The 2010 college football season begins in less than 48 hours, which means that it's time to kick the analysis into overdrive. New Orangebloods.com NFL/college scouting analyst John Harris takes a look at ten match-ups on the first weekend that have his full attention.
Mitchell is perhaps the most underrated left tackle in CUSA and in the state of Texas. He's a great pass protector with fantastic feet and in the Rice spread attack, he often has the perimeter all to his lonesome. Even if the Owls do use the tight end, it's typically in move situations to get a matchup "win" on a linebacker; in either case, Mitchell is often left to man the edge on the left side by himself. That works sufficiently well against CUSA teams, but against Acho, he may need some help. The Owls will spend a large majority of the day in third-and-long situations, which means Acho has free reign to come up the field out of a sprinter's stance and create mayhem. When tackles had to block Acho on third downs last year, he often just ran past them, even when they knew that's exactly what he was going to do. Mitchell must get a good kick-start from his stance and ride Acho inside, allowing his quarterback to escape to the perimeter to try to save the play.
Moore is one of the best free safeties playing the ball in the nation. He had 10 interceptions last season and plays the middle so well that teams are forced to utilize the passing game outside the numbers or in the short/shallow cross areas to avoid him in the back. However, against Kansas State Moore is going to be asked to fill in the alleys to stop hulking running back Thomas. There are no secrets with Thomas - he comes downhill with an attitude (if you knew a little about kids from Hilliard, FL, you'd know there's no half-steppin'). The UCLA front-seven is capable, but it also has to find replacements inside at the defensive tackle positions. As such, Thomas can have a field day running at the UCLA defense, but Moore is instrumental in keeping a four-yard run, well, a four-yard run. If he's not supporting in the alley on Thomas, the big Wildcat RB can turn four yards into 14 or 40 in a hurry. If Moore does his job supporting the run alongside star LB Akeem Ayers, then on third down, he can get back and play his game in the middle of the field.
This one may not even happen and it's the best matchup of the entire weekend. Quinn is embroiled in the tutoring/academic fraud situation at Chapel Hill and there's a thought that UNC will keep him and others out until the NCAA has a chance to rule on this case. If he does play, he faces the best LSU offensive lineman - Barksdale. Now, Barksdale is a fifth-round project at the time, but he's got a skill set that could make things more difficult for Quinn. He moves his feet adequately well, but Quinn is too strong for him. He can set Barksdale up with some high, speedy pass rush moves, then counter with an inside hump move or rip under move once he's got Barksdale on his heels. The best Barksdale can hope for is for LSU to run at Quinn and allow Barksdale to put a hat on Quinn as much as possible to wear him down until the fourth quarter. Quinn has such long arms, though, that it'll be tough for Barksdale to get up under him, even in the run game. But, with a good get-off from the snap, an initial "blow" could have an effect on Quinn who's giving up nearly 30 pounds to Barksdale.
DeChristopher has started the last two years at right tackle, but is more of a run-first offensive tackle. He's not exceptionally quick with his feet, but he does play with a nice base. He also tends to play a little bit higher than he should, which could be the death knell if he gets matched up with BSU's Winterswyk. He's got safety speed with linebacker size playing defensive end. He doesn't stop and plays with great leverage and low to the ground. He'll definitely be up under DeChristopher's pads and give him all kinds of problems. But, in the run game, DeChristopher must square him up and stay on him, pounding on the two-time first team All-WAC selection. I wouldn't be surprised to see Winterswyk go to the other side and face a newbie at tackle, instead of DeChristopher. Either way, though, it's a going to be a long night for the Hokies' DeChristopher unless that run game gets rolling, right over him, early.
Duncan is listed on the depth chart at defensive end, but don't buy that for a minute. He's a 3-4 outside linebacker and the key to the Red Raider defense this season. His progress at that position is a must for this defense to take the next step. But, what head coach Tommy Tuberville can do is use Duncan as a 4-3 defensive end when he wants to "morph" this defense into that scheme, but then when he goes back to the 3-4 front, Duncan is a chess piece he can use in whatever way necessary. Beachum has 25 starts and doesn't get any help on the edge from anyone. He's on an island against a good athlete but one that hasn't been used in the way he's going to be used this season. The Red Raider pass rush came from Brandon Sharpe et al.. last year, the true defensive ends on the team, but this year, Duncan is going to be that guy that Tuberville used at Auburn (the number of times he took a linebacker and made him a defensive end? Too numerous to name). Beachum has to know speed is the key - stand your ground inside (SMU wants that inside passing lane in the run and shoot) and when Duncan tries to speed past him with a high rush, ride him ride on by. However, Duncan must be a key inside to "show up" in Kyle Padron's passing lanes.
