The return of the Big Ten added some life to college football last week, and the Pac-12 and other conferences coming back to action might kick it up a notch further.
We’ve hit on one Big Ten battle this week, but we also had to canvas some of the great matchups in the SEC as well this week, including life after Jaylen Waddle for Alabama.
Alabama QB Mac Jones vs. Mississippi State defense
Jones might have piqued the interest of scouts with his play in 2019 after replacing Tua Tagovailoa last season, but he’s raised the bar quite a bit in a hot start in 2020. Now there’s even discussion over how high Jones might go in the 2021 NFL draft — top 50? Round 1 even? — that would have been tough to predict two months ago.
We’ll see how Jones fares without Waddle, the wide receiver who suffered a season-ending ankle injury last week. But it’s not as if Jones doesn’t still have elite talent around him at multiple spots.
For this game in particular, the Bulldogs might be struggling in several respects. But they’ve been decent against the pass this season (192.3 yards per game allowed, 12 sacks, three INTs in four games) and very good on third downs (32.7 percent conversions allowed, 18th-best in FBS).
MSU features some draftable seniors who are on scouts’ radars (EDGE Marquiss Spencer and LB Erroll Thompson), plus a few more who could work into that discussion (S Cordarius Morgan and EDGE Kobe Jones).
Mac Jones has been tremendous on third downs, completing 15 of 23 passes for 276 yards and converting 12 of those completions into first downs. Eight of those completions netted 15 or more yards apiece. He’s consistently attacked downfield with confidence and had tremendous success.
From an arm-strength standpoint, he might be comparable to Joe Burrow last season. Burrow was not regarded as possessing a howitzer, but his throws were on time, beautifully placed and eminently catchable. That’s how Jones is thriving this season.
Perhaps Waddle’s absence affects him at some point. But if Jones’ terrific season keeps rolling along as it has been, he has a chance to enter the top-50 discussion next spring. We couldn’t find a spot for him in the first 32 of our initial 2021 NFL mock draft, but by the time the next one rolls around, Jones’ name might be in there.
Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari vs. Kentucky offensive tackles
If there has been a Georgia defender who most has caught my eye this season, it’s been Ojulari. The 6-3, 240-pound rush end isn’t big or especially long, but he’s highly active with a motor that never quits. Ojulari bursts out of the blocks and looks like a completely different specimen after a pretty ordinary redshirt freshman in 2019.
Standing in his way are two different types of tackles, both of whom are on NFL radars. Kentucky has been up and down this season, but the two Wildcats units that are hard to complain about are the defensive secondary and the offensive line.
Darian Kinnard is a massive man at 6-foot-5 and 345 pounds, with big, powerful hands and enough length to keep rushers at bay. Could he be a massive guard at the next level? Matchups against speed/energy rushers such as Ojulari could help determine that eventually. But to this point, Kinnard has been downright dominant at right tackle.
Landon Young is taller and leaner, at nearly 6-foot-7 and 306 pounds (spring measurements), with 33-inch arms and 10-inch hands. Earning some Day 3 grades, Young has looked really fluid in pass protection the past two seasons, coming back nicely from a 2018 knee injury. Does he move enough people in the run game? It’s debatable. But Young has a chance to rise with a good game here and strong testing.
Ojulari rushes more from the defensive right side, so he’ll see plenty of Young on Saturday, but we expect both tackles to lock horns with the impressive young rusher.
EDGE Joseph Ossai vs. Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins
Ossai is perhaps one of the more fascinating studies in the 2021 draft picture. (He’s a redshirt junior who could declare early.)
After emigrating from Lagos, Nigeria, with his family in 2007, he learned American football as a seventh-grader. Ossai has immense upside and might be one of the biggest risers in this class if he keeps up his torrid early-season pace. Although he has only one sack, Ossai has 6.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and 21 total pressures in five games.
