Wisconsin vs Ohio State
Wisconsin OT Cole Van Lanen makes a well-deserved return to the Prospect Showdown, but the stakes are much, much higher this time around. Coming off an upset loss to Illinois, Wisconsin absolutely need to beat Ohio State in order to save the season. In order to beat Ohio State, Van Lanen has to keep EDGE Chase Young as quiet as possible.
Young is going to be the first non-quarterback off the board. Depending on which team actually ends up on the clock at first overall, Young may even be the first player off the board — period. Young is in the Jadeveon Clowney or Myles Garrett tier of pass-rushing prospect that should legitimately force teams to question whether they should take any player, even a potential franchise quarterback, over him.
Through eight weeks, Young is tied for the FBS-lead in sacks at 9.5, matched only by Boise State’s Curtis Weaver. Young also leads in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush grade among players with at least 200 snaps. He has forced three fumbles, broken up a pass, and — dead serious — blocked a field goal. There is nothing the junior defensive end can’t do.
Finding flaws in Young’s game is like asking what Young Thug’s “worst” album is, but any casual viewer can tell you that his speed off the edge is his Barter 6. Young flies off the snap and eats up ground quicker than any player in the country. He gets to and around the edge in such a hurry that he could probably still finish the season with 10 sacks if the offensive tackle across from him was allowed to false start on every rep.
Cincinnati does not have elite offensive tackles even by AAC standards, but this kind of speed could take advantage of any pass protector. A good rule of thumb for offensive linemen is that their butt should be like a camera that is always fixed on the quarterback. The moment the quarterback goes out of the frame, the offensive tackle is either beaten or praying they’ve pushed the pass-rusher far enough behind the pocket to survive. Young gets offensive tackles to abandon this rule almost instantly time and time again.
Speed alone is not always enough, though. Young does have plenty of instances where he simply runs through the outside shoulder without so much as even trying to engage with the offensive tackle, but often times his opponent forces him to do a little extra to win the rep. That’s no issue for Young.
It must be frustrating for an offensive tackle to be beaten by Young’s hand swipe. Young does not have any special technique or a particularly powerful swipe. Rather, because Young is often a half-step ahead of where the average pass-rusher would be at any given point in a play, it’s usually unrealistic for a lineman to be square with him and get a clean two-hand punch into his frame. This clip is a great example in that the offensive tackle only gets a chance to extend one arm out, a hand that Young swats down and bends through with the same energy of someone driving down the lane to dunk on their younger brother. Is it rude? Maybe a little, but the game is the game.
Van Lanen isn’t built to handle a player like Young. Well, no offensive tackle is really built to handle Young, but Van Lanen is particularly exploitable for a fellow as fast as Young. Van Lanen is a massive 6-foot-5 and 315-pounds with long arms and a thick torso. In the run game, Van Lanen’s hulking size is advantageous, but it can be a burden in pass pro because he does not carry all that weight particularly well. The Badger tackle often takes very short, quick pass sets and ends up panning his “camera” away from the quarterback to shove pass-rushers wide of the pocket. Against a lot of college pass-rushers, that’s fine. Against Young, it’s asking to get torched in a split second.
Here is a good example of Van Lanen getting beat because of his short set. Van Lanen does not gain much depth off the snap, which leaves him turning quite dramatically to the arc to match the pass-rusher. While Van Lanen is trying to turn outside and lunge his hands forward to connect with the pass-rushers’ chest, the Michigan State gets his arms over Van Lanen’s and chops down. The chop not only costs Van Lanen his point of contact, but he loses all sense of balance, giving way for the pass-rusher to breeze on by for an easy sack. If a run-of-the-mill Michigan State defensive end can make it look this smooth versus Van Lanen, Young could be in for quite a day.
The only caveat on pass-rushing downs is that Van Lanen tends to get help in pass protection. Sometimes it’s rolling the pocket away from him, other times it’s getting a tight end or running back to chip, but Wisconsin does not like to leave him on an island on a consistent basis. Even a lot of Van Lanen’s isolated pass pro snaps are out of empty formations or quick passing concepts from shotgun, neither of which should leave much room for Van Lanen to give up a sack because the ball will be out in a hurry. It would not be a surprise if Young only got a handful of clean pass-rushing reps against Van Lanen.
Van Lanen should be able to win in the run game, at least. Young is not a bad run defender by any means, but he is more someone who squeezes the edge, plays the option, and chases down plays from the backside. Young is not someone to own the point of attack or ragdoll offensive tackles out of the way. Conversely, that is exactly how Van Lanen win. A majority of Van Lanen’s run game reps are over the instant he initiates contact with those long, powerful claws of his. Van Lanen should “win” the run game side of things, even if it’s not the overwhelming blowout he has so often forced upon other defenders.
Pass-rush is still king, though. The Badgers have quietly been leaning a bit more on their passing attack with quarterback Jack Coan and Young is a nightmare off the edge unlike anything the junior passer has seen before. This is Young’s battle to lose without question.
Michigan vs Notre Dame
Michigan QB Shea Patterson vs Notre Dame Pass Rush
Michigan QB Shea Patterson entered the year as a buy-low candidate to rise up NFL draft boards throughout the process. The hype, if you could call it that, was founded largely upon his status as a five-star recruit and flashes of greatness, not any consistent stretch of promising play. Patterson has been a good player in theory for years and was finally supposed to put it together in reality as a senior in 2019. If anything, Patterson has only confirmed priors for those who were uncertain on his NFL future.
Patterson has regressed in every statistical category, ranging from completion percentage to yards per attempt to passer rating. He also fumbled at an ungodly rate early in the season. All of the regression can perhaps be blamed on bringing in a new offensive coordinator, marking Patterson’s third different play caller in as many years, but there is a baseline of success that Patterson just is not hitting, even with that in mind.
