Some notes on how the top prospects fared in last night’s bowl game:
- West Virginia defensive tackle Chris Neild may not be selected until late on Day 3, but he showed last night why he’ll end up being a valuable reserve for the team that takes him. At 6’1 5/8″, 307 lbs., Neild isn’t a mammoth run-plugger, but he does a very good job of using his big mitts to control blockers. In the game, he repeatedly displayed the ability to disengage from his man, move laterally, and bring down the ballcarrier. When he played too high, as happened on a few occasions, Neild did get washed out of the play by double teams. But as long as he stays low, Neild can be a deceptively stout interior lineman, using great technique to make up for his lack of super size. In fact, his stout play could get him some looks as a 3-4 nose tackle.
- NC State Linebacker Nate Irving had a fitting end to what was a tremendous comeback season. After a broken leg suffered in a car accident forced him to sit out all of ’09, Irving came back strong this season with 20.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks. The playmaking LB did some of his best work last night as a blitzer, charging in and batting down a pass on one play, as well as pressuring Geno Smith on a few others. He also was disruptive lining up as a defensive end on passing downs: on a play that sealed the win for NC State, Irving bulled back West Virginia’s left tackle, then spun off the black and strip-sacked quarterback Geno Smith. At times, Irving did look half a step slow trying to chase down Noel Devine, but he mostly made up for it with tremendous hustle, which led to him being in perfect position to recover Devine’s 4th quarter fumble. While on the smaller side at 6’1″, 233 lbs., Irving’s instincts and playmaking ability should make him an attractive option to NFL teams, perhaps as early as the 3rd round.
- Pint-sized WVU speedsters Noel Devine and Jock Sanders both had up & down nights. Sanders had an explosive 60 yard kickoff return, but he also matched Noel Devine with his own fumble on a muffed punt. Neither had a standout performance on offense, with the two of them combining for less than 150 total yards from scrimmage. But of the two, Devine arguably had the less impressive night. NC State’s swarming defense didn’t give him many openings, but Devine also didn’t make many positive plays. After dealing with toe issues all season, Devine didn’t appear to be making very sharp cuts. The beat-up running back will have to show in the offseason that he’s fully recovered from his string of injuries; if he times slower than expected at the Combine, his stock could take a major hit.
- Perhaps the most impressive performance in last night’s game came from Mountaineer defensive end Bruce Irvin. The JUCO transfer took a roundabout path to Morgantown, yet he made an immediate impact this fall, notching a dozen sacks. And Irvin wreaked havoc all evening, notching two sacks and stripping the ball on the second one. The 235-pound defensive is still developing into a good all-around football player, but he excelled in an every down role last night. If he builds a repertoire of rush moves around his explosive first step, Irvin could be an even more disruptive force for WVU next year and have a very bright future in the NFL.