Towing the Line: Khari Demos’ Week 0 Line Report & Scouting Recap

Khari Demos joins Matt Waldman’s RSP site this season to profile college football’s trenches while keeping an eye on standout offensive skill players. This week, Demos dives into the games of Notre Dame left tackle Joe Alt and USC guard Alani Noa and puts us on notice with QB Sam Hartman and RB Austin Jones.

Fall is almost upon us. The night is arriving faster and stores are already stocked for Halloween. Another batch of goodies is also here for us to feast upon: college football season.  One of the coolest treats of the college football landscape is Week 0.

Week 0 can often be a certified payday weekend, meaning Power 5 schools host programs from the Group of 5 in what often are mismatches on the field in exchange for a fine payout. While there was some of that to kick off the 2023 season, we also got to see a few of the best teams (and players) in college football right off the bat.

Since I will note a lot of the offensive line work throughout the season, let’s start with arguably the best one in the country: Notre Dame Left Tackle Joe Alt.

Towing the Line: LT Joe Alt, Notre Dame

The son of Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer John Alt, the North Oaks, MN native has a rare blend of size (6-foot-8, 315 pounds) and athleticism. This makes that much more sense considering the fact that he played tight end in high school and began his career with the Fighting Irish as one.

The 2022 First-Team All-American selection is expected to be a top-10 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. So, a player of his stature should be able to handle his own against a Navy defensive front that had speed to offer, but far less size to combat with Alt and ND’s fellow starters up front. And the big fella did not disappoint with his efforts. But I will say, there are pieces of his game that he will need to address with matchups against the likes of Ohio State, USC, and Clemson still on the slate.

What I think he did a much better job of in Week 0 in comparison to what he did at times throughout his first two years in South Bend was finishing blocks. You can see here on tape here at the 13:41, 12:23, 10:23, and 9:05 marks throughout the first quarter against Navy (and shoutout to @DoABarrowRoll on YouTube for some help there) as times when he really anchored in and handled business in the run game.

This is the peak of what he can be as a road grader with his elite size. The problem, though, is that his rawness and need to continue adding strength to his frame can be very evident at moments in the run game.

An example of this would be the two-play stretch here. One thing I will say about Alt is that he almost always covers people up and knows how to cut them off. The issue is that he is more times than not just position blocking when he does that, which can work against the likes of the Navy Midshipmen.

But ultimately, Pitt, or Louisville, or whoever else ND will see down the line, should offer a stiffer form of competition that may need more than that (not to mention once he makes his way to the NFL).

What I will say about Alt is he is a master in pass protection (and the numbers back this up for him). Just look at the footwork and ability to adjust properly to the Midshipmen’s stunt upfront in this play.

The guy is truly a dancing bear, and he projects to be a long-time starting tackle in the NFL who would thrive in an offensive system that prioritizes movement in the run game (i.e. outside zone scheme) as well as a commitment to basing the offense around the passing attack. Alt should be starting for an NFL organization for a decade or more once he makes his NFL debut most likely in 2024.

Again, great all-around showing from Alt in Week 0. But it will be interesting to see what he is able to show in his prowess when the level of competition gets turned up a bit.

Keep An Eye On Sam Hartman, QB, Notre Dame

It was hard not to be tuned into Hartman during his first game under center for the Golden Domers. His superb day in Ireland was no surprise considering the loads of records he set during his time at Wake Forest. But now entering his sixth season of collegiate football, the Charlotte, NC native is still trying to prove he has the worth to go on to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

One thing that’s clear as day is Hartman’s touch, anticipation, and accuracy. I mean, almost immediately (literally from the very first time he threw the ball on a deep out route to Jayden Thomas) you can see the type of accuracy he has continuously attacked defenses with over the years.

One of my favorite plays of his from the game was his third TD toss of the day, where he was able to evade Navy’s rush, float to his left, and loft a beautiful pass to Jaden Greathouse for the latter’s second score of the game.

Although Hartman is not an elite athlete, this play showed he has the skills to move around the pocket when needed, and he can still find targets downfield, even when he gets moved off his spot.

Now, one flaw I’d like to see Hartman address throughout this campaign is throwing the ball in the deep passing game. There were a couple of plays in the game where he was able to get the ball to his wideouts even as he was getting hit, which showcased a lot of his toughness and accuracy. However, even on his first TD pass with the Fighting Irish, Hartman was able to float a pass Greathouse’s way as he was getting hit.

Again, that play looked great and resulted in a score for ND. But that may not be the case against other teams down the road. Hartman does not have an elite arm, but one that is more than serviceable. He has to prove he can use his fastball a bit more, rather than always relying on the changeup. I worry that situations like these can be issues he battles through, so he must continue honing that in.

Hartman reminds me a lot of a Drew Brees or a right-handed Tua Tagovailoa-type player: mid-sized, super-accurate QBs with good-but-not-great arm strength and athleticism. But both have had success in the NFL because of their high-level accuracy. I think the story is still unwritten for what Hartman can be in the NFL, but if he goes to a team that uses a West Coast scheme like the ones Tua and Brees have put up numbers in, who’s to say Hartman can’t? Regardless, it will be fun to watch him this fall, as Hartman is arguably the best QB prospect in South Bend in the 21st century.

