In Week Eight of our Thursday night primer, the National Football Post highlights some of the keys to tonight’s Florida State-North Carolina game, including top players and matchups that NFL scouts will be watching.
Prospects to Keep an Eye On
Christian Ponder: No. 7, QB, 6'3", 218
Looks like one of the nation’s top junior signal-callers. He’s a smart kid who’s decisive with the football and showcases the accuracy and timing to make all the throws. I really like him a lot and think he’s going to continue to get better.
AP—Florida State OG Rodney Hudson
Rodney Hudson: No. 62, OG, 6'2", 290
A natural bender who plays leverage and possesses the fluidly to mirror in space. However, he will definitely have his hands full with North Carolina’s talented group of defensive tackles.
Dekoda Watson: No. 36, OLB, 6'2", 226
Exhibits good closing speed and range in pursuit, but his lack of size and overall power really show up when he’s asked to take on any kind of block. Is extremely scheme-limited at the next level.
Patrick Robinson: No. 21, CB, 5'11", 194
Physically, the kid has it all, but he lacks ideal awareness in man coverage and struggles to play with his back to the ball.
Others worth watching :
Richard Goodman: No. 9, WR, 6'0", 191
Ryan McMahon: 60, C, 6'3", 285
Kendall Smith: No. 29, ILB, 6'1", 226
Markus White: No. 98, DE, 6'4", 261
Jamie Robinson: No. 20, FS, 6'2", 190
AP—North Carolina DT Marvin Austin
Marvin Austin: No. 9, DT, 6'3", 305
Possesses an impressive physical skill set, but it’s his improved technique and hand placement that have allowed him to take his game to another level this season.
Cam Thomas: No. 93, DT, 6'3", 328
A massive interior lineman who’s difficult to move off the ball and has the potential to anchor a defense at the next level. However, he needs to learn to play with a more consistent pad level.
Aleric Mullins: No. 97, DT, 6'3", 296
He was actually my favorite of the Tar Heels defensive tackles based on last year’s game tape. Showcases a good initial burst off the snap and uses his length and hands well to slip blocks inside.
Bruce Carter: No. 54, OLB, 6'3", 225
Was one of the most impressive outside linebackers I watched on tape last summer and has the makings of an impact starter at the next level. Is on the verge of cracking the NFP’s Super 30.
AP—North Carolina OLB Bruce Carter
Quan Sturdivant: No. 52, ILB, 6'2", 232
A gifted athlete who looks natural redirecting in the open field and closing on the ball. It will be interesting to see how much he’s developed mentally from last season because the tools are all there.
Deunta Williams: No. 27, FS, 6'2", 205
A gifted size/speed athlete who showcases great range and always seems to be around the ball. Is another Tar Heels defender who looks like a potential starting-caliber player at the next level.
Others worth watching:
Kyle Jolly: No. 72, OT, 6'6", 312
Kendric Burney: No. 16, CB, 5'9", 182
E.J. Wilson: No. 92, DE, 6'2", 280
If you haven’t been able to tell by my “prospects to keep an eye on” section, I absolutely love the North Carolina defensive unit. Head coach Butch Davis has done a phenomenal job recruiting talented athletes on all levels of the defense and really developing them into big-time potential prospects.
In particular, the defensive tackle rotation of Marvin Austin, Cam Thomas, Aleric Mullins and redshirt sophomore Tydreke Powell do a great job creating pressure inside and keeping their talented linebacking corps clean in the run game. These four are consistently able to help control the line of scrimmage and will definitely give Florida State’s undersized interior linemen trouble up front.
The Best of Them All
Typically, I don’t like to start evaluating any college player until he’s at least eligible for the draft. However, the play of North Carolina sophomore defensive end Robert Quinn has been nothing short of brilliant this season and definitely deserves a mention. Quinn has already recorded seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and 32 total tackles, and he’s been a consistent force in both the run and pass game.
Quinn is a tall, long-armed 6'5", 260-pound lineman who not only is the best defensive lineman on the Tar Heels' talented front four, but he grades out just as highly as any defensive end in the country. He showcases an impressive first step off the snap, keeps his pad level down when shooting gaps inside and closes instantly on the football.
He’s still a bit raw and will get too high at times on contact, but Quinn is a former state champion wrestler who exhibits quick hands, impressive natural strength at the point of attack and looks like a guy capable of developing into an impact NFL defensive lineman.
AP—Florida State QB Christian Ponder
How Can the Florida State Offense Counter?
The Florida State offense starts and ends with the play of quarterback Christian Ponder, who looks to me like one of the nation’s top junior quarterback prospects. Ponder is completing almost 68 percent of his passes and is on pace to throw for 3,500 yards, 18 touchdowns, and only two interceptions.
He’s a smart, decisive signal-caller who showcases the poise to react quickly under pressure and seems to have a really good grasp on Jimbo Fisher’s offense. The key will be whether Florida State’s offensive line can protect him long enough in this one. Because if Ponder is able to get any time in the pocket, he certainly has the ability to orchestrate a victory.
Not the Seminole Defense of Old, But...
The Florida State Seminoles have given up more than 38 points a game in their last two outings and need to find a way to keep this one close in order to not put too much pressure on their offense.
However, the North Carolina offense has struggled tremendously at times trying to move the football and has scored a combined 10 points in its first two ACC games. If Florida State can make the Tar Heels one-dimensional on offense and force them to play from behind, the overall speed of the Seminoles defense will quickly become a factor.
North Carolina simply doesn’t have the kind of athletes on the offensive line to handle the speed of Florida State off the edge, especially if they’re going to simply drop back and pass down after down.
Follow me on Twitter: WesBunting