It's been a rough year for Seahawks fans. In a weird way, the game between Idaho and Bowling Green was for us. Brilliant from start to finish, prospects worth scouting and a superb ending that gave the Vandals a fitting victory. Robb Akey coaches with a smile, doesn't take himself too seriously and watching him celebrate amongst the fans at the end certainly made me forget about that Green Bay game last weekend.
All eyes were on stand out guard Mike Iupati. He didn't disappoint - this was a thoroughly dominant display from the top senior guard of the 2010 class. Iupati consistently over powered every opponent he faced on the night. It was men against boys stuff for the most part. In fact the biggest challenge in scouting Iupati is to decipher whether he's going to hold that same advantage over NFL opponents and when things are more evenly matched - can he still dominate?
The first thing that stands out is how well he moves for someone listed at 6'6" and 330lbs. He spent most of the game pulling wide, showing the kind of athleticism and footwork that made Branden Albert a tackle prospect come draft day and an early pick. The funny thing is - despite his already considerable size - there's probably room on that frame to get even bigger and not lose his footwork. Like Albert, I think some might start talking about him as a tackle. But for me he's strictly a guard and potentially a very good one at that.
He'd be a perfect fit whatever scheme Seattle go with next year. He's nimble enough to move around and work in the zone blocking scheme, but he has the ideal size if they switch to more of a man system in 2010. So let's look at the two aspects that impress the most - his speed and power.
With 7:50 left in the first quarter, Idaho are driving to score their first touchdown of the day. Iupati starts at left guard but glides into the backfield to block the left defensive end. He's so quick to pull, react and put himself into position to make the block. There are starting right tackles who wouldn't have been able to do what Iupati did there - and he took the snap at left guard. It helped a fair bit that he got away with a blatant hold that probably would've been flagged in the NFL - but we'll let that one go for now. It did help the quarterback find his receiver at the back of the end zone.
I've not seen a guard pull as much as Iupati did in this game. It seemed like 80% of his snaps he'd launch over to the right side, with the running back just following him forward and usually picking up a nice gain. On one play with 3:01 left in the second quarter, Iupati pulled right as usual and located a linebacker to hammer. Whilst doing this, he held out his right hand and managed to block a second linebacker using a hand for both defenders. Whilst blocking both guys - he managed to push them forward four yards as the running back made a ten yard gain. You can't find that kind of second level blocking in college football usually.
When he stayed in position at left guard, we saw flashes of that raw strength and power. When Idaho scored to make it 28-14 with 5:30 left in the third quarter, Iupati opened up a huge hole through the middle that a bus could've driven through. He hit one defensive lineman so hard on that play his head jolted backwards - so much so it ended up forcing another lineman out of the way to make the hole even bigger.
Clearly this is a specimen. This is someone who most certainly warrants first round consideration. The size, the agility, the complete package - it's like watching Ndamukong Suh but at guard. Of course you want to see Iupati against better competition - I'd have liked to have seen Idaho's games with Boise State and Washington this year. You also want to see him against the elite teams, the best defenses in the nation. We're not going to get that. If Tim Ruskell was still GM, we wouldn't be talking about Iupati as a potential Seahawk for those reasons. Now - we can talk about him, we can praise him and we can hope for him. However, rest assured that fans from all 32 teams watching that game will be saying the same things on blogs all over the internet.
I have to say, Iupati wasn't the only impressive prospect on show. Ruskell was against taking guys from small schools and this game for me showed one of the big reasons why his successor cannot hold the same philosophy. Bowling Green wide out Freddie Barnes set a single season record during the game, registering 155 catches for the year. It's not hard to see why he's achieved that. His hands reminded me of Michael Crabtree - everything was caught with his hands. He was beyond reliable in that sense. He found ways to get open and when the ball was thrown his way, he'd catch it. Barnes ended the game with 219 yards from 17 receptions and three touchdowns.
The fact he'll only run a 4.6 at the combine will put some off. He isn't going to be a #1 go-to-guy in the NFL. He isn't the answer to Seattle's desperate need for a playmaker. But heck - he warrants some looks. It's no fluke he's put up the numbers he has (1770 yards, 19 TD's) - he's a Biletnikoff finalist this year. I can think of worse things to spend a 5th round pick on.
Overall the game (which was won by Idaho 43-42 thanks to a last second two point conversion) was a joy to watch. The fact there was legitimate NFL talent on show only added to the spectacle. If the Seahawks are turning over a new leaf post Ruskell - they cannot afford to ignore the small school guys anymore. There's some gems out there, they just won't be on ESPN and CBS every week.