Perhaps Patterson's defining trait is that he likes to abandon the structure of a play. That play style is not inherently bad, as guys like Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, and Baker Mayfield have all proven. It is, however, bad if a player is not particularly great at finding the opportunities they are looking for or executing on the move. Patterson isn't quite there yet and more often creates the conditions of his own demise instead of making a playing.
Here is a good example of Patterson getting himself sacked. For one, he does not need to move as early as he does, but even if moving was inevitable, Patterson had space directly in front of him. Instead, Patterson bails early and toward the boundary, where he would have less room to create magic even if he broke the pocket. Alas, the defensive end that looped inside to attack the guard was waiting for Patterson with open arms and brought him down for a fairly easy sack.
Against middling defensive lines, maybe this issue is not exacerbated much. The defenders still have to do their jobs, after all. The Notre Dame defensive line is far from middling.
Defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem may be the best EDGE duo in the country. Through six games, the duo has come together for 8.5 sacks, 11 total tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles (both from Okwara). The two have made the list before, with Okwara serving as more of the high-potential speed rusher and Kareem as more of a gritty run defender with excellent hand usage in all phases of the game. Okwara and Kareem provide vastly different threats for Michigan's tackles, but both are going to feast on a frantic pocket player like Patterson.
With a target like Patterson, the Notre Dame duo should be able to propel themselves above the 10-sack threshold. Getting to Patterson at least twice is well within reason, especially considering the offense only continues to spiral despite the payers theoretically having more comfort in the system two months in now. It could be a field day for the Fighting Irish front.
Tennessee vs South Carolina
Few players have escalated their draft stock more than Kinlaw this season. LSU QB Joe Burrow is the obvious climber, but Kinlaw’s glow-up into a first-round caliber 3-technique has been stunning. Kinlaw entered the year as a promising, yet inconsistent interior force. The peak plays were outstanding and his athleticism was clear as day, but those moments only showed up in bursts. Now Kinlaw plays a full 60 minutes of game-breaking football.
The first name that comes to mind for Kinlaw is former Florida Gators legend Dominique Easley. Now, the comparison needs some tweaking considering Kinlaw has about four inches and 30 pounds on Easley, but everything he does looks like a supersized recreation of everyone’s favorite chain-wearing, barrel-rolling former Gator.
Kinlaw’s frame is lean for someone with his measurables and he wins almost exclusively through unrivaled explosive off the line and at the point of contact. That’s not to say Kinlaw is limited elsewhere — and neither was Easley — but he’s so good at shooting the gap and bull rushing that the necessity for anything else is nonexistent. If it ain’t broke, well.
Every so often, Kinlaw just decides he is going to go directly through someone on his way to the quarterback. No dancing, no side-stepping, no crafty hand usage. The approach is as ordinary as it is fascinating. He simply bulls through another 300-pound human being because he can, not because it’s necessary. The real kicker is that Kinlaw’s display of demoralizing strength may only be secondarily impressive to how he tracks Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa after crushing the center. Tagovailoa tries to slide out then up to avoid the boulder tumbling toward him, but Kinlaw matches the turn and acceleration to catch Tagovailoa before he can truly escape. It would only take one midsize SUV to comfortably carpool with current NFL defensive tackles who can make that exact play.
Kinlaw can add the extra steps when he needs to. He has mallets for hands and uses them to knock offensive linemen off balanced with one clean strike. In the clip above, Kinlaw is foiled in his initial plan to attack the guard’s right shoulder. The guard completely turns his hips outside, leaving him exploitable to Kinlaw working back inside. Kinlaw does just that by syncing together a sidestep while tossing the guard toward where his momentum is already taking him. The quick move earns Kinlaw a clear shot at the quarterback and he nearly closes the gap before the quarterback gets the ball out.
The senior defensive tackle is not purely a pass-rusher, either. Getting after the quarterback is where he is strongest and it is his most valuable trait, but Kinlaw is a plenty quality run defender. While he is not the gap-sound technician that someone like Quinton Jefferson (Seattle Seahawks) is, but there isn’t more than a handful of interior players who can toss a grenade into a rushing lane the way Kinlaw can.
This play still goes for a decent gain, but that’s not Kinlaw’s fault by any means. Kinlaw blowing up the center forced the running back to bounce the play earlier outside than he is supposed to. The running back should be looking to press the line of scrimmage for as long as possible, but Kinlaw completely distorts the line of scrimmage right away. The play stops becoming about which gap to hit and starts to become “how do I get away from the bear that just mauled the blocker in front of me.”
In short: it will not be a fun day for Smith. The good news — and that’s a loose term here — is that Smith’s play style should serve to match up against Kinlaw well. Any offensive linemen who sits back on their laurels against Kinlaw will get obliterated into the next timeline, but Smith isn’t passive. Smith wants to meet pass-rushers first, even at the risk of whiffing and giving up a free rushing lane. Against Kinlaw, who is going to earn those chances either way, the aggressive to stop a few plays in their tracks is a must.
Smith, the left guard, gives the defensive tackle no chance to get going in this clip. In all fairness, the defensive tackle does make it easy for Smith by opening his chest, but Smith still had to have the strike-first mentality to make him pay for it. Smith plays forward this way quite often. In fact, when he does not, Smith tends to have issues leaning left and right to match sudden moves, which makes perfect sense of why Smith likes to be the aggressor and get ahead of any potential moves.
That’s about all Smith can offer against Kinlaw. Smith will have to fight fire with fire and hope that he woke up feeling stronger that day. Alas, Kinlaw will almost certainly prove too powerful, quick, and precise when the two face off, especially on passing downs. Smith is a future pro; Kinlaw could sneak his way into the top-10 when the draft process is all said and done.