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January 15, 2005

More to All American Bowl than blowout

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - The U.S. Army All-American Bowl was highlighted by many excellent performances and plenty of commitments. While the West dominated the action and won the game 35-3, there were plenty of nice plays on both sides.

-California wide receiver DeSean Jackson couldn't be stopped for most of the game, flashing his speed and tremendous ball skills, but he also made a couple of huge blunders. With 39 seconds left in the first quarter, Jackson beat Tennessee commitment Demetrice Morley for what appeared to be a 50-plus-yard touchdown pass. However, the speedy wide out decided it was showtime as he headed into the end zone and decided to do a flying leap at the 5-yard line. The only problem for Jackson was that he touched the ball down at the 1-yard line and also drew an unsportsmanlike penalty on the play, putting the West in a 1st-and-goal situation at the 16-yard line instead of in the end zone. The West scored two plays later, but it was an embarrassing moment for Jackson.

He also botched a punt return that resulted in a fumble recovered by East linebacker Brian Cushing. However, Jackson was clearly the most explosive player on the football field and finished with seven catches for 141 yards and a score and also threw for a touchdown. He also had a 63-yard TD called back because of a penalty. Many thought Jackson would commit to Southern Cal this weekend but he said he was still torn between the Trojans and Cal. Whoever gets him, gets a great player.

-The news of the day was that Mississippi defensive tackle Jerrell Powe was playing in the game after we were told on Friday that he would not participate. Not only did Powe play, but he played well, making a couple of nice plays behind the line of scrimmage and showing his quickness off the ball despite carrying 366 pounds. Powe also shocked almost everyone with his commitment to LSU over Auburn. He said he made the decision last week, but Auburn is still in the mix as well. He has an official visit set with LSU on Jan. 28 and said that his comfort level on that visit will determine if he stays committed.

-East linebacker Derek Nicholson was all over the field on Saturday, making tackle after tackle and reading plays very well. He's very explosive and sheds blocks well. He led the East team in tackles. Cushing also did some nice things on the field, helping to force a fumble, recovering another and reading the West's hook-and-ladder play very well to force a loss.

-Injuries played a part for the East squad as running back Elan Lewis re-injured his left knee, the same knee he hurt in practice during the week, and missed almost all of the game. Lewis was playing with a brace already and it hasn't been determined how serious the injury is. Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, who pancaked West defensive end Aaron Lewis twice on the first two series of the game, left with a quad injury and played sparingly after the first quarter. Also injured was wide receiver Fred Rouse, who hurt his ankle earlier in the week and re-aggregated the injury in the game. Rouse played through the injury, although he was clearly limping.

-West defensive tackle Roy Miller had a very strong game overall while fellow Texas tackle Demarcus Granger also played well although he wasn't as consistent. The East guards and center had trouble with the inside linemen because they are all offensive tackles in high school and not used to playing so close to the ball.

-Credit Mississippi cornerback Derek Pegues with his man-to-man coverage on East wide receiver Patrick Turner. Despite giving away seven inches to Turner, Pegues used his speed and leaping ability to shut down Turner on three long pass attempts, something none of the East cornerbacks could do all week. The West secondary played very well throughout the game, a matchup that most thought would favor the East. Meanwhile, the East secondary struggled all game as future safety prospect Adam Myers-White was on Jackson in man coverage a couple of times and cornerback Michael Ray Garvin was called for a holding penalty. Garvin did make a nice play on a pass in the end zone and Jamario O'Neal played well, but too many players were playing out of position. Myers-White is not a corner, Morley is not a safety (he lined up at safety quite a bit) and Garvin gave up size in every matchup. Safety Kenneth Phillips was quiet for most of the game and cornerback Victor Harris was beaten for a touchdown as the secondary missed many assignments.

-Who was the best running back on the field? That's a tough question to answer since none of them got too many carries. Jonathan Stewart had a couple of big carries and showed tremendous ability to break tackles, but he also fumbled twice. Nebraska commitment Marlon Lucky was bottled up early but had a great 18-yard touchdown run. East tailback Jason Gwaltney made yardage where there wasn't any and was also a great blocker while Toney Baker only got one carry. With so much talent in the backfield of each team, it would have been nice to see a few more running plays.

-Lucky was clearly the most popular runner on the West squad as he drew cheers for every carry from the few hundred Nebraska fans who made the trip for the game. Miller was also quite popular amongst the fans, saluting the Texas faithful with a "Hook 'Em Horns" sign as he departed the field.

-The West quarterbacks certainly enjoyed a lot more protection than the East and the wide receivers ran better routes. Mark Sanchez threw a couple of beautiful touchdown passes (one called back due to a penalty) while Ryan Perrilloux showed off his mobility and strong arm as well. Jimmy Barnes was the most comfortable player in the West offense for obvious reasons (his dad was head coach) and he completed some nice passes as well. For the East, each quarterback was forced to run for their lives on most plays and try to throw on the run to receivers who didn't come back to the ball too well. At the very least, each was able to show their scrambling ability.

-The hit of the day had to be Gwaltney's block on Powe. The 230-pounder flattened the 366-pound Powe in pass protection in the first quarter, one play after Powe nearly tackled him for a loss that ended up as a 9-yard gain. Runner up for hit of the game? Maryland-bound defensive end Melvin Alaeze flattening Barnes in the fourth quarter on a sack is tied with Kentucky defensive end Earl Heyman, who destroyed wide receiver D.J. Hord on a flanker screen on the West's second possession of the game.

-The center-quarterback exchange was a bit shoddy at times because of the lack of familiarity between the quarterbacks and their centers and the fact that the East was using an offensive tackle, Michael Oher, at center and forcing him to snap out of the shotgun.

-Arkansas wide receiver Slick Shelley lived up to his name, making a bunch of catches and finding a way to get open easily, especially when the East was forced to play cover three defense.

-Offensive tackle Alex Boone, an Ohio State commitment, showed some fire as usual in the game as he took exception to Rey Maualuga dumping punter Zoltan Mesko after a blocked field goal. Maualuga leaped over a lineman and made the field goal block, showing great athleticism. After the block he leveled the first player he saw, which happened to be Mesko who was the holder on the play. Boone then started a small scrum standing up for his teammate. He won't be doing that for Mesko ever again however, as Mesko is headed to Michigan.

-While both Maualuga and Ryan Reynolds looked good a few times for the West, the best linebacker seemed to be either Travis Beckum or Phillip Dillard. Beckum made a few nice tackles and was a standout on special teams while Dillard had an interception and ran down a couple of plays nicely. The linebackers weren't called on that much however because of the strong play of the defensive line.

-Rouse was the most impressive wide receiver for the East, catching a few passes including the longest play on offense of the day for his team, but he also gave up on a couple of routes and seemed a bit frustrated by his ankle injury and the East quarterbacks being forced to scramble so much.

-The double reverse pass to Perrilloux by Jackson was a thing of beauty as the wide receiver showed a strong and accurate arm and the quarterback showed good hands. This was a play that the West had been working on all week in practice.

-The tight ends on the West were pretty invisible due to the spread offense as Dajleon Farr and Martellus Bennett combined for only one catch on the day. On the East side, Anthony Moeaki caught a couple of tight end screens but he was limited most of the day as well.


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