Alex Malzone (#12) to Grant Perry (foreground) is arguably the top passing combination in the state. [Ace Anbender/MGoBlog]
Dave and I once again found ourselves at Wayne State last weekend, this time for a Catholic League rivalry tilt between Birmingham Brother Rice and Warren De La Salle. After a slow start against an aggressive Pilots defense, Brother Rice pulled out a dramatic 28-21 victory after a 31-yard pass from Michigan commit Alex Malzone to Michael Roney set up the game-winning one-yard TD run by Bobby Dixon III in the waning minutes. The win kept the defending state champion Warriors undefeated this season (5-0).
Brother Rice ran just 15 offensive plays in the first half, as De La Salle's defense put Malzone under heavy fire and their offense ate up nearly a quarter's worth of time. The Warriors finally put it together offensively on their last drive of the first half, which Malzone capped off with the first of his three touchdown passes on the evening, an absolute dart to slot receiver John Garry on a six-yard slant that he fit into a small window.
From that point forward, Malzone took over, spearheading three second-half scoring drives with plenty of help from his top target, senior receiver Grant Perry. Malzone finished 14-of-20 for 203 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, with Perry catching seven of those passes for 103 yards. Michigan preferred walk-on commit Jack Dunaway led the Brother Rice defensive effort with seven tackles (by my unofficial count) with three TFLs.
[Hit THE JUMP for exclusive video highlights and scouting on Malzone, Dunaway, Perry, and a trio of De La Salle standouts.]
The Alex Malzone Section
Malzone looked stellar once his offense was able to the pressure De La Salle was throwing at him. Even while under fire in the first half, he should've allowed Brother Rice to avoid their opening three-and-out, but a well-thrown post route that could've gone for big yardage ended up with nothing when the ball slipped through his receiver's fingers.
Aside from one poor throw that went behind his target on a crossing route, every throw he made that didn't come under duress found its mark—save, perhaps, a corner route to Perry that was a tiny bit long; Perry got a hand on it but couldn't haul it in—and on several occasions he managed to extend plays, escape the pocket, and create something out of nothing. He even added a 28-yard scramble for good measure.
The film is impressive enough; what it doesn't show is how much Malzone is in command of the offense. He directed an attack that often went no-huddle, made protection and route checks that I could hear all the way from the top rows of the bleachers, and most importantly, made the correct pre-snap reads. Check out the 1:13 mark, when he sees De La Salle lining up to blitz, changes the protection and has his running back shift sides—the RB is in perfect position to pick up a blitzer and Malzone has enough time to fire off a slant to Perry for a first down.
His pocket presence also stood out. On a couple occasions he held onto the ball too long instead of throwing it away, but more often than not he had a great feel for where the pressure was coming from and how to move around to avoid it, either within the pocket or outside of it. While Malzone isn't a burner by any stretch, he's not a statue, either; he's got great footwork in the pocket and enough speed to pick up a first down here and there.
Malzone got a few chances to rear back and rip the ball, and he displayed plus arm strength—not Mallett/Morris territory, but certainly BCS-caliber. The out route TD he throws at the 2:48 mark requires both precision and brute force, and he combined the two beautifully on that pass. The slant TD at the 0:51 mark also needed—and got—quite a bit of zip on the ball.
When able to set up in the pocket and go through his progressions, Malzone was pinpoint with his passes. A couple throws got away from him when he was on the move or the pocket began breaking down around him; he nearly threw a pick when he wasn't able to drive through the ball at the 2:22 mark, and on the very next throw—on a rollout—he gets his weight just a tiny bit too far out in front, causing him to turf a throw to an open receiver. Otherwise, he looked very sound mechanically, with a consistent delivery that looks quicker than it did last year.
Overall, this was a great performance from Malzone against a very strong defense, and while Perry was his primary target, he did it while spreading the ball around—all three of his starting receivers caught at least three passes, and the two that weren't Perry accounted for the three touchdown receptions.
The Everyone Else Section
Video highlights, sorted by player—apologies for the lower quality, the HD video was taking too long to upload if I wanted to get this post up in a timely fashion:
Brother Rice DE Jack Dunaway (2015 preferred walk-on): Dunaway (right, Nasternak) added a lot of bulk to his frame since last season, and he's moving around well at his new listed weight of 225 pounds—up from 215 or so, and he has the frame to add plenty more.
