BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
Bowling Green (10-3) enters the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (Thursday, 6 p.m., ESPN) on a five-game winning streak, including an impressive, 47-27, victory over Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game. The Falcons have defeated their opponents by an average 35 points over that five-game stretch, and have defeated their opponent by more than 20 points in all ten of their wins this seasons.
Pittsburgh enters this game with a more talented roster but with a 6-6 record. This will be senior quarterback Tom Savage’s last chance as a Pittsburgh Panther to impress scouts against the nation’s fifth-ranked scoring defense. Additionally, Pittsburgh senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald has been arguably the best defensive player in college football this season.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh, Sr. (6’, 285 lbs)
The best player on the football field Thursday night will be Aaron Donald. Donald has been honored with numerous accolades this seasons including All-ACC and All-American selections while winning the Outland, Bronko Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi and Chuck Bednarik awards. Donald’s incredible senior season has included 54 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and four forced fumbles. He has 28.5 sacks over the last three seasons.
Donald is an explosive, penetrating defensive tackle who wrecks havoc on the interior of the Panthers defense. Donald has incredible first-step quickness and strength out of his stance that is troubling for guards to handle. He has quick, violent hands which he utilizes to beat his opponent. He has the strength to dispose of blockers and make plays in the backfield.
Donald’s interior presence commands double- and triple-team blocks from opposing offenses, which he can handle and beat. At the collegiate level, it has proven difficult for opponents to minimize Donald’s playmaking ability.
With an incredible swim move and bull rush, Donald is a dynamic interior pass rusher. He challenges his opponent every down and lives in the face of the quarterback on passing downs.
The biggest concern with Donald is his frame. You do not see many players with his measurables at defensive tackle making an impact in the NFL. This will be something he will have to overcome and will push down his draft stock. Additionally, Donald does not always play with consistent leverage.
Donald’s on-field play is that of a first-round selection. Ultimately, his size is likely to push him down into Day 2.
Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh, Sr. (6’4’’, 195 lbs)
Street has become more productive every year during his career with Pittsburgh, and has set new career highs with seven touchdowns and 16.7 yards per catch in his senior season. With more than 200 career receptions and nearly 3,000 yards receiving, Street has been a consistent, reliable target for the Panthers.
Street is a cerebral player who consistently goes about his work and contributes. He is difficult to jam off the line of scrimmage and releases cleanly to get into his routes. He is a polished route runner who doesn’t display tremendous upfield burst, but his smooth release and route running allow him to create downfield separation. Street is a very consistent hands catcher who adjusts well to the ball in the air.
Street is better when running routes that break in than out and does not work along the sidelines nearly as well as he works inside the numbers. Street is on the lighter side of his 6’4’’ frame and could afford to add 10-15 pounds.
Street has the makings of a solid No. 2 receiver in the NFL and should be picked somewhere on Day 2 of the draft.
Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh, Sr. (6’5’’, 230 lbs)
Tom Savage was the starting quarterback at Rutgers as a true freshman, leading them to an 8-4 record and bowl game victory. After being replaced as the starting quarterback by Chas Dodd, Savage transferred to Arizona. His time there was short and he transferred back to the East Coast, citing family reasons, to play at Pittsburgh.
Savage is in his first and only season as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback following the graduation of Tino Sunseri. He has completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,834 yards with 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Savage looks the part of an NFL signal-caller and has NFL-caliber arm strength. He has a good, quick throwing motion and can be an accurate passer.
A lack of consistent coaching in college has led to some flaws Savage will have to iron out. Savage tends to be a one-read passer and sometimes panics if his first read is not available. When he needs the patience to allow a play to develop, he tends to get happy feet in the pocket and struggles with his internal clock. His passing accuracy suffers as a result, while he was also the most sacked quarterback in FBS football in 2013.
Savage has considerable appeal as a developmental prospect late in the draft. With consistent coaching and development, Savage has a lot of potential.
Jason Hendricks, S, Pittsburgh, Sr. (6’, 190 lbs)
Hendricks has been the Panthers’ leading tackler in each of the past two seasons while hauling in seven interceptions over that span. After starting 12 games in his freshman and sophomore seasons, Hendricks became a full-time starter as a junior and has not looked back.
Hendricks reacts well to plays in front of him. He takes good angles to the ball in pursuit and can break down in space to make plays. When he gets to the ball, Hendricks is a sure tackler who is not afraid to come up and play with physicality.
Hendricks is a good center fielder who reads the quarterback’s eyes well and breaks to the ball. Hendricks has gotten interceptions in a variety of ways including tipped balls, tracking the ball down the field and undercutting routes. He has great ball skills and ability to position himself to make plays when the ball is in the air.
Hendricks is a solid overall player and a good-enough athlete to play safety in the NFL. He is flying under the radar at this point, but could improve his draft stock with an impressive showing in the Motor City.
Jerry “BooBoo” Gates, SS, Bowling Green, Sr. (5’11’’, 213 lbs)
Gates is the best player on the Falcons defense. He has been a first-team All-MAC selection each of the past two seasons, a playmaker on the back end of the defense who has 57 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries this year.
Shaun Joplin, WR, Bowling Green, Sr. (6’2’’, 209 lbs)
Joplin has been a reliable target for quarterback Matt Johnson with 822 receiving yards this season while averaging 17.1 yards per catch.
Alex Bayer, TE, Bowling Green, Sr. (6’4″, 257 lbs)
Bayer, who has started 36 consecutive games and is averaging 15.3 yards per reception in 2013, should receive NFL consideration given his size and athleticism.
Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Aaron Donald, Alex Bayer, Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, Bowling Green, Devin Street, Game Previews, Jason Hendricks, Jerry "BooBoo" Gates, Pittsburgh, Pizza Bowl, Prospect Previews, Shaun Joplin, Tom Savage