Each week, we rewind the game film to highlight the star-worthy performances that could impact the 2013 draft rankings:
*** The rude introduction into the SEC for conference newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M was the dominant story in Week Two of the college football season.
Like a recurring nightmare, Texas A&M continued their biggest ill of last season -- dropping games in which they once held a double-digit lead, losing at home in their SEC opener to the Florida Gators.
Lost in the shadow of the collapse was the fact that Texas A&M clearly answered the bell from a physical standpoint -- something that had been often questioned about the Aggies "jump in competition" to the SEC level. New head coach Kevin Sumlin's team got stellar play from the nation's top bookend offensive tackles, juniors Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, who established a physical tone early.
Against a defense that is expected to be one of the SEC's elite units, the Aggies rushed for 134 yards and scored two touchdowns. The offensive line did a fine job protecting for redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who completed 23 of 30 passes in his first game replacing Ryan Tannehill as the Aggies' starting quarterback.
Because he's the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, the Aggies' 6-5, 305-pound right tackle generates more buzz in the media than the 6-6, 310-pound Joeckel, his more athletic counterpart on the left side.
Joeckel's light feet and overall athleticism made him a difficult draw for any of the Gator pass rushers defensive coordinator Dan Quinn sent his way. Joeckel slides easily to his left and right and demonstrated on more than one occasion the burst to recover even when beaten initially. On the rare occasions when Joeckel was beaten it usually came when he ducked his head on contact. This correctable flaw in technique occurred, for example, when the Gators' 6-2, 249 pound "Buck" defensive end Lerentee McCray beat Joeckel on an inside counter and swim move to flush Manziel. Though beaten on occasion, Joeckel held up well in his first SEC game and offers the combination of size and smooth athleticism that is very reminiscent of the mix Matt Kalil offered a year ago. Kalil, of course, wound up being the No. 4 pick of the 2012 draft.
While Joeckel is the more athletic of the Aggies' star tackles, to no one's surprise Matthews, like dear old dad, impresses with his toughness and technique.
Matthews showed both on Texas A&M's first touchdown of the 2012 season.
Facing first and 10 at the Florida 11-yard line, Matthews dropped initially back into pass protection, inviting talented defensive end Dominique Easley to rush. Easley expected Matthews to continue to ease backwards but the Aggies' veteran right tackle had other plans. Rather than slide back, Matthews stepped up, punched his hands into Easley's chest and simply drove him off the ball. Rather than push him forward where Easley would be in position to slip free and still be in position to make the tackle, Matthews steered his opponent back and to the left, effectively sealing off not only Easley, but the entire Florida defense for Manziel to slither through for the score.
It was the kind of play that NFL scouts would appreciate... and NFL offensive line coaches would absolutely love.
*** Just as the Aggies' dominant duo on the offensive line set the tone in their SEC debut, an impressive effort from cornerback EJ Gaines helped propel the Missouri Tigers to a 10-9 halftime lead over No. 7 Georgia. That the Bulldogs were able to come back and ultimately ruin Mizzou's plans was a testament to their own future NFL star - but more on Jarvis Jones later.
Gaines, who finished third in the nation last year with 18 passes defensed, registered two more while blanketing Georgia pass-catchers, staking a strong claim that he certainly has the athleticism to handle SEC receivers. Considering that a former SEC cornerback has been the first selected at his position in the NFL draft for three consecutive years, that's saying something.
Though Gaines "only" registered three tackles, including a tackle for loss to go along with his two pass breakups, he played a critical role in keeping Missouri in this game as his sticky coverage limited the options for Georgia's talented junior quarterback Aaron Murray, currently the No. 10 rated quarterback prospect by NFLDraftScout.com.
Gaines has a quick, low backpedal and possesses the loose hips to smoothly turn and run as receivers accelerate on deeper routes. He throttles down quickly and bursts out of his cuts, challenging some well thrown passes from Murray.
Just as importantly, the 5-10, 190 pound Gaines passed the toughness test in this game, fighting through blocks to make plays at the line of scrimmage against both the run and pass.
