One of the dilemmas in college football is deciding how much to rely on your underclassmen. Old-school coaches turn their noses up at the idea of opting to give freshmen or even sophomores significant playing time, while others understand that the best players deserve to be on the field, regardless. So it’s interesting that the college players who impressed this week are either seniors with deep experience, or young sophomores just starting to make a name for themselves. See below for the full list of standouts.
RB DJ Knox (Purdue)
Unranked Purdue upset No. 2 Ohio State thanks to two players: their freshman phenom receiver Rondale Moore and workhorse running back D.J. Knox. Knox’s versatility was on display all game. Sure, he ran 16 times for 128 yards and three touchdowns, but he also caught a screen pass for a 26-yard gain and managed to stand out in pass protection when asked to stay in and block for his quarterback.
TE Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)
A draft-eligible sophomore, Okwuegbunam led his team in receiving yards and had three touchdowns thanks to some clever designs, deceptive routing and raw speed. Three separate times, the tight end would line up as a run blocker but, instead of keying on a defender to block, he’d blaze past and catch a lofted pass from Drew Lock. Despite being 6’5”, 260 pounds, he can really turn on the jets in the open field.
DT Quinnen Williams (Alabama)
Unlike the typical Alabama defensive tackle, Williams isn’t a 320-pound run stopper. He’s a pure penetrator along the line, and that was certainly the case against Tennessee. If the sophomore wasn’t knifing through the line to get a tackle-for-loss in the run game, he was pushing a blocker back into the lap of the quarterback. Expect Williams’s star to rise as the College Football Playoff approaches.
OT Mitch Hyatt (Clemson)
Most analysts have Hyatt moving inside to guard at the next level, but against N.C. State on Saturday he was rock-solid in both pass protection and the run game. Although his footwork and kick slide isn’t super smooth, he gets the job done thanks to his ability to anchor. It’s rare to see him overpowered on a bull rush. Hyatt was just as effective on the move, as Clemson trusted him to get out in front of screens and short passes a few times.
CB Donnie Lewis Jr. (Tulane)
Although known for his coverage skills, cornerback Donnie Lewis showed off tackling chops against SMU. On one particular series, Lewis tackled running back Braeden West for a 2-yard loss on first down, then blew up a screen pass on second down for another 2-yard loss. On top of that, he had a pick-six early in the third quarter when lined up in slot coverage that extended his team’s lead to nine points.
DE Kenny Willekes (Michigan State)
Willekes, the former walk-on, played like his hair was on fire against rival Michigan. The junior set a powerful edge when Michigan chose to attack his side and, despite athletic limitations, he was nonetheless effective dipping around the edge to pressure Shea Patterson. Although the Spartans weren’t able to come out with a victory, they have to be encouraged by Willekes’s dominant performance—a half-sack, two tackles-for-loss and two additional hurries.