NCF Nation: LaRod Stephens-Howling

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Twenty-seven Big East products had their name called over the weekend in the NFL draft. Three league schools had their best drafts ever.

Cincinnati had six players taken, the most of any Big East team and the most in program history. The previous school record had been five, which happened in 1998, 1960 and 1947. The Bearcats were one of only nine schools to have six or more players drafted this year.

Connecticut had never had a player taken in the first two rounds of the draft before Saturday. Four Huskies went in the first two rounds this year, including the school's first-ever first-rounder, running back Donald Brown.

Rutgers had a record-setting five players drafted, including the Scarlet Knights' first-ever first-rounder, wide receiver Kenny Britt. The most Rutgers had ever previously had drafted in one year was three, in 2007.

Here's a rundown of all the league draft picks and some commentary:

Cincinnati

Player, Position, Round, Team

Connor Barwin, DE, 2, Houston Texans

• DeAngelo Smith, DB, 5, Dallas Cowboys

Brandon Underwood, DB, 6, Green Bay Packers

Mike Mickens, DB, 7, Dallas Cowboys

Trevor Canfield, OG, 7, Arizona Cardinals

Thoughts: Kind of surprising that Mickens went after Underwood and Smith, when he was generally regarded as the best pro prospect of the three for most of his career. The fifth round is lofty territory for a punter, but Huber is that good.

Connecticut

Player, Position, Round, Team

• Donald Brown, RB, 1, Indianapolis Colts

Darius Butler, DB, 2, New England Patriots

Will Beatty, OT, 2, New York Giants

Cody Brown, OLB, 2, Arizona Cardinals

Thoughts: We thought UConn would have a huge day, and the Huskies sure did.

Louisville

Player, Position, Round, Team

Eric Wood, C/OG, 1, Buffalo Bills

George Bussey, OT, 5, New England Patriots

Thoughts: Bussey didn't get much pre-draft buzz, but the Patriots must have liked the former walk-on who became a three-year starter and All-Big East performer. Wood will play guard for the Bills.

Pittsburgh

Player, Position, Round, Team

LeSean McCoy, RB, 2, Philadelphia Eagles

Scott McKillop, LB, 5, San Francisco 49ers

LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB, 7, Arizona Cardinals

Derek Kinder, WR, 7, Chicago Bears

Thoughts: OK, Pitt fans. How do you feel about McCoy going to Philly? Will you still root for him? Getting McKillop in the fifth round seems like a steal.

Rutgers

Player, Position, Round, Team

• Kenny Britt, WR, 1, Tennessee Titans

Mike Teel, QB, 6, Seattle Seahawks

Jason McCourty, DB, 6, Tennessee Titans

Courtney Greene, DB, 7, Seattle Seahawks

Tiquan Underwood, WR, 7, Jacksonville Jaguars

Thoughts: I didn't think Teel would get drafted, but good for him. The Titans and Seahawks must have liked Greg Schiano's program.

South Florida

Player, Position, Round, Team

Tyrone McKenzie, OLB, 3, New England Patriots

Thoughts: Despite all that Florida talent, the Bulls had the smallest draft class in the Big East.

Syracuse

Player, Position, Round, Team

Tony Fiammetta, FB, 4, Carolina Panthers

Ryan Durand, OG, 7, Tennessee Titans

Thoughts: Durand was another guy who wasn't on many mock draft boards. There were some good fullbacks in the Big East, including Pitt's Conredge Collins and Louisville's Brock Bolen. But Fiammetta was the only one drafted.

West Virginia

Player, Position, Round, Team

Pat White, QB/WR, 2, Miami Dolphins

Ellis Lankster, CB, 7, Buffalo
Bills

Pat McAfee, K, 7, Indianapolis

Thoughts: Can't wait to see how the Dolphins, who showed a lot of creativity on offense last year, use White.

Prominent players who went undrafted:

Hunter Cantwell, Louisville

Greg Isdaner and Mortty Ivy, West Virginia

Jamaal Westerman, Rutgers

• C.J. Davis, Pittsburgh

Julius Williams, UConn

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The 16-day layoff hasn't hurt Pitt's offense one bit.

Three possessions, three touchdowns for the Panthers, who had their best first quarter of the season. And it's so important to get ahead of Navy and make the Mids play catch-up.

Pitt's offensive line has been dominant, and LeSean McCoy has been slicing through the Navy defense with his speed and vision. LaRod Stephens-Howling has punched it in for two touchdowns.

The Panthers' defense was shredded on Navy's opening drive, which ended with a pitch to Shun White for a 40-yard touchdown. But Jabaal Sheard got a sack and forced a fumble on the first play of the next Midshipmen drive, and then Pitt forced a three-and-out.

Navy's Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada has not played, as his hamstring apparently has not healed. Jarod Bryant started at quarterback for the Midshipmen.

For Pitt, Gus Mustakas started on the defensive line in place of Mick Williams, who has a concussion. Mustakas recovered the fumble that set up the third score.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
 
 Charles LeClaire/Getty Images
 LaRod Stephens-Howling ranks eighth in the Big East in all-purpose yards with 101.8 per game.

