Iowa vs Iowa State
Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs vs Iowa State DE JaQuan Bailey
It’s back to the trenches this week and there isn’t a better place to start than with Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs in a rematch versus Iowa State’s JaQuan Bailey.
A monster truck of a man at 6-foot-5, 322-pounds, Wirfs is lauded by the masses as potentially the best offensive tackle in the class. In 2017, Wirfs became the first true freshman to start at either tackle position for the Hawkeyes since Kirk Ferentz took over in 1999 and he hasn’t looked back.
Wirfs is a right tackle by trade, but can be a left tackle when called upon. In Iowa’s opener versus Miami (OH), left tackle Alaric Jackson went out with an injury. Rather than sub in a backup left tackle and keep Wirfs on the right, Wirfs swapped over to the left side and held it down as if he’d been there his whole career.
There isn’t a whole lot of precedent for right tackles switching to left tackle late in their college career or when they get to the NFL, but Trent Williams did it his senior season at Oklahoma, when previous starting left tackle Phil Loadholt left for the NFL (second-round pick). Don’t expect Wirfs to make that full-time transition at Iowa so long as Jackson is on campus, but it’s worth considering when gets to the league.
Enough theorizing about his NFL position (for now), though.
Wirfs is a standout at his current position because he moves like he is 20 pounds lighter than he actually is. He can fly out in his pass sets to stay a beat ahead of his opponent and redirect comfortably to remain in front of them. Be it working all the way to the arc or falling back inside to handle a counter move, Wirfs has the pace and control to square his frame in front of the pass-rusher no matter where they go. It’s rare that Wirfs ever looks like the lesser athlete in a given matchup. He isn’t quite Lane Johnson, but he’s a hell of a lot more agile than the typical right tackle prototype we’ve been conditioned to accept.
Playing in space won’t be Wirfs’ worry against Bailey. On track to be the best pass-rusher in Cyclone history, Bailey is a thick defensive end who does his best work the more acute his angle to the quarterback is. Bailey is a bruiser, not a bender.
Iowa State’s defense is a three-down linemen scheme, so Bailey is more of a 4i/5-technique than he is a traditional defensive end. He often aligns head up on the tackle or on their outside shoulder, as opposed to over the tight end like in a traditional four-down linemen scheme. The three-down scheme also means Bailey is used as a game piece quite often on slants, twists, “scrape” exchanges, etc. to help Iowa State’s defense manipulate gaps up front. For whatever it’s worth, Bailey is primarily the field-side defensive end, so don't expect to see him into the boundary aside from select packages.
In simple pass rush reps, Bailey wants to go through offensive tackles. He doesn’t have the flexibility to bend around the edge. When Bailey does opt for that route, he often ends up running well behind the pocket, running upright stiff as a board right around the quarterback. He just can’t make that turn consistently.
Wirfs isn’t having any of Bailey’s bully ball, though. This rep is from last year’s matchup. In the clip, Wirfs absorbs Bailey’s initial engagement and hardly budges. Bailey does his best to counter and work to the outside, but because Wirfs never lost ground or balance during the initial contact, Wirfs was able to make a smooth slide outside and shut Bailey out.
Wirfs showcased fantastic hand placement and footwork on that rep, too. He stuck his hands right in Bailey’s chest with inside positioning, winning with equal parts precision and assertiveness. In doing so, he never lost track of his base or got knocked off of it. In that rep, and so many others like it, Wirfs proved how valuable it is to have 322-pound strength with 300-pound movement skills.
Bailey’s day probably won’t get any better versus the run, either. Bailey can beat plenty of tackles with a good first step and a burst of power at the point of attack, but Wirfs is one of the handful of tackles in the country who will absorb the hit, get his clamps on Bailey, and run him out of the play. If anything, Wirfs can be taken advantage of by defensive ends who are allowed to penetrate and fly straight through gaps in the run game, but Bailey isn’t going to burn by Wirfs with that kind of speed. Bailey is a battering ram, not a bullet train.
It’s not a hot take to say Wirfs is going to win this matchup. Not only did Wirfs win it last year, but he is considered a top-10 prospect, while Bailey is likely a Day 3 pick or priority undrafted free agent.
Syracuse vs Clemson
Syracuse versus Clemson isn’t an exciting macro matchup, but some of the micro matchups hold major implications for the draft stock of a handful of plays. Syracuse DE Alton Robinson versus Clemson RT Tremayne Anchrum looks to be the premier 1-on-1 showdown in this game.
Let’s start with Anchrum. Emphasized by Clemson’s gap running scheme, Anchrum is a burly right tackle with a mean streak and some oomph behind him. At 6-foot-2, 315 pounds, he has a square, squatty frame that makes it tough to defenders to win the leverage war against him. With a natural leverage advantage due to his height and enough raw strength to contest any defensive end in the country, Anchrum is a punishing player in a phone booth setting.
Take this run game rep versus Georgia Tech, for example. It’s nothing extraordinary, but Anchrum squares up his defenders, turns him outside, and drives him off the ball to clear a wide-open lane for RB Travis Etienne. He is a menace if he can get a clean grasp on a defender early in the down.
Anchrum isn’t a nimble fellow, though. Against most college defensive ends, Anchrum’s movement skills suffice, but against future pros, he doesn’t always have the shifty footwork to get where he needs to be on time. Pass protection, in particular, can be a struggle for Anchrum versus pass-rushers who can bend the arc effectively or work quickly back inside with counter moves.
