College area scout Todd Brunner is back for year two of his Brunner's Blog. Brunner spent last week in Pittsburgh, which included two trips to Heinz Field and a chance to see the 49ers play live. Catch up with him and get updates on the college side of things in his latest blog….**
On Tuesday I spent the day on campus at James Madison University after driving over from Pittsburgh on Monday. I had spent most of last week in Pittsburgh, which worked out nicely because I got to catch our game on Sunday.
Our college director David McCloughan and I went to the University of Pittsburgh game against UCONN on Saturday night which game me all day to follow some of the other college games on television.
The Syracuse upset of Louisville really surprised me. Going into that game, Syracuse just wasn't playing good football but they looked like a totally different team on Saturday. That's a big win for that program and it helps them get some momentum going, especially against a team like Louisville who was supposedly one of the top 10 teams in the country.
There were a couple of players who stood out in that game. The tight end for Syracuse, Jawad Nesheiwat, had a big game with over 100 yards receiving. It was kind of like his coming out party. He hadn't been a big part of their offense up until that game, when he really had a chance to shine.
After watching that game I headed over to Heinz Field and watched UCONN improve to 4-0 with the win over Pitt. It was a good game for UCONN and a disappointing loss for Pitt. They were 2-1 coming in and had just lost a very close game the week prior at Michigan State. They were hoping they could battle and come away with a victory. They struggled in the first half and switched to a freshman quarterback who they think is really the heir apparent there. They had a better second half but it wasn't enough to bring them back and they eventually lost the game. A couple of individuals still stood out for Pitt including their left tackle Jeff Otah. He is definitely a kid to keep your eye on as he's probably one of the best tackles in this year's draft.
It was nice to see the 49ers play on Sunday. Obviously the outcome was not what we wanted, but I took away some good things from the game and wasn't totally disappointed. When you look at the schedule you say, "Alright, that's going to be a tough game. It's going to be tough to go into Pittsburgh and win." We came into that game 2-0 though, so the sting from the loss isn't quite as bad as if our record hadn't been undefeated beforehand.
It's tough that Vernon Davis got hurt. Hopefully he only misses a minimal amount of time, but it was nice to see him active in the offense, making plays and showing a lot of the reasons why we drafted him where we did. I thought the offense moved the ball well enough, but unfortunately couldn't get the ball in the end zone when we needed to and settled for field goals.
I thought Alex Smith battled the entire game and showed poise in the pocket. There were a couple of times he scrambled and picked up first downs. Other than the interception, I thought he threw the ball well. I don't want to beat a dead horse by talking about that play to Vernon down the middle because we could talk about that forever. It is what it is, we lost the game, and there's nothing we can do about it.
I think people should be very excited about our defense. I think they played very well. I think Nate Clements played unbelievable. He played lights out. He proved why we signed him to the contract that we did. It's going to be tough for teams to pass on us this year. In the past, it used to be third and long and you used to cringe because you knew it would be close to a first down. But with these guys back there and with the way the defense is being run by Coach Manusky, I definitely think we'll be tough.
McCloughan and I went in to the University of Pittsburgh Monday morning and watched tape through lunch, and then we both went our separate ways. He was headed out to the Midwest and I headed east.
I got into Harrisonburg, Virginia late on Monday night, and then headed into James Madison early on Tuesday and watched tape on four or five guys. I caught up with the head coach and the strength coach to get myself acclimated with everybody on the team. I viewed four games from this year and one game from last year, and then still had a couple of hours before practice so I headed over to their student union and had a little lunch. After a bite to eat, I watched a little more tape on a few other of their guys I wanted to get a solid feel for and then headed to practice.
One kid I was interested in observing live was safety Tony LeZotte. He's their field general and basically a coach on the field for them. He's a tough kid, very active in their defense, and fun to watch.
The rest of the week I'll be covering a few more schools in Virginia; University of Richmond and Virginia State before heading home. This weekend I'll be watching Maryland at Rutgers, which is going to be the first real test for Rutgers this year. Maryland is an ACC team that's 2-2 right now, but they're a quality team and we should see how good Rutgers really is.
The big game this week is West Virginia vs. South Florida. The one thing you notice after watching West Virginia on offense is speed. They have some serious speed with Steve Slaton, Pat White, as well as their freshman running back whoo can also fly. I think the coach down at South Florida has done a tremendous job. To me, that's one of the most underrated programs in the country even though they are now in the top 25. There are still a couple of teams in the Big East like West Virginia and Rutgers that are ranked higher than them that I personally think they are equivalent to, so I think it'll be a tough game. After losing to South Florida last year at their home stadium, which cost them a shot at the Big East title, I think they're going to want to go down to South Florida and exact a little revenge.
For the 49ers, this week's game against Seattle is definitely big. This is a chance for us to return home and get a win over Seattle which would move us into sole possession of first place in our division and 3-0 in the division. A win this week over a divisional rival would get the taste of that loss to Pittsburgh out of our mouth.