With the college football season kicking off tonight, the National Football Post highlights some keys to the game, including players and matchups scouts will be watching.
Thursday night primer: N.C. State vs. South Carolina
Prospects worth keeping an eye on:
Weslye Saunders: No. 88, TE, 6-5, 280
AP South Carolina TE Weslye Saunders
All the physical and athletic tools are there for him to develop into a very good “on-the-line Y” in both the run and pass game. With TE Jared Cook now out of the picture, Saunders should shine this season.
Chris Culliver: No. 17, FS, 6-0, 190
An explosive, rangy safety who can play the center field role and track the football sideline to sideline. It will be interesting to see how much his awareness and instincts have improved as a junior.
Jarriel King: No. 76, OT, 6-5, 312
Not only one of the best junior offensive tackle prospects, but simply one of the best overall offensive linemen in the country. A guy who has the makings of a starting left tackle in the NFL.
Eric Norwood: No. 40, OLB, 6-0, 252
He lacks ideal height, but the guy knows how to rush the passer and close on the football. All he does is make plays. Has the ability to start in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme at the next level.
Garrett Anderson: 70, C, 6-4, 308
A vastly underrated center who possesses an intriguing combination of size, power and initial quickness for the position.
Others worth noting:
Darian Stewart: No. 24, SS, 5-11, 200
Nathan Pepper: No. 95, DT, 6-1, 300
Moe Brown: No. 9, WR, 5-11, 184
Willie Young: 97, DE, 6-4, 250
AP N.C. State DE Willie Young
A painfully overrated defensive lineman who plays in spurts and lacks the toughness to hold up at the point.
Jeraill McCuller: No. 50, OT, 6-7, 335
Possesses impressive body control and lateral agility for his size. Has the potential to develop into a draftable right tackle at the next level.
Ted Larsen: No. 58, C, 6-2, 300
A former defensive lineman who is quickly becoming one of the top center prospects in the 2010 draft class.
Others worth noting:
Alan-Michael Cash: No. 49, DT, 6-1, 288
Jamelle Eugene: No. 29, RB, 5-9, 195
Toney Baker: No. 22, RB, 5-10, 225
Scouts’ key matchup
South Carolina OT Jarriel King vs. N.C. State DE Willie Young
If N.C. State hopes to have any chance in this one, it needs to find a way to generate pressure vs. the South Carolina pass game and force QB Stephen Garcia to get rid of the ball early. In some scouting circles, DE Willie Young is considered one of the best senior defensive ends in the nation, but I just don’t see it. Young has a nice-sized frame and a good initial burst, but he struggles using his length to shed blocks and lacks toughness. Once opposing linemen gets their hands on him, the battle is over.
I expect South Carolina OT Jarriel King to have his way with Young on the outside. King is a gifted athlete who gets out of his stance quickly and can consistently mirror in space. Therefore, look for the N.C. State coaching staff to move Young around and try to find him a matchup he can exploit opposite King.
Mismatch to look out for
South Carolina TE Weslye Saunders is an impressive physical specimen who has the size and athletic ability to create mismatches vs. any college defense, regardless of whom he’s playing. However, Saunders should be even more effective tonight for two reasons:
1. The N.C. State Wolfpack are without their best defender, junior linebacker Nate Irving, who will miss the season because of injuries he sustained in a car accident in June. Irving, a legit first-day prospect, was the only linebacker on the Wolfpack defense athletic enough to cover the NCAA’s top-tier tight ends.
2. QB Stephen Garcia has yet to live up to expectations, but many believe he will take that big step under head coach Steve Spurrier this year. Expect Garcia to be looking for his big tight end early and often in this one. The phrase “Garcia to Saunders” will likely be repeated throughout tonight’s game.
The N.C. State advantage
In order for the Wolfpack to keep this one close, they need to sustain some long drives on offense and rely on the advantage they have up front. C Ted Larsen and OT Jeraill McCuller both have the ability to routinely win their individual matchups in the run game and should be able to consistently open holes for RB’s Jamelle Eugene and Toney Baker.
South Carolina has a young and undersized front four, and the tough between-the-tackles running style of RBs Baker and Eugene will not only keep the Gamecocks offense off the field. It will also keep N.C. State in third-and-manageable situations.
Third and long
APSouth Carolina OLB Eric Norwood
N.C. State needs to keep its offense out of third-and-long situations in order to avoid the blitz packages used for South Carolina OLB Eric Norwood. Norwood is a force when asked to get after the passer, finishing the 2008 season with nine sacks, nine QB hurries and 14½ tackles for loss. The Gamecocks lack the talent up front to win at the line of scrimmage by only bringing four. So locating/blocking Norwood on all third-and-long situations is a must for the Wolfpack.
Don’t count out N.C. State just yet, as you can bet head coach Tom O’Brien took a good look at South Carolina’s 2009 Outback Bowl game tape in which Iowa’s offense effectively ran the ball down the Gamecocks’ throats. Look for N.C. State to be content to keep the game between the tackles on offense and keep themselves out of unmanageable down-and-distance situations.
However, it’s tough to pick against an SEC team to start the year, and I have a feeling this is the season where Garcia takes the next step under head coach Steve Spurrier.