The "Famous Idaho Potato Bowl" was one of the first bowls this season, but one I planned to watch intently. Pitting the Buffalo Bulls (8-5 MAC) against San Diego State Aztecs (8-5 MW) on the blue field at Boise, the Bulls entered as one-point favorites and, more importantly (for me, anyway) sported one of our prospective top draft picks, Khalil Mack. It didn't turn out as expected; the mostly unsung players of SDSU pounded Buffalo 49-24, and only a late Buffalo touchdown made it that close. Mack was almost invisible in the game, with six tackles (five solo), and he didn't figure in either of the two sacks the Bulls managed. Clearly, the SDSU coaching staff designed its game plan to neutralize Mack, and it worked.
By the end of the game however, a couple Aztecs made an impression on me. Running back Adam Muema ran 28 times for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Very impressive. Of course, you may know Muema as the guy who left the NFL Combine because "God told me to..." and it subsequently turned out that "God" was actually an internet prophet self-styled as "Lord Ray-El," or something to that effect. After not showing up for San Diego State's Pro Day, and getting dropped by his agent, I suspect God is now telling 32 GMs not to come within 229 yards of drafting Muema.
That notwithstanding, I also noticed that #40, the Aztec fullback (who is in full control of his faculties), was popping some people to help free Muema, and blocking well in pass protection. I looked him up and started watching for his number on the field. While Chad Young's final stat line wasn't compelling (four carries for 6 yards and a TD, one reception for 4 yards), he also had a run for 5 yards or so in the 1st quarter that was nullified when the Aztecs accepted a 15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. His 1-yard run for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter (which could have gone for more) pretty much put a nail in Buffalo's coffin, putting the Aztecs up 42-10. And his blocking for Muema had a huge impact on that errant running back's success.
The thing that really caught my eye was seeing him appear in the camera on downfield pass plays, throwing blocks for the receivers. The guy obviously has a motor that won't quit. As I mentioned in a recent post, I was in Southern California last week and discovered Chad was at a function I attended. I made a point to introduce myself and compliment him on his play in Boise. He was a classy guy, very friendly and articulate, and we chatted for quite a while. I queried him at length about his impressions of Khalil Mack. I wrote down some notes soon after our conversation. While the following exchange may not be an exact transcription, it was (I think) close enough to put in quotations.
Me: "So, what did you think of Khalil Mack?"
Chad: "Looking at the tape on him while preparing for the game, it was obvious he is a tremendous athlete. I mean, that Ohio State game, he was dominant."
Me: "He wasn't all that effective in the bowl game, did you guys game plan for him?"
Chad: "Yeah, the coaching staff noticed some stuff, and I think we executed pretty well. He recovered a fumble, but one of his other teammates actually caused it, he was just right there..."
Me: "What kind of stuff did you guys do?"
Chad: "If you lunge at him to block him, you're in trouble. He's great at just knocking your hands away and getting by you."
Me: "His hand fighting techniques are supposed to be great...so how did you control him?"
Chad: "Well, we pretty much double teamed him when we could."
Me: "Did you face him much one-on-one?"
Chad: "Some. The coaches noticed that he'd try to fake you off balance if you didn't lunge at him, so when I was back there alone (on pass plays) I'd just shuffle to stay in front of him and try to make him engage me so I could get my hands on him. Most of the time he'd just keep trying to deke me and I'd shuffle to stay in front of him. After a few seconds the ball was away..."
Me: "So he'd try to get you to lunge to block him?"
Chad: "Yeah, and we noticed on the tape that he'd beat you that way, so we just tried to stay in front of him and force him to engage."
So, there you go, a perspective on a guy at the top of the draft, from another guy that's simply hoping to get drafted. Whatever team drafts Mack will have to work with him on some more aggressive pass-rushing moves, and shedding blockers. Rocky Long is a great coach, and he and his staff obviously developed a good game plan for Buffalo, but the NFL is full of great coaches. If Rocky could see it, chances are NFL coaches will, too. Mack won't be able to stand and fake in the NFL, waiting for a blocker to lunge at him, or try to cut block him like Mewhort did on that infamous Ohio State play. Teams will neutralize him in their game planning, just like Rocky did. The aggressive training for Mack will likely happen, no matter who drafts him. Like Greg Robinson's tendency to hang his arms out while pass blocking, it's ultimately coachable.
As for Chad Young, he's a former walk-on and a scholar athlete, who's been described as "a leader on and off the field." He managed to hustle his way from walk-on, to scholarship, then a starting role, and he seems to be highly respected, if not revered, at San Diego State now that he's graduating as a senior. For an example of how much the SDSU fans like him, check out the graphic in this link to an article about him:
He's an intelligent guy, very humble, and with a very high motor. While not invited to the NFL Combine, he put up some very impressive numbers at his Pro Day, with 34 reps in the Bench Press (higher than any running back at the Combine) and a very respectable (for a Fullback) 4.72 40-yard dash time. I've watched a bit of his film, and I was impressed (for whatever that's worth). We chatted about his prospects for getting drafted, or getting a shot as a UDFA, and he said, "I just want a chance to compete." Based on Chad's motor and history, I'm thinking he'll do a lot with that chance, if he gets one.