Atkins caught my attention for the first time during the game when he showed a terrific burst against Idaho offensive guard Mike Iupati--a player considered to be one of the top offensive line prospects in this year's draft class. The 6-foot-1, 286-pound defensive tackle worked through Iupati's attempt to grab him with his left arm. Atkins then leaned into Iupati to gain leverage and circle behind the huge 6-foot-5, 325-pound lineman in pursuit of the ball carrier, Wayne State's Joique Bell, who was running to the opposite side. As Iupati spun around to keep up with Atkins, he was forced to nearly hug him from behind and fell forward on him to slow the Georgia Bulldog. Atkins responded by diving at Bell's feet while he was been toppled by Iupati, tripping Bell and holding him to a one-yard gain on a play that looked like it was going to be much more successful.
Yet another example of how hard Atkins is to stop once he sets his sights on a ball carrier came with less than two minutes left in the first half. Once again, Atkins got around Iupati on the right side, and as he circled behind him in pursuit of Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, Iupati grabbed the back of Atkins' jersey, clearly pulling it away from his body in a desperate attempt to slow him down. Iupati took three full steps with Atkins' jersey stretched far behind him, but Atkins just dragged Iupati along and managed to log an assist on Blount, limiting him to a short gain.
Atkins obviously wasn't too happy about having to drag Iupati along for the ride, so on the very next play, he bull-rushed the big man and made a nice move inside his right shoulder to get past him en route to a sack on Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield for a 12-yard loss.
The defensive tackle showed his brute strength on a bull rush during another running play, pushing his blocker into Blount, causing him to lose the momentum of his initial acceleration. South Florida defensive lineman George Selvie appeared to have Blount wrapped up for a three-yard loss as a result of Atkins' effort, but the running back slipped out of his grasp.
Atkins registered his pass break-up on a bull rush versus Notre Dame's Eric Olsen, tipping the pass as it sailed overhead and nearly resulting in an interception. During the same set of downs on a third-and-five, Atkins bull rushed Olsen again, but then spun inside him to get pressure on Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour, forcing him to throw an incomplete pass high and deep of the receiver. The failed pass forced the North team to punt.
While linebacker Jamar Chaney was given the Defensive Player of the Game Award, my pick would have been Atkins. He didn't get credit for logging as many tackles as Chaney, but he was more disruptive throughout the game.
Jamar Chaney l LB l Mississippi State
Chaney earned the Under Armour Defensive Player of the Game award after logging eight tackles--the highest total by any North or South Team player. He also recovered a fumble, but then lost the handle on the ball during the return.
On a third-and-one, he went toe-to-toe with bullish fullback Rashawn Jackson out of Virginia, stopping him after a yard, but Jackson got just enough of the ball past the chains to keep the North's drive alive. He also single-handedly took down hard-charging LeGarrette Blount after a six-yard gain, held Wayne State's Joique Bell to a one-yard gain, and teamed up with Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams to halt Lonyae Miller at the South's one-yard line after a two-yard gain.
Chaney also contributed on kickoff returns with an assist on Mardy Gilyard's 19-yard return near the end of the first quarter.
No one from either team caught more passes than Williams, who finished with six catches for 82 yards. He also gained 27 yards for his team on an end-around rushing play and could have gained more if it wouldn't have been for teammate Ciron Black out of LSU. Black was a lead blocker on the run and kept his head turned to the inside to look for someone to block, not realizing that he was drifting towards the sidelines and Williams while he ran, cutting off his running lane.
AP Photo/Dave Martin
Williams snatched a helmet-high 36-yard throw from Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson and added a yard after the catch during the team's first-half touchdown drive. And then Williams finished strong with four receptions in the fourth quarter, including a right sideline catch for eight yards, a short five-yard strike over the middle that he converted into a 13-yard gain, and catches for five and eleven yards on the team's final possession of the night.
Williams' 109 all-purpose yards helped him land the South Team's Most Outstanding Player award.
Dan Williams l DT l Tennessee
Willliams had a quiet night statistically, but had a big impact on the South team's defensive effort during Saturday's game.
