The best head-to-head battles in the Big Ten this week
Now into Week 5 of the college season, the landscape of the conference is starting to take shape. We not only are starting to get a better feel for which teams are at the top of each division, but which players are standing out as well.
This week brings several games with intriguing individual player matchups around the country that will not only be critical to the games themselves, but also draw the curious eyes of NFL scouts.
Here is a deeper look into the four best head-to-head battles we’ll see in the Big Ten on Saturday.
1. Wisconsin LT Ryan Ramczyk versus Michigan DEs Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Rashan Gary
This is a true heavyweight battle in every sense of the phrase, as Ramczyk through three weeks is our third-highest graded offensive tackle in the FBS (83.3 overall grade), while Michigan’s talent trio includes two players grading among our top 20 EDGE defenders (Wormley and Gary), and Taco Charlton, who didn’t skip a beat last week against Penn State, despite it being his first game since Week 1.
Ramczyk has been an elite performer through the first month of the season, as he’s been outstanding in all phases every week. He is at the top of the tackle heap in terms of run blocking, and did not yield his first pressure of the season this past weekend against Michigan State. This puts him third in the country in pass blocking efficiency — a remarkable feat considering Wisconsin has already played the likes of LSU (and Arden Key, our fourth-highest graded EDGE player) and Michigan State.
Charlton led all returning EDGE players in pass rush productivity last year, and wasted no time getting back to his old ways in his first full game of the season last week, as he shredded Penn State for five total pressures, including a sack. Wormley also had a monster game against the Nittany Lions, posting two sacks and two hurries, giving him 14 total pressures for the young season and six total stops. Gary was considered by most recruiting publications to be the top overall recruit in the country last year, and has not disappointed. He has posted at least three pressures each of the last three games (11 total for the season), and has eight total stops and ranks toward the top of our run defense grades at his position.
Ramczyk has impressed with his quickness and fluidity on the edge, but will face likely his most difficult challenge of the season, as Michigan’s rotation of defenders is not only versatile, but will be kept fresh by Wisconsin’s slower tempo on offense, which will allow the Wolverines to constantly substitute defensive personnel. If Wisconsin is to upset the Wolverines, it will need a huge day from its top lineman.
2. Maryland OG Mike Minter versus Purdue DT Jake Replogle
Maryland’s Minter played just 217 snaps his first two years combined at Maryland, and has been a bit of a revelation this season. He currently ranks 10th overall in the country at his position (82.1 overall grade), as he did not yield a pressure until Week 3 (he gave up a sack and a hurry to UCF), and has been especially strong on run blocks. Hopefully well rested of Maryland’s Week 4 bye, he’ll need his best effort this week, as he’ll be going against possibly the best interior player in the country.
We knew based off last season Replogle would be toward the top of our defensive interior grades all season, but what he accomplished in September was startling. Through three games (Purdue had its bye in week three), the Boilermaker has 10 run stops and is averaging a whopping six pressures a game, highlighted by his three-hit, eight-hurry performance last week against Nevada. It’s no surprise that with that level of production he sits at number one in the country in overall grade (90.8).
Assuming both players continue to trend as they have, this may be each player’s most difficult matchup of the season.
3. Iowa TE George Kittle versus Northwestern linebackers
This was always going to be an intriguing matchup, but with this week’s news that Iowa’s top aerial threat, WR Matt VandeBerg, is likely done for the season, Kittle likely becomes the focal point of the Hawkeye passing attack. Through the first month, Kittle has graded out as the Big Ten’s top run blocking tight end (84.1), and has shown flashes of what he is capable of in the passing game, despite Iowa’s conservative, run-heavy approach. His volume has already started to pick up, as he has seven catches on nine targets the past two weeks for 161 yards (91 achieved after the catch) and a touchdown.
While Northwestern’s offense has been an abomination, the defense has had numerous strong performers, led by the linebacker corps. Anthony Walker Jr. was expected to be the headliner of the unit coming into the year, but it’s been Jaylon Prater who has been one of the top linebackers in the country thus far (82.8 overall grade). The duo have combined for 26 total stops this season, but it will be interesting to see which player draws the bulk of the coverage responsibilities (along with safety Godwin Igwebuike) against the talented and versatile Kittle.
While Prater has graded well in coverage thus far, giving up just one catch for three yards the past two weeks combined, Walker is the lowest-graded coverage linebacker in the Big Ten through September, as he has given up receptions on 15 of 16 passes he’s been targeted for 184 yards and a touchdown. As hinted at, the two are likely to receive some help in pass defense from Igwebuike, who has given up just two receptions for nine yards on nine targets the last two weeks, but they will certainly need to deal with Kittle in the run game, both at the line of scrimmage and at the second level.
4. Minnesota CB Jalen Myrick versus Penn State WR Chris Godwin
Myrick has graded out well thus far (79.3 overall), but what’s more telling is how little teams have tested him. Through the first month, he has seen just ten targets go his way, and he has yielded receptions on just six of them. He’s largely been able to minimize what damage has been done on those six receptions, as he’s given up just 48 total yards, good for an average of just 8.0 per reception.
We knew Godwin was going to have a difficult matchup last week, as he managed just one catch on four targets against Michigan (to his credit he did take the screen pass to the end zone for Penn State’s lone score on the day). Through the first three weeks of the season, Godwin had been averaging 8.7 targets and six catches per game, and after last week’s complete stagnation on offense it’s a safe bet Penn State will want to get back to that level of production with its top receiving threat.