Boots on the Ground: Mater Dei @ Centennial

Our volunteer Southern California Recruiting Observer Bob Miller, an admitted Friday night lights addict, Southern California-style, took in the recent Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA) vs. Centennial (Corona, CA) game and reports in with his impressions & general evaluation of a couple of prospective student-athletes currently on the recruiting radar of Stanford Football for the '08 and '09 classes

"Boots on the Ground"

Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA) @ Centennial (Corona, CA) 

What does it mean when the CO assigns you to the featured game; you've arrived, your work has been noted; damn I was excited to head to Santa Ana stadium for the match up between Santa Ana Mater Dei and Corona Centennial. (Let's not dwell on the fact that I am the only grunt in Sergeant Major Squeri's Bootleg Legion silly enough to volunteer for this duty.) The Santa Ana Bowl holds 9,000 fans and most if not all seats were sold. A great turn-out for this highly anticipated game. Most of one side of the venue is pre-sold to Mater Dei season ticket holders. I had hoped to run into the school's marketing guy so I could learn how you sell 4,000 season tickets to high school football; thought it might be interesting to some of the guys in our own Athletic Department. Unfortunately it wasn't to be. These guys are so good at promoting the Mater Dei program they use Anaheim Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Katela right near Disneyland, I think that's the name Arte Moreno is using now for his team, for the annual Pope Bowl- the game against another Catholic powerhouse, Servite. Its good to have professional football back in LA, although compared to the Mater Dei machine, I hesitate to refer to the Al Davis & Georgia Frontiere outfits as "professional". The only disappointment for this fan was that Cardinal hoops star and Centennial alum Anthony Goods was not in the house.

Game Night::

Mater Dei is currently rated #1 in California, # 7 nationally in the USA Today prep "Super 25" poll. Centennial, the 2000, 2002, & 2004 C.I.F. Division V Champion, is #2 in California and #17 nationally. Beyond the ranking, however, the game had exactly that for which what a fan would hope- contrasting offensive styles of play that are executed by superior athletes. Mater Dei won the shoot out 51-37, but in the third quarter trailed in a game for the first time this year. The two teams produced more offense than any high school game in California history. Mater Dei produced 621 yards of total offense, 256 rushing yards on 41 carries and 365 passing yards on 21-32 by red-hot prospect Matt Barkley. (Please make a mental note of this reporter's shortcomings. In an earlier report Mater Dei was described as a "pass-only" team. Better than 6.25 yd. per attempt confirms they can move the ball on the ground when they choose to.) Centennial generated 679 yards of total offense, a ridiculous 500 on the ground and another 179 through the air. 

The different offensive approaches of the two teams are immediately visible when the teams break the huddle and line up over the ball. Centennial has a very athletic roster that is primarily focused on creating seams for their shotgun option offense. Quarterback Matt Scott, an Arizona commit, and Ryan Bass, a Fresno State/ ASU lean, exploit the seams. The Centennial linemen average under 250 pounds, set up in very wide splits- at least two yards, and move very well in space to double teams at the point of attack. {See T.J. - your good work training up the troops is not lost.} Scott makes the reads and will exploit a belly play to Bass, hold the ball and run off tackle, or run an option pitch play wide with Bass. Every play is initiated from a shotgun formation. They have the athletes to make the system work like a charm. Bass gained 324 yards on 43 carries while Scott added another 176 on perhaps a dozen carries. Mater Dei's approach is entirely different. Their first priority is the care and feeding of quarterback Barkley. They use very narrow line splits- a foot or so, to establish a pocket with lineman averaging 275 pounds. They are not as athletic, but are very strong. They had success running the ball when a tackle could collapse the line or they could get manned up and remain locked on. When a guard or tackle sets up on the second level, backside pursuit is effectively cut off.

