Saturday college primer
Minnesota vs. Ohio State
(Saturday, noon EST, ESPN)
What to watch for:
• If there’s one reason to sit back and watch this one, it’s to see how Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor responds after his four-turnover performance last week vs. Purdue. Pryor has been anything but impressive this season, and to be honest, I see him more as a WR/TE prospect at the next level. There’s no denying the kid’s athletic ability, but he needs to start showing a bit more promise throwing the football to warrant consideration as a QB in the NFL.
• You can’t talk about a Minnesota football game without mentioning the likes of WR Eric Decker. Decker has been absolutely brilliant and has found a way to uncover against virtually any type of coverage thrown his way. If the Buckeyes hope to slow down him and the Minnesota passing attack, it’s going to start up front. Defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson complement each other off the edge and have the ability to create pressure on obvious passing downs vs. the Golden Gophers’ offensive line.
• I love the toughness and overall savvy Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster has brought to this program, which seems on its way up. Brewster and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch do a great job using QB Adam Weber’s athletic ability to get him outside the pocket and keep opposing defenses consistently off balance. I expect the Golden Gophers offense to play much better than it did a week ago vs. Penn State and take advantage of a sometimes overzealous Buckeyes defense.
Oregon vs. Washington
(Saturday, 3:30, p.m. EST, ABC)
What to watch for:
• The Washington Huskies have been a whole different bear to deal with at home this season, where they’re 3-1, with their only loss coming at the hands of LSU in the season opener. They’ve taken down the likes of Pac-10 foes USC and Arizona and seem to play with a lot more confidence and swagger at Husky stadium. The Ducks will need to match their intensity level early if they hope to avoid the upset.
• If the Huskies have one main weakness, it’s their defensive secondary, where they struggle to match up and tackle big, athletic receivers in space. That means Oregon TE Ed Dickson should be in store for a huge day. He’s a gifted 6-4, 243-pound athlete who runs extremely well for his size and does a great job setting up defenders and accelerating down the field. He’s the one guy that Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt needs to slow down in the pass game.
• There’s no denying that Washington quarterback Jake Locker possesses all the physical tools to be a successful quarterback at the next level, but I want to see him take better care of the football (five interceptions in his last four games) and complete a higher percentage of his passes (57.2 percent on the year). He’s now entering the final half of the college season, and with some slight improvements to his play, this is when he could cement his stake as the nation’s top QB prospect.
TCU vs. BYU
(Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST, Versus)
What to watch for:
• How will the high-powered BYU offense handle the speed and tenacity of the TCU defense? The Horned Frogs have a talented front seven, which includes one of the top pass rushers in the country, DE Jerry Hughes. Hughes possesses a good first step off the snap and exhibits a motor that runs non-stop, although he struggles to consistently hold the point of attack in the run game and can be easily washed away from the ball. Expect the BYU coaching staff to chip and double Hughes on the outside in passing situations as well as try to wear him down by running the ball right at him on early downs.
• Even with opposing offenses keying in on stopping Hughes in the pass game, TCU can be very aggressive up front and knows how to create pressure and mismatches from all angles. BYU QB Max Hall, who has been particularly sloppy with the football (10 interceptions already) needs to do a better job being more accurate/decisive in the face of pressure since the opportunistic TCU defense does a great job creating negative plays and forcing turnovers.
• If there’s one guy who can consistently create mismatches in the pass game for BYU, it’s TE Dennis Pitta, who at 6-5, 248 has the ability to line up in the slot, get down the field and consistently separate vs. man coverage. He’s a coordinated route runner who is simply a nightmare for linebackers to cover one-on-one. TCU will likely mix up its coverages and looks to keep Hall from getting into a rhythm. However, it always seems that no matter what defenses do, Pitta finds a way to make plays.
Florida vs. Mississippi State
(Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)
What to look for:
• If you want the “upset alert game of the week,” this is the one to check out. Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen was the former offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer at Florida from 2005-2008 and knows the Gators’ offense inside and out. Expect Mullen to have his athletic defense well prepared, first and foremost, to stop the Florida dive play. Because as we’ve seen in recent weeks, if opposing defenses can stop Florida on first and ten, the Gators really struggle to convert third-and-long situations when they’re forced to throw down the field.
• Mullen also knows all the tendencies of the Florida defense and likely realizes that he doesn’t have the playmakers on the outside to drop back and routinely throw the ball against the Gators’ nickel packages. As a result, expect RB Anthony Dixon to get quite a workload in this one. Dixon is a big, physical back who showcases good power and short-area quickness inside and is exactly the type of back you need to wear down the Florida front seven. Dixon has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his last five games and will need to go over the century mark again to give the Bulldogs a chance.
• The Mississippi State defensive line is undersized and is going to have a tough time holding the point of attack vs. the Florida O-line. The Gators don’t have a starter on their offensive line who weights under 315 pounds, and they do a great job as a group creating an initial surge up front and overwhelming opposing defenders on contact. Mississippi State defensive coordinator Carl Torbush can be expected to be aggressive with his linebackers, asking them to consistently attack the line of scrimmage and shoot gaps inside.
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