Intro to Canadian Studies: Defensive standouts highlight Week 7 in the NCAA

Photo courtesy: West Virginia Athletics

Intro to Canadian Studies doesn’t have a syllabus like most university courses, but according to the Week 7 schedule, this lecture is all about defence.

After several weeks of dazzling offensive performances, Canada’s top weapons all fell quiet simultaneously and the defensive stars came out to play. An all-defence top of the class highlights the very best and brightest, giving some lesser known players a chance to be recognized before the remaining FBS conferences start play next week and competition for recognition gets much tougher.

Open your notebooks and let’s get started.

Top of the Class

1. DE Akheem Mesidor, FR, West Virginia Mountaineers (Ottawa, Ont.)

Akheem Mesidor is not your regular freshman.

Someone forgot to tell the 268-pound defensive lineman that your first year on campus is supposed to be about keeping your head down and waiting your turn. With four sacks in four games, Mesidor sits tied for the third-most quarterback takedowns in the country and shares the freshman lead with Tyler Batty of Brigham Young University. Batty is much older, having done a three-year mission out of high school, while Mesidor is a true freshman.

Photo courtesy: West Virginia Athletics

Mesidor announced his presence to the NCAA football world on Saturday. Taking just 22 reps in rotation along one of the country’s best defensive lines, Mesidor made his presence felt with six tackles, a quarterback hurry and two sacks on back-to-back plays in the third quarter. He showed both strength and athleticism to make the University of Kansas offensive line look silly, finishing his week as 24/7 Sports’ True Freshman of the Week.

Mesidor impressed the analytics folks as well, notching a Pro Football Focus grade of 74.1. The Ottawa native is deservedly at the top of the class and should get even more chances to get after the quarterback going forward.

2. FS Alonzo Addae, SR, West Virginia Mountaineers (Pickering, Ont.)

From one Mountaineer to another. Addae was back to his ball-hawking ways against Kansas and while it wasn’t the same as his super human feat from Week Two, Addae’s play was a highly intelligent one.

Lined up in the box, he read the quarterback’s eyes the whole way and smoothly dropped underneath the deep crosser to make a seemingly easy pick. That was the only time the Jayhawks dared to throw Addae’s way all game, but the safety did manage to add three tackles in a very solid outing.

Canadian DB Alonzo Addae records another interception for West Virginia

Addae continues to be one of the Big 12’s most consistent defensive backs and his 73.6 PFF grade was just another solid performance in a statement season. Anyone who doubted his decision to sit out last year and transfer from the University of New Hampshire is now eating their words.

3. SLB Tyrell Richards, JR, Syracuse Orange (Brampton, Ont.)

This one had to feel good for Tyrell Richards. Syracuse’s special teams player of the year in 2019 was penciled in as a defensive starter all spring until a tumultuous off-season put his future in question.

His vocal stances on social justice and COVID-19 protections for players brought him into conflict with decision-makers. And an impaired driving arrest saw him receive team discipline while lingering injuries knocked him out of the lineup twice. When he has been in, Richards was always effective in limited reps but Saturday marked a turning point.

After missing last week due to injury and not being listed on the Week 7 depth chart, Richards got the surprise start at strong-side linebacker and took advantage. The junior led his team with nine tackles and also tied the team lead in pressures with three quarterback hurries off the edge. While his 64.4 PFF grade in the loss to Liberty University won’t win any awards, Richards showed a consistency in all areas that should get him on the field far more often.

From riding the bench to statistical leader is a big jump to make, but Richards did it seamlessly because he always should have been the starter for the Orange.

Notes on the Margins

NT Samuel Obiang, SO, Texas State Bobcats (Ottawa, Ont.)

The NCAA’s most under-the-radar Canadian had another banner day for plucky Texas State University. The no-star junior college transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M has firmly seized control of the starting nose tackle position and posted his best day as a pass rusher against the University of South Alabama.

