Last weekend’s college football schedule seemed humdrum on the surface, but those determined to pan for gold on NFL Opening Day Eve came away with a few nuggets. Arkansas forced overtime against TCU, and eventually came away with a big non-conference road win. Late Saturday night in Tempe, Arizona, a member of the home team tied a 26-year old NCAA record. An I even waded through an FCS showdown between Montana and Northern Iowa for this week’s hot take. But first, let’s get back to the Razorbacks and Horned Frogs…
In the Spotlight
Dan Skipper vs Josh Carraway
The first time I watched Skipper back in 2014, I was struck by his tendency to bend at the waist or otherwise exhibit poor balance in pass protection. Skipper is nearly 6’10” tall, and leverage is often an issue with linemen that tall. But now, two years later, the senior left tackle looked much improved in pass protection in his matchup with TCU pass rusher Carraway - a player who was a First Team All-Big 12 selection a year ago.
Carraway looked reluctant to engage in contact with the Razorbacks tackle, but Skipper was usually able to counter his outside/inside and stutter-step moves with good mirroring technique. Skipper no longer appeared to be lunging. Rather, he got into his set, and when Carraway did attack, Skipper was strong and aggressive, and able to lock him up. Carraway did win one battle with a pure speed rush outside for a sack, but overall Skipper was solid in pass pro, and very strong in the run game at the line of scrimmage and out in space. To top off an outstanding performance, Skipper blocked a fourth quarter field goal - the sixth kick he’s blocked in his college career - and gave his team an opportunity to win the game in overtime.
On the other hand, outside of the one sack, Carraway was ineffective. In addition to losing most of his face-offs with Skipper, Carraway was a non-factor against the run, losing contain at the line, or getting pushed well down the field. Arkansas was even able to block him one-on-one with the tight end, and even with receiver Keon Hatcher on a couple of occasions. Carraway is tall and thin (he does have some good reach), and his speed wasn’t enough to get around his opponents and make up for his lack of bulk. My concern is that he is just a passing-down player at the next level.
Box Score of the Week
Kalen Ballage RB Arizona State
13 ATT 137 YDS 7 TD rushing, 2 REC 48 YDS 1 TD receiving
Ballage rushed for four touchdowns in the second quarter last Saturday, matching his total in 10 games last season. When the dust settled he finished with eight scores in total - seven on the ground and one through the air - tying an NCAA record, and equaling his career total through 22 games entering his junior season.
Ballage was deadly as the wild cat in short yardage situations, running for six TDs from inside he 10-yard line; but he also hit pay dirt on a 39-yard catch off a trick play, and a 75-yard fourth-quarter run. In addition to showing off his versatility, the 230-pound Ballage plowed through arm tackles, finished his runs with authority, and even demonstrated some open-field speed. The wild cat runs aren’t particularly useful to me in draft analysis, but he allowed his blocks to set up, and he was decisive off tackle and around the corner. Despite his unique role in ASU’s offense, he looked every bit the part of a future NFL running back.
Hot Take of the Week
In Search of The Next Carson Wentz. @emilymkaplan on the NFL prospects of 6-foot-7 Montana QB Brady Gustafson.https://t.co/25Y3ttkC3P— The MMQB (@theMMQB) September 14, 2016
Soooo…this is the second mainstream article I’ve seen wondering if Gustafson is the next Wentz. The only legitimate links I can find between the two are that a) both passers play(ed) for FCS programs and b) they are both tall. I never thought Wentz was worth a fist rounder - a take that may seem somewhat foolish one game into his NFL career (we’ll see) - but as a prospect, the North Dakota State product was a better athlete, and a more accurate passer. Gustafson has a strong enough arm, but he also doesn’t appear to have as much command of his fastball as Wentz.
I wrote about Gustafson here over the summer, and saw the same guy on Saturday against Northern Iowa. The big man made spot throws down he field, and while a few could have been caught, those were largely “50/50” balls. In the short area his placement was messy, and he wasn’t able to get into any sort of a rhythm. He finished the game 14-30, with 118 yards, one TD pass and one fumble. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, but I doubt it’s the type of performance MMQB bargained for when they sent Emily Kaplan out to profile Gustafson. I continue to think he’s an undrafted free agent type, though I wouldn’t put it past some NFL team to draft him on Day Three because he’s “big and can sling it,” or something.
Florida State at Louisville Saturday Noon ET
Louisville sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson isn’t draft-eligible this year, but he’s thrown for seven touchdowns and run for six more in two games against Charlotte and Syracuse. He’ll get his first big test Saturday against the Seminoles and FBS sack-leader Demarcus Walker.
Oregon at Nebraska Saturday 3:30 PM ET
Last weekend, the Ducks finished their win over Virginia with a 300-yard passer (Dakota Prukop), a 200-yard runner (Royce Freeman), and a 100-yard receiver (Devon Allen). They’ll travel to Nebraska to face the Huskers and safety Nate Gerry, who’s coming off a two-interception performance in a win over Wyoming.
Alabama at Ole Miss Saturday 3:30 PM ET
Ole Miss has won the last two meetings, and quarterback Chad Kelly was instrumental in last year’s victory with three passing touchdowns and one on the ground. The Tide will counter with a highly-touted defensive front led by seniors Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams.
Michigan State at Notre Dame Saturday 7:30 PM ET
After strong outings against Texas and Nevada, DeShone Kizer has apparently moved past Deshaun Watson in the eyes of NFL scouts. Michigan State junior defensive lineman Malik McDowell is a potential top-ten talent, and should see some reps head-to-head against Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey.
Ohio State at Oklahoma Saturday 7:30 PM ET
The Buckeye rushing defense, led by star linebacker Raekwon McMillan has held its first two opponents to just 65 yards per game on the ground. Their secondary, which includes draft-eligible cornerbacks Garreon Conley and Marshon Lattimore, has already picked off seven passes and returned three for scores. OSU will get a rugged challenge from Oklahoma star running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, and Heisman-contending quarterback Baker Mayfield.