie, Wyo. McCoy ended up going 30-for-47 with 337 yards and three TDs. Considering McCoy's 12 incomplete passes in the first half, his second half was more Heisman-like. "He knows what's happening," Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "He's a little bit like a shooter in basketball. Eventually, he'll turn it around. ... Colt was pressing a little early in the game."
• USC's defense had a lot to do with their 18-15 win at Ohio State on Saturday, but it came with a slight price. S Taylor Mays (No. 8) sprained his knee in the first quarter, but returned in the second quarter and led the team with eight tackles. "As the Trojans entered their locker room after the game," reported the L.A. Times, Mays said, 'Man, that was crazy. That's why you play, to go down to the fourth quarter like that.' He's expected to play on Sept. 19 in Seattle against the Huskies.
• Despite the tough 41-37 loss to Georgia (No. 69), South Carolina OLB Eric Norwood may have had the play of the game. Norwood picked off a Joe Cox pass and brought it back 35 yards for a TD to bring South Carolina within one point at 38-37. Norwood himself is looking for more time on the field. Last year, he was a part of special teams. On Saturday, he watch Georgia's Brandon Boykin return a kick 100 yards for the Bulldogs' first score. ""Anything, it doesn't matter,' Norwood said. "It doesn't matter if it's field goal and I've gotta sit there and block D-tackles."
• As impressive as Tim Tebow (No. 26) and the Florida offense were against Troy, the defense, led by LB Brandon Spikes (No. 7) may have been equally impressive. "The offense started stagnantly, scoring just seven points in the first quarter," the Palm Beach Post reported, "and often left the defense with the task of reversing unfavorable field position. 'Brandon Spikes said something, - "'It's what we do,'" UF coach Urban Meyer said. 'The defense just goes out there and plays. They don't whine. They just play.'"
• As one of the few pro prospects on the Michigan defense, DE Brandon Graham (No. 18) wanted to make an impression against Notre Dame. Mission accomplished. Graham stuffed Irish QB Jimmy Clausen for a one-yard loss on Notre Dame's opening drive and the Irish would miss a field goal on the next play. "It felt good," Graham said of Michigan's 34-31 win. "I'm just so proud of everyone."
• Cincinnati continues to pile up the points and WR Mardy Gilyard (No. 29) continues to make noise. Gilyard had four touchdowns (one rushing, two receiving and one return) in the Bearcats' 70-3 romp over Southeast Missouri State. Gilyard's performance makes him a candidate for the AT&T All-America Player of the Week award. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports: "According to STATS, LLC, the last player in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision competition before Gilyard to score via punt return, reception, and rush in the same game was Maurice Drew (now Jones-Drew) of UCLA on Oct. 8, 2005 vs. California."
• Even the best have rough days. Syracuse WR Mike Williams (No. 37) dropped a fourth-and-goal pass in the second half in the Orange's 28-7 loss to Penn State. "It was a perfect pass, perfect route, perfect everything," Williams said. "I just dropped it. I just let the ball get on me so quick.