The penultimate week of the College regular season had, on paper, some very enticing and important matchups. Unfortunately, there was an air of inevitability about what transpired, as Ohio State dismantled Michigan State, Clemson battered Wake Forest and Cincinnati ruthlessly took apart SMU. Arkansas did put up a fight at least against Alabama, but the rest of these important looking games were very one sided indeed.
For all the Cincinnati supporters though, they should be just 2 wins away from a play-off place. All they will need to do is beat East Carolina next week and Houston in the AAC championship game. I can’t see how the committee will leave them out if they do win both.
Just two deep dive games this week, and I went away from the big games as I wanted to get some eyes on some of the teams I haven’t seen a lot of.
There was a very (surprisingly) entertaining game between Wisconsin and Nebraska, but we’ll start with the Thursday night matchup between Louisville and Duke, and possibly the best Quarterback performance of the entire season…
Louisville @ Duke
This was a game that will be remembered for the performance of Louisville Quarterback Mailk Cunningham. He had one of the greatest performances (statistically at least) in recent College Football memory, putting up 303 yards with five Touchdowns and no Interceptions through the air, and rushing for a further 224 yards and two more scores. It was an incredible effort, but we have to take this with a pinch of salt, as Duke is ranked 129th out of 130 teams nationally in total defense! The Duke tackling was non existent at times, and Cunningham’s passing numbers could have been even better, as he overthrew a couple of wide-open receivers during the game too. The contest was over midway through the second quarter as Louisville scored at will and Duke offered very little in return. It was 35-9 at halftime, and even with resting their starters during the 4th Quarter, Louisville still ran out 62-22 winners.
Obviously, there were some impressive displays here from the Cardinals, but I’ll leave Cunningham out of the deep dive and focus on two offensive guys and one defensive player who shone brightly.
Marshon Ford, Tight End, 6’2, 240lbs, Junior
Ford has been on my radar since impressing during last year’s campaign, but he has kicked it up another level here in the 2021 Season. His detractors will point to less than ideal size, but Ford is as happy setting the edge and taking on Linebackers at the second level, as he is reeling in catches. He certainly gives effort blocking, and whilst not always technically perfect, he certainly is effective. He consistently took on defenders downfield during this game, helping create these massive holes for his quarterback to run through. His size will limit him though with blocking at times, but again he is always willing to put his body out there to help the team.
As a receiver he excels, and at this level at least, he creates big matchup problems for the defense. He is fluid in his routes, doesn’t drop a thing, and is athletic after the catch, pretty much everything you want in a pass catcher, just not quite the ideal Tight End size for the next level.
There are exceptions of course, and Delanie Walker is someone who instantly comes to mind. He entered the league at 6’1 240, and while it took him a couple of seasons to get going, he certainly put together a nice career with the 49ers and Titans, and there’s no doubt for me that Ford could carve out a similar path in the NFL.
Ford is only a Junior right now, and I’d expect him to go back for another year, but if his Quarterback comes out he may want to follow him, and try and get a shot late in the draft.
Renato Brown, Right Tackle, 6’4, 309lbs, Sophomore
I caught three Louisville games last year, and even though he was just a Redshirt Freshman, Brown stood out at Right Tackle. Now Louisville has had a couple of highly drafted Offensive Tackles in the last five years, Geron Christian in the 3rd round in 2018 and Mekhi Becton 11th overall in 2020, and I think Brown has a chance to keep this little streak going, whenever he enters the draft.
He certainly won’t wow you with size or athleticism, but it’s easy to see how refined he is playing the position. He looks smooth and in control in pass protection, and happy to get out in space and open up holes in the run game.
He was very active in this game, controlling his side nicely and looking very impressive in run blocking. With a scrambling Quarterback he has to be aware of what’s going on around him at all times, and he was often out in front of Cunningham on his numerous long runs.
He stands out to me as the best lineman on this team already, so with continued improvement over the next season or two, we could be looking at a very nice prospect indeed.
Kenderick Duncan, Safety, 6’3, 225lbs, Senior
Duncan is a graduate transfer from Georgia Southern who has jumped up a level and doesn’t look out of place. I had one look at him last year while he was with the Eagles and he really impressed, so I’m glad he is bossing this new level of competition.
He was exceptional in this game, excelling against the run but also holding up really well when thrown at. In fact, he gave up no completions on four targets, and had one pass defended too. It should actually have been 2 passes defended, but he was flagged for a pass interference penalty when he actually played the ball beautifully in front of the Receiver. His bread and butter will be run support though, and at his size he packs a punch when taking on tight ends or running backs head on. He may not be the most agile Safety, which is hardly surprising at his size, but he can still get around the field and take the right angles to get in on plays. He, and another safety transfer, Qwynnterrio Cole, have really shored up the last line of defense for the Cardinals, and both guys are still underrated in NFL draft terms. You can certainly see some NFL teams looking at Duncan as a Linebacker for the next level too, and his skill set would certainly make that move intriguing.