LeSean McCoy's star-making debut for Pittsburgh season was a great story -- unless you happened to be LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Stephens-Howling had started 14 of the previous 15 games at tailback for the Panthers, leading them in rushing in both 2005 and 2006. Then a freshman came along and cut his carries by more than half, stealing all the attention and headlines in the process.

"I'm not going to say it was easy," Stephens-Howling said. "No running back is ever going to just give up his spot and say, 'Oh, well.' It took some time for me to adjust and figure out what my role was and do whatever was best for the team."

However difficult that adjustment must have been, Stephens-Howling never complained publicly. He has become one of Pitt's most respected leaders for how he has sacrificed himself for the team. And he's still very productive.

The senior ranks eighth in the Big East in all-purpose yards with 101.8 per game. He's averaging 5.4 yards per carry, a full yard better than McCoy, while returning kickoffs at a clip of 22.1 yards per attempt. At Syracuse last week, he ran for 71 yards and scored two touchdowns in the second half to complete a comeback 34-24 win.

Head coach Dave Wannstedt awarded Stephens-Howling a game ball after that performance, not just because of his rushing but also for the three special teams tackles he made. He's playing on punt and kickoff coverage teams for the first time this year. Wannstedt gushingly calls him "the most underrated player in the Big East."

"I cannot say enough good things about LaRod," Wannstedt said. "If there's ever been an example of a team player, a guy willing to do whatever and just wanting the team to win without getting caught up in personal accolades, it's LaRod."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Here's what we learned from the weekend's six Big East games:

1. South Florida can play a complete game.

The nagging question surrounding the Bulls was their continued lapses and erratic play. But against N.C. State on Saturday, they put it all together in a 41-10 blowout. The offense was crisp and efficient, scoring on five of its first six possessions, and the defense dominated despite missing three starters. This was just the kind of performance South Florida needed to prove it belongs in the top 10.

2. West Virginia's offense isn't dead.

The Mountaineers rolled up more than 500 yard of offense in a 27-3 win over Marshall and seemed to find an answer to some of their short-yardage woes. Backup quarterback Jarrett Brown was used in a variety of roles, including as the fullback on third and short. He personally converted three of them. That allowed Noel Devine (125 yards) and Pat White (17-of-21 passing) to do their thing. And for a week, it relieved the anxiety of Mountaineers' fans everywhere.

3. It's a bad year to be a Cincinnati quarterback.

First, Ben Mauk loses his endless appeals for another year of eligibility. Then the Bearcats watch Dustin Grutza suffer a broken leg at Oklahoma. His replacement, Tony Pike, plays extremely well in his first two starts before breaking his left, non-throwing arm at Akron on Saturday. Now Cincinnati is down to redshirt freshmen Zach Collaros and Chazz Anderson and Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones. The good news is Pike is only expected to miss three weeks, and with Marshall, Rutgers and then a bye week on the schedule, the Bearcats may be able to survive.

4. Pittsburgh knows where its bread is buttered.

Down 24-13 in the second half at Syracuse and facing a season-breaking defeat, Pittsburgh turned to its running game. LeSean McCoy (149 yards) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (71 yards, two touchdowns) did almost all the damage as the Panthers scored the game's final 21 points. The Pitt offensive line got nasty and beat up Syracuse's front. This is the team's identity, but we'll have to see if the Panthers can do the same against a much, much better defense on Thursday night at South Florida.

5. UConn can't be killed.

If you want to beat the Huskies, you'd better step on their throats when you can. Because if you let them hang around, they're going to find a way to win in the end. One of the most resilient teams anywhere, UConn added another chapter to its gritty saga on Friday night, Down 21-10 in the third quarter at Louisville and having just fumbled in their own territory, the Huskies came up with a defensive stand, then rallied for a 26-21 win. They did it despite losing starting quarterback Tyler Lorenzen and several others to injury, and despite being almost doubled on total yardage. Connecticut should become the second Big East team in the top 25 today and has a chance to go to 6-0 this Saturday at North Carolina in an interesting ACC/Big East tilt.

Big East helmet stickers, Week 5

September, 28, 2008
9/28/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Take a bow, boys, so we can slap some stickers on your hat.

Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut: Another week, another sticker for the nation's leading rusher. Brown had 190 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries in UConn's 26-21 win over Louisville on Friday. He only needs 94 yards for 1,000 on the season, and we're not even into October yet.

LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB, Pittsburgh: LeSean McCoy had the gaudier stats with 149 yards. But Stephens-Howling did the hard running in the second half. He had 71 yards on 13 carries and scored two key touchdowns as Pitt rallied for a 34-24 victory at Syracuse.

Matt Grothe, QB, South Florida: Another helmet sticker staple, Grothe completed his first 11 passes and finished 20-of-29 for 259 yards and a touchdown in the Bulls' 41-10 dismantling of N.C. State. Grothe also led his team in rushing with 68 yards on nine carries.

Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati: Gilyard has seven catches for 146 yards and both his team's touchdowns in the Bearcats' 17-15 squeaker over Akron.

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