Recap of Last Week's Matchup
Texas A&M RB Devon Achane vs. Mississippi State’s Rush Defense
Last week we dove into Devon Achane’s matchup against the Mississippi State defense. Achane ran the ball well, totaling 111 yards on 16 carries and catching 6 passes for 21 yards. He had some explosive runs but could never break the big one. He was the only thing consistently working for this Aggie’s offense. They moved the ball well throughout the game but struggled in the red zone. Achane contributed to that struggle when he had a crucial fumble on the 6-yard line going in for a touchdown. Mississippi State’s defense was bend-but-don’t-break all afternoon as they constantly stifled the Aggies offense by forcing turnovers or making them attempt field goals instead of converting touchdowns. The Bulldogs’ defense held Texas A&M to only 136 rushing yards for the game and forced four turnovers which was the deciding factor of the day for the defense. As soon as A&M had to start playing catch-up, it limited Achane’s opportunities in the run game. Achane will have another tall task ahead of him this week against the Alabama defense, where once again, the game script will most likely not favor a run-heavy approach.
This Week's Matchup to Watch
UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet vs. Utah’s Defense
This week we go out west to highlight the top running back in the Pac-12 and his upcoming matchup against a stout Utah defense. Zach Charbonnet's draft stock has quickly ascended this year, and rightfully so. Charbonnet, through four games, has 65 carries for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also has been busy as a pass-catching back, with 11 receptions for 143 yards. The Michigan transfer stands at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds and has plenty of power but also can make one cut and fly. He has the rare and coveted combination of size, strength, and speed. He also has the work ethic that makes him a hot commodity as an NFL Draft prospect. Head Coach Chip Kelly had this to say after last week's win over Washington “He’s just a warrior. You know, a lot of guys carry 21 times and they’re kind of tired, but he will want to know why he couldn’t get more. He’s that type of a kid with a tremendous work ethic. We kind of hang our hat on being able to run the football, and it starts with him.” Charbonnet currently projects as one of the top several running backs off the board when the 2023 NFL Draft rolls around, and Saturday’s showdown with Utah can help him elevate himself up the board even higher.
The Utah defense is not the daunting Utes unit we have seen in years past, but it will still be the biggest test UCLA has seen so far. Utah’s strength this year has been its secondary and highly touted standout Clark Phillips is the reason why. They have missed Devin Lloyd at linebacker this year, as that group has been the weakest of the defense. They’ve failed to contain explosive players who can get to the second level, which has been why this defense hasn’t been its normal dominant self. The defensive line has been solid, and All-Pac-12 Aliki Vimahi has been the one to anchor the unit in the middle and stuff the run. Utah struggled to contain Florida’s ground game in their season opener, allowing 3.2 yards per rush before first contact and over 4 yards after first contact. But head coach Kyle Wittingham’s M.O. is a stout and tough defense, and they’ve adjusted to five down linemen more frequently to shut down the run. The hope for Utah would be that the last several weeks against lesser opponents have given them time to sure up the cracks for a team like UCLA who can expose them in that area. Charbonnet will be the X-factor in this game. Utah’s secondary should be able to force UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to lean on the run game with his own legs and Charbonnet’s. The question for Utah is whether they can fill the box and still have their secondary hold up. Their linebackers will need to make plays in the open field against Charbonnet outside of the hashes and when he breaks to the second level. Despite the opening game loss to Florida, Utah has a shot at taking control of the Pac-12 with a win over undefeated UCLA. This is the best start for a UCLA team since 2005, and they are on the wrong side of the power struggle for attention in Los Angeles. A win Saturday night could change that, and Zach Charbonnet will be a big part of making that come to fruition.