We have figured out who the contenders and pretenders are. Now we are just figuring out who can prevail and make, continue or sustain a playoff run in November. As college football pundits and Heisman voters constantly beat into our heads during this time that it only matters what he does in November that can also hold true for draft purposes too.
By: Christian Page
With conference games a plenty with many scenarios on the line, I, and many other scouts, will take note of how individuals really affect the outcome of their teams during the crucial November games. Mitch Trubisky and North Carolina already faltered after dropping its game Thursday night to Duke who, before the game, was 0-5 in ACC play. Western Michigan kept its Group of Five championship bid still intact and Utah still controls its own destiny in the Pac-12.
Here are some players to watch and match-ups to highlight this weekend with a focus on draft-eligible players.
Pittsburgh at No. 2 Clemson // 3:30 p.m. EST // ABC
Clemson will clinch its spot in the ACC Championship Game with a win here (have tiebreaker over Louisville if Clemson was to drop a game to Wake Forest after a win here) and though Pittsburgh is out of contention in the Coastal, a road win over Clemson might as well feel like an ACC Championship.
Inside linebacker Ben Boulware (#10) is a gritty and physical linebacker that will go up versus one of the toughest running games he has faced all season. Boulware is missile when firing through gaps and makes a consistent effort to meet ball carriers through the hole. Though not showing great speed, Boulware does have nice range and rarely takes poor angles on the ball carrier. His main responsibility will be to keep Pittsburgh running back James Conner (#24) in check. Conner is a downhill runner that powers his way in between the tackles and has the best leg drive in college football. A physical battle between Boulware and Conner is what I will be looking forward to in this game.
Dorian Johnson (#53) dominates at left guard for the Panthers chewing up and spitting out defenders in the run game. He doesn’t play with great leverage on a consistent basis but his strong hands and initial get off gives him an immediate advantage. I will be taking note of how he performs versus Clemson interior defensive lineman Carlos Watkins (#94) in pass protection. Johnson struggles to anchor and doesn’t show great length so he lacks the appropriate extension to keep defenders off his chest. Watkins’ aggressiveness on passing downs could cause for a world of trouble for Johnson. But if Johnson prevails, this is a huge step going forward.
In a zone offensive scheme that Clemson commonly runs, I want to see how defensive end prospect Ejuan Price (#5) plays against the run. Price is one of the best all-around pass rushers in college football and though he has made plenty of plays in the backfield in the run game, I want to see more. A battle with potential 2018 first round pick Mitch Hyatt at left tackle, Price will be battle tested throughout the game. Expecting to see multiple blitz packages throughout the game to put pressure on Deshaun Watson (#4), watch for running back Wayne Gallman (#9) in pass protection versus a heavy dosage of the Pitt front seven.
Texas Tech at No. 13 Oklahoma State // 3:30 p.m. EST // Fox Sports 1
Patrick Mahomes (#5) and Mason Rudolph (both in the top 10 nationally in passing yards) headline this high-powered showdown Saturday evening. Texas Tech and Mahomes have run into some tough luck lately not being able to escape from Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas after having big game offensively. Mahomes’ footwork is still a mess and as he continues to straighten his front foot on his throws his short to intermediate passes will still suffer from poor accuracy.
During Oklahoma State’s five-game winning streak, Rudolph (#2) has thrown for 1,693 yards and 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Starting off slow at the beginning of the season, Rudolph has shown improvements in making the right decisions by going through his progressions and testing his arm downfield with accurate passes. As Rudolph has been surging so has wide receiver James Washington. Washington uses his balance at the top of his routes to create separation off his breaks. His biggest attribute is tracking the ball while disguising it from the defender. Rudolph and Washington have hooked up for four touchdowns and 25 catches during the win streak.
No. 20 USC at No. 4 Washington // 7:30 p.m. EST // FOX
USC has been on a tear as of late and are a perfect 5-0 with freshman quarterback Sam Darnold as the starter. Since Darnold has taken over, the Trojans are averaging 570 yards of total offense and average 40 points per game. The Trojans have found its spark and need it more than ever to take down the offensively and defensively sound Huskies on Saturday night.
A match-up of two first round prospects will take place in this coveted Pac-12 showdown with Trojan receiver Juju Smith-Schuster (#9) and Washington cornerback Sidney Jones (#26). Smith-Schuster has turned things around as of late becoming more effective after the catch and being more of an all-around impact compared to the beginning of the season with many quick to judge the projected first rounder with some underwhelming performances. Though nursing a back injury that limited him last week, his match-up with Jones will be one of the better one-on-one scouting match-ups all season. Jones was finally targeted more in the match-up versus California as he still prevailed with two pass breakups and two interceptions. Smith-Schuster is not a burner and Jones is known for being conjoined at the hip with his opponent not allowing separation. A physical match-up is to be expected.
Ironically, Washington John Ross (#1) and USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (#2) faceoff in a similar matchup. Ross, along with plenty of other Washington prospects, has been gaining a heavy helping of first round buzz mostly due to his world-class speed that has put him into the endzone in all but two games this season. Quietly, Jackson has had a nice season. With balance and speed, he jumps on the receiver quickly when the ball is in the air. He has shown more discipline this season and has not as often been beaten deep. That will be tested on Saturday. Both known for their speed, they may have to find other ways to get the next rung on the ladder in this match-up.
