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Saturday Scouting: The Key Matchup In Michigan-Penn State Isn't The One You Think It Is

Posted Oct 21, 2017

This week on the College Draft Podcast with Ross Tucker, I broke down all the best matchups from some of the top games of the week, but let’s look at five more matchups that fans should keep their eyes on today.

Five Matchups To Watch

1. Notre Dame LT Mike McGlinchey vs. USC LB Uchenna Nwosu
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana - 7:30 p.m. - NBC

It’s been a bit of an up-and-down year for Mike McGlinchey, as his presence in the limelight as one of the best linemen in the country has put his play into direct focus of fans and analysts alike. While he has been beaten on some key plays this year (namely the game-sealing sack against Georgia earlier this season), the star left tackle has the physical tools of a starting blindside protector in the NFL. McGlinchey stands at 6-7, 311 pounds, and the athletic pass protector has pretty good feet with the length to latch onto pass rushers and ride them out of harm’s way. The Philadelphia native is no finished product, and will need to continue adding weight and getting stronger. However, he’s going to be one of the first players at his position selected in the upcoming draft.

McGlinchey has a good test this week in Uchenna Nwosu and a very active USC front seven that moves people around and presents a lot of different looks depending on the play. Unlike McGlinchey, Nwosu does not possess prototypical size for his position. At 6-2, 240 pounds, some people believe he’s destined more for an off-the-ball role at the next level as a linebacker. Right now, Nwosu is a pass rusher, and he tries to win with speed whenever he can. The senior only has 1.5 sacks on the year but has been very disruptive for the Trojans. Expect to hear his name often on Saturday night.

Prediction: This has a chance to be the best game of the week, and there’s a lot at stake for both teams. I think Notre Dame squeaks this one out by a field goal, and Uchenna fails to get home for a sack. This will be a big game for McGlinchey and his overall draft stock.

2. Penn State TE Mike Gesicki vs. Michigan LB Mike McCrary
Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pennsylvania - 7:30 p.m. - ABC

In the headline game of the week, especially in this part of the country, the Nittany Lions host Michigan on Saturday night. While all eyes are on superstar underclassman Saquon Barkley, keep a close eye on tight end Mike Gesicki. After starting the year with four touchdowns in two games, the senior hasn’t reached the end zone since. I think he’s due for some production. At 6-5, 249 pounds, Gesicki has very good ball skills (10 catches in last three games) and has enough speed to get down the seam to make plays in the vertical passing game. He may never be a superstar at the next level, but I think the South Jersey native has the skill set to turn into a solid starter in the NFL.

For the Wolverines, there are a ton of talented underclassmen to keep an eye on at every level of the field, but the senior I want you to watch at linebacker is Mike McCray. At 6-3, 249 pounds, the veteran has the size and strength of a throwback MIKE linebacker. After dealing with shoulder injuries earlier in his career, he’s rebounded to be a full-time starter for two seasons now at Michigan. He reminds me a lot of veteran linebacker Brandon Spikes (who played for Jim Schwartz when he was the defensive coordinator in Buffalo). While McCrary will certainly be more involved in trying to keep Barkley bottled up, keep an eye on him in underneath coverage as well.

Prediction: Gesicki catches four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown, while McCrary leads the Wolverines in tackles. I think Penn State wins this game by two touchdowns.

3. Iowa RB Akrum Wadley vs. Northwestern SS Godwin Igwebuike
Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois - Noon - ESPN2

Iowa had a bye last week. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for Akrum Wadley, who was one of the hottest backs in the country going into the week. The senior runner had reached the end zone seven times in five games (four rushing scores and three receiving), and he projects well as a change-of-pace back at the next level thanks to all the ways he can impact the game. The Newark, New Jersey native is a bit undersized (5-10, 191 pounds), but he’s got dynamic speed and his athleticism makes him a mismatch in the open field. Keep a close eye on him if you’re taking in the noon games later today.

Northwestern largely kept Barkley bottled up when it faced Penn State a couple of weeks ago, and Igwebuike was one of the players at the forefront of that effort with 11 tackles on the day. The Ohio native is a downhill thumper from the back end who thrives on the physical aspect of the game. I’m not sure he projects as an ideal starter in the NFL due to limited athletic ability, but Igwebuike can definitely make an NFL team based on special teams potential alone. However, this week could help disprove that sentiment matching up against Wadley.

Prediction: I think Iowa goes on the road and beats the Wildcats by a touchdown, with Wadley reaching the end zone twice in the game. The extra week to game plan for Pat Fitzgerald’s defense pays off.

