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December 31, 2010

Jones lead West to O-D Bowl win

MORE O-D BOWL: Thursday's notes | Top 10 players | Complete all-star coverage

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Cardale Jones wasn't the most heralded quarterback on the West roster. A week ago, Vad Lee wasn't even on the East roster.

At Friday's Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, they were stars.

In the West's 35-21 win, the uncommitted Jones showed why he will be a prime target for several major programs between now and National Signing Day, and Lee displayed unique talents that suggest he might be a perfect fit for the school he is committed to, Georgia Tech.

First, let's recap Jones' night.

Jones, a right-hander who is 6 feet 5, 217 pounds and is rated as the country's 12th-best pro-style quarterback in the class of 2011, completed 7-of-11 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. For good measure, he rushed for a score.

Jones, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, who said earlier this week he had four programs on top - Ohio State, Michigan, LSU and Penn State - looked smooth the entire night. His passes were both crisp and accurate. And when the pocket collapsed, he had the athleticism and moxie to not only scoot away from defenders but locate receivers and find them.

"It was a good experience," Jones said. "We started out great, then we struggled. They gave us a nice halftime speech and then we just picked it up from there."

In defeat, Lee might have been even better than Jones.

The 6-foot-2, 193-pounder overshadowed fellow East quarterback Brandon Allen, an Arkansas commit, by going 10-of-14 for 213 yards with a touchdown and adding nearly 100 yards and another score on the ground.

Lee was a last-minute sub for the O-D Bowl.

Initially, his roster spot was to be occupied by Georgia commit Christian LeMay, the country's No. 3 pro-style quarterback prospect and a member of the Rivals100. But LeMay was ruled ineligible for the game last weekend after he attended a handful of recent Bulldogs bowl practices and took part in them.

Organizers called Lee, a three-star prospect who recently led Durham (N.C.) Hillside to the state title after passing for 3,223 yards and 30 touchdowns while also rushing for 1,300 yards and 22 scores. The Associated Press player of the year for North Carolina, Lee struggled with his accuracy at times during the week, but was, for the most part, sharp Friday night.

After his team fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter, Lee responded by completing a 51-yard touchdown pass to receiver Chris Conley, a Georgia-bound prospect. On the East's next drive, he lofted a perfect pass down the left sideline that receiver Kelvin Benjamin hauled in for a gain of 48. Lee scored on a 2-yard run shortly thereafter.

Earlier in the week, Lee said he wanted to prove he could throw.

It would seem that he accomplished that.

"After I thought about it, I really shouldn't have said I wanted to prove anything," Lee said. "I know what I can do. And people that are close to me know what I can do. The people at my high school know what I can do, and at the school I'm going to, they know what I can do. I just came out here and played my game. That's what I did."

In the fourth quarter, Lee scored on a 13-yard run, and later added a carry that resulted in a 58-yard gain. On several plays, Lee's legs aided his arm. His ability to keep plays alive and avert danger in the backfield might be his best skill.

At Georgia Tech, where quarterbacks have to be runners, too, Lee and the Yellow Jackets could potentially be an ideal match.

"I'm pretty excited [about college]," Lee said. "All I've got to do is get bigger, stronger and faster for the [Atlantic Coast Conference] and I should be good. I showed my running ability today. And also, I showed my passing skills."

For what it's worth, the West's other quarterback, Texas commit David Ash didn't have a bad outing either. The 6-4, 195-pounder from Belton, Texas, was 11-of-17 for 135 yards and two interceptions. But those stats are somewhat misleading. One of Ash's interceptions was a perfectly thrown pass that bounced right off his receiver's hands. On the other, East cornerback Ameer Abdullah, who is uncommitted, dove in front of the intended receiver to make the pick.

Ash's arm looked good, and he showed he could run the ball.

Very well, in fact.

During the game's opening drive, on which he completed three of four passes, he capped the series with a brilliant 24-yard touchdown run in which he not only displayed nice speed, but excellent cutting ability.

"It was a good thing to get back into gear for football," said Ash, who will early enroll at Texas. "It was a lot of fun, coming out here and getting used to the type of athletes you're going to be facing [in college]."

OTHER OFFENSIVE STANDOUTS

Benjamin, arguably the top uncommitted player in the O-D Bowl, had two terrific receptions, both of which showed off his 6-6, 210-pound frame, excellent leaping ability and soft hands.

West center Jake Brendel, who is UCLA bound, anchored an offensive line that more than held its own against a talented East defensive line. His mobility was tested by an athletic defensive front, and he passed.

Conley had one bad drop, but his 51-yard touchdown reception, a play in which he took the ball away from a West defensive back before turning and quickly darting upfield, was a thing of beauty.

West tailback Melvin Gordon carried his play from practice this week into the game. Gordon's speed and cutting ability are impressive. But so was the patience he showed in smartly following his blockers to better his rushing attempts.

West receiver Shane Wynn, who is only 5-6, came up large on several occasions. Besides being a solid receiver who has the ability to make people miss, Wynn looks like he could have a nice career as a return man in college.

DEFENSIVE STARS

Abdullah's two interceptions wouldn't have happened if he didn't have outstanding instincts. On one, he quickly reacted after the ball hit an opposing receiver in the hands.

East defensive tackle Phillip Dukes, who is uncommitted, proved difficult to handle all night for the West. He was particularly good against the run, often using his quickness to find his way into the backfield.

West defensive end Chase Farris and outside linebacker Kent Turene were every bit as good as advertised. Simply put, the East had no answers for them. On one play, Turene recorded an 18-yard sack. On the next, Farris brought the quarterback down. Turene also forced a fumble.

West safety DerJuan Gambrell returned a fumble 39 yards for a touchdown and was in on several tackles.

West defensive end Cedric Reed recorded three sacks. His quick first step gave West offensive tackles trouble from start to finish. Even on plays when he didn't make a tackle, he disrupted things.

East inside linebacker Ramik Wilson of Tampa, Fla., was a force in the middle of the field, especially on West running plays. His tackling skills kept the opposition from having more big gainers than it already produced. Wilson also recovered a fumble.

MORE WAS EXPECTED

East quarterback Brandon Allen, a four-star prospect and the No. 5-rated pro-style passer, wasn't much of a factor. But then again, he didn't have much time to throw. West tight ends Ray Hamilton and Nick Vannett each had exceptional weeks at practice, but Friday night both had drops of passes that should have been caught. East running back Clifton Richardson was among the top performers this week. He didn't play poorly Friday, but was stripped of the ball in the first quarter.



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