Each week, we rewind and highlight star-worthy performances that could impact the 2013 draft rankings.
Mettenberger was frequently pressured by A&M's Moore. (US Presswire)
Big plays and turnovers by the skill position players for LSU and Texas A&M dictated the action in their key SEC West showdown, but from an NFL draft perspective, the most intriguing play came closer to the line of scrimmage.
With as talent-laden a team as any in the country, LSU's prospects often get the benefit of extensive media coverage. In this contest, however, a talented trio from Texas A&M proved every bit as worthy of a first round selection as their more celebrated opponents.
Though out-weighing LSU's fearsome pass rushers Sam Montgomery (6-5, 260) and Barkevious Mingo (6-4, 240) by an average of 57.5 pounds, A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel (6-6, 310) and Jake Matthews (6-5, 305) proved to be every bit as athletically gifted in shutting them down and providing the Aggies' redshirt quarterack Johnny Manziel with the clean pocket from which to attack.
Protecting Manziel's blindside, Joeckel (pronounced JOKE-ell) played as critical a role in the Aggies' gameplan as anyone. Lining up against Montgomery, the Tigers' leading pass rusher this season, Joeckel routinely met the athletic defender on the edge and simply stopped him in his tracks, showing the lateral agility to remain square, as well as the upper body strength to lock up and dominate his opponent. Joeckel was just as impressive on the few occasions when LSU elected to blitz, showing the ability to get an initial powerful punch on his primary assignment before switching off to shove the blitzing linebacker or safety.
Matthews, the son of legendary Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titan Bruce Matthews, showed similar poise, athleticism and strength as his current teammate and Hall of Fame father in easily containing the explosive Mingo. Perhaps frustrated by his inability to beat Matthews with his trademark speed, Mingo was flagged three times in the first half for being off-sides -- each of them coming while lined up opposite the Aggies' right tackle. As a point of comparison, the preseason All-American Mingo appeared to have a hand in just two tackles in the first half.
While LSU's more celebrated pass rushers were largely held in check in this contest, Texas A&M's top defender, junior defensive end Damontre Moore, used the high profile contest to pad his increasingly hard-to-ignore résumé.
Moore (pictured above chasing LSU QB Zach Mettenberger) entered this contest leading the FBS in tackles for a defensive lineman (52) as well as sacks (8.5) from an SEC defensive lineman. Perhaps even more impressive, Moore led the Aggies in tackles, tackles for loss (15) and sacks.
Prior to suffering an apparent left leg injury midway through the second quarter, Moore led an Aggies' defense that had largely dominated the LSU offense. The hyper-active 6-4, 250 pound Moore registered three tackles, including a sack and a pass broken up early in this contest and showcased his versatility while doing it, alternating between left and right defensive end, as well as looping inside to rush up the middle and even dropping off occasionally into coverage on zone blitzes. He consistently applied pressure to Mettenberger but also showed terrific effort in pursuit, beating Tigers' backs to the edge and closing on receivers from behind yards downfield.
The injury looked scary, as an LSU offensive lineman rolled up against his left leg and Moore hit the ground immediately clutching it. He walked off the field under his own power, however, and returned shortly thereafter and was every bit the menace to LSU in the second half.
- As impressive as the play of Joeckel and Matthews was against LSU's speed, Michigan's Taylor Lewan matched the physical challenge presented by hated in-state rival Michigan State and their 6-6, 278 pound defensive end William Gholston. Like most rivalry games, there is a lot pride and just a little bit of resentment involved in this game. For Lewan and Gholston, however, this game may have been even more personal than for the other Wolverines and Spartans as this is the first matchup from the two since the MSU defender twice drew penalties for taking cheap shots at Lewan a year ago. Just as Lewan did in 2011, the Michigan left tackle controlled Gholston, demonstrating enough lateral agility and balance in his kick-slide to maintain the edge and the great length and strength to lock up his opponent. Gholston lacks the explosive burst to give Lewan a stiff challenge in pass protection but the Spartans also sent smaller, quicker pass rushers against Lewan, including linebackers on the blitz. Having only played on the offensive line since his senior season of high school, Lewan demonstrated the improvement in pass protection scouts are hoping to see from him to warrant the frequent comparisons he's gained to former Wolverine star Jake Long. Lewan has specifically improved in his patience as a pass blocker, recognizing spin movies and sliding laterally rather than lunging. As he has throughout much of his career, Lewan was also consistently able to knock defenders off the ball in the running game. Despite his height, the 6-7, 310 pound Lewan played with good pad level, winning the battle of leverage against Gholston and other MSU defenders.
- Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein entered Saturday's showdown against West Virginia viewed by many as the potential Heisman front-runner. He was not, however, highly regarded by NFL scouts as a quarterback prospect despite the fact that he possesses many of the tangible and intangible traits talent evaluators typically look for at the position. While he possesses excellent size at 6-5, 226 pounds, very good mobility, at least moderate arm strength and has improved his accuracy to all levels of the field throughout his career, Klein was largely viewed as a system quarterback who would struggle acclimating to a more traditional pro-style attack. After slicing through the Mountaineers' defense Saturday night, however, Klein may have forced scouts to take a second, longer look. Considering West Virginia's inability to slow anyone down defensively this season, one must take the poise and accuracy Klein demonstrated with more than just a grain (perhaps a bucket) of salt. Klein, nonetheless was spectacular, lofting several intermediate and deep passes into the waiting hands of his receivers and, of course, running around, past and simply through WVU defenders at will. Klein's second touchdown of the game was a perfect example of why scouts will struggle with projecting him to the next level. Nursing a 31-7 lead, Klein made one of his only poor decisions with the football, forcing it between two WVU defenders on a post to receiver Chris Harper. Klein's trademark elongated delivery gave the Mountaineers time to defend the throw. Frankly, the pass should have been an easy deflection -- or perhaps even intercepted. West Virginia's defenders didn't locate the ball, however, and it was so accurate that the pass may have stuck in Harper's face mask had he not caught it.
- I've highlighted the play of Oregon State's Jordan Poyer and Washington's Desmond Trufant in recent weeks but they aren't the only senior cornerbacks turning scouts' heads on the west coast thus far this season. San Diego State's Leon McFadden has lived up to his billing as the Mountain West Conference's preseason Defensive Player of the Year so far by intercepting three passes, two of which he's returned for touchdowns. The 5-10, 190 pounder demonstrated the quick feet, fluid hips and closing speed scouts are looking for at the position in a late night showdown against Nevada. Like many cornerbacks, there were times, however, when McFadden disappointed with his lack of physicality. Specifically, McFadden failed to get an strong initial jam on his assigned receiver when in press coverage and too easily gave up against offensive linemen blocking on screens. Still, McFadden, a two-time All-MWC honoree, possesses the athleticism and ball skills (eight career interceptions) to earn an invitation to a prominent senior all-star game and is expected to test well in post-season workouts. Taking his production, consistency and the relative dearth of high-ranking talent at the position this year, McFadden could surprise as a top 100 prospect this year -- just as former Aztec stars Ronnie Hillman (Denver Broncos) and Vincent Brown (San Diego Chargers) did in each of the past two NFL drafts.