4. Idaho QB Matt Linehan vs. Missouri DE Marcell Frazier
Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Missouri - Noon - SEC Network

One of the sleepers at the quarterback position is senior Matt Linehan of the Idaho Vandals. The son of longtime NFL coach Scott Linehan, Matt has some really admirable traits that translate well to the next level. I like the way he moves in the pocket, subtly stepping aside from pressure with his eyes downfield (though he can do a better job of protecting the ball while navigating the pocket). He’ll flash the ability to throw with anticipation at every level of the field. The upside with Linehan is a bit limited because he lacks top-end arm talent, athleticism, or consistent accuracy that high draft picks possess, but he knows what he’s doing at the position. This is a good test for him and a chance to prove himself against a next-level opponent.

This will be one of the first games quarterback coaches break down when evaluating Linehan this spring because he’s going on the road to take on an SEC foe. This February at the Scouting Combine, I asked former Mizzou defensive end (and future first-round pick) Charles Harris who the "next" pass rusher would be to come out of Missouri, and he told me it’d be Marcell Frazier. At 6-4, 261 pounds, the senior defensive end has only roped in 1.5 sacks thus far, but he had four tackles last week against Georgia and has had a bunch of close calls in the backfield this year.

Prediction: Missouri should win this game going away, and I think Frazier gets a sack against the statuesque Linehan.

5. Oklahoma State WR James Washington vs. Texas Secondary
Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas - Noon - ABC

You want a stat line? Senior receiver James Washington caught six passes last week against Baylor for a touchdown with ... 235 yards! That’s 39.2 yards per catch! At 6-1, 205 pounds, Washington is averaging 25.9 yards per catch on the year, a ridiculously high number even for the Cowboys’ high-flying offense. He’s not going to be a true burner in the NFL because he doesn’t have outstanding raw speed, but Washington has really strong hands and wins with extremely long arms and dominant strength at the catch point. Washington projects as a really good possession-type receiver in the NFL and a potential starter.

The Longhorns have rotated a number of underclassmen in at cornerback throughout the year. Reserve Jason Hall was named to the Senior Bowl Watch List and at 6-3, 220 pounds has traits to stick in the NFL as a back end of the roster player.

Prediction: I think Washington’s success continues this week against the Longhorns, who have already lost to two of the biggest names in college football at the quarterback position this year in Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. Washington catches six passes for 170 yards and a touchdown as the Cowboys win by 10 points.

Draft Buzz

Our friend Tony Pauline ranked Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst as a "riser" this week and a potential first-round pick. The senior defensive tackle is a bit undersized by NFL standards at 6’1 and right around 290 pounds, but he’s got a lightning-quick first step along with a high motor and a better ability to defend the run than you’d expect from a player with his body type. Hurst is a very effective bull rusher, not because of his size, but because of his snap anticipation. He’s one of the first players out of his stance causing him to initiate contact against an opponent and drive him back into the pocket. Interior rushers are extremely valuable if they can be consistently disruptive, and Hurst has a chance to be one of those guys at the next level.

Small-School Spotlight

The Senior Bowl does a great job every year of unearthing small-school players from lower levels of competition, and this January one of those players could be offensive lineman Skyler Phillips from Idaho State. A squatty four-year starter at guard for the Bengals with a strong punch and a boxer’s mentality, Phillips likes to grind his opponents into submission in the run game. He’s not going to wow anyone with his dimensions (arm length may be an issue for some teams), and his feet aren’t the quickest you’ll find in this draft, but at 324 pounds he’s got the ability to move people in the run game. His skill set should transition well to a team that values those traits up front.

Philly Connection

This spring the Eagles selected running back Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round out of San Diego State, and now his longtime backup is making headlines as well. Rashaad Penny has been extremely productive for the Aztecs in his first year as a starter, and the senior runner is doing it a number of ways, much like his predecessor. Penny has the speed to get to the corner and has been one of the best kick returners in the country for a handful of years despite the fact that he’s got pretty good size at 5-11, 220 pounds. Penny’s decisiveness inside is what impresses me most while watching him. If you just watch his game against Arizona State, you’d think he was a potential first-round pick. Look for the buzz surrounding Penny as the draft approaches.

Game Ball

Former Chicago Bears first-round pick Kevin White has struggled to get his career off the ground due to injuries, but his younger brother Ka’Raun White is having a ton of success at his alma mater West Virginia. The younger White turned in what was likely the best game of his career at home against Texas Tech last week when the senior caught eight passes for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns. At 6-1, 199 pounds, Ka’Raun is built similarly to his older brother, and while he may not hear his name called as early as Kevin did, he’s on track to be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft, likely on the draft’s third day.

Fran Duffy is the producer of “Eagles Game Plan” which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices and opponents.

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