Saturday college primer
Oklahoma vs. Texas
(Saturday, noon EST, ABC)
What to watch for:
• So much was made last season about the protection Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford got playing behind the nation’s top offensive line — and maybe rightfully so. In his two starts this season, Bradford has been less than stellar. It will be interesting to see how he performs today against one of the top defenses on the Sooners’ schedule. The Longhorns have the athletes on the outside to create pressure off the edge, so Bradford’s ability to stay composed in the pocket and be decisive with the football could go a long way in returning his draft stock to where it was a year ago.
• One of the main players responsible for keeping Bradford clean in the pocket will be Oklahoma left tackle Trent Williams. Williams made the move from right to left tackle this season, but he has really struggled with the speed of the left side. Texas has two defensive ends — Sergio Kindle and Sam Acho — who both have the ability to create pressure off the edge. Williams’ performance will have a direct effect on Bradford and will also serve as a good indication of his ability to handle NFL-caliber speed in pass protection.
• Another great matchup to watch is Texas wideout Jordan Shipley against Oklahoma CB Dominique Franks. Shipley is a smooth, coordinated route runner who does a great job of cleanly changing directions and setting up corners out of his breaks. Franks is a gifted athlete with great closing speed. At times, however, he displays some questionable instincts in coverage. Shipley does a lot of his work from the slot, especially on third downs. It will be interesting to see if Franks lines up inside with Shipley on key passing downs.
USC vs. Notre Dame
(Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, NBC)
What to look for:
• How does the Notre Dame offensive line handle the blitz packages and overall talent of USC’s front seven? Fighting Irish center Eric Olsen is the anchor inside, and I expect him to play well. But offensive tackles Sam Young and Paul Duncan have struggled against upper-echelon pass rushers. Both will need to be protected with the run game and play fakes if Notre Dame hopes to create some plays down the field.
• Speaking of talented offensive lines, the Trojans have a significant advantage over Notre Dame’s defensive front four. USC has a pair of athletic tackles who are natural in space, and center Kris O’Dowd is consistently able to create a push in the run game. I haven’t been impressed with the Irish’s front four this season. This looks to be one area the Trojans will try to exploit consistently when they have the ball.
• More than any game, this is the tape by which Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen will be evaluated. Clausen has been the most efficient quarterback in the nation during the first part of the season and looks very comfortable in Charlie Weis’ offense. Going up against Pete Carroll’s defense, Clausen is going to see some wrinkles that he’s never seen before. He’s likely going to be forced to make decisions under duress. This will be a great game to see how Clausen’s development as a quarterback is coming.
South Carolina vs. Alabama
(Saturday, 7:45 p.m. EST, ESPN)
What to watch for:
• If South Carolina is to have any chance in this one, it needs to create pressure against Alabama’s pass game and consistently win on third down. Linebacker Eric Norwood, defensive end Cliff Matthews and defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye all have the ability to win their individual matchups up font and force QB Greg McElroy to get rid of the ball before he wants.
• We’ve seen the Alabama defense overwhelm Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett and Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead, forcing a combined five interceptions. The key for South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia is to take care of the football. He’s an athletic kid who can buy time in the pocket, but he can’t get caught forcing balls down the field when nothing is there. Remember, punting the football against the Alabama defense isn’t always a bad thing.
• Alabama CB Kareem Jackson is very quickly becoming one of the nation’s top cover men. His combination of size, ball skills and balance makes him very tough to separate from. You can bet South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier will look to take his shots down field — away from Jackson. Alabama senior Javier Arenas typically goes into the slot on third downs, so targeting CB Marquis Johnson on the outside looks like the Gamecocks’ best bet.
Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
(Saturday, 9:15 p.m. EST, ESPN 2)
What to watch for:
• Oklahoma State will again be without All-American wideout Dez Bryant, meaning the team’s big plays on offense could be limited. Running back Keith Toston did a nice job carrying the workload for the Cowboys last week. He will once again be the guy to keep the offense in manageable down-and-distance situations.
• Sure, Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson isn’t putting up the most gaudy numbers in 2009, but one could argue his play this season maybe even more impressive than in 2008. Even without Bryant and RB Kendall Hunter for parts of the season, Robinson has still found a way to win games, be efficient with the football and move the chains. He doesn’t possess ideal physical skills for the NFL, but his propensity to succeed will help him find a spot on a roster.
• How does Missouri bounce back after its disappointing loss at home to Nebraska nine days ago? The Tigers have a good group of veterans on both sides of the ball, but they need sophomore QB Blaine Gabbert to rebound quickly if Missouri is to have a chance of wining in Stillwater.
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