Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Evans making case as one of nation's best
By Sam Khan Jr.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — As the Auburn Tigers milked the final seconds off the clock and put the finishing touches on an upset win over Texas A&M on Saturday, sophomore receiver Mike Evans -- like most of his teammates and many of the 87,165 in attendance at Kyle Field -- could only watch helplessly.
For a young man who put forth a school-record receiving effort, it was hard to be limited to simply watching Auburn take a knee to run out the final 11 seconds. So Evans paced the sidelines angrily, yelled out a few words -- some you can't print, others that were hard to decipher -- and instead of watching the Tigers celebrate, jogged toward the locker room once the clock hit triple zeroes.
His head coach could understand the frustration in the immediate aftermath, a frustration that was certainly not exclusive to Evans.
Mike Evans quietly has become one of the best receivers -- and maybe players -- in the country.
"I think you see how he plays," Sumlin said. "He plays that way, he plays with a chip on his shoulder. Again, he's one of the guys that he doesn't say much. Doesn't say much at practice or around everybody but he speaks with his play, and anybody who pours as much into it as he does, I can see where he'd be upset."
That passion, that chip, everything Evans pours onto the field has resulted in one of the best individual seasons of anyone in college football to this point in the year.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Evans leads the SEC in receiving yards (1,024), receiving touchdowns (nine), yards per reception (23.8) and has the longest catch of any SEC player this year (95 yards).
Nationally, he's second only to Oregon State's Brandin Cooks in yardage and yards per catch and is fourth in touchdowns. The difference between Evans and Cooks or any of the nation's other top statistical receivers is that Evans' biggest games have come on the biggest stages.
Against No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 14, Evans posted a Texas A&M school record 279 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. He had 135 in the first quarter alone, and Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban had to send out three different defensive backs to try to slow him down.
Saturday, he broke his month-old school record against then-No. 24 Auburn, logging 287 yards and four touchdowns on 11 receptions. His yards-per-reception rates in both games were eye-popping: 39.9 against the Crimson Tide, and 26.1 against Auburn.
"He's a great player," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said afteward. "Those two [Evans and quarterback Johnny Manziel] have the 'it' factor, and we knew that. He did a good job separating, made some big catches, and a couple of times we had him covered and they threw [to his] back shoulder. It's tough."
In only seven games, Evans is only 81 yards away from matching his yardage total from all of the 2012 season (1,105). He's a touchdown away from doubling his season touchdown reception total and his yards per reception is up by more than 10 yards (23.8 from 13.5).
Not known for breakaway speed before this season, Evans has shown he can separate and hit the home run. He had the 95-yard reception against Alabama, and on Saturday, one of his four touchdowns was a 64-yard catch-and-run, where most of the damage was done with his legs after the catch.
He's almost impossible to defend on jump balls. A former basketball star at Galveston (Texas) Ball High, Evans uses his leaping ability to rise above defenders for passes from Manziel and even shows a knack for getting in the proper position for the catch between multiple defenders, as if boxing out for a rebound.
"Mike's a great receiver," junior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "It's awesome to watch him and the plays he makes. When Johnny throws him a jump ball, it's always like: 'Alright, will the defender knock him down this time? Nope he caught it!' It's just something that he continues to do, and he's become great at it. He's perfected it really."
With his combination of size, speed, hands and leaping ability, Evans has the look of an attractive NFL draft prospect should he consider declaring for early entry (he's eligible after this season). And while some might call him the best receiver in the country, it might be time to throw him into the conversation among the best players in the country, regardless of his position, especially if he continues to play at this level.
"What can you say?" Sumlin said. "As I said after the first game of the year, he's one of the better players in the country, and I think people are starting to realize that, because he's a big guy that has home run ability but will compete for the ball in any kind of traffic."