Intro to Canadian Studies: Tropical breakout tops Week 10 NCAA action

Photo courtesy: Hawai‘i Athletics

Everyone is in their places with bright shining faces.

For the first time in the history of Intro to Canadian Studies, we can boast perfect class attendance (OK, maybe not UConn or New Mexico State, but I’ll give them an academic concession). With the Mid-American Conference and Pac-12 back in action this week, every FBS conference has returned and in a year where it looked like we might only see a handful of Canadians, 71 now have seasons in full swing.

This class gets harder every week and the stellar performances of many Canadians aren’t helping any. This week is no different, with new faces to highlight and some big games from non-traditional positions.

Sharpen your pencils and let’s get into it.

Top of the Class

1. REC Nick Mardner, SO, Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (Mississauga, Ont.)

Whatever they put in Nick Mardner’s Hawaiian punch, I want some for myself.

Photo courtesy: Hawai‘i Athletics

The sophomore receiver entered Saturday’s matchup with New Mexico as a little-known role player, best remembered for a game-winning touchdown in the SoFi Hawai’i Bowl a year ago. Prior to the game, he had just seven career catches for 195 yards and two scores. In just one night, those numbers were nearly doubled.

Mardner racked up six catches for 147 yards, largely in the first half of action against the Lobos. Most impressive was a 42-yard catch and run where he cut around one falling defender, then stiff armed another on the way to his third career score. Call it a coming out party, or maybe luau, for the six-foot-six freak from Mississauga, resulting in a stellar Pro Football Focus grade of 81.6.

Who knows if Mardner will be able to keep up his new found level of production, but his statistics on Saturday are just another example of the fleet of young Canadian receivers destined for pro football stardom. Whether it’s Chase Claypool, Josh Palmer, John Metchie III, or now Nick Mardner, the future of the position is maple-glazed.

2. CB Benjamin St-Juste, JR, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Montreal, Que.)

Talk about a bounce back performance.

Last week in this article, I took St-Juste to task for one of his worst career performances and spoke of his importance to defensive coordinator-less Minnesota’s success in the CanCon Game of the Week. I choose to take credit for what came next, because St-Juste rebounded with a PFF grade of 77.7 and a coverage grade of 79.2.

The Golden Gophers blew out Illinois and Montreal’s favourite graduate student only allowed 14 yards receiving, broke up two passes and made two tackles. It was the second-highest graded coverage performance of St-Juste’s career, just slightly behind his first meeting with Illinois a year ago. Clearly there is something about the Illini that gets the Canadian fired up and anyone watching benefits.

3. CB Patrice Rene, SR, North Carolina Tar Heels (Ottawa, Ont.)

Patrice Rene is once again making his presence felt all over the field. Fully recovered from a lower body injury that left him sidelined a few weeks ago, Rene was an absolute menace as North Carolina thrashed Duke. The Ottawa born corner didn’t allow a reception all game and notched a key pass break-up in a shutdown performance. Rene also managed to make five tackles, including a career-high two for loss, while adding a quarterback hurry in a well rounded outing.

Despite two missed tackles, often a death blow in grading, Rene finished with a PFF grade of 70.5, with an improved 73.9 mark in coverage. It was by far his best game since the tragic knee injury that cost him his 2019 season and the corner even stole himself a Duke towel for a little added swagger. It wasn’t quite enough to get UNC back in the top 25 but Rene hopes a few more performances like this one will get him back on NFL draft boards this off-season.

Notes on the Margin

LT Alaric Jackson, SR, Iowa Hawkeyes (Windsor, Ont.)

When TSN posted a video last week talking about the top potential Canadian draft picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, I was shocked to see they missed one. Sure, Alaric Jackson spent a lot of his childhood flip-flopping between Windsor and Detroit, but the Hawkeye left tackle still has a maple leaf on his passport and won’t escape Day 2 unselected.

This week was a perfect example why. Against a pretty good Michigan State defensive line, Jackson locked down the blindside without allowing a single pressure. That resulted in a dazzling PFF pass blocking grade of 86.8. His overall grade was brought down to a 72.0 by a merely average performance in the run game, but left tackles are paid to keep quarterbacks upright and that’s what Jackson is best at.

Forget him at your own peril.

QB Kurtis Rourke, FR, Ohio Bobcats (Oakville, Ont.)

No need to pinch yourself, this isn’t deja vu. There’s another quarterback named Rourke starting at Ohio University and he has the potential to be even better than the last one.

Kurtis Rourke is, of course, the younger brother of B.C. Lions’ draft pick and two-time Cornish Trophy winner Nathan Rourke. Unlike his dual-threat sibling, this Rourke is a statuesque pocket passer. His first career start as a redshirt freshman didn’t take him out of his brother’s shadow, but it certainly flashed some high-end potential.

Going 12-of-19 for 231 yards and two touchdowns, Rourke exhibited big-time arm talent when able to rifle the ball down the field. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination — he hung onto the ball too long, took bad sacks that resulted in fumbles and needed to give way to the running talents of Armani Rogers to get the team rolling at times.

