In a lot of ways, the nationally-televised tilt between 2011 Texas target Aaron Green's SA Madison squad and 2011 Texas commit Malcolm Brown was a typical early-season high school football, with plenty of fumbles and penalties by both teams.
In a lot of ways, the much-hyped matchup was like few high school games, period, the result of having two of the top running backs in the country on the same field and ESPN in the house, as well as several other promising prospects.
Both Brown and Green showed off why they are so highly considered, as Green scored three touchdowns on the way to 174 yards and Brown scored two of his own (one through the air and one on the ground), including an incredible 88-yard touchdown run that showed off his considerable talents. Brown finished with around 180 total yards rushing and receiving.
However, the early part of the game was defined for Steele by fumbles, several by starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong, still adjusting to the position after playing linebacker and receiver last season. The miscues eventually landed the starter on the bench for stretches of the first half and helped Madison roar out to an early lead on the back of Green and 2011 UTSA commit Troy Williams, a fullback who shares carries with his more electric backfield mate.
Then, in the third quarter, it was Steele capitalizing on fumbles by Madison, both deep in Steele territory. On the first, Green took his eyes off the ball to look downfield on a toss sweep and lost the football in the process. On the second, Green attempted to go over the top of the defense to find the end zone and a Steele defender put his shoulder directly on the football.
Brown's 88-yard touchdown run after one of those fumbles brought Steele back into the game and was followed early in the fourth quarter by Green's sensational run of the night, a 68-yarder that showed off both his speed and his patience in allowing Williams to make a critical downfield block.
The run put Madison up by 11 with eight minutes left in the game and though Steele would pull to within five late in the game on a long touchdown run by Tommy Armstrong on a speed option, it was a late stand on fourth down that helped Madison preserve the game. Driving with a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter, Armstrong was unable to connect with his receiver on fourth down inside the Maverick red zone, throwing behind his receiver, who could not adjust to the ball and bring it in. Out of timeouts, Steele could not stop the clock and Madison secured the hard-fought victory.
So although the early part of the game was defined by sloppiness in the form of fumbles and penalties, when the teams settled down and got into a rhythm, the talent of both Brown and Green flashed brightly and the ending was instense and full of high drama. Every bit the type of high school football game deserving of broadcast not only in this country but around the world.
Malcolm Brown, Cibolo Steele RB (2011) --The most noticeable thing about Brown on the evening was his conditioning -- the Texas commit was showing off a little bit of a gut and looked about 5-10 pounds overweight, evident late in the game when it looked like he ran out of gas, spending portions of the last drive down on his haunches trying to catch his breath.
However, Brown also showed why he is generally considered the top running back in the country on his 88-yard touchdown -- after breaking two tackles past the line of scrimmage, Brown showed his solid burst to the outside, and realizing that he couldn't beat a defender to the edge, squared up the overmatched Madison opponent and sent him to the ground with a stiff arm, heading up the sideline and breaking two more arm tackles on the way to the end zone, spinning away from the final defender and bringing his team back into the ballgame.
A no-nonsense runner, Brown got quickly upfield all night, picking up the maximum possible yardage on nearly every carry, which wasn't much for most of the night as Madison loaded the box in an attempt to slow him down. When he did find some openings, his feet looked solid and his burst through the was as expected -- good, but far from elite. At times, Brown ran well behind his pads and always finished his runs well, but looked like he could still work on his body lean.
Overall, Brown was as good as advertised, but his lack of fitness is a bit of a concern, especially since he's a player who has to work hard to maximize his speed. A player with the potential to be a good and possibly great collegiate back, it's still apparent that Brown will not be the savior of the Texas running game, but simply what Texas coaches hope is the final piece of a complex puzzle.
Aaron Green, SA Madison RB (2011) -- As expected, Green looked like a much different running back than the larger, stronger Brown. For Green, it's all about vision and burst and quick feet. What was impressive about Green was that he showed the patience to let Williams set up his blocks before turning on his burst and took the available yardage instead of trying to bounce everything outside, as do many speedy backs in high school.
And though he does lack some size and physicality as a running back, especially compared with the bruising Brown, Green isn't afraid of using the strength he does have to take on defenders and try to move the pile. He just won't be breaking many arm tackles at the next level -- part of the reason Texas sees him as a change-of-pace back.
Two fumbles on the day marred an otherwise strong performance and could continue to be a problem this season because the Madison star has a tendency to run with the ball out and away from his body, something he will not be able to get away with in college.
Troy Williams, SA Madison RB (2011) -- The UTSA commit isn't the biggest back in the world at about 5-9 and plays somewaht out of position at fullback for the Mavericks, but was one of the more impressive players in the game with his tough, hard-nosed running style aided by his low center of gravity and numerous blocks that helped spring Green for extra yardage. Williams has quite a bit of pop in his short frame, but could have done a better job of maintaining contact with the defender instead of trying to knock them off their feet with a single violent shove. It looks like Larry Coker and the Roadrunners picked up a solid college back in Williams.
Marquis Anderson, Cibolo Steele DT (2011) -- Even though Anderson wasn't the most impressive defensive tackle in the game, he still showed why he has considerable upside as a college prospect, getting into the backfield on several occasions and showing a strong ability to quickly hit and separate from opposing offensive linemen. Anderson will probably struggled to maintain his burst off the ball at the next level while reaching 300 pounds, but will be a one-gap defender for Oklahoma as he is for Steele and his combination of solid technique, good pad level, and explosiveness will help him contribute for the Sooners relatively early in his career.
Tommy Armstrong, Cibolo Steele QB (2012) -- Armstrong struggled mightily throughout the game with his ball security, partly a result of struggling with the quarterback-center exchange and partly because he has a tendency to scramble and run with the ball unprotected a la Michael Vick. Still new to the quarterback position, Armstrong was at his best running with the football, showing good ability to change direction and supporting the claims of his coaches that he runs a 4.5 with impressive burst in the open field, particularly on a long touchdown run late in the game on a speed option that helped Steele crawl to within several points of the lead.
Throwing the football was much more of a mixed bag for the junior. His footwork and mechanics are decent and his arm strength is average to slighty above average, but his accuracy was off at times. A deep pass that hit receiver Blake Gardner in stride 40+ yards downfield was the highlight of his night and the though he didn't throw any interceptions, the lowlight came on the last play of the game when he threw behind his receiver on fourth down.
Armstrong has some promise as a quarterback, but he's raw enough at the position and has enough overall athleticism that it would probably be better to label him as an athlete as a college prospect at this time.
Vincent Taylor, SA Madison (2013) -- The revelation of the game was easily the young defensive tackle for the winning team, who made his presence felt on seemingly every play -- he was around the ball more often than any of the linebackers on either team. At 6-3 and 240 pounds, Taylor still has plenty of room to grow into his frame, but looked the part of a future top prospect. Often lining up as the nose tackle, ESPN analyst Herm Edwards credited Taylor's disruptive play with forcing the Steele center to fumble several exchanges in an attempt to cut his head up quickly enough to stop the onrushing Taylor.
Taylor did look his best when matched up one-on-one, where he used good hand placement to separate from blocks to pursue plays laterally down the line of scrimmage and downfield. He experienced less success when facing double teams, as he simply doesn't have the leg strength at this time to take on two offensive linemen. However, Taylor did manage to hold his ground on most of those occasions.
If Taylor can continue to develop his strength and improve his technique, which is solid for a player of his age, he could establish himself as one of the top Texas targets in 2013 at a difficult position to fill. One thing is not in question -- his national debut was extremely impressive and with that peformance, Taylor surely put himself squarely on the radar of numerous national programs.