Johnson is the leader of a secondary that is the only true question mark for this Horned Frog squad. With the Horned Frogs losing both starting cornerbacks, the pressure on Johnson is immense and that pressure is doubled, in some sense, against the Beavers. First of all, his main focus is going to be making sure WR James Rodgers doesn't get deep on the Horned Frogs to "steal" a quick six behind the defense. TCU is a man cover team - that's a philosophy it has followed and it'll continue, green corners or not. So, if Johnson is in cover one (where he's free in the middle of the field), he's got to shade to Rodgers' side to help in coverage and limit the impact #8 can have in the deep passing game. If TCU goes cover zero and Rodgers moves to the slot, Johnson will be matched up in man against him all day long. Then, it's imperative that Johnson not get beat by a double move - just tackle well in space.
But, Johnson's secondary responsibility is going to be filling in the alley to stop RB Jacquizz Rodgers. The powerful Beaver RB will wiggle free a handful of times and Johnson has to be present to help on the tackle. Tackling in space is a must against these two and Johnson can't afford to miss one. If Johnson can have a strong game, TCU will win handily and his draft stock will more than likely rise.
Zone blocking is an important factor for the Navy option scheme. Most every option play has some sort of zone blocking concept on the backside of plays. But, on the front-side of the option, the tackles are rip inside the defensive ends, moving up to the second level to occupy the inside linebackers. Navy's Battapaglia is one of the best executing on either the front side or the backside with his quickness. He's not an NFL prospect, well, not yet anyway with that whole two-year commitment thing, but he's got the feet any NFL offensive lineman would love to have. When he goes inside, he's going to run into Wujciak, one of the ACC's best linebackers. Navy has plenty of ways to neutralize Wujciak, but it can't spend the day running away from him - it has to run its game-plan and rely on Battapaglia to occupy Wujciak and not let the Terrapin star play the dive and the quarterback equally. Iowa put on a clinic last year in how to stop this offense down in the Orange Bowl and much of it had to do with how the Iowa linebackers "beat" the offensive tackles to the football, essentially. Maryland doesn't have the defensive line that Iowa has, so that'll make things rough on Wujciak, and Battapaglia isn't going to be a walk in the park either for the Maryland run stuffer.
I don't think the Notre Dame offensive line has five guys with an NFL future, but the Boilermaker on the other side has a long future in front of him with the way he rushes the quarterback. Strong and relentless, Kerrigan is an all-day effort pass rusher who will make things tough on the Notre Dame edge protectors. But, the Notre Dame interior might see Kerrigan as well, especially on third down if the Purdue staff has used the summer to come up with some new wrinkles. One of those would be to use Kerrigan as a stand up rusher in the A gaps and get a matchup inside that he can exploit. His best work is going to be from the exterior, but Notre Dame's offensive tempo is going to do a lot to slow his rush. However, if Notre Dame gets into third and long, giving Kerrigan a split second to get to Dayne Crist, he could make his impact known.
The two Pitt defensive ends force any offensive line it faces to make a decision - are you going to double Romeus and let Sheard be one-on-one or vice versa? Pick your poison, if you will. The last time this Utah line faced a duo at defensive end of this caliber, TCU's Jerry Hughes and Wayne Daniels ate it alive. Utah T Tony Bergstrom was in a defensive position all night long and that can't be the case this time. He has to attack, in an intelligent manner, of course. Romeus wants to use his long arms and strength to get an offensive lineman's hands down, opening up a pathway to the quarterback, while Sheard uses brute force to overpower tackles. Utah will have to provide help for Bergstrom, et al. to limit what these two do on the edge. The Utah game plan should provide help as well - counters, screens and draws will slow the all-out rush, but when it becomes a mano a mano battle, the Utah offensive line must be technique sound and battle these two great Panther rushers.