Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib looks to lead the Orange past undefeated Louisville this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
By Matt Feminis
Special to Stlouisrams.com
Texas A&M vs. Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium (Tuscaloosa, AL), Saturday 2:30 p.m. CBS
DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M vs. Alabama — Moore backed up Von Miller as a true freshman, but the 6-4, 250-pound, 20-year-old junior is making a name for himself. In nine starts, Moore has registered a team-high 69 tackles, 19 for loss and 11 1/2 sacks with two batted passes, a forced fumble and a blocked extra point, ranking first nationally in sacks and second in tackles for loss behind Georgia’s Jarvis Jones. Moore, who lines up on the right and left, moves athletically and has good initial quickness to slant and get in gaps. He shows nice lateral movement to collapse inside and crash down the line, generally pursuing hard and chasing from the back side. As a rusher, he’s able to extend, tug free and close on the quarterback. However, he pops up off the snap and displays just average outside rush speed and shoulder flexibility to bend the corner. In addition to developing a more diverse arsenal of moves, he can also play with better awareness and discipline to feel pressure and maintain rush lane integrity. Despite effort-based tackle production, Moore needs to improve against the run, as he is not stout at the point of the attack, gets beat up by double teams and too often lets his pads rise and gets washed. His weaknesses could be exposed by Alabama’s powerful front, particularly giant tackles D.J. Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio.
Louisville vs. Syracuse at Carrier Dome (Syracuse, NY), Saturday 11 a.m. ABC
QB Ryan Nassib, Syracuse vs. Louisville — Despite a very average supporting cast and constant coaching turnover, Nassib — barring injury — will leave Syracuse as the school’s all-time leading passer. In fact, he needs just 176 yards to overtake Donovan McNabb. Individual stats aside, Saturday represents an opportunity to notch a signature win against undefeated Louisville. Listed at 6-3, 227 pounds, Nassib has bulk and is very strong for a quarterback. He’s a tough, highly competitive gym rat who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Accordingly, he’s tightly wound physically and mentally, though praised for his football intelligence. With the ball in his hands, Nassib has a quick, compact, over-the-top release and a strong arm — throws a tight spiral, can zip out-breaking routes, drill the seam and fit balls into small windows. He’s also athletic to roll out and throw on the move (looks natural outside the pocket) and is capable of tucking and running for a first down. Nassib is a bit of a wild horse who needs to be tamed and rid of some bad habits — can refine footwork and mechanics, show better poise and feel in the pocket and improve his accuracy — but you see him make several NFL throws which provide glimpses at his potential. Given his makeup, arm talent and athletic ability, Nassib has starter potential and warrants consideration as a developmental selection, perhaps in the third round.
Penn State vs. Nebraska at Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, NE), Saturday 2:30 p.m. ABC
LB Gerald Hodges & LB Michael Mauti, Penn State vs. Nebraska — A New Jersey native, Hodges (6-2, 237) was a three-sport captain as a prep when he played safety and quarterback. He also starred as a wrestler, going 40-1 as a junior. He was the Nittany Lions’ leading tackler last season, posting 106 stops (60 solo), 10 for loss and 4 1/2 sacks with four pass breakups, an interception and two forced fumbles. This season, he’s tallied 76-6 1/2-1 with five pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble. An athletic bender with good feet and agility, Hodges has good speed and range that allows him to flow laterally and excel in chase mode. He’s also comfortable playing in space, as he shows good awareness and reactions in zone and is able to match up in man coverage. He also shows potential as a blitzer. Hodges can play with more violence in his hands to shed, but he has starter-caliber ability and an athletic skill set to project as a three-down, "Will" linebacker or maybe even fit as a 3-4 weak inside ’backer.
Mauti, who fervently embraced the role of the Nittany Lions' mouthpiece in the aftermath of scandal, is in the mold of traditional, old-school PSU linebackers — tough, intense and competitive. He mans the "Will," but doesn't project there in the pros because his athletic ability is just average — lacks foot speed to the perimeter and shows stiffness in his movement. However, Mauti (6-2, 232) compensates with instincts and effort. He also shows a willingness to take on blocks with leverage, use his hands to shed and secure tackles. While Mauti will always have limitations and doesn't have as much upside as recent PSU products Paul Posluszny or Sean Lee, he's a solid football player with desirable makeup whose intangibles could carry him farther than his athletic ability dictates. He'll be relegated to the inside or strong side in the pros, though his durability will be a consideration because of torn ACL injuries in 2009 and 2011.
Fresno State vs. Nevada at Mackay Stadium (Reno, NV), 9:35 p.m. Saturday NBC Sports Network
S Duke Williams, Nevada vs. Fresno State — If you're not footballed out by the time the late night West Coast games kick off, Fresno State traveling to Nevada offers a glimpse at a handful of pro prospects, including Wolfpack safety Duke Williams (6-1, 200), an enigmatic talent with starter-caliber ability who has been frustratingly inconsistent. He'll be tested by one of the most productive quarterback-running back duos in the country: Derek Carr and Robbie Rouse. Williams is a very athletic three-year starter who runs like a cornerback and closes fast. He flies downhill and runs the alley. However, he has alarming tweener traits and stands out on tape for the wrong reasons — lacks ideal bulk and doesn't play with the abandon (turns down contact) or dependability of a strong safety and has questionable eyes and instincts for a free safety. An inconsistent tackler, Williams too often tries to shoulder down or launch at ballcarriers, leaking yardage or failing to secure the tackle. He'll also face character questions, having been suspended three times as a young player. Entering the season, Williams looked like a potential riser, but he's playing more like a mid-round pick.
Sleeper of the Week: TE C.J. Fiedorowicz*, Iowa — After producing six NFL draft picks this past April, Iowa — not unlike the Big Ten Conference in general — is having a down year. The roster isn't bereft of talent, however, and Fiedorowicz looks the part of an emerging prospect with a substantial NFL future. A 21-year-old junior, Fiedorowicz has outstanding size and is still growing into his 6-7, 265-pound frame. He needs to hone his blocking technique, but has the ability line up inline and match with NFL defensive ends. His skill set also includes receiving ability. As an Illinois prep, Fiedorowicz totaled 183 career receptions for 3,121 yards (17.1-yard average) and 42 touchdowns while scoring over 1,400 points on the hardwood. Accordingly, he has good hands and moves well for his size, showing good hips, balance and body control for a big man. He's shown glimpses of his potential, like against Iowa State when he dragged across the field, snared the throw, bounced off a defensive back and rumbled 10 more yards. He could use more seasoning, but Fiedorowicz should develop into a solid tight end at the next level, where his balanced skill set will be valued, especially given the prevalence of “F,” or “flex,” tight ends emerging from college spread systems. Fiedorowicz and the Hawkeyes travel to Purdue this weekend.