2019 All-America Bowl: What we learned

Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

2019 All-America Bowl: What we learned

Football

2019 All-America Bowl: What we learned

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The 2019 All-American Bowl was quickly out of hand thanks to the offensive playmakers and stifling defense of Team East.

All-American Bowl: Everything you need to know

The eastern stars ran away with it, winning 48-14.

Between strong performances and commitments during the game, there was plenty to see and learn from the next generation of college football stars.

We’ll start with Graham Mertz, the MVP who broke the passing touchdowns record and briefly held the passing yards records of the bowl.

East quarterback Graham Mertz (16) signs autographs after the All-American Bowl (Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)

Graham Mertz is one of the steals of the class

It’s hard to call the No. 4 pro-style quarterback a steal.

But Mertz, a Wisconsin signee, seemed to only make good decisions as he outplayed all three quarterbacks above him, all of whom were on the field.

Mertz displayed the ability to read the field well and adjust both while playing and through audio of him mic-ed up that was played during the halftime show.

In his five touchdowns passes, he scored using big-play receivers and making soft touches.

Mertz dropped a pass in over a defender’s head to Georgia signee Dominick Blaylock for an easy score. Later in the first half, he threw up a pass to Oklahoma commit Jadon Haselwood that allowed the No. 1 receiver to go up and grab it.

He also messed with the defense, with help from Michigan signee Cornelius Johnson.

Johnson faked inside and got a receiver to bite. Mertz hit him for a wide-open look. Then, next time, Johnson really did go inside. An easy bullet resulted in score number five.

Mertz is enrolling early in Wisconsin. He gives the program a chance to return to a major bowl sooner rather than later.

East defensive back Nick Cross (20) and West wide receiver Bru McCoy (5) pose for a photo after the All-American Bowl (Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)

Nick Cross led the east defensive backs — but not because of the interception

It’s easy to look at the interception and ensuing 84-yard return into the red zone and name Nick Cross the top player of the unit this game, but a different play stands out.

On a deep pass late in the second half, the safety out of DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) streaked toward the sideline and caught up to five-star WR Bru McCoy as the ball was in the air.

The two collided, and it looked like Cross was going to come down with it. He even appeared to get a foot down in-bounds. It was only the two-way skills of McCoy, who also plays DB and ripped the ball away as they fell out of bounds, that stopped Cross from at least making an argument that it was a pick.

Of course, the pass he did intercept late was impressive in its own right, as Cross hid from quarterback Ryan Hilinski’s vision and then got in position to make a leaping grab inside one 10 yard line and return it to the other.

The Florida State commit represented the stifling defensive presence that prevented Team West from even making this a game.

Nolan Smith (Photo: AAG)

Georgia will remain in playoff conversation

As Cross helped in the backfield and shut Team West down late, Chosen 25 DE and Georgia signee Nolan Smith’s sack and tackle for loss early set the tone for how this game was going to go.

Through the efforts of the line, Team West was forced to punt early and Team East took a lead on the back of wide receiver Dominick Blaylock. He looked to be in position to win bowl MVP before Mertz took over.

Blaylock scored three total touchdowns, two of them from Mertz.

The first was a short pass in which Blaylock broke a tackle, picked up a block from Frank Ladsen of Clemson and ran for a long score. The next was a dime from Mertz as Blaylock got behind a defender in the end zone.

Then came the trick play.

On third-and-one, Blaylock got a reverse hand-off and threw a touchdown pass.

With five five-star athletes in its recruiting class, Georgia is in position to continue to compete at the highest of levels. Smith and Blaylock gave a sneak peak at the next three years.

West wide receiver Puka Nacua (12) reacts after making a catch during the All-American Bowl (Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)

Trick plays are becoming commonplace

Trick plays are becoming more common as offenses get more creative, and both teams attempted to get their units going through this.

After Blaylock’s touchdown throw, Team West got the ball in the hands of wide receiver Puka Nacua in the backfield.

Nacua, who broke the receiving touchdowns, yards and reception records in the state of Utah this year, caught it on the left side and threw it across the field toward the right sideline. It was a first down.

It’s a small note than ultimately had very little affect on the game — Team West was trailing 28-0 by that point, and even without Blaylock’s touchdown, Team East would have run away with it — but it will be interesting to see how these types of plays infect high school and college football in the upcoming years.

West quarterback Spencer Rattler (2) looks to throw during the All-American Bowl (Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)

Spencer Rattler was right

Over the week, Rattler said he not only put on 20 pounds, but he got quicker. He talked about his dual-threat tendencies. He said he can move well and throw far.

He proved that today.

Rattler received two comparisons to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes from the broadcast crew for his ability to throw while on the move and create out of a broken play.

Early, as defenders chased him to the sideline, Ratter saw McCoy wide open deep behind defenders. While rolling right, he chucked it downfield. It fell in McCoy’s arms.

In the second half, Rattler stepped up in the pocket as he avoided pressure from the defensive backs. He saw five-star Ohio State commit Garrett Wilson downfield and threw it 45 yards.

Wilson made an impressive grab and the throw was in a spot where only he could get it on the end zone line. Touchdown.

At times, Rattler may have been too aggressive and too willing to throw into pressure. Several passes were batted away. But the game was getting out of reach, he followed his mother’s pregame instructions — “No picks” — and he took shots at his stars, breaking Mertz’s passing yards record in the process.

Rattler brings swag to the Oklahoma offense similar to that of Baker Mayfield.

With Rattler manning QB and Jadon Haselwood committing to the program, fans can be excited about what they saw at the All-American Bowl.

(Photo: AAB)

USC won the day

With all due respect to Oklahoma getting Jadon Haselwood, USC won the day. Its offense is in position to thrive.

Five-star wide receivers Kyle Ford and Bru McCoy are the perfect players for new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury’s air-raid offense. McCoy has played with USC quarterback JT Daniels in high school, and both incoming WRs are very familiar with the west coast play style.

The only thing that could have made the day better for Trojan fans was if four-star cornerback Chris Steele also chose to remain in-state instead of committing to Florida.

But to review: McCoy chose USC over Texas. Ford picked the program over Pac-12 schools Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

Additionally, DE signee Drake Jackson had two tackles for loss.

In a Pac-12 South that Utah won with a 6-3 conference record, USC is in much better position to make a run than it was 12 hours ago. At the same time, the northern teams were unable to get stronger.

Perhaps this 5-7 season can be a one-year thing.

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