There might only be one college football game pitting two ranked teams against one another, but we’ve found some really tasty individual battles among some 2020 NFL draft prospects. For fans of the battles in the trenches, we have a few really compelling ones to check out this week:
Georgia QB Jake Fromm vs. Florida
Saturday’s “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” kicks off a five-game stretch (and potentially six-game stretch) of very important games for the Bulldogs in their quest to win the SEC East and earn a spot in the conference title game. Georgia first will face the Gators, followed by Mizzou, Auburn (on the road) and Texas A&M — all of which play pretty good defense — along with the rivalry game in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.
The problem is that Jake Fromm is coming off perhaps his two worst back-to-back passing performances in his 36-game college career prior to the Bulldogs’ bye. Completing 9-of-12 passes for 35 yards in very rainy conditions last week wasn’t that concerning, in our view, as the Bulldogs called passes on four of the first seven plays against Kentucky before realizing how tough the rain made throwing and catching.
“At the end of the day, there’s some tough things that had to happen to throw the ball in those conditions,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “One, you’ve got to protect, two you’ve got to throw and catch, and you’ve got to protect the ball once you get it. Handing the ball to a guy is a helluva lot easier in those conditions.”
So they leaned on the run most of the night, with Fromm also scrambling a few times. But Fromm’s two-INT game in the loss to South Carolina the week prior was a lot more worrisome, the first time this season his pinpoint accuracy and strong decision making can really be called into question.
Now he faces a Florida defense that has legitimate pass-rush and coverage talent on all three levels, as the Gators lead all SEC teams in sacks (29 for minus-185 yards) and interceptions (12). Can Fromm push the ball outside the numbers? Can he drive the ball vertically against this secondary? Those are big questions for a quarterback who is trying to remain in the first-round discussion.
The Gators can peel away the layers of insulation within Georgia’s offense for Fromm by following the Gamecock model: sell out to stop the Bulldogs run game, first and foremost, and make Fromm beat you against single-man coverage outside the numbers. If that’s indeed how it plays out, Fromm can answer a lot of questions about his ability to make big-time throws out of necessity.
Baylor QB Charlie Brewer vs. West Virginia
Don’t look now, but Baylor is 7-0 heading into Thursday night’s game. And their quarterback, Charlie Brewer, quietly is having a very efficient season. It makes sense considering Brewer’s QB bloodline — his grandfather, father and uncle all played quarterback at Texas (and his dad was the MVP of 1982 Cotton Bowl), and Brewer’s older brother, Michael, played QB at Virginia Tech and Texas Tech.
Charlie is a more gifted player than his brother and is likely going to be the first in his family to get legitimate NFL attention. But he’s also not a passer with rare gifts — the 6-1, 206-pound junior doesn’t possess a rocket arm, is a solid (but not great) athlete and won’t wow you when you watch the tape. But what he doesn’t do is hurt his team very often.
Brewer doesn’t often put his team in bad positions with poor decisions that often. He had a three-pick game against Texas Tech but also ran for three scores and threw for 352 yards in that game. In the Bears’ other six games this season, he has a combined zero interceptions. As with Georgia’s Fromm, Brewer’s intangibles are going to carry more weight with scouts than his physical traits do.
Baylor head coach Matt Rhule has created a very NFL-friendly environment in Waco, and scouts love the team’s makeup now. They like the fact that Baylor makes you beat them straight up and are opportunistic when opponents make mental mistakes. And Brewer is the perfect QB for that system and team: He’s just smart, efficient, tough and competitive and will make the right play over the wrong one roughly 95 times out of 100. Watching Brewer grow from an overmatched freshman on a bad team to the confident leader of an unbeaten squad in two years’ time has been a fun progression to chart.
“I give Brewer a lot of credit,” West Virginia head coach Neil Brown said. “When I watch them, in all three phases, you can really see his personality: tough. And he gets — maybe not this year as much as a year ago — hit a bunch and he’ll bounce back up. I think just the competitiveness and the toughness, their whole team has that right now.”
