Week 11 sees us turn into the home straight and the winning line is very much in sight now. But Week 11 also tripped some teams up, and with it being this close to the end of the regular season, the implications for defeat are much more severe in the eyes of the committee.
Oklahoma were the biggest losers as Baylor gave them their first loss, and, in the process, blew wide open the race to the Big 12 championship game. The Sooners have two tough games left this season, next week hosting an inconsistent but dangerous Iowa State side, and then having to travel to Stillwater for the season finale, to play their rival Oklahoma State, who also have just one loss so far.
Also in the Big XII, Kansas beat Texas, and it wasn’t in basketball! Texas are in disarray right now and with both them and the Sooners losing this week, their jumps to the SEC look even more questionable, especially for the Longhorns. Just shows you it’s all about the money at the end of the day.
I took a deep dive into three games this week. It started with a Thursday night thriller, then onto an incredible come back by Mississippi State against Auburn and finishing up with the weekly sacrifice to the Georgia gods, this time Tennessee offering themselves up for slaughter.
Let’s start with that Thursday night game and two of the highest ranked Quarterbacks in the country…
North Carolina @ Pittsburgh
This was hailed as the Quarterback battle, Pickett vs. Howell, but this was more a game of two halves, with the Quarterbacks having some good and some bad moments between them. Pittsburgh got off to a flyer and were 17-0 up by the end of the first quarter, with Kenny Pickett spraying the ball around nicely, including a couple of really accurate deep shots. Sam Howell would hit on a long touchdown on a blown coverage to get the Tar Heels back into it, but before half time, Pickett again threw a lovely strike for a Touchdown to give them a 23-7 lead at the break.
At this point I was just about to concede that Pickett may have to move up my rankings, but the second half put an end to that thought. The Tar Heel Defense played out of their minds after the restart and held Pitt scoreless, whilst Sam Howell became a man possessed and led his team to an improbable comeback and forced the game into overtime. Unfortunately for Howell and the Tar Heels, Pitt scored on their possession, and as a sudden storm passed over unleashing torrential rain, Howell ran out of luck and couldn’t find the Endzone to tie it up.
A dramatic game with both Quarterbacks at times looking like first rounders, and at other times looking like day three guys. My main takeaway is that Pickett looks better than he did in previous seasons, but I still don’t see elite skills, and I’m definitely not getting on board with this QB1 nonsense. As for Howell, he looks like a guy that has to carry his team every single week, and it’s taking its toll. I still think he can be a first round guy come April, but he looks broken right now and probably can’t wait for the season to end.
I did a deep dive on the Tar Heels last week, so we’ll take a look at a couple of underrated Panthers who caught my eye, starting with Pickett’s blindside protector.
Carter Warren, Left Tackle, 6’5, 315lbs, Senior
When your Quarterback is getting lots of draft buzz, you know all eyes are on him now. This also means that scouts will be seeing that whole Offense a lot more too, and this may well benefit someone like three year starting Left Tackle Carter Warren.
Warren carried decent grades for me going into this season, and with this being my first deep dive into the Panthers this year I wanted to make sure he was still on that level, which he certainly is. Warren looks every bit his listed measurables and can engulf defenders at the point of attack with his size. He controlled the Tar Heel edges well here, giving up just one pressure on 56 Pass snaps, and looked very good in the run game, particularly in that first half. Everyone on offense struggled a lot in the second half, but crucially he kept his Quarterback upright when it mattered most, and they still got the victory in the end.
From a draft prospective Warren may not have the elite traits that you look for in a Left Tackle, but with his size and aggressive style of play I can see a very draftable Right Tackle at the very least here, and someone who is fundamentally very sound, creating a safe, high floor prospect.
SirVocea Dennis, Linebacker, 6’1, 230lbs, Junior
SirVocea Dennis is firstly a great name, but perhaps more importantly, he is becoming a key member of a very good defense. He teams up with Phil Campbell and Cam Bright to form a very talented trio of Linebackers for the Panthers, but Dennis is probably going to end up being the highest drafted out of them all. He burst onto the scene last year with 14.5 tackles-for-loss in just 10 games, and although not quite as productive this season, he still is putting himself into position to make plays.
