'09 NFL Prospects Head 2 Head Preview: Week 6

There are a lot of great conference matchups this week that fans will focus on. One of those matchups will take place on Saturday when Oregon and it's potent rushing attack that features Jeremiah Johnson (pictured left) goes Head 2 Head with Brian Cushing and USC. Find out the other four matchups and eight prospects Chris Steuber profiles this week.

#23 Oregon (4-1) at #9 USC (2-1)
Saturday, October 4th at 8:00 p.m. on ABC

Jeremiah Johnson (5-foot-9, 208 pounds), RB, Oregon
Brian Cushing (6-foot-4, 255 pounds), LB, USC

Cushing is one of the premier linebackers in the nation, but defending against Oregon's rushing attack isn't easy.
AP Photo/Ric Francis

Scouting Report: Jeremiah Johnson is an explosive situational player who has the potential to be a featured back at the next level. He’s a patient runner who allows for his blocks to develop, displays excellent vision and quickly hits a hole. He’s tough between the tackles and is dangerous on the edge. He’s physical with the ball in his hands and raises a powerful stiff arm at the opposition. He has ability as a receiver, although he’s rarely used in that capacity.

Brian Cushing is an instinctive linebacker with great size and physical ability. He has a nose for the ball and makes plays at the line of scrimmage. He breaks down well and plays with leverage. He’s aggressive and unleashes big hits against the opposition. He flows well to the action and uses his speed in pursuit of the ball carrier. He backpedals nicely and gets good depth dropping back in coverage. Durability is a concern.

Head 2 Head: This is a huge game between two Pac-10 teams that has BCS ramifications involved. USC is widely considered one of the top teams in the nation this year, but after being upset by Oregon State last week, the Trojans will look to rebound and take their frustrations out on Oregon this weekend. The Ducks have the fourth best rushing attack in the country, which is led by Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount; an attack that’s averaging 308.6 YPG. The Trojans counter Oregon’s prominent attack with a stingy run defense that allows just 93 YPG. Leading the charge for the Trojans are linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga. Cushing, who’s currently second on the team in tackles with 20, suffered a setback in the Oregon State game as he broke a bone in his hand. Maualuga also got banged up against the Beavers and left the game with a sprained knee. Cushing will wear a cast during games, while Maualuga is listed as day-to-day and is questionable for Saturday’s game. This is a huge development for the Ducks running game, and Johnson and Blount, who each scored three touchdowns last weekend against Washington State, could enjoy the success Oregon State had against USC compiling 176 yards on the ground. Johnson will enter Saturday’s game as a situational runner, but he could be a featured back on many teams in the country. Through five games, Johnson has 65 carries for 440 yards and six touchdowns. For USC to be able to contain Johnson and Blount, Cushing will have to patrol the perimeter and be able to shed blocks with one hand; not an easy task. If Maualuga is unable to go, look for Cushing to move inside and play close to the line. Johnson and Blount are big runners who love to pound the ball, and with two of USC’s best defenders not at 100-percent, this will be a challenging matchup.

#14 Ohio State (4-1) at #18 Wisconsin (3-1)

Saturday, October 4th at 8:00 p.m. on ABC

Alex Boone (6-foot-7, 312 pounds), OT, Ohio State
Matt Shaughnessy (6-foot-5, 253 pounds), DE, Wisconsin

Boone has struggled this season and will have a tough test on Saturday against a hungry Shaughnessy.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Scouting Report: Alex Boone is a physical tackle who plays strong at the point of attack. He's quick off the line, moves well laterally, and has good strength to knock off fast, physical defensive ends. Boone has good technique and hand placement. He's a versatile player, who can play on either side of the line, and is still developing his game. He has to be more consistent and not allow the opposition to engage first.

Matt Shaughnessy is a versatile defender who can play with his hand in the grass or standing up. He has a great frame, and although he lacks bulk, but uses his long wingspan to get an upper hand against the opposition. He plays with a high motor and never gives up. He’s deceptively strong and gets off blocks well to be effective against the run. He has good quickness, but lacks athleticism. Durability is a concern.

Head 2 Head: Wisconsin is coming off of a heartbreaking 27 – 25 loss to Michigan, a game that they should have won easily. And this weekend they have another challenging conference game against Ohio State. A key matchup in this game will take place on the offensive and defensive line as Ohio State’s star OT Alex Boone goes Head 2 Head with Wisconsin’s highly touted DE Matt Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy is a tough defender to game plan for, as he moves around a bit on defense. He’s been disruptive for the Badgers thus far, but he hasn’t recorded a sack and has just 11 tackles and none for a loss. A reason for his slow start could be attributed to the broken right fibula he endured during the offseason. Last year, Shaughnessy had 60 tackles, 18 for a loss and five sacks; it’s just a matter of time until he breaks out. This will be a tough matchup for Boone as he struggles against speedy pass rushers. Boone is a mauler and isn’t very athletic. Preparing for Shaughnessy’s speed is a challenging because he can come from multiple directions.

#5 Texas (4-0) at Colorado (3-1)
Saturday, October 4th at 7:10 p.m.

*Colt McCoy (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), QB, Texas
George Hypolite (6-foot-1, 290 pounds), DT, Colorado

McCoy is in the midst of having a breakout season throwing 14 touchdowns and just one interception.
Brian Bahr/Getty

Scouting Report: Colt McCoy is a gifted, fundamentally sound quarterback, who has great upside. He sets up nicely in the pocket, is poised and has the awareness and mobility to make a play with his legs. He’s a tough competitor who will stay in the pocket until the last moment, and he locates the open receiver consistently, hitting them in stride. He reads defenses extremely well and is highly accurate. He showcases a strong arm on intermediate routes and gives his receivers a chance on vertical throws.