Brother Rice utilized Dunaway mostly as a stand-up strongside defensive end (strange, I know), and he also put his hand in the dirt on a good number of snaps, still almost exclusively on the strong side. He did an excellent job of using his hands to disengage from blocks and often was able to clean up plays himself after doing so; if he wasn't, he stayed in position to funnel plays back into the teeth of the defense.
Dunaway's motor stayed at a high level throughout. He didn't stop pursuing plays from the backside, cleaning up a couple on the sideline, and his effort stayed consistently good. While he doesn't have outstanding brute strength, he managed to stay in his lane and not allow opposing linemen to dictate where he went.
The main areas where Dunaway can improve are in his pad level (I know, I know) and adding to his pass-rush arsenal. Blockers were able to push him off the ball initially because he'd fire out high, and while he was usually able to disengage anyway, that won't work at the next level. He didn't show off much in terms of moves to get around the edge; if he wasn't able to knock the lineman's hands away, he tended to stay blocked.
As a preferred walk-on pickup, Dunaway looks like a solid addition; he plays with a lot of energy, knows where to be, and will unleash a big hit when he gets the chance.
Brother Rice WR Grant Perry (2015 target): Perry had an outstanding game, hauling in seven of his nine targets; one of those incompletions was uncatchable, while the second would've required a difficult one-handed catch. He and Malzone are clearly very comfortable playing with each other—they connected on several timing routes and when Malzone was in trouble, Perry was often the receiver working his way back to the ball to bail him out.
Perry runs precise routes and plucks the ball out of the air; he showed off soft hands. While he's not a gamebreaking athlete, he gets separation on defensive backs with sharp cuts and does a nice job getting upfield after the catch; he doesn't look like a major threat to juke a safety, but he finds a way to get solid yardage after the catch.
In a normal-sized class, I'd say Perry merits a Michigan offer, and even with the small class I wouldn't be surprised if he picks one up late in the cycle. The Wolverines could hold out hope that Perry, who holds a handful of MAC offers at this juncture, decides that he'd rather be a preferred walk-on at U-M, though with the way he's playing it wouldn't surprise at all if bigger offers took that off the table.
De La Salle LB/DE Eric Rogers (2016 target): Rogers, who recentely visited for the Miami game, had a nice impact on the box score with a pair of sacks. The first one didn't involve too much outstanding play on his part, as Malzone held the ball too long and the opposite end flushed him into Rogers' arms, but the second featured a nice initial move and outstanding effort to rip through the middle and haul down Malzone.
Rogers has the type of frame at 6'1", 231 to be a rush linebacker; his height might prevent him from becoming a defensive end. Either way, he'll need to add strength, as Brother Rice was able to push him around in the running game a few times. He plays with high effort, though, and has the makings of a solid pass-rusher.
De La Salle S/RB Tru Wilson (2016 target): Wilson (#3 at left, Nasternak), who visited along with Rogers for Miami, had 44 yards on nine carries and added a couple big hits from his safety spot. He doesn't have any recruiting buzz yet, but I expect that to change—he moves well, plays very physically, and diagnoses plays nicely from the back end of the defense. As a running back, he's undersized at 5'10", 187, but he's tough to get a hold of and keeps his legs moving to churn through tackles and gain extra yardage (a couple runs I attributed in the video to the next guy on this list were actually Wilson—the two runs starting at 3:10).
De La Salle RB Allen Stritzinger (2017): I had no idea who Stritzinger was before the game, but it didn't take long to notice the 6'0", 178-pound sophomore, whose stat line of 78 yards and two TDs on 20 carries (3.9 YPC) belies how good he looked. Stritzinger seems to glide through the defense when he carries the ball, and while he runs upright, he fights through his fair share of tackles. He has nice juking ability in tight spaces, keeps his legs churning, and has more than enough speed to get to the edge.
Stritzinger also had a big reception out of the backfield, in which he made a very nice adjustment to a ball thrown a little behind him, called back due to an illegal motion penalty; on that play, he looked like a natural pass-catcher. He's definitely a prospect to keep an eye on.