Many mid-major teams have taken advantage of the nationally televised Thursday night games in an effort to boost their image with fans and recruits. Tonight's game on ESPN features two Big 12 powers in Nebraska and Missouri, including two of the most high-profile defenders in the country.
Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (#93) is NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated senior overall. How anyone can not be rating him as the elite senior prospect I don't know, as he has been dominant this season, plays a value position and has the work ethic and athleticism necessary in making an immediate impact at the next level. In fact, fellow senior analyst Chad Reuter and I have spoken of the fairly significant drop-off from #1 Suh to "everyone else" after him. As he did last season, Suh is leading the Cornhuskers in tackles (26) and has chipped in 6 tackles for loss and 2 sacks, as well. One of the aspects I like most about him is that he's a heady, intense player who isn't satisfied with just rushing the passer or clogging running lanes. When he can't get to the quarterback, he gets his hands in the air. Suh leads the team with 6 pass breakups. I featured him as our Player of the Week following his last nationally televised action (against Virginia Tech) and expect him to be similarly dominant tonight, though Missouri's focus on the passing game may limit his tackles at the point of attack. Expect to see him active in pursuit and creating some pressure up the middle.
Missouri has a potential first round prospect of their own in linebacker Sean Witherspoon (#12). I'm admittedly not as high on Witherspoon as others seem to be. There is no arguing with his production. He led the Big 12 in tackles last season with a gaudy 155 total stops and proved to be a force as a pass rusher (5 sacks) and in coverage (8 passes broken up, 3 INTS -- 2 of which he returned for TDs). So, what's not to like? Despite his impressive frame (6'1, 245 pounds), Witherspoon almost relies on his agility to defeat blocks. I'd like to see him take on more blockers, shed and make the play in the hole, rather than chase the ball-carrier down. Of course, as some have argued with me in the past, similar concerns were the primary reason the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to find outside linebacker Derrick Brooks with the 28th pick of the 1995 draft. Against Nebraska's offense, Witherspoon should enjoy a strong game. He certainly has the speed to make some impressive plays in coverage, is a big hitter, and will have opportunities to impress scouts like me who have questioned his willingness to take on blockers. This may not be Tom Osbourne's Nebraska, but Witherspoon and the rest of the Tigers will still have to respect this running game.
It should make for a highly interesting game for fans and scouts, alike, to watch. The game begans at 9 pm EST on ESPN.