He was credited with two tackles (one solo, one assist) and with breaking up a pass, but he ate up space inside and repeatedly shut the door on inside rushing lanes, forcing the North Team to focus much of their running game on the perimeter.
Williams used good technique and brute strength to command plenty of attention from the North's offensive linemen throughout the game.
Zac Robinson l QB l Oklahoma State
Robinson didn't have a perfect night by any means, but he definitely provided a spark and an up-tempo to the South's offense when he was on the field. And you couldn't help but be impressed by the fact that after standing around for nearly the entire first half waiting for his turn, he was sent in to run a two-minute drill as his first game action--and delivered big for his team with their first touchdown drive.
With just 1:20 left in the first half, Robinson threw a 36-yard pass to Jeremy Williams, who caught the ball helmet-high and tacked on a yard before being dropped at the North's 45-yard line. Two plays later, while being pressured by Murray State defensive end Austen Lane, the Oklahoma State quarterback stepped up and fired a perfect ball to Florida wide receiver Riley Cooper, hitting him right in the numbers in the middle of the field for a 19-yard gain. Two plays later, with just 13 seconds remaining, Robinson stayed in the pocket and noticed that Alabama tight end Colin Peek had just run past the inside shoulder of San Jose State linebacker Justin Cole. He launched the ball while Peek was at the 9-yard line, timing it so that the ball arrived at goal line for the tight end in stride--and centered between four defenders who had created a box around Peek. That five-play drive allowed the South to head in to their locker room with some optimism, trailing by just four points instead of 11.
AP Photo/Dave Martin
During third quarter action, Robinson was pressured by Michigan's Brandon Graham and Cal's Tyson Alualu who had both beaten their blockers with edge speed rushes. Robinson kept his cool, stepped up in the pocket and completed a 26-yard throw to The Citadel's Andre Roberts at the North 47-yard line with four defenders boxing him in.
While the Oklahoma State signal-caller was impressive on many fronts, he did make a few mistakes. He held onto the ball too long on a third-quarter play, allowing Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham to force a fumble that was recovered by Alualu near midfield. He threw a few passes low while on the run and dropped the ball during another play, prior to throwing a late-game interception that was snagged by Sean Weatherspoon. But overall, Robinson was one of the few bright spots on a South Team offense that struggled to get into any sustained rhythm when Florida's Tim Tebow and West Virginia's Jarrett Brown were at the helm.
Robinson finished the night completing 12 of 21 throws for 176 yards--nearly 80 yards more than any of the six quarterbacks who played in the game--and a touchdown. Two of his incomplete passes weren't his fault--one was dropped and the other was a completed pass to Williams, but the officials incorrectly called it an incomplete pass. The Miami Dolphins coaches obviously recognized that he had the hot hand on that night, allowing him to throw 21 times versus a total of just 19 by Tebow and Brown combined.
Watson showed good pass and run defense skills while also creating a turnover for his team during the game. But most of his noteworthy plays came while defending the run.
During first quarter action, the 6-foot-1, 232-pound linebacker blew in unblocked off the edge and got good pressure on the quarterback. On another play, he lined up on the right side and saw a run developing to the opposite side. He was patient for a brief moment as the run developed, and then attacked quickly, cutting to his left behind the offensive line so that he could wrap up the legs of Fresno State running back Lonyae Miller, limiting him to a two-yard gain. From the left side, he used his hands well to fight off a block by Wisconsin tight end Garrett Graham and then used excellent lateral pursuit to take Miller down again, holding him to a one-yard gain on a third-and-2 as Miller attempted to get to the edge on a sweep.
On a third-and-goal at the one, Oregon running back Legarrette Blount tried to run left, but Watson brought pressure off the right edge and got his body inside Blount's lead blocker, Rashawn Jackson. Watson fell into Blount's rushing lane, tripping and slowing the back so that Terrence Cody and Myron Rolle could wrap him up. The North tried again on fourth down, but failed to score.
The Florida State linebacker then showed everyone that he plays a full 60 minutes--even when his team is clearly out of the contest. After Sean Weatherspoon intercepted a pass with less than two minutes to play, Watson retaliated by forcing a fumble on the very next play to give his team one more possession before the end of the game.
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