September 10, 2011
On the day's most pivotal players, personalities and schemes.
• TROY WOOLFOLK, CB, Michigan, vs. Notre Dame.
Everyone this offseason hailed Greg Mattison's return from the NFL to reassemble the wreckage of the Wolverine defense, but a 61-year-old coordinator isn't about cover Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd one-on-one. And if his best cornerback can't, either, Mattison will be forced to expend valuable resources and energy on Floyd that will inevitably open up other channels of the Irish offense. In fact, if Woolfolk struggles, the Irish may not need any other channels: Last week, Floyd dominated South Florida's secondary for 154 yards and two touchdowns on a dozen catches, a scene Michigan fans might have found all too familiar.
It doesn't help that Woolfolk is suffering from fresh injuries to both his ankle and his hand after missing all of last season with a major knee injury. Even at 100 percent, he'd be at a disadvantage against the 6-foot-3, 225-pound, NFL-bound Floyd, but Woolfolk remains the only chance the Wolverines have of continuing to bring the heat in the pass rush without getting burned to a crisp on the other end.
• TANK CARDER, LB, TCU, vs. Air Force.
By almost any standard, giving up 564 yards and 50 points in one night is an embarrassment; by TCU standards, it's an existential crisis. Besides the game and its identity as an elite defense, TCU also lost its top tackler last week at Baylor, All-Mountain West linebacker Tanner Brock, temporarily leaving fellow senior Tank Carder as the only veteran face in the trenches.
Carder is also one of the few returnees on the defense who's taken on Air Force's triple-option attack at full speed. The Falcons' overwhelmingly run-first philosophy presents an entirely different challenge than the pass-happy spread that befuddled TCU in the opener, but it's no less lethal if the Frogs are as disoriented by AFA's endless fakes and misdirections as they were at Baylor. Down his most familiar, reliable running mate, Carder has to be the one leading the charge to restore the old status quo.
• AARON MURRAY, QB, Georgia, vs. South Carolina.
Yeah, of course, everybody needs the quarterback to play well. Murray may be the only QB in America today, though, whose team is already playing for the fate of its entire season, and there's no indication the Georgia running game or defense is going to do its part to keep/bail him out of trouble. Between Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina is going to get its fair share offensively. If Murray can't make the plays to keep the Bulldogs close, the cloud accompanying an 0-2 start will be the blackest over Athens in many years.
• Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State, vs. Auburn.
Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter flashed a little big-play rapport with multiple receivers in last week's frantic shootout with Utah State, a solid, self-assured debut under the circumstances. In his first start against a real SEC defense, though, Trotter is still likely to defer to the Tigers' thunder-and-lightning tailbacks, Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb, whose success on running downs will go a long way toward keeping Trotter out of obvious passing downs, when the MSU defense likes to pin its ears back. How well the rebuild offensive line handles Cox, a 295-pounder who earned a second-team All-SEC nod from league coaches this summer, will be the most decisive factor in keeping the entire playbook open.
• Penn State's Offensive Line vs. Alabama.
No one alive expects Penn State to make any headway against the Crimson Tide defense: The best the Nittany Lions can realistically hope for is a couple time-consuming drives, no turnovers and a couple of short-field opportunities created by the defense and special teams. If they even get that far, though, it will be by virtue of an old-school effort by a senior-dominated front five, which has to create enough of a dent in the 'Bama D to keep it at least somewhat wary of the running game — wary enough, anyway, to keep not-so-prolific quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin from becoming piñatas the Tide get to keep whacking until turnovers start spilling out.