Obiang made two tackles and was credited with three hurries on Saturday. While I bumped Richards onto the “Top of the Class” podium due to his statistical volume, Obiang actually posted the better PFF grade with a 69.8. My decision almost feels harsh given that nose tackle doesn’t exactly lend itself to eye-popping statistics, so I will honour him once again in this section designed to highlight great games with less statistical heft. Frankly, the section might as well be named for Obiang.

REC Ajou Ajou, FR, Clemson Tigers (Brooks, Alb.)

We’ve been waiting for it all year and Canadian true freshman Ajou Ajou finally announced himself as a member of the No. 1 team in the country on Saturday. Sure, it was only one catch in a blowout over Georgia Tech but the weaving 35-yard touchdown will be an early candidate for the best play by a Canadian all year.

Canadian receiver Ajou Ajou scores highlight reel first career NCAA touchdown with Clemson

Seemingly breaking the tackle of every single Yellow Jackets defender on the field, Ajou’s first career touchdown was one for the ages and will likely be the highlight of his freshman season for a loaded Clemson squad. He also posted a team-high run blocking grade of 81.0 for his 28 snaps and finally showed the promise that we all suspected he had. This year, it was John Metchie III breaking out. Get ready for Ajou Ajou next year.

Re-Submit Assignment

MLB Geoff Cantin-Arku, SO, Syracuse Orange (Levis, Que.)

It takes a lot to fall from the top of the class one week to the very bottom the next, but Geoff Cantin-Arku did it in truly spectacular fashion. Against a lethal three-pronged Liberty rushing attack that sliced the Orange for 338 yards, the sophomore looked equal parts overmatched and confused. He got manhandled by linemen on multiple Flames’ scores and on one memorable 75-yard touchdown misread the play entirely, sprinting out to cover a receiver in the flat while the running back sprinted untouched through the space he once occupied.

Cantin-Arku still made five tackles and notched a quarterback hurry but stats aren’t everything. One week after his season-best performance and a defensive touchdown, the Quebecer hit rock bottom with a PFF grade of 40.9 that sunk to 35.0 against the run. It was a major hiccup in a solid season thus far and a reminder that the first year starter still has plenty to learn.

Class Attendance

WLB Enock Makonzo, JR, Coastal Carolina: 56 defensive snaps, five tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss

NT Olivier Charles-Pierre, SR, Houston: Three defensive snaps, one tackle, 0.5 tackles for loss

REC Jared Wayne, SO, Pittsburgh: 37 offensive snaps, one reception, 26 yards

REC Josh Palmer, SR, Tennessee: 47 offensive snaps, one reception, 11 yards

DE Daniel Joseph, SR, NC State: 24 defensive snaps, two tackles, one sack

C John Kourtis, SO, Liberty: Dressed on special teams

FS Ben Labrosse, FR, Syracuse: Seven defensive snaps, one tackle

LT Matthew Bergeron, SO, Syracuse: 67 offensive snaps, one false start, no pressures allowed

OLB Tavius Robinson, JR, Ole Miss: 39 defensive snaps, three tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss

REC Samuel Emilus, JR, UMass: 39 offensive snaps, four receptions, 28 yards, one punt return, 13 yards

REC Terrell Jana, SR, Virginia: 64 offensive snaps, four receptions, 48 yards

REC John Metchie III, SO, Alabama: 64 offensive snaps, three receptions, 50 yards, one touchdown

CB Patrice Rene, SR, North Carolina: 40 defensive snaps, three tackles, one pass break-up, one quarterback hit

PK Gabe Siemieniec, SR, Louisiana Tech: Four kickoffs, 202 yards, 50.5 average, one touchback

Rostered but not dressed: OL Liam Dick, FR, Pittsburgh / REC Ezechiel Tieide, SO, Boston College / RG Patrick Davis, SR, Syracuse / REC Damien Alford, FR, Syracuse / DE Wilt Gabe II, SO, Coastal Carolina / CB Deane Leonard, SR, Ole Miss / FS Tyris Lebeau, JR, UMass

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.