Ossai also leads the Longhorns in tackles this season, which is more remarkable considering his offseason position switch. Now rushing from the “Jack” linebacker spot after playing mostly off the ball last season, Ossai is carrying over what he displayed in the bowl-game victory over Georgia: an ability to disrupt when rushing the passer.
The 6-6, 320-pound Jenkins is not a name you hear a ton in media draft circles, but he’s one to get familiar with. He’s a country-strong blocker who seeks to bury people when he can load up his power and unleash. Although Jenkins has been up and down in pass pro in the past, and he still can get uprooted against quicker rushers, he’s shown improvement this season — a few shaky series vs. West Virginia away from a nearly spotless season so far.
Jenkins earned some second-round grades this summer, and Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy believes he has a chance to be a “$40 million” NFL player one day. After deciding not to declare early for the 2020 draft, Jenkins has upped his performance in 2021. It’s wild to think that Oklahoma State hasn’t had an offensive lineman drafted since 2010 (Russell Okung, No. 6 overall), but that streak will end with Jenkins.
Ossai has rushed more frequently from the defensive right side than the left, so it’s likely he’ll see a lot of reps against redshirt freshman Jake Springfield. But we’ll be watching the Ossai vs. Jenkins reps closely.
Penn State EDGEs vs. Ohio State OT Taylor Munford
With Jason Oweh and Shaka Toney, the Nittany Lions appear to have one of the better pass-rush duos in the country. It’s been one game only, but Toney and Oweh heated up the edges so well against Indiana — 15 combined pressures, 10 by Oweh — that I don’t believe there will be a significant dropoff with Yetur Gross-Matos now in the NFL.
Oweh landed at No. 22 in our first mock, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But knowing how he’ll test at the NFL scouting combine, a rise into the top 15 wouldn’t be stunning.
He and Toney will be tested significantly against the Buckeyes’ talented OT duo. Nicholas Petit-Frere is the new right tackle, and the redshirt sophomore will be an NFL prospect at some point; former Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer recently said that all 11 OSU starters on offense will be drafted.
But Munford — whom scouts verified at 6-foot-5 1/2, 313 pounds, with nearly 36-inch arms and 10-inch hands this spring — is the more immediate prospect to consider at tackle for OSU. Earning mostly Day 3 grades this summer, Munford must improve as a pass blocker and clean up some mental mistakes this season to rise into the top-100 discussion.
In last year’s matchup at Ohio State, Oweh and Toney combined for one pressure on 30 pass-rush snaps. It was mainly Gross-Matos who got home for Penn State’s pass rush. But Oweh has a chance to be a star this season and an impact defender in this game given his shocking athletic traits and ascending pass-rush skill.
This is a matchup you’ll want to check out.
Missouri OT Larry Borom vs. Florida EDGE Brenton Cox Jr.
Another redshirt sophomore who has made a huge impression early this season is Cox, who was once part of a Georgia signing class out of high school that included Justin Fields and Cade Mays. Now all three play elsewhere.
Cox has started out on fire for the Gators after sitting out last season after the NCAA denied his waiver request to play in 2019. In three games this season, Cox has generated a lot of pressures as a defensive end and “Buck” linebacker. Last week against Texas A&M, Cox even walked out into coverage a few times, showing off his impressive athletic traits.
We can’t wait to see Cox’s “revenge” game against Georgia next week after he was dismissed following a disciplinary issue. But don’t overlook this week’s tilt against Borom, one of the more improved tackles in the SEC, along with Arkansas’ Myron Cunningham.
Borom struggled pass blocking a year ago, shuffling between four different positions (both guard spots and both tackle spots) on a unit that was poor in most phases. But this season, the 6-5, 330-pound Borom is off to a great start, sticking at right tackle and leading a tangible offensive improvement for the Tigers the past few games.
This matchup will pit Cox’s quickness and burst against Borom’s mass, although for such a big guy his feet appeared pretty light to these eyes against a strong Alabama rush in the opener.
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