“Football’s back! Back again! Guess what’s back? Guess what’s back? Guess what’s back”
Okay, I’ll stop, but how excited is everyone? I know I am! Football season is officially back and the first week of college football is in the books. Speaking of books, Ian Book looked good and bad during Notre Dame’s tilt against Louisville. Book showed off his mobility with his ability to move in and out of the pocket but had a costly fumble at the end of the first half. Meanwhile, his ball placement was spotty and his pre-snap reads put him in some tough spots.
Beyond that, can we talk about how Georgia State went to Tennessee and beat up on the Volunteers? Not only is the orange and white color scheme absolutely terrible, the Vols got beat up at home by a 25-point underdog. Oof! Meanwhile, Auburn beat Oregon with a true freshman at quarterback and nine seconds left on the clock.
There were plenty of notes from the first week of the season, but right now I want to focus on the second week of action. With that being said, here are three players you need to watch this week!
Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio
The quarterback class for the 2020 NFL Draft should have names like Jordan Love, Justin Herbert, and Tua Tagovailoa at the top. There will be discussion of quarterbacks like Shea Patterson, K.J. Costello, and Brian Lewerke, too. Can we add another name to that list? Nathan Rourke is a talented quarterback that has some tools to work with.
Since becoming the starting quarterback for the Ohio Bobcats, Rourke is 17-7 as a starter, and over the last two seasons he’s compiled 36 rushing touchdowns. That leads all FBS quarterbacks. The first week of the season against Rhode Island, he completed 16 of 22 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 10 carries for 75 rushing yards and another touchdown.
Here's the play from Nathan Rourke (QB 12 – Ohio) in real time. You'll notice the pump fake getting the linebacker to bite and that opens the post over the top. Meanwhile, I love his release. It's quick and fluid. Not sure where he'll fall for the 2020 NFL Draft but I'm a fan pic.twitter.com/SR0IuUnI59
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) September 3, 2019
During the games that I’ve studied on Rourke, including this game against Rhode Island, he looks poised and confident. He’s shown the ability to make good pre-snap adjustments but has also shown tons of great reads when running zone-read. Unfortunately, he’s not a perfect prospect and there’s room to grow. He’ll have to become more consistent with his ball placement, but when he’s on, he’s spot on. He showed that against Rhode Island, and in week two against Pittsburgh he should certainly be a player to look out for.
Daniel Bituli, LB, Tennessee
If you follow me on Twitter @RussNFLDraft, you’ve probably noticed me talk about Daniel Bituli. He’s a senior linebacker listed at 6’3″ and 243 pounds with some really good athletic ability. Going into the season, he was rarely talked about, and rightfully so. He’s not as talented as other linebackers such as Isaiah Simmons (Clemson) or Dylan Moses (Alabama).
Obviously, the linebacker group has taken a hit with Dylan Moses tearing his ACL and being listed out for the rest of the season. However, there are some linebackers that should be able to step up and garner some more attention. Joe Bachie from Michigan State is a name to remember, but so is Bituli. He’s got some serious upside.
Tennessee has three players that really standout on their defense:
EDGE #19 – Darrell Taylor
LB #34 – Darrin Kirkland Jr
LB #35 – Daniel Bituli
Here's a clip of Bituli who has 169 tackles over the last two years. Love how fast he diagnoses and flies downhill pic.twitter.com/DdBpIbifBb
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) May 4, 2019
There will be times that he looks lost in coverage, and it’s primarily because he’s just not reading and processing fast enough. However, as you can see from the play above, he has some serious range and he’s shown that he’s a strong tackler. Whether he’s playing in space or in the box, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Bituli can make a play on the ball carrier. Despite Tennessee losing to Georgia State in week one, they have a chance for redemption against BYU. Their leading tackler could be a difference maker, and I expect him to show out against the Cougars on Saturday.
Brycen Hopkins, TE, Purdue
Will the real TE1 please stand up? Yes, folks, it’s me, the guy that called Ian Thomas the top tight end in the 2018 NFL Draft. Here we are again, and going into this season, I have another tight end from the Big Ten as my top-ranked at the position. For the 2020 NFL Draft, Brycen Hopkins is going to pull some serious intrigue from plenty of teams because he’s got some serious upside.
This is a Brycen Hopkins (TE 89 – Purdue) fan account. pic.twitter.com/rGmvgGjfNH
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 18, 2019
Last year, Hopkins had 34 receptions for 583 yards and two touchdowns. In week one, he picks up right where he left off with six receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown against Nevada. He should have some solid production against the Big Ten throughout the season, but this Saturday, it’s a résumé game for him. What can he do against the SEC? Plenty of people will be paying attention to that, and it won’t be surprising if Hopkins gains more attention after this weekend.
He’s listed at 6’5″ and 245 pounds and could be the first tight end selected in the first round from Purdue since Dustin Keller was selected in the 2008 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. Teams will be drawn in by his length, athletic ability, and how well he adjusts to the ball. He’s also shown the ability to win as an in-line blocker. It’s not always consistent and he has lost on some “push-pull” moves from defensive linemen, but overall, he’s a solid contributor to the Boilermakers’ offense. With a good performance against Vanderbilt on the horizon, there’s no reason to believe that we won’t be talking about Hopkins more after this week.