Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

22 Sep 2016

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 4

by Ian Boyd

The premier matchups of Week 3 did a great deal to clear up the picture of the 2016 college football season, with running quarterbacks defining the action in nearly every big game.

Alabama barely escaped what had almost become their annual loss to Ole Miss, with freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts picking up the tab with his legs (146 rushing yards). Florida State was absolutely crushed by another young, running quarterback in Louisville's Lamar Jackson (146 rushing yards). Oregon didn't get quite enough from their mobile quarterback Dakota Prukop (97 rushing yards) to get out of Lincoln with a win. Ohio State went into Norman and gave the Sooners a good thumping behind a solid performance from dual-threat quarterback J.T. Barrett (74 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns).

Then we also saw Stanford and Michigan State carry on their physical, pro-style ways with dominant victories over USC and Notre Dame respectively.

Of my preseason playoff picks (Oregon, Florida State, Alabama, Michigan), two went down hard, while Michigan struggled at home against Colorado early before putting the Buffaloes down. As is usually the case these days, Alabama established itself in the driver's seat, while Urban Meyer's Ohio State team jumped back into the conversation. Week 4 will probably serve to reveal which of the remaining undefeated programs has the juice to compete with those two frontrunners as we start getting into conference play.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Georgia at Ole Miss (-7) -- 12 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)

Overall Georgia Ole Miss
2016 Proj. F/+ 8 7
When Georgia has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 34 27
2015 S&P+ 70 21
2015 FEI 57 18
2015 IsoPPP+ 23 30
2015 Rushing S&P+ 14 18
2015 Passing S&P+ 29 30
When Ole Miss has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 4 8
2015 S&P+ 11 9
2015 FEI 21 5
2015 IsoPPP+ 28 2
2015 Rushing S&P+ 23 23
2015 Passing S&P+ 23 2

Ole Miss' brutal trek through a schedule full of premier matchups continues with a home date against Georgia, which is looking like the clear favorite in the SEC East. The Rebels have been strong in all the ways S&P anticipated with another effective, swarming defense, and an explosive spread passing attack led by quarterback Chad Kelly. They have lost two games now that they had a chance to win in the Florida State and Alabama contests, and will be playing with their SEC West title hopes essentially on the line against Georgia. Playing at home with so much at stake, the Rebels have to be considered highly dangerous.

That said, the Bulldogs have been playing pretty good pass defense this year and are thus a difficult challenge for the Rebels. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart (remember, he was Alabama's defensive coordinator for the last several years) has overseen a Bulldogs defense that has given up 6.5 yards per pass and nabbed five interceptions in three games. Ever since Jeremy Pruitt (another Saban disciple) took over the Bulldogs defense in 2014, they have been evolving to be more of a nickel-based scheme that focuses on locking down the passing game.

They will face their toughest challenge yet in Chad Kelly and the Rebels passing game, which just dropped 421 yards and three touchdowns on the vaunted Alabama defense.

The decisive battle on the other side of the ball will be between running back Nick Chubb and the Georgia run game against the speedy Ole Miss defense. The Rebels have been pretty good at shutting down a single rushing threat but less effective when an opponent hits them with multiple rushing options so they can't swarm the ball with numbers. For instance, the Rebels managed to hold Dalvin Cook to 91 yards on 23 carries, but were gashed by the Alabama run game that hit them with both Jalen Hurts and Damien Harris, each of whom ran for more than 140 rushing yards. If Ole Miss can bottle up Nick Chubb as well as they did Dalvin Cook, then Georgia will have little chance to match the Rebels' offensive output.

Watch for:

  • Does Georgia's freshman quarterback Jacob Eason get the majority of the snaps, or do they turn to senior Greyson Lambert on the road?
  • How well does Georgia prevent Ole Miss from bottling up Nick Chubb with numbers? How do they do it? Play-action passing? Creative run blocking?
  • The desperation level from an Ole Miss team playing with its season on the line but recovering from a physical, grueling test against the Crimson Tide.
  • Chad Kelly navigating a strong pass defense that will be building off what Alabama did well (or poorly) the previous week.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Ole Miss

Wisconsin at Michigan State (-6) -- 12 p.m. (BTN)

Overall Wisconsin Michigan State
2016 Proj. F/+ 36 20
When Wisconsin has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 94 13
2015 S&P+ 84 12
2015 FEI 67 14
2015 IsoPPP+ 63 11
2015 Rushing S&P+ 80 21
2015 Passing S&P+ 39 10
When Michigan State has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 7 45
2015 S&P+ 7 27
2015 FEI 6 24
2015 IsoPPP+ 7 72
2015 Rushing S&P+ 14 98
2015 Passing S&P+ 9 30

The projections have missed a bit on both the Spartans and Badgers offenses, with both proving a little better than expected. The Spartans don't seem to be missing a beat without Connor Cook at quarterback. Tyler O'Connor is averaging 9.8 yards per pass attempt with a 5:2 touchdown to interception ratio on the year. And the Spartans run game has been chugging along most impressively, absolutely bulldozing the Notre Dame defensive front for 260 yards.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin has found a little more balance this year with some rushing success when Corey Clement has been healthy (he's questionable this weekend). The Badgers and Spartans defenses have both met expectations with strong initial performances.

The Badgers are surely hopeful that their defense can prevent big plays from the Michigan State offense and keep the game within reach for their own offense (20 points might win this game), but they have to be concerned about their own ability to get on the scoreboard. Against Notre Dame's balanced spread attack and exceptionally talented players, the Spartans took some hits in the passing game but completely shut down the run.

Wisconsin depends heavily on being able to maintain drives through positive gains on the ground, and if they can't improve on the Irish performance against this defensive front they'll find the Spartans' squeezing the life out of their passing game as well.

