Big name quarterbacks such as Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson had great performances, but who else helped themselves in Week 2 of the college football season?
Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson
The Clemson defense, and in particular their outstanding front line, were the dominant force in this game that helped the reigning national champions to a low-scoring victory. Each individual player has the enviable advantage of having the others around them to make it near-impossible for the opposing offensive line to key on one single guy, from Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins on the interior, to Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell outside. It was the latter who came up with the standout performance of the group as he terrorized Auburn’s left tackle throughout.
The 6’5” 260lb Ferrell contributed six tackles, one for a sack-fumble and one registered QB hurry on the stat sheet, but was constantly creating pressure and disruption in the backfield. His sack and fumble came during the second half that Auburn managed to recover, but was close to taking down Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham on a number of other occasions.
Along with ideal size and length, Ferrell has a destructive talent for converting initial speed rush to power during his pass rush attempts. His fast and strong hands are well-used with polished and timed rip and swim moves that back up his high motor rushes, while throwing in a useful inside spin move occasionally. There’s variety in the manner in which he can attack and unbalance linemen that yields results. He may only be a redshirt sophomore, but already looks pro-ready and a likely first round draft choice. After a debut season that included 44 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, nine QB hurries and two pass breakups, he looks poised for another big season, one that could be his last in college.
Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville
After another huge statistical outing in the win over North Carolina, the attention is rightfully on the Cardinals star quarterback Lamar Jackson in his quest for an ACC title and potentially another Heisman run. He’s having to do most of the work in the run game for the Louisville offense, but has an emerging star at wide receiver to rely on in the pass attack in junior Jaylen Smith.
At 6’4”, 219lbs, the big wideout has an NFL frame, but excitingly also has the ability to get down the field in a hurry as a deep target. That was the manner of his standout play in the game, that saw him burn another pro prospect in Tar Heels cornerback MJ Stewart for a 75-yard touchdown at a crucial moment in what was proving a very tight contest.
That may have been the highlight, but he made himself available time and again for his quarterback for key conversions, including an important third down conversion during the third quarter. He finished the contest with nine receptions for 183 yards and a touchdown, for an average of 20.33 yards per catch. Through two games, that gives him a total of exactly 300 receiving yards. Both he and his quarterback may be headed to the pros together after the 2017 season.
Uchenna Nwosu, EDGE, USC
A big win for the Trojans, and a big day from their all-action edge rusher Nwosu who played a key role on defense. His active, high-energy game saw him constantly pressure the backfield, more so than the four tackles and one sack would suggest, as he disrupted numerous plays that didn’t appear on the stat sheet. He dominated in the second half in particular, driving between the Stanford right tackle and right guard to force an errant throw from Keller Chryst shortly after the half-time break.
Later in the third, he again had Chryst backpedaling, getting close to the sack but still inducing a dangerous throw that linebacker Cam Smith nearly picked off. Continuing into the fourth quarter, and the senior should have had another sack that Chryst instead threw to the turf for an intentional grounding penalty.
A solid athlete helped by a good first step and overall reactions, Nwosu brings a high motor and active hands. Moving around the formation, he attacks from either side and work both inside and outside to find paths to quarterbacks and ball carriers. At 6’2”, 240lbs, he is a different build and rusher than Ferrell ,above, but uses his leverage to his advantage well. Adding to his versatility, Nwosu is a factor in the pass game, and the area where he did stand out on the stat sheet was with a hugely impressive five pass breakups against the Cardinal.
As well as disrupting throws while dropping back into shallow coverage zones, his smart play also sees him recognize when his initial rushes aren’t getting the job done, and gets vertical to deflect passes at the line. His final breakup saw him do just that to tip the ball high into the air that again almost led to a USC interception late in the fourth quarter.
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
The highest profile victory of Week 2 saw the Sooners convincingly beat Ohio State in the Horseshoe, and while Baker Mayfield emerged as the biggest individual winner from that contest, Brown deserves some credit as well. The matchup within the matchup was a stacked Buckeyes defensive line group against a very solid, well-rounded Oklahoma offensive line. While the latter lost the occasional battle, they arguably won the war in giving up two sacks and two QB hurries on the day. Left tackle Brown faced off with all four star edge rushers in Lewis, Bosa, Hubbard and Holmes, and was comfortably in control throughout in his own one-on-one matchups.
The 6’8”, 345lb redshirt junior has his detractors in the draft community, and won’t have changed the minds of plenty in that camp, who can, with some justification, continue to cite the Sooners scheme that involves getting the ball out of Mayfield’s hands quickly or for their dynamic quarterback to escape the pocket frequently to avoid pressure and sacks, all of which helps Brown from giving up plays.
