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Small-School College Stars From Week 8

Not only did Week 8 of college football mark the start of the Big Ten season, but the teams of the Mountain West also suited up for the first time. With that, there were plenty more performances to pick out from these Group of 5 conferences that should be getting more recognition. Here are five small-school players who made a name for themselves this week:

Jarell White, LB, Cincinnati

Stats vs. SMU: 13 total tackles, 11 solo tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, 1 pass defended, 1 QB hurry

Until this week, no team had been able to stop the high-flying offense of the SMU Mustangs. Shane Buechele and company had their way with opposing defenses until a top 25 showdown with the Cincinnati Bearcats. Much of the reason for Cincinnati’s dominant 42-13 win can be attributed to how well its defense played, especially senior linebacker Jarell White. The team’s leading tackler coming into the game, White was responsible for 13 total tackles along with a sack and multiple tackles for loss. The 5-10, 205-pound linebacker did a really nice job bluffing coverage and then going after Buechele in order to throw off his rhythm. Furthermore, White was very useful when he did drop into coverage as he made a plethora of good tackles in space in order to not allow running back Ulysses Bentley or tight end Kylen Granson to take control of the game. White even had a huge pressure on Buechele on fourth-and-5 that forced a bad pass to fall incomplete when SMU was trying to make a comeback attempt late in the game. This pressure proved to be huge as Cincinnati ended up scoring immediately after to put the game out of reach. Without White’s contributions, this game may have looked entirely different.

Carson Strong, QB, Nevada

Stats vs. Wyoming: 39/52 passing, 420 yards passing, 8.1 YPA, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 63.0 QBR

Mountain West football was finally back in Week 8, and this saw 6-4, 215-pound sophomore QB Carson Strong pick up where he left off last season for Nevada. Heading into the first game after a long layoff is never easy, but Strong seemed like he didn’t even miss a beat in a 37-34 overtime win over the Wyoming Cowboys. On the day, Strong passed for 420 yards and four touchdowns while only having one turnover on the night (a lost fumble). This included an array of accurate passes that frustrated the Cowboys defense. Strong ended up completing 75%. Even when Strong was under duress, he still figured out a way to make strong passes to his receivers. He was sacked three times, but that did not stop him from making the Cowboys pay for trying to throw blitzes at him. The key for Strong was to get the ball out quickly, which allowed the Wolfpack to get out to a 28-6 lead before Wyoming came storming back to send the game to OT. Strong was able to throw to a plethora of spots. On his game-winning TD pass in overtime, Strong did a really nice job of getting the ball over the linebacker dropping back into zone coverage and fitting it into a tight window to his receiver on a slant route. If Strong can keep up these performances, Nevada could be a team to reckon with in the MWC this season.

Sincere McCormick, RB, UTSA

Stats vs. Louisiana Tech: 37 rushes for 165 yards (4.5 yards per carry), 3 TDs, 2 receptions for 12 yards

There is a clear reason why Texas-San Antonio has had one of its best seasons to date since joining the ranks of the FBS in 2013, and it’s because of this team’s willingness to let 5-9, 200-pound sophomore running back Sincere McCormick carry the load. For a guy his size, McCormick has been an absolute workhorse in every game for UTSA this season, averaging 22 carries per game. McCormick has made good use of his carries as he currently leads the FBS in rushing yards with 867 and is tied for 10th in rushing touchdowns with seven. In this 27-26 nail-biter win over Louisiana Tech, McCormick had a season high in both rush attempts with 37 and rushing touchdowns with three. McCormick also had his second-highest rushing output of the season with 165 yards. These totals were good enough to make McCormick the Earl Campbell Player of the Week for Week 8. Against Louisiana Tech, McCormick’s ability to find open holes was incredible, particularly on his game-winning touchdown run of 45 yards with just over six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. On his longest run of the game, it looked like the sophomore was going to be stopped at the line of scrimmage before he was able to bounce to the outside of the left tackle and leave all of the Bulldog defenders in the dust. Because of performances like this one, McCormick is becoming a name that hasn’t been talked about enough in college football lore this season.

Kawann Baker, WR, South Alabama

Stats vs. UL Monroe: 6 receptions for 154 yards, 3 TDs, 1 rush for 6 yards

South Alabama really did not drop back to pass very often against Louisiana-Monroe, nor did it really need to in a 38-14 win over the Warhawks. The Jaguars were up by so much from start to finish that it really didn’t need to throw the ball much. The team ran the ball 44 times compared to only 17 pass attempts. However, when the Jaguars did attempt to pass the ball, one man stood out -- 6-1, 215 pound senior receiver Kawann Baker. Of the 17 pass attempts South Alabama had in Week 8, Baker was on the receiving end of six of those attempts, catching 35.3% of South Alabama’s passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns. South Alabama only had 246 passing yards on the night, and Baker accounted for 62.6% of those yards. Baker’s first TD catch ended up being for 80 yards while his other two TD catches were more in the short to intermediate range. Baker has nearly eclipsed his totals from last season, which is part of the reason why South Alabama has gotten out to a 3-2 start in the 2020 campaign. If Baker can find more consistency throughout the season, the Jaguars could prove to be a tough out in the Sun Belt Conference this season.

Caden McDonald, LB, San Diego State

Stats vs. UNLV: 8 total tackles, 2 solo tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 2 QB hurries

San Diego State, as part of the Mountain West Conference, finally got to play its first game of the season in Week 8. The outcome was never really in question for the Aztecs as they dominated the UNLV Rebels from start to finish for a 34-6 win thanks to a strong effort from its defense. A big performance from 6-3, 235-pound junior linebacker Caden McDonald had a lot to do with that. Where McDonald really succeeded in this game was his ability to chase ball carriers when they bounced runs or scrambles to the outside. Due to the constant pressure that San Diego State applied on UNLV QB Max Gilliam, McDonald was able to make a plethora of plays in open space when Gilliam was forced to get out of the pocket. Furthermore, McDonald did such a good job of blowing up the holes that UNLV’s offensive line tried to create that it made it extremely difficult for UNLV’s offensive skill players to make any sort of electric plays throughout the course of the game. He really did a great job of pushing the right tackle into the direction the play was supposed to go in order to make sure the UNLV offensive skill players were forced to adapt on the fly.