It was the kind of strong all-around performance that will force NFL scouts to keep an eye on Gaines and could force SEC coaches to recognize his talents. After earning First Team all-conference honors a year ago as part of the Big 12, Gaines was hardly recognized by SEC coaches and the media, being named only to the third-team All-SEC team in the preseason.
Gaines played like a cornerback looking to gain some respect. Should he continue his solid all-around play, he'll get it soon enough.
Unfortunately for Missouri fans, as impressive as Gaines was, it was the Bulldogs' All-American candidate Jarvis Jones who enjoyed the even more spectacular all-around performance.
On a weekend in which there were some very impressive performances from linebackers all across the country, Jones may have best taken advantage of the big stage. Jones, who led the SEC with 13.5 sacks a season ago, notched another one against the Tigers and their highly mobile quarterback James Franklin. Jones officially was credited with eight total tackles, including his sack, and forcing not one but two game-changing turnovers that turned a 20-17 Missouri lead in the third quarter into a comfortable 41-20 win for the Bulldogs.
NFLDraftScout.com's No. 10 rated prospect for the 2013 draft, Jones fooled Franklin midway through the 4th quarter by dropping into middle coverage instead of rushing off the edge as he normally would. Not anticipating Jones being there, Franklin threw the pass directly to him. Jones returned the interception 21 yards to the one-yard line, setting up Todd Gurley's plunge to give the Bulldogs a commanding two touchdown lead at 34-20.
With 7:27 left in the game, Mizzou may have had plans for late heroics. Gary Pinkel's team had played well in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Jones made sure the Mizzou faithful would go home unhappy, however, by forcing a fumble on the Tigers' very next series. He did so back in his customary role of rushing off the left side, where he blew by left Elvis Fisher (a legitimate NFL prospect himself), and chopped the ball away from Franklin's right arm as the athletic quarterback was rolling away from him.
For his terrific effort, Jones was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week. Months from now, he could earn even greater acknowledgement for his game-changing plays - when he earns a first round selection in the 2013 should the redshirt junior choose to make himself eligible for it.
* A full day of action on Saturday won't stop scouts from remembering the standout play from Utah senior defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who demonstrated Friday night that he's well worth the hype. While his Utes were the victims of a stunning upset at the hands of state rival Utah State, one can't blame Lotulelei, who registered four tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble despite fighting through constant double-teams. Lotulelei has good power at 6-3, 320 pounds but what makes him unique is his burst off the snap and overall athleticism. The NFL's need for quarterbacks will almost certainly makes him a darkhorse candidate, at best, to be the first pick of the 2013 NFL draft but there are few players -- if any -- throughout the country who can wreak havoc on any given snap like this Ute defender.
* USC's Robert Woods was a step quicker than the Syracuse defense, a strong indication that he's recovered from the nagging ankle injury that plagued him for much of last season. Despite his hype and gaudy statistics (111-1,292 yards-15 touchdowns), Woods wasn't the dynamic weapon for the Trojans last year that he was as a freshman as he was rarely able to shake defenders and make yardage after the catch. That's precisely what Woods did against the Orangemen Saturday, however, showing off his burst to consistently gain separation from a plucky secondary to haul in 10 passes for 93 yards and two scores and return a punt for another 31 yards. Woods' elusiveness and acceleration were perhaps best on display during a weaving 76-yard reverse in the fourth quarter that served as the momentum swing to help push USC to a commanding 35-6 lead. The No. 2 rated Trojans would go on to win 42-29 based on a career-high six touchdown passes from NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated prospect, quarterback Matt Barkley.
* The strong tackle play wasn't limited to the Aggies Saturday. Florida left tackle Xavier Nixon enjoyed a strong game, as well. While the Gators surrendered a staggering eight sacks, Nixon's strong arms and quick feet were on display throughout the game. Nixon is a better athlete than his former teammate Marcus Gilbert, who has started 14 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers, including Sunday's tilt against Denver, since they selected him with 63rd overall in 2011.