However, with this being the offense in which he plays, this will surely go down as his most significant game film. Time and again, with contact established, he shut down the array of future high draft picks facing him, and was able to do enough when faced with speed outside to buy his quarterback time. Never flustered or unbalanced, he managed the game impeccably, and without any of the personal foul penalties that cropped up often last year. There are questions in his game, but this was a positive outing for the big lineman.
Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
His four receptions for 39 yards (a 9.75 average) don’t leap off the page, but half those catches went for touchdowns in the rivalry win over Pittsburgh on Saturday. Having had five touchdowns all of last season, that brings Gesicki’s total to four already in 2017 in a strong opening to his year.
His first score saw the tight end set up to block initially, before releasing into the middle of the end zone to leave himself wide open for the simplest of scores. The next followed soon after in the first quarter, as he crossed through to backfield and into the flat where the Panthers defense again failed to track him, allowing him to take hit the corner of the end zone with yards after the catch.
The athletic 6’6”, 250lb senior has an all-round game as a very solid and intelligent blocker, playing a key role in his quarterback Trace McSorley’s 35-yard touchdown run. It’s an area that he’s improving in, after some below-par work as a blocker the previous season, but it’s his upside as a receiving target that will make him challenge to be the first tight end off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft. Already with a height advantage over covering linebackers and defensive backs, he backs that up by his ability to high point the ball with great hands to catch away from his body and while under pressure. His potential in the red zone is obvious and appears all set to excel in that role this season in terms of touchdown grabs after just six over his first three seasons.
Small School Watch: Austin Kuhnert, OG/C, North Dakota State
It looked on paper to be the most enticing matchup of the weekend in the FCS, with two of the best in recent years facing off as North Dakota State traveled west to play Eastern Washington. After a few even initial exchanges, though, the Bison pulled away from EWU for a very comfortable 40-13 win.
The victory was built around the dominance of the NDSU offensive line who took over the game, though it should be acknowledged that they were helped somewhat by star defensive tackle and NFL prospect in his own right Jay-Tee Tiuli picking up a limiting injury. Even so, senior right guard Austin Kuhnert was matching up well with Tiuli before the injury, and was a massive force throughout the game.
At 6’4” and 305lbs, Kuhnert has experience at both guard spots and a couple years at center. He has solid size and moves very well, looking the part in space and when pulling from his RG spot as a lead blocker. He plays in a pro-style offense with concepts and blocking assignments that translate to the next level, is used to a winning culture and has a tough mentality that has been very much associated with North Dakota State players over their period of sustained success; Kuhnert very much embodies the Bison blueprint.
While a very solid and technically sound pass protector, it’s his run blocking that really stands out, opening running lanes off the line of scrimmage and getting out in front to lead block for his backs, in a physically imposing manner. He helped dictate the action for the opening touchdown run for the Bison, and book-ended the game late in the fourth quarter, getting quickly onto the second level to secure one of the key blocks that broke free Lance Dunn for the 31-yard final TD score. Between then, Kuhnert was routinely drive blocking opposing defensive lineman backward. He might be an outside shot to hear his name actually called on draft weekend, but if not, is worth a shot in camp at least.
There were a number of quarterback prospects who had difficult weekends, including the likes of Ohio State’s JT Barrett and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham; the Razorbacks’ senior QB was another.
Austin Allen, QB, Arkansas
It was one of the more disappointing games of the Saturday schedule, as the rematch between the Big 12’s TCU and Arkansas of the SEC didn’t come close to matching the entertainment and drama of last season’s 41-38 double overtime win for the Razorbacks of Arkansas. It was a game filled with poor execution that frustrated the viewer, and few of the more experienced players on hand left with positive marks for their performances.
Despite throwing for a touchdown and avoiding any interceptions, it was a rather ugly stat-line elsewhere for Austin Allen, as just nine of his 23 passes were completed, a mere 39.1% rate, for six yards per attempt and 138 total passing yards. The Razorbacks do not have the greatest depth of receiving targets, and those who were available didn’t do much to help their quarterback out. Even so, Allen was inconsistent and couldn’t build up any kind of rhythm with a number of off-target throws, with some of the poorest attempts coming on a number of deep shots.
Allen has now begun the year with the two lowest pass yardage totals of his career, which as a borderline draftable quarterback prospect is not going to help his chances. The offense as a whole will need to improve, with Arkansas kicking off conference play against the Texas A&M Aggies next, after a bye this weekend.
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