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Forde-Yard Dash: 10 Breakout Players Already Standing Out

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where love conquers all—even after being conquered in crushing fashion by Jacksonville State:

MORE DASH: Panic Time? | 2–0 Starts | USC Wish List

THIRD QUARTER: BREAKOUT DUDES

Ten players that weren’t exactly top-of-mind when the season began, but are making their presence felt now:

Anthony Richardson (21), Florida quarterback. Oh, the intrigue is real. Richardson has seen only spot duty backing up Emory Jones, but when he plays the results are dazzling. The 6’ 4”, 235-pounder is 10th nationally in rushing—and he’s only carried the ball 11 times. He’s completed six passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaging 21.23 yards per play, a preposterous number for a quarterback, nearly double the second-most productive QB in America (Phil Jurkovec of Boston College).

Naturally, Richardson’s combination of Cam Newton and Tim Tebow talents have Florida fans frothing for more. Especially with No. 1 Alabama coming to Gainesville Saturday.

Florida QB Anthony Richardson stiff-arms a defender

Coach Dan Mullen is not ready to go there, citing the nuances of the QB position that remain elusive for a young man who has played only bits and pieces of seven career college games. In particular, Mullen in his press conference Monday mentioned a play in Florida’s opening win over Florida Atlantic: “He drops back, misses a protection check, then misses the hot throw, then misses the primary read, and then scrambles around and runs and everybody thinks, ‘What a spectacular play!’ “

Mullen, who has never lacked for self-confidence, isn’t exactly sitting around waiting for fans or media to tell him what to do with his quarterbacks. “I don't listen to many suggestions ... unless you're in our staff meeting,” he said. “I don't run down to [UF Health] Shands Hospital and say, ‘You should do this procedure this way.’ “

Fair enough. But if the Gators start slowly against the Crimson Tide with Jones at quarterback, there will be 88,000 fans in The Swamp offering their advice. (Mullen, who is 0–10 as a head coach against Alabama, might need to change his mojo when the opponent is Nick Saban.)

Brennan Armstrong (22), Virginia quarterback. He’s third nationally in passing yards per game, fifth in efficiency, and now finds himself occasionally catching passes (one for 18 yards) as offensive coordinator Robert Anae gets creative with his QBs. After a 405-yard, five-touchdown performance against Illinois, Armstrong’s efficiency rating is up nearly 60 points from last season. Originally committed to Minnesota, Armstrong flipped to Virginia in late 2017 and took over the starting position last season. This year he’s kicked it up a notch, just in time for a matchup with North Carolina star QB Sam Howell.

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Arnold Ebiketie (23), Penn State defensive end. He was a productive player hidden in the relative obscurity of Temple’s 1–6 season a year ago. Now he’s leading the Nittany Lions in tackles for loss (3.5) and had a huge blocked field goal in the opening upset of Wisconsin. Ebiketie was a known commodity within the game and had offers from schools in every Power 5 conference after he entered the transfer portal. Penn State, which had an acute need at end, was a logical next stop and it’s been a productive arrangement.

Mitchell Agude (24), UCLA linebacker. He was productive in 2020 after arriving from Riverside Community College, but Agude has wreaked even more havoc thus far in ’21. He’s forced four fumbles, two in each game, while batting down a pair of passes and leading the team in total tackles with 11. The Bruins are the only team in the Pac-12 that hasn’t allowed 100 total rushing yards on the season, in part because of active disruptors like Agude.

KJ Jefferson (25), Arkansas quarterback. Razorbacks fans were criticizing Jefferson after some season-opening struggles against Rice. They were saluting him after trucking Texas. Jefferson’s quest to be the Hogs’ starter was derailed last year by the arrival of Florida grad transfer Feleipe Franks, but now the job is his. Jefferson’s passing remains a work in progress, but he’s been a tough and productive runner. Combine the two elements and he’s given a team with a nasty defense the stability it needs at quarterback. Jefferson is the No. 2 QB rusher in the SEC, trailing only Richardson.

Blake Corum (26), Michigan running back. There are more carries available in the Michigan backfield after the transfer of Zach Charbonnet and the conversion to fewer quarterback runs, and Corum has become the big-play guy while sharing the position with Hassan Haskins. He broke a 67-yard touchdown run against Washington and had a 30-yarder against Western Michigan. He’s also the Wolverines’ leading receiver with five catches, one for a touchdown. Corum was an important recruiting win for Jim Harbaugh after also visiting Ohio State and having an offer from Penn State.

Josaiah Stewart (27), Coastal Carolina defensive end. The Chanticleers’ defense is built on disruption at the line of scrimmage, and freshman Stewart has been an early adapter to creating havoc in opposing backfields. In just his second college game, Stewart set a school record with 3 1/2 sacks against Kansas Friday night. Once committed to Boston College, the Massachusetts native flipped to Coastal before the Chants’ breakthrough season last August. Recruiting wins like that are one reason why Coastal is a program on the rise.

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Riley Moss (28), Iowa defensive back. He’s certainly a known commodity to Hawkeyes fans, but Moss has gained wider attention this season with two pick-sixes against Indiana and seven solo tackles against Iowa State. On a defense that is performing at a very high level against quality competition, the senior from Ankeny, Iowa, has been a headliner.

Michael Mayer (29), Notre Dame tight end. Mayer’s ascension to feature receiver for the Fighting Irish is no surprise—everyone saw it coming last year when he had 42 catches as a freshman. This season he’s grabbed 16 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, on an early pace to obliterate school season records in all three categories at a place that has had some serious tight ends.

Jaren Hall (30), BYU quarterback. He backed up Zach Wilson in 2019 and was slated to do so again in ’20 but missed the entire season with an injury. Hall wasn’t named the Cougars’ starter until late August, but he’s clearly been the guy through two victories over Pac-12 opponents. Hall hasn’t gone downfield like Wilson much, but he’s thrown five touchdowns with no interceptions while also running for 128 yards. His mobility was vital in beating rival Utah Saturday night. 

MORE DASH: Panic Time? | 2–0 Starts USC Wish List

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