Robinson should be able to get the best of Anchrum there. Bending the arc and working inside with countermoves is his specialty.
At 6-foot-4, 260-pounds, the senior defensive end is packs plenty of weight onto his frame and carries it well. He can threaten on the edge like a traditional pass rusher, as well as pinch inside a bit and rush through or inside of the tackle. Powered by a tireless motor for his in-your-face skill set, Robinson is a threat to make a play on every snap.
Robinson can win in a handful of different ways, but it’s his ability to work back inside that makes him unique. Whether it’s a freelance counter-move or a designed twist call, Robinson’s short-area quickness to redirect and fly at the quarterback once redirected is rare. Von Miller of the Denver Broncos has mastered this art and it’s a key reason he is one of the best pass-rushers in the league year in, year out. Now, nobody is going to say Robinson is on Miller’s caliber as a prospect, but it bodes well for Robinson that his calling card is similar to that of an All-Pro’s.
With how often Robinson likes to work inside, though, one has to wonder how that may be favorable for Anchrum in some respects. Anchrum isn’t going to keep up with Robinson on the edge on every snap, but if Anchrum can maintain integrity in his pass sets and not begin cheating outside, he may have the right anchor to be able to handle Robinson’s inside attacks.
Like in the run game, Anchrum’s squatty frame gives him a natural leverage advantage. Robinson is going to have a difficult time getting lower than Anchrum, never mind powering through him if he ever earns that positioning. Robinson may still have the power and suddenness to abuse one forced misstep from Anchrum, but the Clemson right tackle does have a reasonable path to getting out of this game relatively unscathed.
That said, a clean slate for Anchrum against Robinson isn’t likely. Robinson will end up in the first round of the draft if things break the right way for him throughout the process; whereas Anchrum is clearly an NFL-caliber player, but won’t end up being selected within arm’s reach of Robinson’s draft slot.
Oklahoma vs UCLA
Serving as the lone skill player matchup of the week, UCLA CB Darnay Holmes will try his best to hold down Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb. With Oklahoma playing like National Title contenders and UCLA on track to win three games this season, this matchup may only last for a half, but it will be a fun half that holds a lot of weight for Holmes.
Lamb is one of the scariest receivers in the country. He saw significant playing time as a true freshman in 2017, but really came into his own in 2018. With eventual No.1 overall pick Kyler Murray throwing him passes, Lamb caught 65 balls for 1,158 yards (17.82 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns. One might make the argument that he was still playing second fiddle to Marquise Brown (2019 first-round pick), but Oklahoma’s offense was explosive and pass-happy enough to support two leading receivers almost equally. There is nobody else on the Sooners who can match Lamb’s talent and experience now, though. It’s his show.
Measuring in at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Lamb may be a bit wiry in his frame, but he doesn’t play like someone who needs to pack on a few pounds. He isn’t one to surrender plays at the line of scrimmage vs press coverage, nor is he one to give up optimal positioning at the catch point very often. Lamb’s lanky arms give him a natural way to create space in tight areas, and he has impressive enough body control to artificially create space by being able to reach and track passes most receivers can’t.
Lamb’s ability to find the ball from any platform or angle is his most impressive feature. If a QB needs a desperate toe-tap catch on the sideline to convert a first down, Lamb is the guy to call. Need to highpoint a fade in the end zone? Yep, Lamb. If there is a deep ball with a good deal of air under it, you bet Lamb is going to get under it and reel it in.
This catch Lamb made versus South Dakota last week highlights how wonderful his ball tracking is. South Dakota isn’t premier competition, but the competition has nothing to do with how well Lamb can find the ball over his shoulder and adjust to it, in this instance. The only opponent for Lamb is himself and his own control over his body. That Lamb could understand the exact moment to push off of the defender and find where the ball was going to drop requires an unrivaled level of eye discipline and body control.
If a receiver of this caliber weren’t daunting enough, Holmes is coming off of injury to play in this game, assuming he plays at all. Holmes has yet to play this season due to a leg injury, but was practicing last week and appears to be a full go in practices this week. There is no official word yet on whether Holmes will play, but signs point to the Bruins finally getting back their top defensive back.
When healthy enough to play, Holmes tends to be the best athlete of the 22 players on the field. He was a five-star recruit for the Bruins in 2017, coming in as the 22nd overall recruit and No.3 cornerback, according to 247 Sports. Holmes in man coverage assignments that require him to think less, react more. That isn’t to say Holmes isn’t a smart player, but with his elite athleticism and hair trigger toward the ball, it’s better to just lock him onto a receiver and let him make plays.
Holmes’ wealth of athleticism makes him a decent matchup against Lamb. It’s tough to argue any cornerback is favored against Lamb, but there are a handful of guys who can match up with him and give him a decent fight. Holmes’ speed to stick to Lamb down the field and ball skills to contest catch points make him the perfect cornerback to make Lamb really work for his touches.
Again, Holmes may not quite be at 100% in this match up, so maybe it falls flat and Lamb torches him all over the field. It could also be the case that the rest of UCLA’s defense is so bad (and it is) that Holmes never gets the help over the middle or over the top that most cornerbacks get, which would leave Holmes at a major disadvantage. Holmes should make a couple of impressive plays, but one has to believe Lamb will again solidify his status as a top-15 pick against a cornerback fresh off of injury.