College football’s best head-to-head matchups for Week 6 feature two young SEC West running backs squaring up against formidable linebacking corps.
There are games, and then there are games-within-the-games, those needle-moving head-to-head matchups that put a thumb on the scale for the more dominant side. From ACC wunderkind quarterbacks Brad Kaaya and Mitch Trubisky to two of the SEC’s best young running backs in Joshua Jacobs and Darrius Guice, some of the nation’s top playmakers will face big challenges this weekend.
Who’ll be the big winners and who’ll be hanging their heads in despair at the close of Week 6? Plenty will hinge on which side prevails in these crucial unit and player clashes.
10. Maryland DE Jesse Aniebonam vs. Penn State OTs Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson
Aniebonam technically plays “buck,” a hybrid edge position, but he has the singular goal of disrupting the pocket. And he’ll be a handful for Mahon and Nelson, with his blend of speed and power off the edge. Aniebonam, who has a team-high seven stops for loss and four sacks, explodes off the snap and uses his hands very well. If he’s permitted to flush Trace McSorley from the pocket, it’ll torpedo Penn State’s hopes for a balanced attack. A lack of balance has been an issue for Joe Moorhead in his first season as the Lion coordinator.
9. Arizona State QB Brady White vs. UCLA CBs Fabian Moreau and Nate Meadors
The Sun Devils’ hopes of avoiding a second straight loss to a Pac-12 South division rival now rests on the unproven right shoulder of redshirt freshman QB Brady White. White is expected to get the nod in the aftermath of Manny Wilkins’ ankle injury. And his first test is a doozy, a physical UCLA secondary holding opponents to a completion rate of 48.3%. Moreau will neutralize whichever ASU receiver is hotter, Tim White or N’Keal Harry, leaving the other to maximize his chances of beating Meadors in man coverage.
8. DT Elijah Qualls and the Washington D-line vs. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
If the Ducks have any hopes of adding to their 12-game winning streak over the Huskies, Freeman will have to carry the team Saturday. But, boy, is that an enormous task considering the circumstances. Oregon uses four freshmen up front after star LT Tyrell Crosby was lost for the season with a foot injury. Plus, Mark Helfrich is expected to start true freshman Justin Herbert at quarterback. After Qualls, DE Joe Mathis and OLB Psalm Wooching devoured Stanford last Friday, this week’s game in Eugene has all of the markings of a mismatch.
7. Alabama RB Joshua Jacobs vs. Arkansas WLB Dre Greenlaw
True freshmen continue to play an increasingly important role in Bama’s offensive backfield this fall. First, QB Jalen Hurts and now Jacobs, who’s produced 197 yards and three scores off the bench the past two weeks. Both of the rookies are elusive in space, a stark contrast to what the Tide is accustomed from its backs and quarterbacks. So, the onus will be on Greenlaw and fellow linebackers Brooks Ellis and Josh Williams to wrap up and prevent additional yards after contact.
6. USC WR JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Colorado CB Chidobe Awuzie
Smith-Schuster is a nationally known weapon, coming off last week’s breakout three-touchdown performance as QB Sam Darnold’s main target. Awuzie, not so much. But that dynamic could shift this weekend. NFL scouts are fully aware of Awuzie, who’s itching at the opportunity to face one of the game’s premier pass-catchers. He’s a bona fide lockdown corner, with the size and physicality to match the 6-2, 220-pound Smith-Schuster. Awuzie is also the centerpiece of a Colorado secondary currently ranked No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency defense.
5. North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky vs. Virginia Tech CBs Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman
Trubisky has been on a wicked, Heisman-contending tear. Over the past four weeks, he’s completed 80.7% of his throws for 1,555 yards, 13 touchdowns and no picks, while engineering back-to-back comeback wins. The Hokies, though, present the toughest test since the opener with Georgia, who shut down the Tar Heel junior. A healthy Facyson and an emergent Stroman, as well as FS Chuck Clark, have helped hold opposing quarterbacks to a paltry completion rate of 41.3%. If passing lanes are congested, look for Carolina to increase RB Elijah Hood’s Week 6 workload.
4. LSU RB Derrius Guice vs. Florida MLB Jarrad Davis
In the highly unlikely event Leonard Fournette is at full strength, feel free to slot him here as well. For now, though, Guice will be the focal point of the LSU offense. And why not? He was dynamite as Fournette rested his injured ankle last week, cutting in and out of the Mizzou defense for 163 yards and three scores on only 17 carries. This week’s hurdle for the Tiger running game is a Gator D allowing only 2.5 yards a carry. The linchpin in the middle of that Florida front wall is Davis, one of the country’s most complete and instinctive linebackers.
3. Oklahoma OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo vs. Texas OTs Brandon Hodges and Connor Williams
Okoronkwo has begun to tap into his inner-Eric Striker, tormenting TCU last week with a couple of timely sacks and at least a half-dozen pressures of Kenny Hill. Okoronkwo is an undersized edge guy, with the get-off and the technique to force rookie Texas QB Shane Buechele into turnovers and hurried throws. However, Hodges and Williams have formed one of the nation’s soundest tackle tandems through the first five weeks. The Longhorns have given up just eight sacks, and pressure has rarely derived from the flanks.
2. Miami QB Brad Kaaya vs. Florida State CBs Marquez White and Tarvarus McFadden
Hurricane Matthew may wind up with the biggest say in this rivalry tilt. Assuming the game is a go, Kaaya will have his best chance as a Cane to make national headlines and even jump into the Heisman discussion. The junior hasn’t been asked to do too much as the conductor of an attack that’s gotten plenty of help from backs Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby, and hasn’t had to hustle in comeback mode. However, there should be soft spots in a Seminole D that, while talented, just got shredded through the air by Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky.
1. Texas A&M DEs Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall vs. Tennessee OTs Brett Kendrick and Chance Hall
Garrett sat out last week’s South Carolina game, and isn’t quite 100%. Still, it’d be hard to believe he won’t suit up in a game of this magnitude. And Garrett is just the kind of warrior who can deliver a signature moment as the Aggies attempt to win the biggest game of Week 6. He, Hall and the underrated A&M interior linemen are eager to battle a Tennessee blocking that improved in recent games with Florida and Georgia, but still flashes vulnerabilities that coordinator John Chavis is looking to exploit.