It was a long night for the Panthers on home soil

Last night Miami demolished Pittsburgh 31-3 on the road in a game that featured some big-name 2011 draft prospects. Unfortunately it was a similar story for this new CFB season – underwhelming performances. Allen Bailey spent most of his game on the sideline, Jonathan Baldwin had a very frustrating evening and Pittsburgh’s lack of a passing game meant a night off for Brandon Harris. Here’s my thoughts:

Allen Bailey (DE, Miami)
Bailey started well with an early sack – his first of the new season. However, as the game went on his play gradually slowed until it ground to a sudden halt. Conditions weren’t unfavourable and he spent very little time on the field early on after a series of 3-and-outs for Pittsburgh. So why did his play drop off so much? I’d also like to know why, for a prospect some grade in the top-15 picks, he spent so much time on the sidelines? Miami subbed a lot of their defensive line to keep guys fresh, but Bailey appeared to be off the field as much as he was on it. It’s not even like he was being rested, because he re-entered the field late on in garbage time. He looks the part of a NFL lineman although his best position is probably as a five-technique 3-4 DE, but inconsistent effort and a lack of initial burst will restrict him. I’m not convinced he’s a first round pick.

Jonathan Baldwin (WR, Pittsburgh)
I had sympathy with Baldwin until the final Pittsburgh series of any note. It’d been a very frustrating evening for the 6’3″, 230lbs wide out. His quarterback Tino Sunseri couldn’t cope against Miami’s dominant defense and only threw for 61 yards before getting benched. I wondered if issues at QB would hamper Baldwin in 2010 and it appears that will be the case. If he can’t match or better last year’s numbers (1111 yards, 8 TD’s) it won’t necessarily stop him being a high pick, but he likely won’t maximise his stock. In this game he came agonizingly close to two touchdown passes and finished with just three catches for 23 yards. He’s fluid despite his size and he’ll be a solid possession receiver at the next level who has the frame to be a valuable blocker. I’m not sure he’ll be able to stretch a defense deep, but when there’s no chance of him getting a good downfield throw it’s hard to judge.

However, he made a horrible error in the fourth quarter – which is why I lost sympathy for his difficult evening. Back-up QB Pat Bostick threw a perfectly acceptable deep ball to the end zone for Baldwin. There was a size advantage over the defensive back and it probably should’ve been a touchdown. Instead, Baldwin never locates the ball and looks awkward as the DB simply makes a comfortable catch and runs back a huge 74-yard return. To not even make a play on the ball was unacceptable and the visibly frustrated Bostick’s body language said a thousand words. Baldwin wears a visor for some reason, despite it being a night-game. I suggest he gets rid of it.

Brandon Harris (CB, Miami)
I had hoped to use this game to see how Harris coped against a top wide-out like Jonathan Baldwin. However due to Pittsburgh’s wretched offensive performance, Harris had the easiest game he’ll ever play. He was never tested deep and was able to push up in run support a lot of the time. He made one excellent tackle on running back Dion Lewis – originally standing in a well blocked poor angle, but he athletically arched his body and dived to clip the leg of Lewis and avoided giving up a big gain. His tackling was technically sound the rest of the way, but that won’t justify a high grade. We need to see him tested deep, for his speed and recovery skills. This was a night in which those aspects could not be judged, but he’s one to watch going forward from a University used to producing top DB talent.

Sean Spence (LB, Miami)
Spence stood out as the undoubted player of the game. He recorded two sacks on the night and flashed cat-quick reactions at linebacker. He diagnosed plays brilliantly, reacted instantly and made the sure tackle on the ball carrier. He plays at around 6’0″ and 220lbs so I’m not sure how the junior fits in the NFL – he’d have to add weight to stay at linebacker at the next level and that could affect his quicks. He had an equally good game against Ohio State in week two so if he keeps this up scouts will start talking about how he might fit in. Definitely an entertaining player to watch if nothing else.