No. 3 Michigan at Iowa // 8 p.m. EST // ABC
Productive cornerback prospect Desmond King (#14) will have his hands full with a plethora of solid Michigan receivers, especially rising draft prospect Amara Darboh (#82). Darboh has been torching defenders deep on vertical pass routes and making them pay even more with yards after the catch. Containing Darboh is easier said then done but sustaining him to intermediate passes near the sideline will be key for King and the Hawkeyes. Jaleel Johnson (#67) has been a special player for Iowa this season. An active defensive tackle with some wiggle in the interior, Johnson excels in the run game and can add some pressure in the passing game. It will be a battle between Johnson and the coveted interior linemen for the Wolverines with center Mason Cole (#52) and right guard Kyle Kalis (#67). Johnson is known to catch and pull and drive his match-up into the backfield so Cole and Kalis’ contact balance and recovery will be constantly tested.
Best Pure Scouting Match-Up:
Duwuane Smoot, DE, Illinois (#91) vs. Ryan Ramczyk, LT, Wisconsin (#65)
Ramczyk shows off his athleticism for the position with an excellent kick slide to catch traffic on the outside while also maintaining balance with nimble feet. Smoot enjoys taking the wide angle to the quarterback in which Ramczyk should be able to contain. This match-up will be more of a measuring stick for Smoot and not Ramczyk unless he shows traits that make liars out of many of us. If Smoot decides to take on some inside moves on Ramczyk’s inside shoulder, it will be interesting to see how quickly Ramczyk reacts to the interior pressure and how he counters it. Smoot’s play versus the run will also be something to note.
Thursday Night Recap:
Duke 28 – 27 North Carolina
After starting off hot with three touchdown tosses in the first half, North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw two costly interceptions in the second half questioning whether he over-anticipates some of his throws. In the first half Trusbisky impressed with touch, accuracy, footwork and progressions. He didn’t go away from that in the second half but had plenty of uncharacteristic throws. Trusbisky still has the total skillset to be a first round pick, but his lack of long-term starting experience is still concerning. The junior quarterback finished with 297 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Utah 49 – 26 Arizona State
With the exception of a few trick plays and some blunders that bounced Arizona State’s way, Utah mostly dominated this game. Utah’s Hunter Dimick was a terror off the end and finished the night with five sacks tying a school record. Dimick’s strategy was to simply just speed rush off the edge with little to no power moves to get around the right tackle. Running back Joe Williams was also impressive showing his second gear speed and tremendous acceleration after contact when he sees green. Bouncing off would-be tacklers was a theme for Williams Thursday night as he continues to show his superb balance and vision in his “comeback” year. Outside of a couple hiccups, Utah left tackle Garrett Bolles looked like a second round pick and rising.
Get to know these potential round jumpers:
Jimmie Gilbert, OLB, Colorado (#98)
The word potential gets thrown around draft talk in all professional sports. Potential is Gilbert. Not a polished pass rusher, Gilbert has the quickness and length to give opposing offensive tackles fits. Carrying a slender frame, Gilbert struggles with power but may draw some comparisons to Chicago’s first round pick Leonard Floyd with versatility and flexibility. Floyd was projected as a first round pick; Gilbert looks to be more in the fifth round range.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo (#3)
Playing in the Wednesday night MACtion spotlight, Hunt showed his full toolkit of NFL skills. Hunt displays excellent balance and short area quickness and is a yards after contact monster. Though the stat column (5 catches, 33 yards) didn’t showcase it that much Wednesday, Hunt’s receiving skills are also intriguing. Hunt finished the night with 19 carries for 122 yards and one score to put the game on ice. Hunt is the top senior running back in this talented class.
Taylor Moton, OT, Western Michigan (#72)
Moton may be the biggest player I have ever seen on film. At 6-foot-5 330 pounds, Moton mauls players left and right in the run game and has shown improvements as a pass protector. A nasty competitor, Moton does struggle with hand placement and timing, as he is more of a catcher than a grabber. Consistency is key with any offensive lineman and Moton is buzzing everywhere and will gain plenty of second round buzz especially in this weak offensive tackle class.
Channing Stribling, CB, Michigan (#8)
I didn’t think Eli Apple from Ohio State was ready to take the jump in last year’s draft based on inconsistency in one on one tackling and coverage skills as a whole. Though being raw, Apple was a top 10 pick and the first cornerback selected. Knowing that, Stribling could have that same feel. Stribling is a long and lean cover corner that shows excellent ball skills and promise as a bump and run defensive back. He isn’t all that polished in the run game, but if Apple was rough around the edges in some areas but showed potential, Stribling should be a coveted pro.
Jon Toth, C, Kentucky (#72)
Toth may be a first team all-SEC candidate as he has been the best and most consistent center in the conference. Toth wins with upper body strength as he stalemated with Jonathan Allen multiple times when playing Alabama in Week Five. Toth needs to play with more knee bend to stay on par with more of the finesse and quicker interior linemen, but in a man-blocking scheme, Toth should thrive.