Pick Six: Players of the Week

Grant Haley

Grant Haley

Six secondary standouts from football’s week that was:

Grant Haley, CB, Penn State (NCAA): Grant Haley isn’t slow. According to his Penn State bio, he lettered in track and field in high school, and he’s already set football records as a kick returner for the Nittany Lions. His mom, Carla Neal-Haley, ran track for Penn State, so we know he doesn’t come from slow genes.

And yet I’ve never been so worried that a defensive back was going to get caught in a 60-yard sprint by a kicker and a punter as I was when Haley juuuuust beat Ohio State’s Tyler Durbin and Cameron Johnston to the end zone in Penn State’s 24-21 upset win over the 2nd-ranked Buckeyes on Saturday.

With about four and a half minutes to go and Ohio State leading 21-17, Durbin lined up for a 45-yard field goal with Johnston holding. PSU junior safety Marcus Allen — who is no relation to Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen, but is the godson of Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin — blocked the kick and Haley scooped it up with 60 yards of freedom between himself and the goal line. Haley made it, but the Buckeyes’ kicking specialists came real close to bringing him down.

Haley’s touchdown turned out to be the winning score and gave Penn State it’s biggest football moment in what seems like forever following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the NCAA sanctions and the death of Joe Paterno.

“It’s something you dream about as a kid,” Haley told reporters after the game. “Just running to the end zone and falling, it was a huge sigh of relief, like, everything, all the hard work this team’s put in coming into play against the No. 2 team in the country.”

Daniel Sorensen, SS, Chiefs (NFL): One of the NFL’s most potent passing attacks met one of the NFL’s most opportunistic secondaries on Sunday in Kansas City, and the Chiefs defensive backs did enough for the team to get a 27-21 win over the Saints and QB Drew Brees.

The most prolific of KC’s defensive playmakers was Sorensen, a backup strong safety who had six tackles, one sack and an interception that he returned 48 yards for a touchdown.

Utah Utes (NCAA): It seems kind of wrong to praise a secondary unit for their performance in a game in which their team allowed 45 points, but the Utes’ DBs did their thing in Saturday’s 52-45 win over UCLA.

Junior safety Jordan Fogal had five tackles and two interceptions. Senior cornerback Brian Allen had two interceptions and two pass breakups. Sophomore safety Chase Hansen had six tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Senior nickel back Justin Thomas had one tackle for a loss and a pass breakup.

The number on the scoreboard may not reflect it, but Utah’s DBs had a big hand in a victory that kept the Utes atop the Pac-12 South standings for another week.

Landon Collins, SS, Giants (NFL): Rams QB Case Keenum was pretty bad against the Giants on Sunday in London, throwing four interceptions and conjuring memories of some infamous “Who the F were you throwing to?” forefathers like Neil O’Donnell and Charlie Whitehurst.

But that doesn’t mean New York’s DBs just lucked their way into success.

Collins had a team-high eight tackles and two interceptions in the Giants’ 17-10 victory, and his 44-yard INT return for a touchdown looked like something from Leonard Fournette’s highlight reel. Collins caught a tipped pass, broke a couple of tackles, reversed field, shook a few more Rams, then bowled over one of L.A.’s offensive linemen before crossing the goal line. Collins’ second interception set up the Giants’ winning touchdown.

Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia (NCAA): Because it’s the Big 12 and because one of its marquee programs (Oklahoma) just won a football game 66-59 over the weekend, it’s become kind of surprising to see a team from the conference put together a strong defensive unit.

The Mountaineers are currently undefeated and creeping into the national championship playoff picture thanks in large part to their defense. In back-to-back weeks, West Virginia held notoriously high-scoring Texas Tech and TCU to a combined total of 27 points.

Douglas, a senior, contributed four tackles and an interception that set up one of West Virginia’s early touchdowns in Saturday’s 34-10 win over TCU.

Rodney McLeod, SS, Eagles (NFL): While McLeod’s interception during Sunday’s Eagles-Vikings game did happen in the end zone and technically prevented a touchdown, it ultimately didn’t lead to anything substantial. It was just one in a comedic string of turnover-trading by the two teams during the first half.

McLeod’s overall stat line looked good, however, as he finished with seven tackles and one sack to go with that one interception. He was a key player for a Philadelphia defense that shut down the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team in the Eagles’ 27-10 victory.

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