The weather could be an issue in this game, with a forecast of 100 percent chance of rain, which could be a good environment for Brewer to prove he has enough arm strength to handle the elements. Scouts are fond of seeing this sort of thing happen for players such as this.
Too often on tape, Brewer’s passes can run out of steam on throws outside the numbers and down the field 20 or more yards. He doesn’t zip it the way many NFL passers can. But he also displays poise and accuracy that some NFL starters don’t possess.
Brewer is a junior and could return to school. But he’s an interesting study worth checking out in this environment.
Florida RB Lamical Perine vs. Georgia defense
We highlighted the 5-11, 218-pound Lamical Perine’s big run late to close out Auburn a few weeks back. That run highlighted some Perine’s best traits: good straight-line speed, determination and finishing ability. But there still are some questions about his game and his NFL translation that must be answered.
First, he’s not all that experienced or dynamic a pass catcher — although he has improved in that area, with zero dropped passes and a career high in receptions. Second, Perine is still not a very springy, wiggly runner, even after cutting weight prior to this season.
We also are curious how many touches he gets in this game. Will Florida try to pass their way to victory with their talented group of receivers and tight ends? Or will Perine be given a chance to tenderize the Bulldogs’ defense?
In his three previous games against Georgia, Perine has never run for more than 93 yards and never scored against them. This season, he’s been on something of a pitch count at the lighter weight; he hasn’t had more than 17 carries in a game for more than a year. But Perine also has done a great job with ball security (zero lost fumbles in 2019) and could be given his most work in this one, assuming the score is close for most of it.
Still, this is a daunting task. Georgia is only allowing only 86.1 rush yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry, and the Bulldogs have allowed zero rushing TDs this season. This will be a big test for Perine and an offensive line that could be at a disadvantage.
USC OT Austin Jackson vs. Oregon pass rushers
The Austin Jackson hype is starting to simmer. This potentially looks like a terrific crop of offensive tackles in 2020, depending on who comes out, and Jackson will have a decision to make following his junior season. There’s no consensus right now with the OT class, but the feeling with one evaluator we spoke with that the group is headlined by Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, followed somewhere by a collection of about four or five players. Jackson could be considered in that second group for now, and a strong finish might prompt him — especially if there is a coaching change — to enter the draft pool.
Jackson was named Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week once this year, but the funny part about that was that it came in a Week (Week 2 vs. Stanford) where his Pro Football Focus grade was one of his lowest this season. But overall, PFF has graded Jackson well this season, as he’s been credited with only one sack allowed — back in Week 4 against Utah.
Austin Jackson (USC LT 73) was faced w/tough task of having to block Bradlee Anae (Utah EDGE 6) last week. Anae had 5 tackles & a sack but this was a solid rep from Jackson.— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) September 28, 2019
- Great punch w/grip strength
- Good hand placement
- Good balance to handle either inside/outside rush pic.twitter.com/p7NU4TsTc6
What we’ve seen from him, Jackson has a real nasty edge to him. Yes, he’s light on his feet — just as you’d expect from a player who was 250 to 260 pounds when he committed to the Trojans before bulking up. But Jackson really likes to play with an edge and try to maul people. He isn’t the biggest, strongest tackle in this class, but there’s plenty of power and determination in his blocking.
His best performance might have come against Notre Dame EDGE Julian Okwara, who was shut out by Jackson in their matchup. Oregon has a slew of good pass rushers, and they rotate four in regularly. This will be an excellent test for him going up against a few different styles of players, and there should be a robust scouting presence on hand for this one with QB Justin Herbert in the building.
Oregon interior OL vs. USC defensive tackles
Sticking with that same game and flipping over to the other side of the battle in the trenches, we can’t wait to see what will happen between the Trojans’ defensive interior and the Ducks’ talented offensive line.
