by David Syvertsen
· The national media is starting to catch up on my view of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. After the 656 yard – 8 TD performance against Baylor, Smith’s game is finally receiving the recognition it deserves. The 6’3/220 pound senior will take his talents to Austin to take on the top defense in the Big 12 conference. I see a lot of comparisons to Robert Griffin III, mainly a result of the situation rather than skill set. Smith is heading for a Heisman race, but his game is different than what we saw out of the current Redskins rookie phenom a year ago. West Virginia does not use the screen package as much. Smith is throwing the ball to the intermediate and deep portions of the defense with more regularity that Griffindid. His poise in the pocket and consistent decision making has led him to the 20:0 TD/INT ratio through the first month of the season. In any scheme, that is an extremely impressive stat, especially considering the 55:14 ratio over the previous two seasons. Smith will be challenged this week on the road against a defense with first round NFL talent on all three levels.
· This will be my first look in 2012 at that Longhorns defense. Both of their defensive ends are in the first round tier and should finish there come April. Senior Alex Okafor (6’4/265) is the better of the duo. He’s off to a fast start in 2012. I’ll take Okafor over any offensive tackle in the nation in a one on one battle. He is a terror to block. He can run by you, through you, or spin/swim his way in to the pocket. IfTexas plans on slowing down Smith and company, Okafor will need to bring it. Opposite of him is juniorJackson Jeffcoat (6’5/245). He has the higher upside of the two, but his game from a power and technique perspective needs work. He has quick reaction and above average agility to bend while maintaining balance and strength. He struggles once engaged with a good blocker however. There is plenty of time for him to add the much needed bulk though. The deceptive explosion in short areas will be needed against the Mountaineers offensive attack.
· I’ll assume most will not spend a lot of time watching Virginia/Duke this weekend. But within that contest, there will be one of the better offensive tackle vs. defensive end battles of the weekend. Virginia’s left tackle Oday Aboushi (6’6/310) was 2nd Team All ACC in 2011 and has been playing on an even higher level this season. He has the feet and reach for the left side to excel at the next level. This year he has been playing with a newfound physical element to his game. With the blend of size, agility, strength and experience, Aboushi could be a top 45 pick in April. He’ll face off against Duke’s Kenny Anunike(6’5/260). After starting 2011 off with 4 sacks in 4+ games, Anunike injured his knee and set the rest of the season on the sideline. He returned bigger, stronger, and faster for this season. He has a sack in every game so far and the opportunity to show his ability against Aboushi can go a long way. Injury concerns aside, Anunike’s well balanced approach to the position would be receiving a lot more attention if he were on a more publicized team.
· LSU/Florida is always a must watch when searching for future NFL talent. Tigers offensive tackle Alex Hurst (6’6/331) will be tested in a variety of ways. Hurst projects as a right tackle in the NFL, but has seen playing time on both ends because of injuries. Left or right, he will see the power game of Florida’sSharrif Floyd (6’3/303) who moves inside and out, left and right of their defensive line. Hurst prefers this kind of matchup with his overpowering ability to lock on and stop a defender dead in his tracks. Hurst is a top tier run blocker. While his length can help in space, he is susceptible to the speed rush. That will be tested by junior outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins (6’0/237), who is returning from some a fractured thumb injury. Jenkins is used as a blitzing linebacker and proves to be very tough to handle because of his speed and low center of gravity. Hurst will struggle to bend and maintain balance against this type of defender. Something has to give.
· Miami (FL) has a new, potent offensive attack that has scored 38+ points in four of their first five games. They run in to Notre Dame this weekend, one of the nation’s top defenses. Two guys I really like this year are middle linebacker Manti Te’o and safety Zeke Motta (6’2/215). Te’o has had sky high expectations since day one, and I’m not sure any player could have lived up to them. Last season, I was very unimpressed with his ability in space. With the game well on its way to the spread attack offensive schemes that exploit a lack of speed in linebackers, I thought Te’o would not have an impact worthy of a top 64 grade. I’ve watched him twice this year, and there is an obvious difference in his range and ability to cover. He won’t wow anyone with athleticism, but he is the most instinctive linebacker I’ve seen this year. Smart leader of the defense that knows how to finish a play. Great tackler. Can control the inside running game. Te’o is on his way back to a spot in the top 45. Motta catches my eye every time I see the Fighting Irish play. Great size for the position, former linebacker. Plays downhill against the running and screen game just as well as any safety in the class. Another instinctive athlete that won’t grade out at the top of agility workouts, but is more then serviceable there. Smart defender that reads the QB well.