"Boots on the Ground": Mater Dei vs. Crespi

Our volunteer Southern California Recruiting Observer Bob Miller, an admitted Friday night lights addict, took in the recent Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA) vs. Crespi (Encino, CA) playoff game, won by Crespi, 48-26 and reports in with his impressions & evaluation of several prospective student-athletes currently or previously on the recruiting radar of Stanford Football for the '08 and '09 classes.

"Boots on the Ground": Mater Dei vs. Crespi (11/23/07) 

Friday night's second round (quarterfinal)playoff game between Crespi and Mater Dei was expected to be the classic defense vs. offense match up. Mater Dei behind junior QB Matt Barkley has put up numbers all year while Crespi has dominated with their defense; routinely holding opponents well below their usual point totals. Crespi opponents have averaged only 11 points per game and their opponents have included some of the better offensive teams in Southern California including Corona Centennial. In addition to a third look at Barkley, the game also provided an opportunity to see Joseph Fauria, TE prospect who is committed to Notre Dame and UCLA safety recruit E.J. Woods. Fauria had been a Stanford target and Harbaugh had visited the school on an LA trip after the commitment to the Irish.

For those readers not as familiar with the Southern California high school football scene, Crespi Carmelite, a 600-student prep school, is the defending two-time CIF Division X Champion and defending three-time Del Rey League Champion. They play in the brand new Serra League in Division I (PAC-5 Conference). Under third-year head coach Jeremiah Ross, the Crespi Celts returned to Division I last season for the first time since 1993.

The Game:

While there was an ebb and flow to the game, it was perhaps a bit anticlimactic. Between the Crespi defense and Mater Dei execution problems, Crespi built a 24-0 lead during the first quarter and a half and the Monarchs could never get out of the hole. Three of Mater Dei's first five drives ended with turnovers. The other two drives were three & out. The second drive was over when Barkley and the center fumbled the exchange. The third drive ended on a fumble by Mojica, the running back, and the fifth drive ended on an interception. The five drives produced only 32 yards net so Crespi had the ball on a short field and converted the three turnovers into 21 points.

Mater Dei's last two drives of the first half and first drive of the second half produced touchdowns. The Mater Dei coach made an interesting choice after the first two, electing to try for two- point conversions that failed on incomplete passes. Mater Dei was only able to reduce the deficit to 24-19. Barkley passed for all 188 yards covered by the drives on 10 completions on 15 attempts. Over the balance of the game Crespi out scored Mater Dei 24-7 producing a final score of 48-26.

Crespi accomplished two important tasks in frustrating the Monarch attack. As noted after earlier visits to watch Mater Dei, Barkley is a pocket passer with something less than Dennis Dixon mobility. Crespi was able to get some penetration and was able to impact the timing of the passing game, force Barkley to move, and attacked his legs even when they could not get a sack. Barkley's noted accuracy was compromised when he couldn't step into his throws. During the critical first five drives of the game he was 2 of 10 for 22 yards and the noted interception. To appreciate the performance of the Crespi defense it must be noted the quarterback they held in check, Matt Barkley, set a new California single-season passing yardage mark during the game, an astounding 3,560 yards. Secondly, Crespi shut down the Monarch running game. When I had seen Mater Dei take on Corona Centennial, a game that set a new total offense record for a high school game in the state of California, Mater Dei had turned to the ground game during the second half to control the clock gaining more than 250 yards. Against Crespi they were simply stoned. Yes, they ran less when they fell behind early, but they never could establish a credible threat on the ground. In this game, they netted all of five yards on 13 attempts.

The Players:

During the playoffs, Khaled Holmes has been playing both left tackle and defensive tackle. This is the third time I have seen him play, the first time on the defensive side of the ball. While I have been impressed with his strength, I have had questions about his athleticism and movement. These issues were in evidence in the game against Crespi. The Mater Dei line was unable to open holes against athletic kids of similar size. The inability of the line to open holes for the running game or to provide Matt Barkley with reliable pocket protection determined the outcome of the game.

