Las Vegas Bowl Prospect Preview: Fresno State vs. USC

The Las Vegas Bowl could be the final college football game for USC junior wide receiver Marqise Lee. (Photo: Matt Kartozian — USA Today Sports)

Marqise Lee, WR, USC, Jr. (6’, 195 lbs.)

After catching 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns in his spectacular sophomore season in 2012, Lee’s junior season has been a disappointment. In three less games this season, Lee has only 50 catches for 673 yards and two touchdowns. Dealing with nagging injuries and playing without quarterback Matt Barkley, who moved on to the NFL after last season, Lee’s production has suffered.

When Lee is “right,” he is one of the most dynamic players in the country. He is a special talent with the ball in his hands and a game-changing player.

Lee works all areas of the field well. He can take short routes and explode upfield to pick up yards after the catch, while he is also good at separating for downfield receptions. Defenders struggle to keep up and mirror him at all levels of the field. Lee is extremely quick in and out of his breaks and can adjust to the football downfield.

Lee’s biggest concern is his concentration. While Lee can catch the ball with his hands and away from his body, he has had too many drops this season.

Lee plans to make his decision on whether to declare for the 2014 draft about a week after the Las Vegas Bowl, according to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. With a new coaching staff going into USC next season, the time could be right for Lee to jump to the NFL.

George Uko will play an important role in USC’s efforts to put pressure on Derek Carr. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro — USA Today Sports)

George Uko, DT, USC, Jr. (6’3’’, 275 lbs)

Uko has been a solid starter at defensive tackle for the Trojans over the past two seasons. He has tallied 66 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 10 sacks over that span, providing USC with a playmaking inside presence.

Getting pressure in the face of the quarterback goes a long way in having a sound defense, and Uko brings that to the table. Uko generates pass-rush with quickness off the snap and strong hand usage. He troubles guards with that combination.

Despite being only 275 pounds, Uko is able to occupy multiple blockers at the line of scrimmage and be a factor as a run defender with his ability to quickly shoot gaps.

Uko is a versatile player who could play 5-technique defensive end in odd fronts or 3-technique defensive tackle in even fronts, and be a factor in either role.

Uko needs to play with more consistently low pad level. He has a bad tendency to stand straight up after the snap and initially lose leverage battles.

A junior, Uko could use another year in college to refine his game and improve his draft stock. If he declared for the draft, he would most likely be a mid-round selection with upside.

Matchup to Watch: Austin Wentworth, LT, Fresno State, Sr. (6’5″, 306 lbs) vs. Devon Kennard, DE, USC, Sr. (6’3″, 255 lbs)

Wentworth and Kennard are both having terrific senior seasons. Wentworth, an all-Mountain West Conference selection each of the last two seasons, has been a steady three-year starter and the bright spot on an otherwise poor Fresno State offensive line. Lining up across from him, Kennard had a relatively quiet Trojans career until this year, in which he has 13 tackles for loss and nice sacks.

Getting pressure on Derek Carr will be vital if USC is going to win its first bowl game since 2009. The battle between Kennard and Wentworth will play a large role in whether the Trojans are able to apply that pressure.

Keep an Eye On: Marcel Jensen, TE, Fresno State, Sr. (6’6″, 270 lbs)

Jensen projected nicely to former Fresno State head coach Pat Hill’s pro-style offense. He did not emerge into a big role as a junior or senior under new Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter, who runs a spread offense.

A big, broad-shouldered tight end, Jensen has sleeper potential. He was a second team All-Conference selection despite catching only 24 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns.

Jensen has good athletic ability for his excellent frame. He has shown the ability to catch the football away from his body with his soft hands.

He will be a player to watch in the Las Vegas Bowl and the East/West Shrine Game in January.

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Tags: Austin Wentworth, Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, Davante Adams, Derek Carr, Derron Smith, Devon Kennard, Fresno State, Game Previews, George Uko, Las Vegas Bowl, Marcel Jensen, Marqise Lee, Prospect Previews, USC

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