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Running Backs Run Wild in Senior Bowl

The North defeated the South team 34-13 on Saturday at the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

The all-star game, in its 66th installment, however, is less about the points on the scoreboard and more about the points that top prospects scored with NFL scouts and coaches during three days of practices and meetings in the week and in their final game action before the 2015 NFL Draft (April 30-May 2).

The game features reduced playbooks on offense and some restrictions on defense like not allowing blitzes. It also included a two-minute drill at the end of each quarter with a change of possession to start the following period and the addition of the option of playing a slot corner as a fifth defensive back.

Here are some thoughts about the game:

PICK A BACK, ANY BACK: Running backs on both squads were impressive, generating several nice gains on the ground with nifty cuts and by breaking tackles for extra yards.

For the North: Former Cornhusker Ameer Abdullah delivered a 19-yard gain on his team's first play of the game. The Alabama native added receptions of 10 yards and 20 yards on throws from Bryce Petty during a two-minute drill at the end of the first quarter and had carries of 25 yards and 15 yards on the North's final possession of the first half. Abdullah finished with seven rushes for 73 yards and four receptions for 40 yards and was named the Most Valuable Player of the game.

Former Golden Gopher David Cobb showed he can run the ball in a variety of situations, catch it out of the backfield and help protect a lead. Cobb rushed for 25 yards and 15 yards on his first two carries, added another 15-yard gain in the third quarter and scored from 4 yards to give the North a 20-10 lead with 40 seconds left in the third quarter. He also recovered a fumbled snap and converted a third-and-2 with a 4-yard rush during a drive on which the North scored the final TD of the game.

Former Yale tailback Tyler Varga, the only Canadian in the game, was asked to play some fullback and also made an impression as a running back. Varga delivered the key block on Cobb's TD run and found the end zone twice, scoring from 13 and 7 yards.

For the South: Former Auburn Tiger Cameron Artis-Payne handled a heavy dose of carries early, rushing on five of the game's first seven plays for 29 yards and turned a catch on a screen pass into a 24-yard gain.

Former Northern Iowa Panther David Johnson also showed an ability to multitask. Johnson scored a 19-yard touchdown on his first carry of the game, shedding a tackle attempt by Danny Shelton with a nifty cut and strength and picking up a block downfield by former Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett. Johnson added an impressive 37-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter after navigating through traffic.

PASSING STRUGGLES: Three days of practice for three quarterbacks on each roster make it tough to get the necessary reps to build a rhythm with receivers, and it showed in the form of overthrows, underthrows and near misses.

North Highlight: Oregon State product Sean Mannion and Bayor WR Antwan Goodley had a connection of 18 yards a play before Mannion found Notre Dame TE Ben Koyack for a 10-yard TD (the game's only passing TD) to give the North a 10-7 lead with 12:23 left in the first half.

South Highlight: Central Florida WR Rannell Hall showed a great ability to adjust on a deep pass from Southeastern Louisiana's Bryan Bennett for a 32-yard reception that set up a field goal that tied the game at 10 with 8:31 left in the third quarter. Hall also handled a heater thrown by Bennett, who was added to the roster after Nick Marshall switched from quarterback to cornerback, near the sideline later that quarter.

Near miss: The most interesting near miss could have provided quite an anomaly: happiness for Alabama and Auburn fans on the same play. Crimson Tide QB Blake Sims attempted to hit Sammie Coates on a corner route in the end zone on third down in the second quarter. Coates, however, was only able to land one foot in bounds, which would have counted in college, but not under the NFL rules that were implemented for the game. Coates later left with a groin injury.

Inactive: Speedy Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett, the fastest player on either roster, did not dress for the game because of an oblique injury.

VALUE OF A NICKEL: North cornerback Quandre Diggs was able to deliver the most impactful defensive play of the game at nickelback, capitalizing on the rule change that allowed five DBs. Diggs, who covered the slot as a Texas Longhorn, intercepted Bennett near midfield and returned the ball all the way to the South 11-yard line, setting up Cobb's score.

Quinten Rollins, a converted basketball player who had seven interceptions for Miami-Ohio in 2014, intercepted Bennett on the next series during the two-minute drill in the third quarter.

TCU cornerback Kevin White of the South squad also recorded an interception of Petty in the first quarter. 

D-LINE IMPRESSIONS: North highlight: Former Iowa Hawkeye DT Carl Davis built on a strong week that resulted in his selection by a panel of scouts as Most Outstanding Practice Player of the Week by repeatedly getting penetration on run plays.

South stop: Former Mississippi State DE Preston Smith sacked Mannion and forced a fumble for a loss of 12 yards to help keep points off the board at the end of the first half. Smith capitalized on a little bit of extra time and beat Pittsburgh tackle TJ Clemmings for the sack that moved the ball from the South 10 to the 22. Smith followed by beating Clemmings on the next play to force Mannion to scramble for a gain of 6. A pass interference penalty in the end zone on Ladarius Gunter the following play gave the North the ball at the South one, but Gunter recovered to tackle Abdullah for no gain after a reception shy of the goal line as the clock ran out.

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