Saturday college primer
Ohio State vs. Michigan
(Saturday, noon EST, ABC)
What to watch for:
• Can Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez pull off the impossible -- get his team to six wins, become bowl eligible and beat rival Ohio State, possibly saving is job? Michigan hasn’t beaten the Buckeyes in five consecutive meetings, and a win could help Rodriguez’s cause if he hopes to be retained. It will be interesting to watch how competitive his team is in this one, because if the Wolverines lay an egg, it could mean the end for Rodriguez.
• The Michigan defense has also been blistered in recent weeks, giving up an average of 39 points over its last four Big 10 games. Ohio State isn’t especially explosive on offense, but its offensive line has played better in recent weeks, and QB Terrelle Pryor has shown an ability to keep drives alive with his feet and create a big a play in the pass game when needed. I still expect the Buckeyes to be a bit more conservative on offense to make sure they don’t give Michigan any chance of winning the turnover battle.
• The key mismatch to watch is the talent and pass-rushing ability of the Ohio State front four vs. the Michigan passing game. Quarterback Tate Forcier has struggled in the face of pressure all season, and the Wolverines need to lean heavily on the legs of RB Brandon Minor to have a chance. Minor isn’t the most explosive of backs, but he possess good power in his lower half and knows how to keep his team out of third-and-long situations. The more touches he gets, the better off Michigan will be.
LSU vs. Ole Miss
(Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)
What to watch for:
• LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson is expected to start vs. Ole Miss after missing last week’s game vs. Louisiana Tech with an ankle sprain. It will be interesting to see how complex LSU is on offense vs. the Running Rebels. The Tigers have absolutely no identity offensively, routinely switching from two-back looks to option looks to spread looks and consistently struggling to find a rhythm. Jefferson hasn’t been effective all season, even before the injury took place, so it will be interesting to see how head coach Les Miles manages him and the rest of the offense in this one.
• Maybe one guy who can add some balance to the LSU offense is running back Keiland Williams, who rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns last week on only 15 carries. Williams is a good looking back at 6-1, 221 pounds and is surprisingly nimble and sudden for a guy his size. He knows how to create plays in between the tackles, and although he isn’t much of a big-play threat in the open field, I still think he’s a better overall fit for the offense than former starting back Charles Scott.
• One guy who’s finally starting to live up to his five-star hype out of high school is Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe. The 6-2, 330-pound lineman displays impressive initial burst and overall power off the snap and has the ability to hold the point of attack in the run game and beat blocks inside. He’s been one of the more disruptive interior defensive linemen in the SEC and reminds me a bit of Packers 2009 first-round pick B.J. Raji.
California vs. Stanford
(Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST, Versus)
What to watch for:
• Cal running back Jahvid Best has been ruled out for today’s game, forcing the Golden Bears to play without their most dangerous offensive weapon for a second straight week. California was able to pull off a win last week vs. Arizona thanks in large part to the role of backup running back Shane Vereen, who carried the ball 30 times for 159 yards and a touchdown. Vereen isn’t nearly the playmaker Best is in space, but he’s a talented kid in his own right who can definitely give the Golden Bears what they need in the run game.
• Speaking of running backs who need to carry the load, does anyone do a better job of that than Stanford RB Toby Gerhart? The guy simply runs with a bad attitude inside, and once he gets a head of steam going, he’s nearly impossible for one defender to bring down. They key for the Bears’ front seven is to get penetration behind the line of scrimmage and force Gerhart to change directions, where he isn’t nearly as effective as a start-and-stop athlete.
• If there is a freshman quarterback in the nation who plays with more poise than Stanford’s Andrew Luck, I have yet to see him. Luck is a gifted passer with all the physical tools to play at the next level. However, it’s his demeanor, instincts and ability to get rid of the football on time and be decisive in the pocket that really jump out to me. The kid is only starting to scratch the surface of his potential, but if I’m an NFL general manger and get my pick of any quarterback in college football to draft, regardless of year or age, Luck is my guy.
Oregon State vs. Washington State
(Saturday, 10:30 p.m. EST, FSN)
What to watch for:
• Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield doesn’t get the fanfare or hype of some other top-rated senior quarterback prospects, but very quietly he’s now considered one of the best at the position. The lefty signal caller is competing 70 percent of his possesses and has the ability to not only make an NFL offense but eventually contribute in the coming year.
• Another prospect to keep an eye on is Washington State center Kenny Alfred. I got a chance to watch tape of Alfred last summer and came away impressed with his lateral quickness and overall athleticism for the position. Like most Pac-10 prospects who don’t play for major-market schools, Alfred doesn’t receive much attention outside the state of Washington, but he definitely looks like a talent capable of making an NFL roster.
• Opposing Alfred on the inside is Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea. Paea is an explosive interior lineman who knows how to get off the ball and make plays away from his frame. He’s done a great job improving his technique and overall hand placement from a year ago and has really taken his game to another level. The Alfred-Paea matchup will be a great tape to watch at the end of the year when evaluating both players’ potential at the next level.
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