Still, Kurtis might already be a better pure downfield passer than Nathan and he’s got three years or more still to develop. Nothing excites football fans in this country like a Canadian quarterback and Kurtis Rourke is the next one to watch.

Re-Submit Assignment

FS Sydney Brown, JR, Illinois Fighting Illini (London, Ont.)

How does a starting safety who made six tackles Saturday end up in the Canadian doghouse? Simple — you miss seven tackles.

Sydney Brown had a day to forget against Minnesota. He was juked, he was spun and he was trucked as he tried desperately to make plays in the open field. Known for his ability to deliver blows, Brown looked flat-footed and overmatched whenever the powerful Mohamed Ibrahim came his way, ultimately resulting in a PFF grade of 41.9 and a tackling grade of 23.1.

Those numbers and the tape itself are embarrassing for a player who is much more talented than his performance would indicate. You better believe it will be the source of motivation as he prepares for Rutgers next week.

Class Attendance

LG Sidy Sow, JR, Eastern Michigan: 72 offensive snaps, one pressure allowed

P Jake Julien, SR, Eastern Michigan: Two punts, 86 yards, 43.0 average, two inside the 20

LT Daniel Johnson, SO, Kent State: 83 offensive snaps, zero pressures allowed, four penalties

REC Dominic Johnson, SR, Buffalo: 31 offensive snaps, two receptions, 16 yards

LG Gabe Wallace, SO, Buffalo: Six offensive snaps

TE Cole Burniston, SO, Buffalo: Five offensive snaps

CB Peter Kemeni, FR, Ohio: Special teams only

DT Mohamed Diallo, SR, Central Michigan: Three defensive snaps

DE Daniel Joseph, SR, NC State: 52 defensive snaps, five tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hit, one hurry

OLB Isaiah Bagnah, FR, Boise State: Four defensive snaps

DE Luiji Vilain, SR, Michigan: 52 defensive snaps, three tackles

OLB DK Bonhomme, SO, Indiana: 32 defensive snaps, two tackles, one sack

OL John Kourtis, SO, Liberty: Special teams only

FS Alonzo Addae, SR, West Virginia: 70 defensive snaps, four tackles, one pass deflection

DE Akheem Mesidor, FR, West Virginia: 18 defensive snaps

LT Matthew Bergeron, SO, Syracuse: 55 offensive snaps, one pressure allowed

MLB Geoff Cantin-Arku, SO, Syracuse: 61 defensive snaps, five tackles, one quarterback hit

SLB Tyrell Richards, JR, Syracuse: 33 defensive snaps, three tackles, one batted ball, one quarterback hit

FS Ben Labrosse, FR, Syracuse: 11 defensive snaps

REC Samuel Emilus, JR, UMass: 44 offensive snaps, six receptions, 29 yards, one touchdown

NT Samuel Obiang, SO, Texas State: One defensive snap

NT Olivier Charles-Pierre, SR, Houston: 22 defensive snaps, one tackle, one hurry

FS Jonathan Sutherland, JR, Penn State: 9 defensive snaps, one pass deflection

WLB Jesse Luketa, JR, Penn State: 47 defensive snaps, four tackles

TE Theo Johnson, FR, Penn State: Special teams only

RB Chase Brown, SO, Illinois: 31 offensive snaps, four carries, 31 yards

DT Alex Dumais, SO, Fresno State: 35 defensive snaps, one tackle, one quarterack hit, three hurries

LT Dontae Bull, JR, Fresno State: 73 offensive snaps, two pressures allowed, two penalties

REC Jared Wayne, SO, Pittsburgh: 47 offensive snaps, two receptions, 66 yards

RB Chuba Hubbard, JR, Oklahoma State: 21 offensive snaps, six carries, 31 yards, one reception, four yards

MLB Amen Ogbongbemiga, SR, Oklahoma State: 66 defensive snaps, eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one hurry

REC Josh Palmer, SR, Tennessee: 64 offensive snaps, two receptions, 28 yards

WLB Enock Makonzo, JR, Coastal Carolina: 72 defensive snaps, nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss

Rostered but not dressed: DE Reignings Awah, FR, Kent State / OL Jack Taylor, FR, Western Michigan / OL Deondre Dorion, FR, Buffalo / FS Woodly Appolon, JR, Northern Illinois / DL Cade Cote, FR, Central Michigan / DE Geri Theodore, FR, Toledo / DE Daniel Okpoko, SO, San Diego State / REC Barron Miles Jr, FR, Nebraska / REC Ezechiel Tieide, SO, Boston College / REC Damian Alford, FR, Syracuse / RG Patrick Davis, SR, Syracuse / LB Tyris Lebeau, JR, UMass / REC Malick Meiga, FR, Penn State / OL Tyrell Lawrence, FR, Minnesota / TE Bruno Labelle, SR, Cincinnati / OL Liam Dick, FR, Pittsburgh / LB Kenny Mestidor, FR, UCLA / REC Ajou Ajou, FR, Clemson / LB Nick Wiebe, SO, Oregon / DT Lamar Goods, FR, Florida / DE Wilt Gabe II, SO, Coastal Carolina / DB Henry Kimmins, FR, Washington State

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.