Monday, May 20, 2024

College football spring game standouts, takeaways: USC offense sputters, Notre Dame QB CJ Carr impresses

Spring games take center stage as the month of April trudges on. For many programs, the upcoming NFL Draft only emphasizes how different the 2024 season will look. Transitioning from projected No. 1 pick Caleb Williams was never going to be easy for USC, but Lincoln Riley’s signature position group looked lackluster in their first public action. 

All three quarterbacks who appeared threw at least one interception, while projected starter Miller Moss threw a pair. The headliner was a tipped ball returned for a 100-yard touchdown. 

After the game, Riley clarified that Moss would start for the Trojans if the season started today because of his experience in the program. In the Holiday Bowl against Louisville, Moss threw six touchdown passes and stole the show. He did not look like the same player on Saturday in Las Angeles. 

Granted, USC’s much-maligned defense also looked seriously improved under first-year defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn. The defensive backs were in the right position and seemed to understand the system much more consistently. The Trojans even played without defensive tackle Bear Alexander, who is working through a hamstring injury. 

Of course, if USC’s offense has taken such a step back, the defense has no choice but to improve if the Trojans have any plans of competing for a CFP slot. Here’s how some of the other top programs in the country fared during their spring games on Saturday. 

Arch Manning dazzles

Manning had barely thrown a pass in a Texas uniform coming into the spring game after working as the third-string quarterback in 2023. It only took one pass attempt to get the crowd on its feet. Manning stepped up in the pocket and found receiver DeAndre Moore for a 75-yard touchdown, throwing the ball 50 yards through the air. 

The nephew of Peyton and Eli looked every bit the part of a No. 1 overall recruit, completing 19-of-25 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns. Coach Steve Sarkisian has repeatedly insisted that the quarterback battle is not open, but Texas fans should feel excited about the future at the position with Quinn Ewers, Manning and impressive freshman Trey Owens running the show. 

OU has a new WR1

Wide receiver Deion Burks was a solid player at Purdue, but looks like a potential breakout star after transferring to play in Seth Littrell’s offense at Oklahoma. In the first half alone, Burks caught five passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, both of which went for more than 50 yards. He quickly ate up yards and changed the geometry of the field. 

While Oklahoma was one of the top passing offenses in college last season, the Sooners lacked consistent downfield weapons, especially in the slot. Between Burks and the emergence of underclassman Nic Anderson in the second half of the year as an outside option, first-year starting quarterback Jackson Arnold has some dynamic options 

Relatedly, Oklahoma’s offensive line — which replaces all five primary starters — put together an encouraging performance against a talented defensive line. Protecting Arnold will only help matters. 

Notre Dame backup QBs look good

While Notre Dame’s projected starter Riley Leonard missed the spring with lower body surgery, the backups did an admirable job of stepping up in the highest-scoring spring game of the Marcus Freeman era. Primary backup Steve Angeli built on his promising Sun Bowl, throwing for 228 yards and two touchdowns. He found both receivers and tight ends across the field in the win. 

Of course, blue-chip recruit CJ Carr — the grandson of famed Michigan coach Lloyd Carr — also made his name heard. Carr played for both teams at various points and threw for 165 yards on 23 pass attempts. Overall, Notre Dame’s three quarterbacks completed 66% of passes for 516 yards and five touchdowns. 

Leonard should step into the fold and add a new ceiling to the program, but he has struggled with injuries over his collegiate career. Promising performances from Angeli and Carr add some much-needed insurance for a program that has not produced a first-round NFL quarterback since 2007. 

Texas A&M’s Scourton a player to watch

Scourton didn’t get much love as the Big Ten’s sack leader because of Purdue’s lackluster season, but he could become a household name in the SEC. After posting 10 sacks for the Boilermakers, Scourton eviscerated the Aggies’ offensive line, posting 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Granted, the unit is without a few key contributors, but the effort stood apart just the same. 

While Texas A&M recruited the defensive line exceptionally well, the program has not produced a game-changing pass rusher in several years. With his 6-foot-4, 280-pound frame, Scourton presents a terror off the edge and should rank among the SEC’s elite. Texas A&M coach Mike Elko does an exceptional job of getting playmakers into winning positions; Scourton gives him a new toy with which to play. 

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