Hope you all enjoyed last week’s games because this week’s slate doesn’t offer much. Teams are still in the non-conference portion of their schedules, and If I didn’t know that NCAA matchups are mostly set years in advance, I’d guess this was college football’s way of bowing to its professional overlords so as not to distract from the NFL’s opening weekend. But I’m not here to crawl down some rabbit hole of conspiracies, so let’s take a look back at the week that was, and see what we can salvage from the coming Saturday…
In the Spotlight
Deshaun Watson vs DeShone Kizer
Watson entered last weekend as the near-consensus top draft-eligible quarterback after leading Clemson to a beth in the National Championship Game last season. As a sophomore he amassed 4104 passing yards and 1105 rushing yards, and he accounted for 47 total touchdowns. But on Saturday against Auburn - thanks in part to some shaky receiver play - he ran cold for a good portion of the first three quarters.
In the first quarter, Watson struggled with his placement, and was late on a number of throws, causing him to miss wide and behind his intended targets. He overshot Artavis Scott on a slant (though Scott alligator-armed it with a defender bearing down) and was nearly picked off. In the third quarter, Watson was intercepted when he appeared to overthrow his man down the left sideline, but again, it looked as though he didn’t get much help from his receiver.
But Watson also threw two passes to the end zone that were on target and should have been caught by senior receiver Mike Williams. Oddly enough, Williams, who missed nearly the entire 2015 season with a neck injury, received almost universal praise on twitter for his 9-catch 174-yard performance. This is a case where the stats do not tell the full story.
In the end, Watson made some clutch plays down the stretch. He stood in under pressure and connected with a leaping Hunter Renfrow for a fourth quarter TD on third-and-goal from the 16-yard line…
…and he converted a back shoulder pass on third-and-eight with time winding down. It was a workmanlike win for Watson against a defense that was clearly keyed up to face him. But by the following evening, some talking heads seemed ready to knock the decorated junior passer off of his perch.
That’s because another DeShone - Kizer of Notre Dame - was leading his team back from a two-score deficit to force overtime against Texas. Kizer alternated with junior Malik Zaire, but ultimately took the bulk of the snaps, throwing five touchdown passes, and running for another. He may have had a sixth scoring pass, but Torii Hunter Jr. wasn’t able to hold onto the ball after a vicious hit that probably could have drawn a penalty flag for targeting.
Kizer stood tall in the pocket as long as he could, and when he was forced to flee he was able to keep his shoulders square, his head up, and his eyes down the field. Kizer has a smooth and easy throwing motion, and on Sunday, he zipped the ball effortlessly and accurately from the tackle box, and on the move. The only thing that went wrong was that the Irish weren’t able to complete the comeback, and fell to the Texas Longhorns in overtime.
Kizer’s performance has piqued the interests of the scouting community, but this was only his 12th career start, and it’s unclear how Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly intends to dole out his quarterback reps for the rest of the season. Also worth noting is that Kizer is a redshirt sophomore and has two years of eligibility remaining after this season. So he and Watson may not even be members of the same NFL Draft class. I’m as excited as the next onlooker about Kizer’s outing on Sunday, and it will be nice if he does indeed emerge as a challenger for Watson this year. I just think it’s a little early to be passing the torch.
Elflein has moved to center this year after earning First Team All-Big Ten honors at guard each of the last two seasons, and last weekend against Bowling Green, the fifth-year senior didn't miss a beat.
Elflein was aggressive in the run game, firing off the snap, hunting and locating a the second level, and finishing plays with a nasty streak. His shotgun snaps were on point, he initiated the contact with his opponents, and generally looked smooth getting into his pass protection sets. It was only one game, but it’s difficult for me to imagine that Elflein will somehow implode, and have to be moved back to guard. He honestly looked like a player who’d been lining up at center all along, and I believe that given his smallish stature (he’s listed at 6’3” 300 pounds) it’s the right move for his professional career.
Box Score of the Week
Curtis Samuel RB/WR Ohio State
13 ATT 84 YDS 1 TD rushing, 9 REC 177 YDS 2 TD receiving
In Samuel, Urban Meyer feels like he has his first true "hybrid" back since he coached Percy Harvin at Florida. Over the past two seasons, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller played the role, and neither ever had a performance rivaling Samuel's showing Saturday.
The Ohio State junior displayed natural hands as a receiver, and breakaway open-field speed. Out of the backfield, Samuel isn't a punishing inside runner, but he was able to pick up yards between the tackles as needed. He even showed fearlessness getting out in front and lead blocking on a play or two. Samuel clearly holds a major role in a high-powered offense, and should be on any underclassmen NFL Draft watch list going forward.
Hot Take of the Week
Not gonna happen, Travis
Kelly threw for 215 yards and three scores in the first half Monday night against Florida State, then went 0/5 passing in the third quarter. In the second half Kelly was 7/16 for 98 yards, threw two crucial interceptions, and lost a fumble as Ole Miss was outscored 32-6 en route to an 11-point loss. The Rebels senior is a wild man on and off the field, and while he may be the best draft-eligible QB in the SEC, that's really just a case of damning with faint praise. Former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was similar to Kelly in terms of arm and baggage, and he wound up being drafted in the sixth round in 2014. Not only will Kelly not be drafted first overall, I'm confident in saying he will not be a first round pick, or probably even a Day Two selection.
Penn State at Pittsburgh Saturday Noon ET
I'm an early believer in Penn State junior receiver Chris Godwin, who became the 14th player in school history to crack 100 career receptions last weekend. Meanwhile, Pitt running back James Conner will look to shake off the rust after losing his 2015 season to injury and illness.
Iowa State at Iowa Saturday 7:30 PM ET
Cyclones junior receiver Allen Lazard caught six passes for 129 yards and a score last week, and is sure to attract attention from defending Thorpe Award winner Desmond King. Hawkeyes senior QB C. J. Beathard is also worth a look.
Virginia Tech vs Tennessee (at Bristol Motor Speedway) Saturday 8:00 PM ET
Saturday night's "neutral" site game features a tantalizing matchup between Hokies junior wideout Isaiah Ford and Vols senior cornerback Cameron Sutton. Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd looks to get on track after a lackluster showing against Appalachian State last week, while linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and defensive end Derek Barnett are potential early-round draft picks.