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Muench's Trenches: The rush is on

11/15/2013



Alabama right offensive guard Anthony Steen played well in the Tide's 38-17 win over LSU and held his own against a projected first-round pick in defensive tackle Anthony Johnson.

Steen didn't generate much push working against Johnson. In fact, he gave ground at times, but he rode it out and walled him off long enough to create a seam for his ball carrier when he did. He anchored well and did a better job of mirroring Johnson than left offensive guard Arie Kouandjio did in pass protection. In addition, his hand fighting didn't disappoint. He got a great initial fit and quickly reset his hands when they got knocked down.

Johnson, who finished with two tackles and one quarterback hurry, may have been frustrated by Steen. That doesn't mean Johnson didn't flash his considerable talent. He used his quick first step to stand up Steen and his superior length to press Steen off his frame. While Johnson needs to streamline his pass rush moves, he showed active hands and the ability to redirect. There was also a lot to like about his range and motor.

Here's a look at three trench matchups that jump out at me heading into Week 12. Remember, defenders frequently move around. Even though these players won't butt heads on every snap, it will be productive to watch when they do.

Mississippi State LOG Gabe Jackson versus Alabama DE Jeoffrey Pagan, ILB C.J. Mosley and ILB Trey DePriest

The top-ranked offensive guard on our board, Jackson faces an Alabama defense that will force him to match up against players with considerably different skill sets.

Pagan is a versatile down lineman who can line up over the center, guard or tackle. But don't put too much stock in where he lines up initially, because his pre-snap alignment doesn't always dictate the matchup. He can work outside and engage offensive guards when he lines up at nose tackle. The Tide will also rush an outside linebacker off the same edge as Pagan, which frequently causes the offensive tackle to pick up that outside linebacker and the guard to pick up Pagan in pass pro.

The Jackson-Pagan matchup favors Mississippi State. At 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, Jackson has a significant size advantage over the 6-foot-4 290-pound Pagan, and it's not just about his awesome mass. Jackson is an aggressive drive-blocker with the power base to move defensive tackles off the ball. While Pagan is tough and he flashes above-average upper body strength, he plays high at times and he's not big enough to get away with it against Jackson. In addition, Jackson also has the width, quickness and balance to stay in front of Pagan and hold his ground in pass pro.

Alabama can force Jackson to square off against one of these talented inside linebackers when it doesn't cover him with a down lineman or have a down lineman engage him at the snap on running plays. That's whether Jackson directly releases up to the second level or offensive coordinator Les Koenning pulls him. In terms of the passing game, Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart can test Jackson's ability to pick up second-level pressure by rushing his inside linebackers.

Jackson did a good job of locating his second-level assignments as a run-blocker and picking up Texas A&M's pressure packages against last week. It's important that he shows that same kind of awareness this week. He's capable of stopping Mosley and DePriest in their tracks when he diagnoses quickly and gets into sound position, but he's not agile or quick enough to recover when he gets caught out of position. In addition, Jackson doesn't always extend his arms or drive through contact attacking the second level. Mosley and DePriest use their hands well and are capable of slipping the much bigger Jackson.

Stanford LOT Andrus Peat versus Southern Cal OLB Devon Kennard

Peat more than held his own working against two of the most talented edge defenders in the country in UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr and Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton. At 6-foot-7, 312 pounds, he plays with a wide base and he can drive defenders off the ball. Stanford's run-heavy offense also affords him the opportunity to wear defenders out with his size, brute strength and effort. The 6-3, 255-pound Kennard is going to have a tough time holding his ground when Peat gets his hands on him.

While Peat has the edge when it comes to the run game and Stanford runs almost twice as much as it throws, it will be interesting to see how he fares if and when the Trojans can put the Cardinal in obvious passing situations. Peat has the length to protect the edge and the lower body strength to anchor against power. He also has the lateral mobility to redirect and mirror edge rushers, but the true sophomore is inconsistent in this area. He can lunge, and his initial hand placement is inconsistent. One of Kennard's greatest strengths is his lateral burst, and he uses his hands to keep tackles from locking on when he works inside.

Oregon State ROG Grant Enger versus Arizona DT Will Sutton

At 6-foot-6, 291 pounds, Enger has above-average athletic ability and length for an interior offensive lineman, making him a good fit for a pass-heavy Oregon State attack that features draws and zone blocking when it comes to its ground game.

He's capable of covering up Sutton initially, but Enger has some problems sustaining because he struggles to keep his pads down and he doesn't have great power. Meanwhile, Sutton measures 6-1, and though he's listed at 305 pounds, he appears much heavier on tape. He is capable of getting under Enger and driving him back whether it's a running or a passing play. Finally, look for Sutton to get his hands up as a pass-rusher like he did when he tipped a pass and came down with an interception against Utah last week.

As much as Sutton has the physical edge, his effort is inconsistent and he appears to be carrying too much weight on the Utah tape. Enger may not be able to move him off the ball and he may give ground in pass pro but he will make Sutton work and find a way to get the job done when Sutton's effort isn't there.