MOBILE, Ala. -- The National team defeated the American team, 20-10, in the Reese's Senior Bowl on Saturday to cap off a week-long job interview for 100-plus 2022 NFL Draft prospects. Here are six takeaways from the game:
1) Pickett perfect. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett certainly made the most of his chance at the Senior Bowl with perfect 6-of-6 passing for 89 yards and a touchdown pass to Baylor's Abram Smith, giving the National squad a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
It was perfect from a statistical standpoint, at least.
His longest completion of 38 yards to North Dakota State's Christian Watson was significantly underthrown, but Watson made a very tough adjustment to catch the pass near his feet, fell untouched, then got up to extend the play another 20 or so yards before being tackled at the American 15. It all stemmed from a miscommunication, according to Pickett.
"It wasn't the route he was supposed to run, but they busted a coverage," Pickett said. "It was supposed to be a corner route, but I kind of adjusted on the fly when I saw him kind of flash his hand real quick. I didn't want to overthrow him, because he was wide open. I just wanted to give him a chance to make a play."
From there, after a false start penalty, Pickett found Smith uncovered in the right flat for an easy 20-yard score on his sixth and final pass of the game.
"Everyone was saying I had a flash-in-the-pan season," Pickett added. "With 13 games playing at a really high level, I don't think it (was). So I wanted to come down here and continue on that consistent level."
2) Ridder, Willis sharp in their own ways. Two more quarterbacks who stood out for different reasons were Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder, for his passing, and Liberty's Malik Willis for his running. Ridder threw a pair of touchdown passes in completing 4-of-6 attempts for 68 yards.
Willis, meanwhile, rushed for a game-high 54 yards on just four carries in the first quarter, escaping pressure in the pocket and finding big gaps in the National defense. Senior Bowl rules that require end-of-quarter changes of possession robbed Willis of a scoring chance; he took his longest rush of the day 27 yards to the National 7-yard line on the last play of the first quarter, and the National offense took over by rule.
3) Mafe adjusts. Minnesota edge rusher Boye Mafe was named the National squad's player of the game, and was all but unblockable during the practice week as well. He revealed after the game that there was a tough adjustment involved: A stand-up rusher at Minnesota, he was asked to play with his hand on the ground in Mobile. And it's not as though he had much notice.
"I honestly hadn't been training with my hand on the ground. I got a call maybe five days before we showed up here and they said 'We want you to try putting your hand on the ground,'" Mafe said. "So I did it a few times in a workout beforehand, then I said 'OK, I'll come here and do it.'"
It worked out just fine, as Mafe logged a pair of sacks, another tackle for loss, and a forced fumble on Saturday.
"I was open ears when I got here ... I wanted to learn, to play my best ball," he said. "You've got to adapt to different defenses."
4) Johnson makes big difference for National running game. One of the elite performers of the practice week, Boston College offensive lineman Zion Johnson, was surprisingly not in the starting lineup and didn't play in the first quarter. He entered in the second quarter, however, and quickly began paving the way for an inside running game from the center position that carried much of the National squad's second TD drive. He played the fourth quarter as well, and again energized his team's inside running game, which included an 18-yard scamper by Arizona State's Rachaad White. Johnson was named the National squad's practice player of the week after an excellent showing at guard and some practice action at center to show his versatility.
5) Punters put on a show. Whatever money is made in draft stock at the Senior Bowl, it's tough for punters to get a piece of it given that specialists are in low draft demand. But Penn State's Jordan Stout and Georgia's Jake Camarda left quite an impression anyway. Stout's best punt, a 52-yarder in the third quarter, sailed perfectly to the sideline at the 4-yard line and was fielded for a gain of just one yard. Stout then gestured as if he were swinging a golf club -- it was the football equivalent of sticking a short iron on the green within a few feet of the cup. Stout punted four times for a 49.5-yard average, pinning the American squad with two drive starts inside their own 10-yard line. Camarda averaged 51 yards on six punts, including a long of 58.
6) Extra points. Oklahoma DL Perrion Winfrey took overall MVP honors after making five tackles with two sacks and another tackle for loss. He blew past LSU's Ed Ingram for a crushing sack of Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe. ... Along with the aforementioned Mafe earning National team player of the game honors, Western Kentucky DE DeAngelo Malone took American player of the game honors to give defensive players a clean sweep of game awards. Malone made six stops with two QB hurries and an assisted sack. ... Penn State LB Jesse Luketa was one of three National team players to log two sacks, along with Winfrey and Mafe. ... Wisconsin TE Jake Ferguson led all receivers with 62 yards, catching all three of his targets, including one for a score.