Towing the Line: Alani Noa, LG, USC

Justin Dedich is the name most think of when it comes to the Trojans’ protection up front. But one freshman that stood out to me was a 6-foot-4, 325-pound guard hailing from Sacramento, CA. 

The Grant Union product came in as a 3-star recruit, according to 247Sports. But what stood out to me about Noa in his first two collegiate snaps was the amount of movement he was able to provide in the run game.

He also showed he has enough agility to be able to clock defenders when he pulls in gap scheme concepts, which he did several times in the opener against San Jose State. 

Now, he will need to reign things in a bit when he pulls — like this play here on USC’s opening drive. 

He is clearly still getting a handle on understanding his assignments in pass protection, which may be part of why he was rotated out of the lineup throughout the game.

But once he starts locking in with those aspects of the game, Noa has the potential to become an all-conference type player with his elite size and strength. 

He looked great in his collegiate debut protecting reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams against a lesser San Jose State squad. It will be interesting to see how the freshman looks once Pac-12 play begins. Hopefully, by the time the Trojans open their conference schedule on Sept. 9 against Stanford, Noa will have solidified himself as the full-time starter at that left guard spot. 

Keep An Eye On Austin Jones, RB, USC 

I know Marshawn Lloyd is the name in the backfield who is expected to be the better NFL prospect. But the fifth-year senior back just keeps sticking around. After transferring over from rival Stanford, Jones put together a solid 2022 campaign in a reserve role (972 yards from scrimmage, 6 total TDs, 5.8 yards per touch). 

His highlight of the day in Week 0 was a 37-yard scamper where he sliced through the Spartans’ defense.

Yes, a better athlete may have scored, but that did not stop him from having a productive outing. The Antioch, CA native paced the Trojans ground game with 54 yards, two scores, and a strong 9.0 yards per carry. 

It was just the drumbeat I continued to see from Jones while reviewing his tape this offseason. He runs hard and breaks a ton of tackles, which leads to him gaining a ton of yardage after contact. To me, Jones is just picking up where he left off from last fall; in USC’s final five games of the 2022 season, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound back had 70-plus scrimmage yards in all of those tilts, including two monster showings against UCLA and Notre Dame.

Again, Lloyd may be the name we hear playing on Sundays in the future. But Jones is not going to make it easy for him to usurp the starting role in USC’s backfield anytime soon. His size, profile, and game remind me of the new Buffalo Bills running back Damien Harris. We shall see if Jones has an NFL future like Harris’, but in the meantime, he will be vital in helping Williams vie for his second straight Heisman.

Week 1 matchup to watch: DE Jared Verse (Florida State) vs. LT Will Campbell (LSU)

We’ve got a treat of a matchup with the No. 5 Tigers taking on the No. 8 Seminoles, but it also gives us one of the absolute best matchups in the trenches we may see all season. Verse is looking to lead a stingy FSU defense after 9 sacks and 17 tackles for loss for his first season at the FBS level. Meanwhile, Campbell is coming off a 2022 season where he earned Second-Team All-SEC selection as a true freshman.

The two will duke it out again after a hell of a battle in the 2022 Allstate Louisiana Classic last September. While Campbell had his moments, it is safe to say Verse got the better of him in the matchup in what was the LSU frosh’s collegiate debut. So, the Monroe, LA native will be looking to get back at Verse in this season-opening rematch.

I think both can be excellent players at the next level but need to sharpen a couple of tools along the way. Campbell really checks every box there is for a prototypical left tackle, particularly in his elite pass protection. And he is still growing into his gargantuan, yet youthful, body, so gaining more strength will be a huge help to him. There are times when he can get bullied a bit, but he has shown he has the ability to anchor down. To me, that just shows that it’s not a technique thing and that he can keep adding muscle to his massive frame (6-foot-6, 325 pounds). Adding that strength will also help him from falling off of blocks so easily.

Verse has the size to be a superb 4-3 defensive end/3-4 rush linebacker at the next level. He has the length to win with bullrushes and is athletic enough to bend around the edge. He can also handle his own in the run game, particularly with reading offenses as their plays begin to develop. However, in my opinion, one thing he needs to be aware of is adding more pass-rush moves into his bag. The former FCS star at Albany sure knows how to get home with his bull rush. But he has too many skills to limit his game to just bull rushes. Verse has power to play with, so even adding a chop and/or rip move could help him clear the 10-sack threshold this fall before he heads off to the NFL.

All I know is this will be a treat between two of college football’s best players and teams, respectively. Kick back, crack a brew, and let’s celebrate: football season is back.

If you want to know about the rookies from this draft class, you will find the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), with the 2023 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95. 

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If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2022 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2022 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

Best yet, proceeds from sales are set aside for a year-end donation to Darkness to Light to combat the sexual abuse of children. 

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