By Todd McShay
Here's a look at the players and teams trending up and down after Week 4 of the college football season.
1. Stanford FB/LB Owen Marecic
Talk about a throwback: Marecic is a rare breed in today's game, a true two-way player at the big-boy college level. It's one thing for a cornerback to run a dozen or so routes per game on offense -- recent two-way standouts Aqib Talib (Kansas), Chris Gamble (Ohio State) and DeAngelo Hall (Virginia Tech) come to mind -- but it takes a true tough guy pull off the fullback-middle linebacker combo.
In the fourth quarter versus Notre Dame, Marecic went over the top for a 1-yard touchdown run, then 13 seconds later picked off a Dayne Crist pass and returned it 20 yards for another score. In addition to his highlight-reel moments late in the game, Marecic also was effective throwing blocks downfield as a run-blocker and helped keep QB Andrew Luck upright in pass protection. He also displayed surprisingly good instincts and range as a run-defender.
Marecic has his work cut out for him in Week 5 against Oregon's high-tempo offensive attack, and it will be interesting to see how many reps he can log on both sides of the ball.
2. Florida QB/WR/RB Trey Burton
Holding a clipboard on the sideline is a waste of time for an athlete like Burton, who may be the Gators' long-term answer at quarterback but in the short term can help remedy their lack of playmakers. Give credit to coach Urban Meyer and his staff for creatively finding ways to get the true freshman more involved against Kentucky.
The majority of Burton's touches came as the triggerman of the Wildcat formation, but the Gators also put him in the backfield and split him out as a wide receiver. Burton broke Tim Tebow's single-game school record with six touchdowns during a 48-14 rout of the Wildcats, rushing for five touchdowns and catching a scoring pass. Burton also completed Florida's longest pass of the season, a 42-yarder to sophomore WR Omarius Hines. Alabama had better be ready for a healthy dose of the Gators' versatile new playmaker when Florida visits Tuscaloosa this week.
3. Boise State WRs Austin Pettis and Titus Young
Kellen Moore is an excellent college quarterback, but it doesn't hurt to have weapons like Pettis and Young on the receiving end of his passes, and they are not the usual Boise State overachievers -- not by a long shot. In fact, most powerhouse programs would insert Pettis and/or Young into a starting role tomorrow, and it won't be surprising if both Young and Pettis contribute on Sundays next year.
The case for the pair being the nation's most underrated wide receiver tandem grew stronger during the Broncos' 37-24 victory over Oregon State. Pettis continued his assault on opposing defenses inside the red zone with a 17-yard touchdown catch and a 6-yard touchdown throw. Meanwhile, Young showcased his home run-hitting skills by averaging 19.4 yards on five catches. Overall, the two combined for 198 yards and two scores on nine receptions.
4. NC State QB Russell Wilson
Wilson carried the Wolfpack in their 45-28 win at Georgia Tech, connecting on 28 of 41 attempts for a career-best 368 yards and three scores. The dual-threat quarterback also rushed for 35 yards and a fourth touchdown. Wilson's ability to extend plays with his feet proved to be the difference in this game.
What impressed us most, though, was Wilson's ability to deal with adversity after a fourth-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown and cut his team's lead to just three points. The senior then maintained his poise and led NC State on consecutive scoring drives to seal the victory. If Wilson's steady play continues, the Wolfpack (4-0) are fully capable of winning the ACC Atlantic division title.
5. Troy WR Jerrel Jernigan
Jernigan, who ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash for NFL scouts this past spring, is an underrated speedster. That track speed translated to the field against Arkansas State when Jerrigan torched the Red Wolves for 203 yards on nine catches in a 35-28 victory. Jerrigan is still raw as a route-runner, but his big-play potential is tough to ignore. The 5-foot-9, 183-pounder wideout might work his way into the second day of next year's draft if he continues to produce this fall and verifies that speed during pre-draft workouts.
1. Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett
No quarterback in the country is more naturally gifted than Mallett, but the mental part of his game is still a work in progress. The nation witnessed both sides of the coin during his roller-coaster performance against Alabama. Mallett performed like a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and potential top-10 NFL draft pick during the first three quarters. He was generally well-protected, made sound decisions and picked apart an inexperienced secondary to the tune of 313 yards and a touchdown.