He was always around the ball in this game and caused the Tar Heels all kinds of problems, finishing with 10 total tackles, 3 for a loss, and a sack. He reads the game well, is athletic enough to get to his run fits, and is a good secure tackler, everything you really want in your Mike linebacker, he’s just missing that elite size. In this day and age that will be overlooked if he tests well, but with him only being a true Junior we may be talking about a prospect for the 2023 draft anyway.
Jordan Addison (Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh). Matt Goncalves (Right tackle, Pittsburgh). Blake Zubovic (Guard, Pittsburgh). Phil Campbell (Linebacker, Pittsburgh). Brandon Hill (Safety, Pittsburgh). Cedric Gray (Linebacker, North Carolina).
Mississippi State @ Auburn
Just like the game above, this looked like a blow out early on and had me thinking I’d picked the wrong game to watch. Auburn dominated the first half, particularly on Offense and seemed to score at will on a hapless Bulldog Defense. The Mississippi State Air Raid Offense seemed to be stuck in an Air Raid shelter for the majority of the first half, emerging only briefly to score a Touchdown late in the second quarter, but this score was important, as it provided the spark for a points explosion after half time. The second half was full of big plays, and Auburn’s stout defense of the first half went missing, as they gave up multiple big plays and couldn’t get off the field.
Credit has to go to Mike Leach for getting his team to believe they could turn this around. Down 18 points at half time, in a hostile environment, with a team misfiring, he somehow got his team to buy into the game plan, and they executed it perfectly. Leach certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he is entertaining, and his team has beaten the likes of NC State, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Auburn this year, with plenty of underclassmen in the important positions.
We’ll start the notes section with one of those important underclassmen…
Will Rogers, Quarterback, 6’2, 210lbs, Sophomore
Rogers is only a true Sophomore, but he already has started 16 games in his two years so far. In fact, he made highly sort after transfer K.J Costello expendable last year, as he took the reins from him mid-season, and had some good games to end the year. Now if you remove a really bad game against Alabama (who doesn’t play badly against them?), he has looked exceptional this year, and it was behind him that this team rallied and fought its way to a hard earned victory, in unlikely circumstances.
In the first half it was tough going, with the Auburn corners contesting every catch and making plays, whilst his receivers were struggling to separate. The ball come out much quicker in the second half and this got the team moving the chains consistently. Rogers was poised, accurate and most importantly seemed to make the right read at the right time. He was helped by a group of Wide Receivers who were now making plays for him, but Rogers was the catalyst for this comeback, and for such a young guy it was very impressive to watch. Now obviously this kind of Offense will inflate stats, but it’s hard to ignore a stat line of 55-44-415-6-0!
From a draft point of view there’ll be teams that will have nothing to do with this kind of system quarterback, but I think he can be more than just an Air Raid guy, and more games like this will underline that fact. He’s certainly going to put up some absurd numbers regardless of what people think.
LaQuinston Sharp, (Center, 6’3, 300lbs, Senior)
One of the main reasons I took this game was to see Left Tackle Charles Cross, who is getting plenty of first round talk recently. He didn’t disappoint looking great throughout, but my eyes kept wandering to the Center of the Offensive Line and LaQuinston Sharp. Auburn has a 3-4 defense as its base, so Sharp was often lined up against a true Nose Tackle, and he dominated every single rep against them. On plays he didn’t have a guy straight over him, he would combo block with the guards, and I lost count of how many guys he wiped out doing this. It was one of those performances that has you scrambling for old notes, but there wasn’t much to find with Sharp, who before this season had only ever started 4 games, and all were at Guard.
One game doesn’t make him draftable but I really liked what I saw from him here, and perhaps the position switch to Center will open up an opportunity in an NFL training camp in the off season for him, and then who knows what could happen…
Kobe Hudson, Wide Receiver, 6’1, 199lbs, Sophomore
Hudson isn’t even listed as a starter on the Auburn depth chart, that will need to change shortly if we see more games like this from him. Now the Tigers do have some nice options at Wide Receiver, but Hudson brings a kind of exciting, big play mentality that the other guys do have, but not on this level.
He was almost exclusively lined up in the slot and he was a nightmare for the Bulldog Nickels to cover. He made a couple of jaw dropping catches, the ones that make you question how that was even possible to make, and you need to check the replay several times to make your brain accept it was a catch. In between those moments we had a couple of nice run after catch plays, and he was always a willing blocker in the run game too.
