Officially crossing the midway point of the college football season, Week 8 is loaded with individual matchups as well as plenty of prospect vs. prospect battles to keep an eye on. This week’s slate of games doesn’t contain any matchups between ranked teams, but here are some key areas that I will be paying close attention to on Saturday.
Kayvon Thibodeaux vs. Sean Rhyan
A prospect who’s been red-hot since returning from an ankle injury, Thibodeaux has lived up to the lofty praise coming into the season. Fresh off of a second-half performance that included him generating 11 pressures, he’s been a man on a mission. Matched up against another player who’s had a productive season, Rhyan is known as a point of attack controller in the run game and has slightly above average athleticism as a pass protector.
With Thibodeaux seeming to improve his pass rush catalog every week, the heavy-handed Rhyan is an interesting matchup to monitor this weekend.
Kenny Pickett vs. Clemson
A strong argument can be made that the player that’s seen his stock rise the most through the first half of the season has been Pickett. The ACC leader in touchdown passes (21) and passing efficiency (181.8), Pickett has been one of the more pleasant surprises of any prospect regardless of position.
Last season against Clemson was by far his worst performance of 2020. Surrendering a season-high six sacks and throwing four interceptions resulted in a 52-17 defeat. With both teams in different circumstances this season, Pickett has a prime opportunity to continue to stack his pre-draft portfolio with yet another standout performance against what is always one of the best defenses in the country.
San Diego State IDL Cameron Thomas
“You need to check out the kid at San Diego State. He’s somehow flying under the radar with the media, but that won’t last much longer now that they’re ranked.”
That was a direct quote to me when talking to a scout from an NFC team, Thomas is considered to be San Diego State’s secret superstar. The Aztecs are flying high this year with a 6-0 record. A large reason behind that has been the play of Thomas.
At 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, he’s a bit of a tweener, but the team’s defense unlocks him on the edge and along the interior. Thomas has generated 27 pressures this season, which is the seventh-best mark in the country. Matched up against Air Force on Saturday, Thomas’ prowess against the run will be put to the test, but he’s a player that I wanted to highlight as one who’s buzzing in NFL circles.
Drake Jackson vs. Notre Dame
Coming into the season, Jackson was viewed as a potential first-round prospect. While collecting three sacks this year, down-to-down consistency remains the biggest concern for the bendy USC edge rusher. With his firmness and anchor against the run still a work in progress, the matchup against Notre Dame will be a prime opportunity for him to showcase and quiet some of the concerns that evaluators have.
Against Colorado and Washington State it’s easy to see the talent that Jackson has as a pass rusher (tallied three sacks). His ability to bend, dip, corner, and finish at the quarterback is amongst some of the best of this deep EDGE class, but still yet to have a standout performance against a quality opponent, this matchup is a resume game that scouts will be keying on.
Jake Haener vs. Carson Strong
Quarterbacks never match up head-to-head even though they are playing against each other, but this should be a battle of two throwers that have been consistent throughout the season. It’s well documented that the 2022 QB class doesn’t look good right now, but Strong and Haener have had the most flashes of anyone throughout the first half of the season.
For the east coast crowd, Strong’s games are entering Zach Wilson territory in that they don’t usually start until 10:30 p.m., but they are quickly becoming must-see TV because of how he’s played up to this point. Strong isn’t nearly as electrifying or twitchy with his body movements as Wilson was, but he’s very accurate, holds a lot of responsibilities in the team's offense, and has had lots of high moments thus far.
On the other hand, Haener is a prospect that has seemingly come out of nowhere to now be firmly on the NFL radar. Watching him vs. Oregon, a matchup from earlier this season, his competitiveness, slightly above average arm, and enough mobility were all traits that I wrote down. His worst performance of the season came two weeks ago against Hawai’i, where he finished 28-of-50 for 388 passing yards, three touchdowns, and four interceptions. In a get-right game against Wyoming last week, the team marched to a 17-0 victory, but this week’s contest should be a much more competitive one. Keep an eye on both quarterbacks.
The Growth of Kingsley Enagbare
Looking back at my notes from a season ago on Enagbare, I thought he showed plenty of explosiveness but was knocked around too often as a run defender and needed to gain weight. Now, he’s improved on many of those flaws, most notably, he looks much heavier while not losing any of his explosiveness. The added weight has helped him become stouter at the point of attack and made his moves more powerful as well.
Displaying a wider variety of tools this year, Enagbare is an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker that can rush the passer with ease, but also look comfortable dropping in coverage to cover the flats and hook-to-curl areas. Already collecting 30 pressures this season (SIS), he has the fourth-best mark in the country while having the third-least amount of pass rush reps among the players in the top 10 of pressures. The light has seemed to turn on for Enagbare.
On Saturday, he will face one of his best tests in Texas A&M utility offensive lineman Kenyon Green. The only returning starter from a season ago, Green has been asked to fill in at every spot up front throughout games. When No. 1 and No. 55 are lined up across from each other, it should be an intriguing matchup to track.