When the bowl matchups were released in December the Orange Bowl immediately struck me as the season's most intriguing game.
Just from a entertainment perspective, this game intrigues. Paul Johnson's innovative triple option offense is a great test for an Iowa defense that I believe to be as disciplined and consistent as any in the country. The Yellow Jackets are so talented at the skill positions that even if Iowa plays their typically sound defense, running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Adams or huge receiver Demaryius Thomas could break free for a dazzling play.
The matchup I and many NFL scouts will be focusing in on, however, will be on the other side of the ball and at the line of scrimmage where Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan will be matching up with Iowa offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway.
Morgan, only a junior, was voted the ACC Defensive Player of the Year with 18 tackles for loss, including 12.5 sacks. He's got an explosive first, good upper body strength to shed blocks and the agility that have some teams envisioning the 6-4, 265 pounder making the conversion to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.
The rare combination of traits certainly has caught the attention of Bulaga, the Hawkeyes' junior left tackle. As Bulaga told the Omaha World-Herald:
“He's probably the best I'll have seen this year, probably the best a lot of us will see any year,” Bulaga said. “He's relentless,” Bulaga said. “He's a bigger guy so he can play the run very well. I think there's a lot to his game that you can like. “He brings a lot of different pass-rushing moves. His in move is very quick. He's got a great first step. There's a lot of things to his game that are just so good right now that it's hard not to give a guy like that praise.”
For all of the attention being heaped upon Morgan, however, don't sleep on Bulaga. Like senior right tackle Kyle Calloway, Bulaga plays with excellent technique and good strength. He wasn't himself early in the year due to a thyroid condition that forced him to miss three games. He's improved as the season has gone, however, and has cemented himself as a legitimate top 20 prospect. For all of the talk about Rutgers' Anthony Davis and Maryland's Bruce Campbell, Bulaga is more technically refined and, at only 20 years old, has greater upside. At 6-6, 312 pounds, he has rare foot quickness and balance in the passing and could surprise Morgan with his ability to protect the edge.
Look for Tech to move Morgan all over the field in an effort to take advantage of his unique skill-set. On the occassions when he lines up against Bulaga, however, lean in closer to the television. Their one on one matchup looks like the best one we've had throughout the entire bowl season. It also serves as the closest most college fans will ever get to seeing the one on one "battles in the pit" that have made senior all-star games like the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl such a unique scouting experience. Considering that these two future first round picks are juniors, and thus, ineligible, this will be their opportunity to show off.