This was by far his best statistical output of his short career, in fact it was the first time he’d had over 100 yards receiving (8-107-1), but you can see the raw ability he has, and it’s exciting. He is a true Sophomore so not eligible for the draft yet, but he is worth filing away as one to watch for the future.
Malik Heath (Wide Receiver, Mississippi State). Charles Cross (Left Tackle, Mississippi State). Jaden Walley (Wide Receiver, Mississippi State). Cameron Young (Defensive Tackle,
Mississippi State). Ja’Varrius Johnson (Wide Receiver, Auburn). Tashawn Manning (Guard,
Auburn). Luke Deal (Tight End, Auburn).
Georgia @ Tennessee
For the first quarter and a half I had the belief I was watching a potential upset. By the end
of the second quarter I knew I was watching the #1 team in the nation, and possibly the best
front seven college football has seen this Millennium. The second half was classic 2021 Georgia, throttling the life out of its victims and executing with precision. I had high hopes
for Vols Quarterback Hendon Hooker, and while at times he flashes those plays that keep
me believing still, he would then overthrow wide open receivers and throw 5-yard
uncatchable rockets. He will still be someone I root for as I believe he has raw ability that
can be next level if coached correctly, but it seems no one has time to wait these days for
that to happen, and project quarterbacks are overlooked for the classic “game manager” type.
Anyway, onto the notes….
James Cook, Running Back, 5’11, 190lbs, Senior
Georgia has a stable of Running Backs that’s the envy of every other College team. The top
two guys are Zamir White and James Cook, and for the most part Cook is the second string
behind White. Georgia like to rotate these guys in and out regularly though, so there’s
touches for everyone, you just have to make the most of them when they come your way. In
this game James Cook certainly did that, as he had 10 carries for 104 yards and a
Touchdown and also had 3 catches for 43 yards and a score. These were his highest outputs of the season so far, but it wasn’t just about stats. Cook runs like a gazelle, catches the ball effortlessly and is even decent in pass protection too. He ticks a lot of boxes, but size will be a bit of a question mark for some teams. Those who are happy with his measurables will rate him highly, as he can be a three down back in the NFL.
As of right now he is probably better known as Dalvin Cook’s little brother, but it’s time to
start looking at James in his own right, which is a legitimate mid round running back prospect.
Devonte Wyatt, Defensive Tackle, 6’3, 315lbs, Senior
I love Devonte Wyatt and have done for a couple of seasons now. This Georgia front seven is immense, but Wyatt is criminally undervalued as part of this group and this tape should be
showed to those who haven’t got on board yet. I guess it’s hard to get noticed when you’re
lined up next to the behemoth that is Jordan Davis, but Wyatt is such a disrupting force in
his own right.
This was emphasised in this game as both Davis and stud Sophomore Jalen
Carter had to leave the game due to injury, and Wyatt picked up their slack effortlessly. He
has everything you want in a three-technique tackle, explosive reactions, low pad level and
strength at the point of attack. He is clearly an excellent athlete too as he moves so well in
space and can get outside on sweeps and pitches to get in on the play. I do think he gets lost with all the “bigger” name guys on this Defense, but I really believe Wyatt is a round one type player, who will probably end up going in the second/third round when all is said and done.
Cedric Tillman, Wide Receiver, 6’3, 215, Junior
Not many Wide Receivers will put up 10 catches for 200 yards against this Georgia Defense,
Tillman did. He also has previous, as he had 7 catches for 152 yards against Alabama two
weeks ago, giving him a combined 17-352-2 against the two best teams in the country. That is certainly making a statement.
Again, we need to look past the numbers and confirm this with the tape, and we can tick
that box off as he was a menace throughout, giving the talented Georgia corners fits with his
physicality and catch radius. He showed some good breakaway speed on one catch, which
was impressive on a 215lb guy, but he’s also happy to run through you too and use that power he has to gain extra yards.
Tillman has certainly announced himself to the world in these two games and let’s see if he
keeps this going to the end of the season and open more eyes on the way.
Adonai Mitchell (Wide Receiver, Georgia). Broderick Jones (Left Tackle, Georgia). Brock
Bowers (Tight End, Georgia). Darnell Washington (Tight End, Georgia). Nakobe Dean
(Linebacker, Georgia). Channing Tindall (Linebacker, Georgia). Velus Jones (Wide Receiver,
Tennessee). Cade Mays (Right Tackle, Tennessee). Kurott Garland (Defensive Tackle, Tennessee).