College football gloriously returned Saturday in Orlando with the Camping World Kickoff in which the Florida Gators held off a young and upstart Miami Hurricanes squad 24-20.
While visits from Miami legends Jimmy Johnson, Michael Irvin, Devin Hester and Clinton Portis among others may have provided the ‘Canes and their new head coach Manny Diaz with an emotional advantage, Florida entered the game ranked seventh in the country in both the preseason coaches and AP polls and approximately a touchdown favorite.
The Gators also arrived with the greater collection of talent, featuring two of the three players in this game on my personal Top 32 Big Board for the 2020 NFL draft, including junior cornerback C.J. Henderson, the 10th overall prospect in the country.
Throughout this game, in fact, the six-foot, 190 pound Henderson showed off the easy athleticism and wonderful instincts that led to his defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, characterizing him last year as the best cornerback he’s coached in nearly 30 years at the college level.
It is easy to see why the former Georgia, Mississippi State and Virginia Tech coach is so high on his star junior cornerback. Fast, fluid and long-armed, Henderson has all the traits NFL scouts are looking for, showing terrific closing sped and the hand-eye coordination to rip the ball free for last second breakups– as he did twice Saturday, including once in the end zone.
While Henderson’s ability is undeniable, so too was his lack of physicality in run support in this contest, something that ESPN color commentator Kirk Herbstreit caught and correctly called out in the fourth quarter.
As you can see in the clip below, the cornerback (and the rest of Florida’s defense) showed more “alligator arms” than Gator chop on this Deejay Dallas touchdown run, which put Miami back in the lead.
While coverage is critical for any cornerback hoping to get drafted in the first round, run support is also important. The league proved that yet again this past spring when arguably the most gifted corner in the SEC last year – then LSU star Greedy Williams -- wound up slipping out of the top 32 picks in large part due to questions about his willingness to get dirty as a tackler.
Henderson’s inconsistencies as a tackler were an issue on tape and so scouts will certainly take note that he remains disappointing in this area. Don’t expect scouts to knock Henderson too much for this contest, however, given that it is the first game of the year and that teams are so restricted by NCAA guidelines in how much tackling they can do in practice.
Normally reliable open-field tacklers - like Miami’s preseason All-American linebacker Shaq Quarterman – had their issues in this contest, as well.
In fact, early in the game it was the smallest player on the field, Miami’s 5-foot-9, 190 pound junior cornerback Trajan Bandy who was delivering the biggest hits.
Meanwhile on the offensive side of the ball, Miami’s true freshman quarterback Jarren Williams was attempting to fight through a dominant Gators’ pass rush, nearly guiding the Hurricanes to an improbable win in which he was sacked a staggering nine times.
Williams, frankly, showed better poise and accuracy from the pocket than his Florida counterpart, junior Feleipe Franks, who threw two interceptions in a shaky start to his 2019 campaign. Williams completed 19 of 30 passes on the night for 220 yards and a touchdown. Franks completed 17 of 27 passes for 254 yards and two scores in the win.
While Miami fans will certainly be disappointed with the loss, the future looks bright for Diaz, Williams and the rest of the ‘Canes.
For much of the night the most impressive player on the field was Hurricanes’ true sophomore tight end Brevin Jordan, who put Miami up 12-7 late in the second quarter with an unlikely 25-yard touchdown reception in which he corralled a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage and blew through big collision with a Florida defender to barrel into the endzone.
Officially listed by Miami at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, Jordan demonstrated impressive core strength and balance through contact in bouncing off the hit, re-gathering his momentum and accelerating before other Gators could recover. Jordan led all Miami pass-catchers Saturday with five receptions for 88 yards and the score.
Given that his father, Darrell Jordan, was drafted as a linebacker by the Atlanta Falcons back in 1990, perhaps the physicality and grit demonstrated by Miami’s young tight end is not surprising. These traits are all the more intriguing, however, given the ball-skills and concentration Jordan showed on the play, as well as the raw athleticism exhibited earlier.
Sure, due to the blockers in place, Jordan has a runway to accelerate on this simple quick screen. But note how fluidly the big man collects the pass, turns upfield and accelerates – demonstrating many of the same attributes which helped future NFL draft picks Irv Smith, Jr. and Hunter Henry excel in offenses coached by new Miami offensive coordinator Dan Enos in his previous two stops at Alabama and Arkansas prior to joining Diaz’s staff this year.
Jordan already ranks atop DraftScout.com’s 2022 TE rankings.