Thursday night primer

In week seven of our Thursday night primer, the National Football Post highlights some of the keys to tonight’s South Florida-Cincinnati game, including top players and matchups that NFL scouts will be watching.

Prospects to keep an eye on:

South Florida

Carlton Mitchell: No. 2, WR, 6-4, 212

Possesses a rare blend of size and speed and knows how to make plays down the field. He’s still a bit raw in some areas of his game, but he has the ability to strike from anywhere on the field.

George Selvie: No. 95, DE/OLB, 6-4, 245

Isn’t a real physical athlete, struggles with the run game and is at his best when asked to simply fire off the football and rush the passer. Looks more like a 3-4 OLB to me.

Kion Wilson: No. 42, ILB, 6-1, 235

Possesses some natural athletic ability, but isn’t overly fluid in the pass game and lacks ideal instincts and power vs. the run. Is a tough, passionate leader, but he’ll need to make his mark on special teams at the next level.

Jerome Murphy: No. 3, CB, 6-1, 185

An overrated size/speed corner who struggles to remain balanced in his drop and drive on the football. Looks much more natural when he can use his range to make plays in zone coverage.

Nate Allen: No. 5, FS, 6-1, 206

Showcases an impressive blend of power, speed and overall instincts for the position and does a great job keeping his feet under him and closing on the football. Looks like a solid starting safety in the NFL.

Others worth keeping an eye on:

Mike Ford: No. 26, RB, 6-2, 225
A.J. Love: No. 11, WR, 6-2, 202
Jason Pierre-Paul: No. 90, DE, 6-6, 265


Cincinnati

Tony Pike: No. 15, QB, 6-6, 212

One of the top senior quarterbacks in the nation. Has the ability to make all the throws and is surprisingly athletic for his size. Reminds me a bit of Ravens QB Joe Flacco.

Mardy Gilyard: No. 1, WR, 6-0, 187

Showcases good short-area quickness and is dangerous with the ball in his hands. However, I don’t think he has the ability to beat press coverage at the next level and looks more like a slot guy to me.

Aaron Webster: No. 17, S, 6-2, 211

A well-built strong safety prospect who displays good power in all areas of his game but lacks ideal balance in coverage.

Jeff Linkenbach: 71, OT, 6-6, 312

Possesses a long frame and can be tough to turn the corner on when he gets off the snap on time. However, he isn’t a great athlete and lacks the body control to mirror in space.

Others worth keeping an eye on:

Kazeem Alli: No. 8, TE/FB, 6-3, 258
Ricardo Mathews: No. 90, DT, 6-2, 295
Alex Daniels: No. 89, DE, 6-4, 259
Craig Carey: No. 7, OLB/DE, 6-4, 248

<p>What to look for:

How to deal with Gilyard?

Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard has 38 catches for 517 yards and seven touchdowns in the first five games of the season, and head coach Brian Kelly does a great job moving him around the offense and getting the ball into his hands quickly off the snap. It will be interesting to see how the athletic South Florida defense tries to limit Gilyard’s touches in the pass game. I’m still not convinced that Gilyard has the ability to routinely separate from press man, and South Florida certainly has the athletes in its secondary to bump and disrupt Gilyard off the line. So I expect the Bulls to get physical with Gilyard off the line any chance they get, occasionally roll coverage over the top and force QB Tony Pike to go elsewhere with the football.

South Florida’s new X-factor on offense

Not only is South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels a gifted athlete, the kid also knows how to sling the football. Daniels’ ability to buy time in the pocket, break containment and get the ball down the field have to be huge concerns for Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly and his Bearcats defense. The Bulls have one of the nation’s premier vertical threats in WR Carlton Mitchell, who has the size and speed to simply outpace corners on the outside and consistently threaten defenses vertically. Mitchell is coming off a six-catch, 139-yard, two-touchdown performance against Syracuse and definitely has the ability to create some big plays behind the Cincinnati defense. However, the key for the Bearcats’ defense in this one is simple: Be disciplined up front, stay in your pass rush lanes and don’t allow Daniels to escape contaminant and create outside the pocket.

How does Pike handle the speed of South Florida’s defense?

It will be interesting to see how Pike fares against one of the most athletic defenses he’ll see all year. The Bulls have a pair of defensive ends who know how to pressure the edge and a rangy secondary that can quickly close space and get after the football. Pike’s ability to be decisive and accurate in the face of all the pressure South Florida will generate tonight will be key. Last time Pike saw a defense as athletic as South Florida’s was in last year’s Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech, when he threw four interceptions. He’s a year older now and looks a lot more comfortable in the Cincinnati offense. His performance tonight against a very good, very fast Bulls defense will be a nice gauge to see how far he has developed mentally from last year.

Here comes the boom

The Bearcats are undersized up front and have struggled at times holding up vs. the run game. Viewers are sure to see a heavy dosage of South Florida running back Mike Ford. Ford is a thickly built, 6-2, 230-pound sledge hammer who showcases impressive power and body control in the open field. He isn’t the most instinctive runner inside, but he possesses the size and strength to wear down an opposing defense, and by the fourth quarter defenders simply don’t want to tackle him. He had a season high 13 rushes for 68 yards and two touchdowns in his last outing, and you can bet that the South Florida coaching staff will give him plenty of opportunities to pound on the Cincinnati front seven.

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