The Players:

Matt Scott of Centennial is the fourth-rated quarterback prospect in California, 14th-rated nationally. Stanford "offeree" Matt Barkley of Mater Dei could well be the top-rated quarterback nationally in the class of '09. Watching the two contribute to their team's success confirms that ratings, accurate as they may be, might not be too important to the fan in evaluating the success of their chosen school's recruiting efforts. Skills must match systems; and players must fit together over four or five recruiting classes to perform together. (For those of us hoping to build upon the biggest upset known to mankind, coaching/system stability is a very good thing. Let's hope Harbaugh has the budget to extend our guys.) Scott & Barkley have very different skill sets. In this particular game, Scott demonstrated superb athletic skills. He is fast, he has balance, and he is precise in decisions while executing the option offense. He sees the angles and instinctively manages speed and distance. Every time Scott touched the ball and had a bit of space, the decibel level in the stadium elevated significantly. 176 yards at over 12 yards per carry against an opponent with quality athletes says something. Partnered with Bass in a scheme to create seams, defenders are damned if you do and damned if you don't. Playing with quick linemen who can make adjustments on the fly, they are a perfect example of the sum of the parts. In this game though, Scott showed a much more limited passing repertoire. He has a very strong arm and his athleticism provides a quick set up and release. However, Scott was not nearly as accurate with the ball as Barkley. While it appears in the stat sheet in the completion percentage, Scott was 5-14 for 99 yards in the first half; the less obvious outcome is a reduction in yards after the catch. This point can be illustrated with the following game picture of Mater Dei receiver Robbie Boyer taking a Barkley pass in full stride and side stepping the Centennial db as he tries to make a tackle.,0,2394052.photogallery?coll=la-headlines-sports-highschool&index=6  Through out the game; Mater Dei receivers were hit in the numbers in motion. Scott was generally asked to execute on wide receiver screens and other short routes. He did not demonstrate the ability to put air under the ball to connect with a receiver between the levels of the defense or to go down field in this game.

Barkley on the other hand is much larger, less mobile quarterback. This is not to suggest he is feet in concrete, he can move to buy time, but he doesn't appear to be a threat to carry the ball downfield. Barkley is 6'4" and 225 lbs. while Scott is 6'3" and 200 lbs. Scott will need to handle the pounding if he is going to get 10 or more carries in a college offense while also taking the sacks, hits and hurries while he delivers the ball. Barkley starts the process as he approaches the line, he barks out instructions to the players, he sees the field and the defense as the play gets under way, and then he does his thing, and does it very well.,0,2394052.photogallery?coll=la-headlines-sports-highschool&index=4  In the Mater Dei scheme, targets in motion, coming out of breaks, he is lethal. Against the active Centennial defense he completed 60% of his passes with misses where only his guy had a shot at the ball. He demonstrates very good pocket awareness, rarely distracted by the commotion around him. Even as he moves, he is looking down field to make a play with his arm. In a system designed for a pocket passer, I can't imagine a better fit. Neither of these kids seem like "the next Elway", the very rare dual-threat talent that could kill an opponent either way. four-star running back Ryan Bass was the fastest kid on the field, I suspect his 4.45 40 time is honest. In addition he has the balance for the occasional spin move and certainly has elusiveness. He is obviously durable as well with 43 carries for 324 yards in this match up. Early in the third quarter, Centennial scored to put Mater Dei behind for the first time this year. After Mater Dei answered with a TD of their own, Centennial went on a 97-yard TD drive powered by Bass and Scott. I thought chasing these two was wearing down the Mater Dei defense. But Barkley then turned the game around and the Mater Dei line took over.

Stanford tight end "offeree" Khaled Holmes, four-star rated by, anchors the left side of the line at tackle and Chris Ward a 6'5" 285 lb. sophomore starts at guard. Over and over, they provided Mater Dei with the opportunity to advance the ball and control the clock in the second half. Not that they were taking the air out of the ball, after all they put 51 points on the board, Mater Dei had the option to make first downs behind Holmes and Ward. Holmes is a very strong and aggressive player who loves the physical contact. He has already mastered the "Bush Push", on one occasion moving the running back, the ball, and the pile forward for an additional four yards. However, he is not the most agile of players. Beyond duty at tackle, he is used as a "Refrigerator Perry" full back on short yardage goal line situations. With a full head of steam he can move the line of scrimmage at the point of attack, but on one occasion when Centennial got penetration, Holmes whiffed, the back was blown up in the backfield, and the resulting fumble was recovered by Centennial. At present he would seem to be an excellent fit in a power-running, pocket-passing offense. I am less certain he would be as dominant in a pulling scheme from a guard position. The sophomore Ward looks like the next dominant line man at Mater Dei. He is obviously a big kid and can move fairly well. Ward stays low and exploits leverage, and he looks for things to hit. He would be a player schools will want to monitor as he matures.

Both of these schools put very well coached teams with plus athletes out on the field. They are likely to be home to future D-1 athletes.

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