Football Writers Association of America Sept. 7, 2021
For Immediate Release
Contact: Steve Richardson
214-870-6516
A weekly look at the first-year standout players and coaches
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2021 FRESHMAN FOCUS: WEEK 1

DALLAS (FWAA) Each week during the 2021 season, we will highlight the notable performances of first-year players and head coaches leading up to the selection of our annual Freshman All-America Team and the Steve Spurrier First-Year Coach of the Year Award presented by Chris Doering Mortgage. Here are the top performances from Week 1, the extended weekend of Sept. 2-6:

FIRST-YEAR PLAYERS: THE FRESH FOUR

Rasheen Ali, RB, Marshall (6-0, 201, Cleveland, Ohio): 14 rushes, 59 yards, 4 TD

Under new head coach Charles Huff, Ali flourished near the goal line. All four of the redshirt freshman's scores were from inside the five-yard line in the Thundering Herd's convincing 49-7 win at Navy. The Herd's workhorse back will look to lead his team to a 2-0 record this Saturday against North Carolina Central.

Michael Pratt, QB, Tulane (6-2, 210, Boca Raton, Fla.): 27/44, 296 yards, 3 TD; 15 rushes, 34 yds, 1 TD

Pratt, who established himself as a top young talent in 2020, came through with more of the same for the Green Wave in its 40-35 loss to Oklahoma. Down 37-14 at halftime, Pratt accounted for three total touchdowns in the second half to bring Tulane within one possession of knocking off the second-ranked Sooners in Norman. With Morgan State slated for this Saturday, the redshirt freshman figures to keep the Tulane offense rolling with a game against Ole Miss looming the following weekend.

Tulane's Michael Pratt (Icon Sportswire)

Corey Rucker, WR, Arkansas State (6-0, 203, Bentonia, Miss.): 9 receptions, 138 yards, 3 TD

Rucker's three scores two of which were in the same minute of the fourth quarter helped new head coach Butch Jones start his tenure off with the Red Wolves with a win. Rucker's touchdown catches of 8, 33, and 34 yards helped Arkansas State beat Central Arkansas, 40-21. The redshirt freshman will need to keep the hits coming this weekend when the Red Wolves face off against Memphis.

C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State (6-2, 218, Empire, Calif.): 13/22, 294 yards, 4 TD/1 INT; 3 rushes, 13 yards

Despite a slow start, Stroud stole the show Thursday night as the Buckeyes bested Minnesota, 45-31. The redshirt freshman displayed plenty of arm strength in the win, stretching the field and connecting with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave for 56-yard and 61-yard touchdowns, respectively. With eleventh-ranked Oregon coming to Columbus this Saturday, Stroud will look to continue his early success as he tries to lead Ohio State to its third straight College Football Playoff appearance.

STEVE SPURRIER FIRST-YEAR COACHES

Charles Huff, Marshall: In his head-coaching debut, the well-traveled career assistant became the first Marshall head coach to open on the road and win as the Thundering Herd bashed Navy, 49-7, not far from his hometown of Denton, Md. Marshall scored on its opening drive only 2:37 into the game on Rasheen Ali's two-yard plunge, one of his four rushing touchdowns (see above). Marshall led 21-0 at the half and its defense finished with nine sacks, the second-most in a single game in program history.

Gus Malzahn, UCF: After falling behind 21-0 early in the second quarter, Malzahn's Knights battled back en route to a 36-31 victory over Boise State. UCF generated 573 yards of total offense and scored 23 unanswered points to take the lead. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel completed 25 passes for 318 yards and threw for four touchdowns and two interceptions. On the ground, transfer running back Isaiah Bowser added 170 yards and a score of his own.

Steve Sarkisian, Texas: In his first head coaching job since 2015, Sarkisian led the 21st-ranked Longhorns to a dominant 38-18 win over No. 23 Louisiana. Redshirt freshman quarterback Hudson Card had 14 completions for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Bijan Robinson led the way in the ground game with 103 yards and a score on 20 carries.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or tiger@fwaa.com.

2021 Freshman Focus
Weekend of Sept. 4
Weekend of Sept. 11