Friday, September 16
Florida State @ Louisville (7:30 PM)
DB Akeem Dent vs. TE Marshon Ford
Up first in the Friday slot, we have an ACC matchup between Florida State at Louisville. The Noles started the season with a cupcake in Duquesne before a nail-biter against LSU in Atlanta. Louisville’s season began with a hiccup, but their offense finally started gaining traction against UCF last week. While Malik Cunningham’s rushing ability is exciting, the Cardinals’ offense only goes as far as his arm can take them.
Dent is the multi-tool in the FSU defense, unlocking his teammates to play to their strengths. Initially recruited as a CB, Dent moved to safety due to his hard-hitting physical playstyle. At over six feet tall and a tick under 200 pounds, he looks like a good-sized corner on the field but primarily plays as the enforcer in the middle of the field. If he can play a little more conservatively, he could tap into his potential as a true box safety. For now, he tends to allow receptions as he gears up for the highlight-reel big hit.
Ford led Louisville in receptions and receiving yards a year ago but has yet to experience liftoff this year (with a mere 50 yards in two games) despite being the only returning veteran receiver. Ford is a little smaller than your average TE at only 6’2″, but he has ample athleticism to beat bigger defenders and the ball skills to handle smaller DBs. He’s utilized more like a big WR than a traditional TE in the Satterfield system. However, his production is probably capped by the passing ceiling of Cunningham.
Due to the embarrassment of riches that FSU has in the defensive backfield, I think that Adam Fuller elects to assign a cover man to Ford for the night. Dent, as the biggest body, seems like the most natural choice. This is an exploitable matchup for Louisville as Ford’s 50-pound advantage on Dent could be an asset in creating passing lanes. But, this might be a situation where Cunningham needs to establish his run threat to distract Dent from his coverage duties. However, Ford won’t be outrunning any of the Noles’ DBs, so his success may be TD-dependent in this game.
Saturday, September 17
#20 Ole Miss @ Georgia Tech (3:30 PM)
RB Zach Evans vs. LB Charlie Thomas
Ole Miss may not be experiencing the growing pains that usually come with replacing most of a team’s offensive starters. But the product still has had mixed reviews to start the season, even with consecutive wins. On the other hand, Georgia Tech had a predictably poor showing against Clemson to open the season and didn’t look much better despite winning against the Catamounts of Western Carolina.
If Evans had been in any of the last five draft classes, he might’ve been in the running for the top back. He has a good build for an every-down back at 6’0″ and 215 pounds but moves like a much smaller person. Evans can seamlessly convert his vertical momentum into horizontal movement, thereby creating creases by manipulating the defenders’ angles. There are character concerns in his evaluation, as he had to be released from his Letter of Intent during his recruitment. While not an issue in and of itself, this occasion is just one example of some of his antics affecting his availability at times, not to mention his injury history.
Leading the team with 15 tackles, one sack, and an INT so far, Thomas (along with Keion White) have been fighting a difficult battle to keep the Georgia Tech defense afloat. Thomas played some box safety in high school, showing with his quick play recognition. Although he’s quite small for the position, he does an excellent job of sorting through the muck to find the ball carrier. By no means is he a hammer-type hitter, but he does more than enough to wrap, slide to the legs, and follow through.
If this matchup leads to a close game, expect a heavy dose of Evans, although Quinshon Judkins has been getting significant run in Ole Miss’ first two games. Nevertheless, Thomas presents an interesting challenge. Evans will have to deal with more agile defenders on both the second and third levels of the Yellow Jackets’ defense. Evans will need to demonstrate patience behind the Rebels’ offensive line. A bounce will land him in the arms of White, while a hasty move on the inside could find him with a bear hug from Thomas. On the other hand, Thomas will need to ensure that he’s playing the outside shoulder of Evans at all times lest he becomes victim to the vanishing RB with Evans’ elite change-of-direction.