Unlike Jurrell Casey, the Long Beach Poly defensive tackle who also plays guard and is interested in USC, Holmes does not have the quickness/ explosion necessary to gain a first mover advantage. Casey's physical skills and technique allow him to routinely beat double teams. As an aside, Casey's Poly team won again on Friday and has moved on to a match up with Orange Lutheran next weekend. Orange Lutheran is the defending large school state champion. As to Holmes college future, considering that USC has already obtained commitments from three of the top tackle prospects in the country and a 320 lb guard from Texas, I wonder if Holmes is perhaps plan B for SC. I would be interested in understanding our own staff's definition of a "prototypical" guard for our system. Fletcher had difficulty with an athletic ND DT. I could see Holmes having similar issues against a kid like Jurrell Casey.

Crespi's E.J. Woods is a UCLA soft verbal. He may be concerned about the coaching situation. He is being recruited as a safety although he plays running back and linebacker in high school. Scout has him ranked as the #10 safety prospect. Beyond UCLA, he has offers from Cal, WA, Michigan, Oregon & Penn State. Against Mater Dei he displayed a wide range of physical skills and clearly is a playmaker. When Centennial needed a play, Woods was available. On offense he demonstrated speed, vision and toughness. On defense he effectively negated Mater Dei's size up front with athletic skill and football instincts. Woods rushed for 125 yards on 19 carries including a 50-yard run for a TD. He ended Mater Dei's comeback attempt with an interception, he sacked Barkley, and I believe he also caused a fumble. He looks like a real good commitment for UCLA.

Joseph Fauria is a real good-looking player. He has true tight end size at 6'7" and 250 lbs. He is not a "tweener". In the scout evaluation his blocking ability, size and ability in the red zone are noted strength while his running ability is highlighted for improvement. From the performance in this game, I have to conclude the running ability may have been associated with a young guy adjusting to growth. He had two touchdowns against Mater Dei on passes of 23 & 40 yards. The second was principally yards after the catch. In a straight-line race to the end zone the DB's were unable to close significantly on Fauria. On the defensive side of the ball he was effective as a run-stuffer using athletic ability to make life difficult for the bigs on the Mater Dei line. In addition, he used his height to block at least one Barkley pass. Fauria comes from a strong gene pool with an uncle (Christian) that has had a long NFL career as a tight end.

After watching Matt Barkley for the third time, it is interesting to consider his abridged posted offer list in the Scout data base- USC, Cal, Florida, NE, Stanford, TN & UCLA. All other than Florida are what I would describe as more traditional pro style pocket passer systems. To this point, I would love to hear Harbaugh wax philosophical about the style of offense he hopes to establish at Stanford. I have no sense we are pining to be the next Oregon and hoping to attract a Dennis Dixon-type athlete to pass and run, but who knows? If this is the goal, Matt Barkley may not be the best fit. Matt Barkley has exceptional arm strength, reads quickly, makes good decisions and delivers the ball accurately. He has the complete confidence of his teammates and coaches. Barkley didn't master the mental part of the game without work and commitment. Nonetheless, he does need time and his ability to "create time" on his own with his feet is limited. In last night's game, the only contest where I saw him being pressured, his limitations/ opportunities for personal improvement were more clearly seen. Under the pressure from the Crespi defense, he completed less than 50% of his attempted passes, generated only seven yards per attempted pass and was intercepted twice. While these stats against this quality of competition are by no means poor, they are far below his usual standards. As a point of comparison, for the year- games leading up to the Crespi game, Barkley has completed 65% of his passes, generated 11 yards per attempt and has 32 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.

After watching as USC struggled to maintain a satisfactory performance level this year with offensive line injuries in spite of quality "young" depth, it seems imperative that Stanford upgrades its line play considerably. Starters need to win battles and we need quality back-ups in order to maintain a satisfactory performance level as injuries occur. We are obviously not at that level now. As Matt Barkley demonstrated last night, the best junior quarterback prospect in the country can't win a game if he isn't afforded an opportunity to utilize his own skills in partnership with his receivers. Given time he can throw it better than anyone I have seen in southern California, but he can't catch it.

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