- By the end of Sunday night's wild UCLA–Texas A&M finish, Josh Rosen had the attention of the football world. What did the NFL think of his miracle rally? Plus, more notes from Week 1.
The frenetic rally led by quarterback Josh Rosen that brought UCLA back from a 34-point deficit to beat Texas A&M was one of the biggest stories of Week 1. Rosen’s statements about amateurism, politics and more have made him a polarizing subject off the field, but no one questions his arm talent, and as I said in my Heisman Top Five, anyone who had doubts about his toughness only needed to watch the tape of this game. Once he got rolling Sunday night, almost everything he did worked.
On Monday morning I reached out to a longtime NFL personnel man for his insight on how other pro scouts might have viewed that performance.
“Just finished watching replay,” he texted back. “You have to have some luck, and he definitely got away with a number of poor choices. However, he can stand in the pocket and deliver the football with different arm angles and off platform. The question is from the neck up, he’s got everything from the neck down. Plenty of arm, easy release, accuracy when moving from one receiver to the next. This comeback puts him in position to build off the win, can he sustain the momentum, will he play better and be more complete in the next few games, etc, etc. thought he had a better opening day than [Josh] Allen or [Sam] Darnold, but long way to go.”
Rosen’s best weapon, 6' 5", 235-pound tight end Caleb Wilson, actually began his college career as a walk-on at USC. Wilson, the son of former Trojans defensive line coach Chris Wilson, was unstoppable Sunday night, catching 15 passes for 208 yards. The Aggies simply had no answer for him. While he worked the middle of the field, receivers Darren Andrews (12 catches for 142 yards) and Jordan Lasley (four catches for 100 yards) also deserve credit for finding soft spots as Rosen heated up.
“He’s a coach’s kid, he has great football acumen and really good hands,” UCLA first-year offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said of Wilson. “He just knows how to get open.”
Fisch deserves a lot of credit for the Bruins’ offensive explosion in the second half. After their first two drives of the second half ended in a fumble and a three-and-out, the Bruins scored touchdowns on their next five, covering 75, 85, 96, 74 and 66 yards, with the longest possession taking two minutes and four seconds. “We made some tweaks after we knew what they were doing,” he said, but more than anything, the Bruins just settled down. “We said, ‘This is not us. We’ve practiced hours and hours. Run what we know.’”
Fisch said Rosen’s composure that impressed him most about his starter’s performance. “The bullets were flying Sunday night, and he was very business-like. Very mature. He just handled himself in a way that was way above his years.
“We’re down five touchdowns against an SEC team playing on national TV. He got knocked down eight times, and they weren’t just light hits. He’s tough as nails. He never flinched. We had to throw the ball a lot more than we wanted to. In our system we don’t want a 60-pass game. You never saw one negative reaction from him or anyone on our team.”
Fisch also pointed out Rosen had to force some balls just due to the game situation—“When you’re down by that many, you feel like you’ve got to make something happen.”
The Bruins didn’t have much time to relish the wild win. On Saturday afternoon, they get a visit from 2–0 Hawaii. Fisch said the Bruins have a choice: "You either start over or resume playing. I told our guys we gotta resume playing. We gotta treat this week like it’s Quarter Five.”
Week 1 notes
• I picked Oklahoma to win the Big 12, but after seeing both the Sooners and Oklahoma State from field level last week, I’m tempted to switch to the Cowboys. Quarterback Mason Rudolph is spectacular, as is the rest of the offense. They have the best collection of wideouts in the country, a group that goes no fewer than eight deep, but I was also wowed by their stable of young running backs.
Justice Hill emerged as a true freshman star last year, filling a huge void while playing through a torn labrum, and this year he has added 15 pounds (up to about 200) and a more physical edge to his game. Hill ran for 132 yards on 15 carries against Tulsa; his freshman backups J.D. King and LD Brown almost reached 100 yards themselves, each breaking off runs of 70-plus yards. And the most explosive one of the bunch may be the only running back who didn’t see the field Thursday: 6' 1", 200-pound freshman Chuba Hubbard. He has blazing speed and is expected to run for his native Canada as a sprinter in the future.
“In two years I think people are gonna talk about our running backs the way they’re talking about our wide receivers now,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy says.
The credit goes to former Oklahoma State RB coach Marcus Arroyo for the scouting work on these kids. Arroyo beat out Alabama and Oregon for Hubbard before being hired away to be the Ducks’ co-offensive coordinator.
• No division had a more impressive opening week than the Big Ten East. After the top of the East contained three of the best teams in college football a year ago, the teams looking up at them in the division standings proved quite formidable in Week 1. Indiana gave No. 2 Ohio State all it could handle for a half on Thursday, then Rutgers gave Pac-12 champ Washington trouble for about three quarters the next night. Maryland ambushed Texas with a potent offensive attack and took down the heavily favored Horns, 51–41. Michigan mauled SEC East champ Florida in a game that wasn’t as close as the 33–17 final score indicated, while Michigan State, a 35–10 winner over Bowling Green, and Penn State, a 52–0 winner over Akron, did what was expected of them against MAC opponents.
• The best offensive guard in college football almost gave up the sport when he was in 10th grade. As the new coach at Las Vegas’s Chaparral High School, Bill Froman inherited a 230-pound sophomore lineman who had had a bad experience with the previous staff. The kid’s dad wanted him to go into construction.
“I begged the family to let him play one more year,” Froman says.
The kid, Will Hernandez, blossomed into a powerhouse. He excelled as a two-way lineman, as a shotput and discus thrower and as a wrestler. According to Froman, USC and Arizona were interested in Hernandez but backed off when they learned he wasn’t going to qualify academically. UTEP was the one school that waited for Hernandez, and that decision has paid off: Now 6' 3" and 330 pounds, Hernandez has started every game for the Miners since 2014. Pro Football Focus graded him as its top guard last season after he allowed just one pressure in 380 attempts.
UTEP coach Sean Kugler knows a thing or two about the position—his position coach in his playing days at UTEP was Andy Reid, and before Kugler got the head coaching job at his alma mater he was the offensive line coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“He’s an explosive kid who can move and bend,” said Kugler, adding that Hernandez needs to continue to refine his technique and get better with his hands because he relies so much on his strength.
I spoke with an NFL scout last week who said Hernandez is the top guard prospect in the country. He doesn’t have great length, but he’s athletic, extremely strong and plays with a mean streak. Hernandez could have gone pro last year, but he promised his grandmother as a high school sophomore that he would graduate college. In December he’ll get his degree in Kinesiology.
In the offseason, Hernandez trains with World’s Strongest Man competitor Mark Philippi, who says that Hernandez could be even better at strongman competitions than he was if he opted to pursue that.
• Stat of the Week: Wyoming QB Josh Allen has gotten a lot of NFL hype for his huge arm and mobility, but in two games against Power 5 opponents he has thrown one touchdown and seven interceptions. That doesn’t mean Allen won’t be a first-rounder or a good pro quarterback someday, but I suspect those numbers will stay with NFL personnel folks. True, the talent around Allen is not at the level of a team like Iowa, which beat the Cowboys 24–3 in Week 1, but last year’s Wyoming team did have two skill guys (running back Brian Hill and tight end Jacob Hollister) make NFL rosters, and a third, receiver Tanner Gentry, is on the Bears’ practice squad. Offensive lineman Chase Roullier also made the Redskins’ roster.