During the week leading up to a big game, such as Ole Miss taking on Alabama, or Auburn and LSU figuring which is the better Tiger, conversations are dominated by a team’s stars. While this makes sense, these conversations often overlook players who could have a major impact on the game without putting up monster statistics or grabbing the headlines.
Whether it’s a crucial third-down catch late in the game, locking down the opposition’s star receiver or shielding a quarterback’s blind side from a future NFL player, these oft-unmentioned players will make an impact one way or the other come Saturday.
Ronnie Harrison – Alabama:
Over the years, we’ve become accustomed to Alabama winning games through defensive prowess. The Crimson Tide players may have their work cut out for them on Saturday, however, as they face an Ole Miss squad that has scored a staggering 149 points through its first two games this season. To make matters worse, Alabama will be without junior defensive back Maurice Smith, who is sidelined with shoulder stingers.
In the Crimson Tide’s dime package, the team will turn to freshman safety Ronnie Harrison to fill that role. Harrison won’t be the only freshman on the defense, though, as he will be joined by freshmen Marlon Humphrey, the team’s starting corner, and Minkah Fitzpatrick, the team’s nickel back. While the coaching staff has praised Harrison throughout the spring and summer, there is a reason he was further down the depth chart.
The Rebels have a great trio of receivers in Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo. If those three aren’t open, Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly could always find All-American tight end, Evan Engram. Harrison’s ability to hold his own against the opposing receivers will be crucial in determining how Ole Miss attacks Alabama, and how successful the Crimson Tide can be in this rematch.
Terry Godwin – Georgia:
The former 5-star receiver prospect hasn’t exactly burst onto the scene thus far in his freshman season, but, then again, nobody involved in UGA’s passing game has. Godwin has four catches for 41 yards through the first two games and is listed as the second-string slot receiver behind Isaiah McKenzie. Still, coaches and players have raved about his natural ability to play the receiver position.
While most of the talk surrounding this game rightfully revolves around Georgia’s incredible rushing attack, South Carolina ranks as the No. 69 team in the nation in passing defense. The Bulldogs’ offense has been very conservative through their first two tune-up games, but many are hoping that there will be more diversity in the game plan against Steve Spurrier‘s Gamecocks. Besides, with a team stacking the box to stop All-SEC running back Nick Chubb, wouldn’t it make sense for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to utilize his weapons outside?
There aren’t many known commodities at receiver for UGA outside of Malcolm Mitchell, but in a nationally televised game, Godwin has a chance to make his presence known. This could be his coming out party for UGA, and the last time he appears on this list.
Montravius Adams – Auburn:
While Auburn’s secondary may be a bigger issue for the team over the course of the season, its main concern in this weekend’s game against LSU should be running back Leonard Fournette. Auburn has surrendered nearly 200 yards on the ground in each of its first two games and is now tasked with stopping Fournette, who ran for 159 yards and three touchdowns last week against Mississippi State.
Defensive tackles aren’t usually noticed unless they are wreaking havoc in an opponent’s backfield, but Adams’ importance on Saturday cannot be overstated. The 6-foot-4, 296-pound tackle will need to eat up blocks and allow Auburn’s linebackers to have clear channels to Fournette. Adams has racked up 13 tackles so far this season, but the coaching staff would likely rather have their defensive tackle create a log-jam in the middle on Saturday.
Controlling the line of scrimmage will be crucial in this Tiger vs. Tiger bout. Although he may not get his name called very often on Saturday, Adams could be one of the most important players on Auburn’s defense.
George Asafo-Adjei – Kentucky:
It is very rare in today’s SEC to see freshman starting along an offensive line, but that is the case with Asafo-Adjei. A former 3-star prospect, Asafo-Adjei has impressed through the first two games from the right tackle position, but he will have his hands full against Florida’s vaunted defense on Saturday.
The Wildcats actually have a shot to win this year’s meeting with the Gators, and end a 29-game losing streak against Florida, because they have an offense that is capable of scoring points. Florida’s defense has been stout against the run so far in 2015 but is No. 88 in pass defense nationally. Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles has shown at times that he has the ability to impact games with his arm, and running back Stanley Williams leads the SEC in yards per attempt with 10.1.
For the Wildcats to be able to move the ball on offense, Asafo-Adjei will need to show the ability he has displayed in the team’s first two games against a much better defense. The Gators will likely throw both defensive ends, Jon Bullard and Bryan Cox Jr., at him during the course of the game to try and take advantage of the freshman’s inexperience.