George Hypolite is a quick, strong interior defensive lineman with a lot of upside. He’s a short defender that plays with leverage. He gets underneath the opposition, uses his leg drive to penetrate through the middle and wraps up the opposition in the backfield. He moves well laterally and uses his hands to his advantage.

Head 2 Head: This weekend is full of outstanding conference matchups and Texas vs. Colorado is just one of the many fans can enjoy. Not only is the matchup good, but the ascension of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy has been remarkable. Last season, McCoy struggled with his decision-making and threw 18 interceptions to his 22 touchdowns. This season, he’s off to a tremendous start completing a ridiculous 80-percent of his passes for 1,018 yards, 14 touchdowns and just one interception. In the Longhorns’ last two games against Rice and Arkansas, McCoy has completed 36-of-42 passes (86-percent) for 514 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. For Colorado to have a chance against Texas, they will have to apply pressure on McCoy and force him into reverting back to his 2007 form. A player who can help that cause for Colorado is defensive tackle George Hypolite. Hypolite plays with great leverage and uses his small stature to his advantage in the trenches to hurry the opposition. Colorado can’t allow for McCoy to get comfortable in the pocket and pick them apart. They will have to pressure McCoy from all angles, force him outside and contain the perimeter to cause throwing mistakes.

Arizona State (2-2) at California (3-1)

Saturday, October 4th at 3:30 p.m. on ABC

Michael Jones (6-foot-3, 206 pounds), WR, Arizona State
*Syd'Quan Thompson (5-foot-9, 187 pounds), CB, California

A big time playmaker, Thompson already has three interceptions this season.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty

Scouting Report: Michael Jones is a raw receiver who has a lot of upside. He has great size and is continuing to improve each time he takes the field. He runs good routes and is fast in and out of breaks. He’s a vertical threat that displays playmaking ability in the open field. He is a tremendous athlete who has the unique ability to leap in the air above a crowd and haul in a tough reception.

Syd’Quan Thompson is a physical playmaker who has lockdown potential. He doesn’t possess elite size, but his quickness and ability to cover allow him to be successful against bigger receivers. He has smooth hips and transitions well with receivers vertically. He has a good burst to the ball and positions himself well to disrupt a play. He has tremendous ball skills and can turn defense into offense instantly. He’s a special athlete who’s not only a quality cover corner, but a dynamic punt returner as well.

Head 2 Head: Another Pac-10 matchup finds a surprising 3 – 1 California team going up against a talented Arizona State squad that’s had some misfortune the last two weeks. Arizona State enters this weekend’s game against Cal as the 13th best passing offense in the country, averaging 295.5 YPG. A player who is rapidly becoming the favorite target of quarterback Rudy Carpenter is Michael Jones. Jones has improved each year and enjoyed a breakout season in 2007 when he caught 46 passes for 769 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s off to a fast start this season and has 21 receptions for 326 yards, but only one touchdown. Trying to keep Jones out of the endzone this weekend will be Cal’s junior ballhawk Syd’Quan Thompson. Thompson is a dynamic playmaker who has excellent speed, athleticism and accepts any challenge that’s thrown his way. Despite his small stature, he’s an amazing athlete who competes very well against taller, physical receivers. Thompson has been sensational for Cal this season, playing aggressive, opportunistic football on his way to capturing 22 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions. Cal’s defense has created eight interceptions already, which ranks in the upper echelon of college football. Jones will challenge Thompson on the line, over the middle and on deep routes. He can be a handful inside the twenty, because his size works to his advantage. Thompson’s job will be to keep the action in front of him, use his instincts and when the time is right, try to undercut a route and create a turnover.

Florida State (3-1) at Miami (2-2)

Saturday, October 4th at 3:30 p.m. on ABC

Antone Smith (5-foot-9, 190 pounds), RB, Florida State
Antonio Dixon (6-foot-3, 324 pounds), DT, Miami

Smith is coming off of a career day and will try to carry over that success on Saturday.
Andy Lyons/Getty

Scouting Report: Antone Smith is a talented ballcarrier who has great quickness. He’s small in stature, runs low to the ground and gets lost behind the trees on his way to gaining big yardage. He’s a shifty runner that sets up defenders nicely and makes them miss. He’s deceptively strong and doesn’t go down after initial contact. He has good hands and is an effective receiver out of the backfield.

Antonio Dixon is a big, athletic interior lineman who, when healthy, can create a lot of problems in the trenches. He has a quick first step, plays with outstanding pad level and gets penetration through the middle. He plays with a solid motor, is forceful up field and fights off double teams.

Head 2 Head: This is a classic battle between two conference rivals that has lost its luster over the years, because the teams haven’t owned the college football landmark like they had in the late 80’s and through most of the 90’s. But both teams are on their way back to making noise in the nation, and they collide once again this Saturday. A player to watch who came to FSU with a lot of hype is running back Antone Smith. Smith has a lot of talent and is explosive, but he’s been inconsistent over the years. After a few weeks of situational play, he finally got his chance to show he can carry the load and had a career day against Colorado last week. He had 25 carries for 154 yards and three touchdowns. In the previous three games combined, Smith had 28 carries for 148 yards and two touchdowns. It will be interesting to see how the Seminoles utilize Smith this week and if they give him the same amount of touchdowns as they did last week. Miami has one of the top run defenses in the country, allowing just 65 YPG, and senior Antonio Dixon has been a huge reason. At 6-foot-3, 324 pounds, Dixon is a load in the middle and fills a gap nicely. He may not have high production numbers (7 tackles), but what he does in the trenches, by occupying two blockers at once, allows others around him to make plays.

*Denotes underclassmen

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: csteuber@scout.com.

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