BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
Injured and showing chinks in a usually stellar defense, Les Miles’ LSU Tigers finished 2013 with 9-3 record and a defense that ranked just 45th in the nation. Their offense improved with the maturation of senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, but after he suffered a torn ACL in LSU’s regular-season finale against Arkansas, the Tigers will need to win a bowl game without him to earn its fourth straight 10-win season.
Iowa, on the other hand, came into the season with no expectations and seemed to be meeting that low bar. Their Nov. 2 loss to Wisconsin dropped them to 5-4, but the Hawkeyes seemed to flip a switch at the end of the season, beating Purdue and Nebraska on the road and coming from behind to beat Michigan at home to finish the year with an 8-4 record. On Wednesday, the Hawkeyes will put their ball control, ground-based offense up against a surprisingly electric LSU offense in the Outback Bowl (1 p.m., ESPN).
Wednesday’s game will be a battle of physicality versus explosion; the only surprise is which one the typically-stout Tigers has become.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU, Jr. (6′, 195 lbs)
Coming into 2013, Beckham didn’t have the statistics of college football’s other highly-regarded wideouts, but still possessed an elusiveness and acceleration as a pass-catcher and returner that caught the attention of scouts. In 2013, a lightbulb has seemed to go off. Beckham has broken the LSU single-season record with 2,222 all-purpose yards this season, and won the fourth-annual Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player.
He has turned in one of the most explosive seasons in LSU football history, catching 57 passes for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns while adding 957 return yards and 58 rushing yards. He has shown himself to be a precise route-runner with tremendous hands. He appears to glide, rather than sprint, across the field. What is even more surprising for such a speedy receiver is that he is not afraid to go over the middle and take a hit.
With his skill set and ability after the catch, Beckham might sneak into the late part of the first round. LSU has had a lot of solid college playmakers at wide receiver who have failed to transition to the NFL, so that might work against him.
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU, Jr. (6’1″, 195 lbs)
The second player of LSU’s dynamic receiving duo, Landry is a smooth athlete who can make the dazzling catch but still has to demonstrate more consistency to catch up with his partner in crime. He made strides this year, considering the two receivers combined for nearly 72 percent of LSU’s total receiving production this season, but where Landry has really begun to make his mark is as a chain-mover. In 2013, Landry was arguably be the nation’s best third-down receiver, leading the nation with 453 yards, six touchdowns, 15 catches of 15 or more yards and six catches of 25 or more yards on third down, according to Glenn Guilbeau of The Shreveport Times.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa, Sr. (6’7″, 265 lbs)
Fiedorowicz is large enough to be moved to the offensive line, which is a comparison that is only amplified by his solid footwork, good bend and strong hands when asked to sustain blocks in run support and in pass protection.
He also possesses solid skills as a receiver. Fiedorowicz is not a gifted athlete downfield, but he can stretch the seam and has a massive catch radius. The surprise to many is that he seems to have both coordination and soft hands to secure passes away from his body. He will never get much separation out of breaks, but he seems to have a strong understanding of how to use his body to seal off opponents and does a good job of extending plays by being incredibly tough to bring down.
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU, R-So. (6’2″, 235 lbs)
With plenty of off-field issues, including two arrests in the last calendar year, rumblings are that Jeremy Hill might bolt for the NFL after his redshirt sophomore season. Despite his issues and a suspension for the first game of the season, Hill ranks second in the SEC with 1,185 rushing yards this season, and his 6.8 yards per carry was best in the league among backs with 100 or more carries. He is an imposing running back who runs downhill and plays with an aggression that can often be an asset at the position.
Iowa has long made its mark with strong play in the trenches, so if Hill can match their intensity and continue to move the ball, it might be proof that he’s ready to compete against an NFL front line.
See page 2 for a look at more of the Outback Bowl’s top prospects.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Anthony Hitchens, Anthony Johnson, Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Christian Kirksey, Craig Loston, Game Previews, Iowa, James Morris, Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Hill, La'el Collins, Lamin Barrow, LSU, Odell Beckham Jr., Outback Bowl, Prospect Previews