It all fell apart during the final 20 minutes, though. Alabama was able to put more pressure on the 6-7 flamethrower, and it affected his footwork on a few occasions, including his costly second interception when he delivered the ball off balance and overthrew his target. On a few occasions, Mallett reverted to trusting his arm too much, a bad habit that leads to ill-advised throws into traffic. The bottom line is that Mallett short-circuited when the game was on the line. In the final 15 minutes, he completed just 4 of 10 passes for 44 yards and threw two picks.
Give credit to the Crimson Tide defense. Nick Saban's group was picked on early and could easily have submitted, but it hung tough for four quarters. The defensive line gave a great effort and never stopped hustling to get pressure on Mallett, and the inexperienced secondary delivered some big plays down the stretch when Mallett provided the opportunity.
2. Georgia RB Washaun Ealey
Mark Richt-coached teams typically run the ball effectively when they are winning, and the Bulldogs' lack of a punishing ground game is playing a big role in the team's problems early this season. It managed just 113 yards on 34 carries against Mississippi State, and although mediocre offensive play does not help, Ealey appears hesitant and is not consistently running with good pad level. His ball-security issues are inexcusable as well.
On a third-and-9 play in the first quarter, Ealey released out of the backfield and quickly got behind Mississippi State DB Zach Smith for what would have been a first-down catch. Instead, Ealey lost his second fumble inside the 5-yard line in three games played this year.
3. Texas' offensive line
It's easy to blame turnovers for a demoralizing 34-12 home loss to UCLA, but the root of the problem is Texas' subpar offensive line play. The Longhorns no longer have a mobile quarterback like Vince Young or Colt McCoy at the helm to make up for protection issues and/or the lack of a strong ground game. The offense now must rely upon its offensive line to protect pocket passer Garrett Gilbert and open holes for solid-but-unspectacular running backs Fozzy Whittaker and D.J. Monroe.
So far, the line has not been up to the task. Texas is not getting a consistent-enough push in the run game, especially on the right side. The group also is struggling with blitz pickup, and Bruins DE/OLB Akeem Ayers exposed LT Kyle Hix's problems against speed rushers off the edge.
The personnel is not likely to change in a week's time, so it will take a creative game plan for the Longhorns to overcome the weakness this week against a talented Oklahoma defense.
4. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and his quarterbacks
The Gamecocks had a 13-point lead over Auburn at halftime and led by six points at the start of the fourth quarter, but turnovers and a stalled running game proved to be their fatal flaws in a 35-27 defeat. South Carolina did not run the ball very effectively in the first half, so Spurrier all but abandoned the ground game in the final two quarters. Instead of turning to star freshman RB Marcus Lattimore to preserve the lead, Spurrier called Lattimore's number just three times in the second half. That put all the pressure on South Carolina's passing attack, and senior QB Stephen Garcia did not deliver.
Garcia fumbled the ball away on South Carolina's first two possessions of the fourth quarter, and that led to his benching. Freshman backup Connor Shaw stepped in and showed some flashes while moving the team a combined 88 yards on 10 plays during its next two possessions, but the Tigers intercepted the young quarterback to kill both drives deep in Auburn territory.
5. Pittsburgh's offensive line
Pitt's offensive line struggles came to a head on Thursday night in a blowout loss to Miami. This unit did not perform to expectations during the team's first two outings and was simply overmatched against a deep and athletic Hurricanes defensive front. Miami consistently penetrated the line of scrimmage versus the run and kept heat on QB Tino Sunseri the entire night. Miami finished with nine tackles for loss and five sacks while surrendering just 232 total yards in the 31-3 drubbing.
Pitt's three new starters along the interior appear to lack athleticism and toughness. They struggle to get into good initial position and even when they do, they fail to sustain blocks. Talented sophomore RB Dion Lewis has been bottled up as a result, and the inexperienced Sunseri is losing confidence by the minute. Pitt must solve this issue immediately if it is going to have any chance of competing for a Big East title.
Todd McShay is the director of college scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998. Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl also contributed to this report.
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