Trevor Reid (Left Tackle, Louisville), Dez Melton (Tight End, Louisville), Malik Cunningham (Quarterback, Louisville), Jacques Turner (Defensive Tackle, Louisville), Dorian Jones (Linebacker, Louisville), Qwynnterrio Cole (Safety, Louisville), Josh Blackwell (Cornerback, Duke).
Nebraska @ Wisconsin
This looked on paper like a one-sided affair, but it was anything but, as Nebraska pushed #18 Wisconsin all the way to the wire in this one. The Cornhuskers record stands at 3-8, but that is so misleading. They have played everyone tough including Oklahoma (lost by 7), Michigan State (lost by 3), Michigan (lost by 3), Ohio State (lost by 9) and now Wisconsin (lost by 7). They just can’t seem to get over the line and upset these bigger teams, and the whispers are that Head Coach Scott Frost is in the hot seat, which seems a bit unfair when you consider how close they’ve played everyone.
This was a classic Nebraska Quarterback Adrian Martinez game. Amazing play one-minute, complete meltdown the next, he has made a career of doing unexpected things both good and bad. The real story of the game though was the continuing emergence of Freshman Badger Running Back Braelon Allen. Since taking over the lead back role in week six, Allen has produced 1,013 yards over just seven games, including 228 in this game. He ripped off a long touchdown run to essentially win this game late in the fourth quarter, and he is certainly turning into one of the brightest young stars, and someone to enjoy over the next couple of seasons.
As you’d expect though from a Nebraska/Wisconsin game, there were good old-fashioned trench battles galore and old school ground and pound. The two guys I want to get some notes down on though are Tight Ends, one from each team, both with a good all-round skill set for the position.
Jake Ferguson, Tight End, 6’5 244lbs, Senior
I’ve been grading Ferguson since his Freshman year in 2018, and even though he has been productive in those 4 seasons, he is still very much underrated.
You know playing Tight End at Wisconsin you’ll need to be able to block, which Ferguson does to a decent level, but it’s as a pass catcher where he surprisingly excels. Obviously in the run-first offense the Badgers use, receiving yards are hard to get, but Ferguson has for his career to date amassed 1,558, at 11.3 yards per catch, which is pretty good going.
He is a reliable target for young quarterback Graham Mertz, and he was targeted in key situations during this game and delivered every time. He certainly won’t be mistaken as a great athlete, but he has enough wiggle after the catch to make some guys miss and will always fight for extra yards. His blocking can be a little inconsistent, he was caught lunging a couple of times during this game, but you’d like to think that’s something that can be polished up at the next level with coaching. He has great hands, experienced route running, and that kind of tough guy get up that the NFL should like, but his testing numbers will ultimately sort out where he goes in the draft.
Austin Allen, Tight End, 6’9 255lbs, Junior
Austin Allen had been inconsistent for me on past viewings over the last couple of seasons, but this was his break-out party game, putting up a Nebraska Tight End receiving record 143 yards on just 7 catches. He is a big, tall, clunky player who certainly isn’t the smoothest runner, but what he does do is use his frame to box out defenders, and he catches pretty much everything thrown his way. He made a couple of really impressive contested catches in this game, using those strong hands to out-fight the defender and secure possession. You’d think at his size he would be dominant as a blocker, but he had leverage issues in this game, as the shorter but squattier Wisconsin Defensive Lineman could get under him and overpower him on occasions. When he can get his hands on defenders he can move them easily, it’s just consistency that he needs to work on in this phase. He was targeted nine times in the game (most on the team) and Martinez would rely on him as a check-down if the big plays weren’t there, to consistently move the chains.
I don’t think the NFL will be super high on him as they are leaning towards preferring big time athletes for the position, but if he keeps putting up these big numbers, he’ll be hard to ignore.
Samori Toure (Wide Receiver, Nebraska), Deontre Thomas (Defensive End, Nebraska), Jake Eschenbach (Tight End, Wisconsin), Braelon Allen (Running Back, Wisconsin), Matt Henningsen (Defensive End, Wisconsin), Keeanu Benton (Defensive Tackle, Wisconsin), Nick Herbig (Outside Linebacker) Wisconsin, Leo Chenal (Linebacker, Wisconsin), Collin Wilder (Safety, Wisconsin).