In Jay Tufele, Marlon Tuipulotu and Brandon Pili, USC three very good players who haven’t received much of the spotlight during a tough season but who rotate readily and disrupt frequently. Pili is a true junior, and Tuipulotu and Tufele are both true sophomores. We’ve not heard what their NFL plans will be after the season — with a possible coaching change coming, clouding the picture more — but of the trio, we think Tufele might be the most likely to declare early. He’s been the most impressive of the three and could have a shot of being taken in the top 40 or 50 picks.
The Ducks have good an interior trio as almost any team in the country. OG Shane Lemieiux is one of the best at his position in college football, especially as a run blocker. C Jake Hanson has returned from an unspecified injury to play well the past few games. The Ducks have rotated a bit at right guard, occasionally kicking Brady Aiello from tackle, but Dallas Warmack (the brother of former NFL guard Chance Warmack) is the most common option there.
We’ll be mostly glued on Tufele and who is trying to block him. This is a tape that NFL evaluators will sink their teeth into, on both sides of the coin. If you’re an OL-DL junkie and love great battles in the trenches, make sure you have a comfy seat ready for this Saturday night special.
Utah EDGE Bradlee Anae vs. Washington OTs
It has been a bit of a strange season for Bradlee Anae, a high-motor pass rusher who dotted a few All-America teams in the preseason after a breakout 2018 campaign but who hasn’t quite matched that hype this season on a consistent basis. Still, in recent weeks, there have been enough signs that Anae has picked things back up.
Three of Anae’s seven sacks came in the opener against Northern Illinois. But three more came in the Utes’ last game two weeks ago against Arizona State. Leading the Pac-12 in sacks for a second straight year could be difficult at this point, but we like the fact that Anae’s pressures have increased in recent games.
Anae isn’t the most explosive or physically gifted edge player in this class. He lacks great bend and balance and thrives mostly with high effort and strong technique. That’s why this matchup against Washington’s tackles, LT Trey Adams and RT Jared Hilbers, is such a fascinating one.
Adams has answered some of the injury questions that have plagued his career; without those, he’d be considered among the better exterior blockers in all of college football. Hilbers, who filled in last season for Adams at left tackle, has done a bang-up job in moving back to the right side this season. Despite a challenging outing against USC, the 6-7, 316-pound Hilbers been incredibly efficient this season and absolutely has raised his NFL profile by playing well the past two seasons at each spot.
Anae moves around, rushing from both sides (and even kicking inside on passing downs), so we expect to see him face both players, along with the Huskies’ interior blockers. This is an important tape for all three players who are prime candidates to end up in Mobile for the Senior Bowl.
And one bonus matchup ...
UAB DT Garrett Marino at Tennessee
Garrett Marino is a fascinating study who doesn’t fit all the NFL boxes but should end up on a roster because of his incredible drive and effort, using every ounce of talent in his 6-foot-2, 290-pound frame. Taking the long way to the Blazers — committing to Arizona State, failing to qualify and spending time at Montana State before becoming one of the first commits to UAB after the program rebooted — hasn’t slowed Marino down a lot.
He’ll turn 26 years old in training camp next fall, which will be an issue for some NFL teams. But the one that gets him will have a player who wins with effort, good hand-fighting skill, shocking power and finishing ability, able to play anywhere from a nose tackle spot out to a 5-technique on the defensive line.
After a white-hot start this season, Marino cooled off a bit prior to a solid few games the past two weeks vs. UTSA and Old Dominion. But this week is a step up in competition, as Tennessee has played much better offensively in recent weeks and features a very respectable offensive line led by LG Trey Smith, a highly regarded blocker with great feet who has resumed playing this season after blood clots threatened his availability.
A solid performance in this one could boost Marino’s stock and make him a strong candidate for one of the second-tier postseason games, such as the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl or the East-West Shrine Game. A blazing finish and great performance in this one even could rise the fifth-year senior up to the Senior Bowl.
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