A win here establishes Michigan State as a contender, once again, for both the Big 10 crown and a playoff berth. The Big 10 is looking strong enough that they could have three playoff contenders, but all of them reside in the fierce East division.

Watch for:

  • How well Wisconsin holds up against the deep stable of Spartans power backs.
  • Spartans quarterback Tyler O'Connor facing the best defense Michigan State has played in 2016.
  • How does Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst prevent the aggressive Spartans defense from swarming the Badger run game?
  • Big hits. This is probably going to be the most physical game of the day.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Michigan State

Florida at Tennessee (-6.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Florida Tennessee
2016 Proj. F/+ 26 8
When Florida has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 72 9
2015 S&P+ 56 18
2015 FEI 56 46
2015 IsoPPP+ 56 41
2015 Rushing S&P+ 73 25
2015 Passing S&P+ 44 43
When Tennessee has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 5 24
2015 S&P+ 6 42
2015 FEI 23 62
2015 IsoPPP+ 6 31
2015 Rushing S&P+ 5 17
2015 Passing S&P+ 7 31

While Georgia seems to have the inside track to the SEC East title thanks to drawing the Volunteers at home, this battle between Florida and Tennessee should still have a significant impact on the East division crown and perhaps anoint the main challenger opposite the Bulldogs.

Tennessee has really struggled on offense this season, mostly thanks to a lack of explosiveness. The main feature of its offense is a power run game with heavyweights playing both the quarterback and running back positions in Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd, respectively. Neither of them are particularly explosive, so outside of their downhill run game and the occasional hand-off or short toss to scatback Alvin Kamara, the Volunteers don't have methods for getting yardage in chunks.

That kind of one-dimensional attack is going to face serious problems getting traction against Florida's excellent defense. The Gators don't give away anything easily and will be all over the Tennessee offensive tendencies in this contest. It's the first marquee game on Florida's schedule, so you can be confident their staff and players will be well prepared.

The biggest question marks around this game center around injuries sustained recently by both teams. The Volunteers have lost middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland for this contest as well as the primary backup at either linebacker spot, Quarte Sapp, and also starting cornerback Cam Sutton.

Meanwhile the Gators lost starting quarterback Luke Del Rio against North Texas last week and will now turn to Purdue grad transfer Austin Appleby to lead their offense. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Appleby offers a less reliable distributor than Del Rio for Jim McElwain's dropback passing game, but he's a sturdy runner with enough speed to force the Vols to keep track of him.

If the Gators' staff can scheme some quarterback run game into their offense, they may be able to attack the Vols' blitz-heavy defensive scheme with backups in key positions. If the Gators ask Appleby to try and win this game by beating the blitz with decision-making, then the passer who threw 19 interceptions in two years at Purdue may struggle.

Watch for:

  • How does Florida adjust the offense to protect/feature Austin Appleby?
  • Is the Tennessee defense still sound when blitzing with back-ups?
  • Can the Tennessee offense catch the Gators by surprise in the passing game or do they try to bludgeon their way down the field?

S&P Outright Pick: Tennessee

Oklahoma State at Baylor (-9.5) -- 7:10 p.m. (FOX)

Overall Oklahoma State Baylor
2016 Proj. F/+ 20 7
When Oklahoma State has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 10 60
2015 S&P+ 22 65
2015 FEI 32 4
2015 IsoPPP+ 29 17
2015 Rushing S&P+ 114 8
2015 Passing S&P+ 15 34
When Baylor has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 58 7
2015 S&P+ 64 2
2015 FEI 52 9
2015 IsoPPP+ 45 14
2015 Rushing S&P+ 48 36
2015 Passing S&P+ 32 8

Baylor is not a team most pundits and analysts want to see succeed, because it then puts them in the position to have to say positive things about a program mired in deep controversy. Most would prefer to decry how Jim Grobe seems to be lying to the media about Shawn Oakman's welcome on the Bears sidelines last week, rather than discuss the fact that the Bears are a serious contender in a wide-open Big 12 conference. God forbid that Baylor should win out and be a playoff contender -- the narrative would go wild.

But before most national media have to grapple with the difficulty of a positive Baylor storyline, the Bears need to beat teams like Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have been pretty interesting in their own right this season, struggling offensively against Central Michigan and then pouring it on against Pittsburgh. The Cowboys are built around quarterback Mason Rudolph and basically live and die by how he performs. Consequently, Rudolph has been the focus of every opponent's game plan on defense.

The Bears' defense is going to try to pressure Rudolph and the passing game with some man-blitzes and press coverage on the outside. The Cowboys' primary release valve when teams get after them is to land deep shots with receiver James Washington, who torched Pittsburgh's attempt at press coverage for 296 receiving yards. The big problem for the Cowboys this year is what should happen if the Bears were to bracket Washington with a safety over the top and force Oklahoma State to beat them elsewhere?

The Cowboys defense has also been a real question mark, and both Pittsburgh and Central Michigan were really able to get after them. Oklahoma State tends to be sound and physical on defense, but it no longer has big-time athletes it can rely on now that defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and cornerback Kevin Peterson have moved on. Meanwhile Baylor has been chugging along with receiver K.D. Cannon (352 yards and four touchdowns) and young running back JaMycal Hasty (237 and two) providing the kind of explosiveness for which this offense is known.

This looks like a shootout, but if it proves to be a Baylor blowout victory, then the narratives around the Bears are really going to heat up.

Watch for:

  • How does Baylor defend the Rudolph-to-Washington connection?
  • Can Oklahoma State's pass-rush and cornerbacks matchup with Baylor's athletes?
  • Does Baylor quarterback Seth Russell still have rust to shake off?
  • How do analysts respond to Baylor success?

S&P Outright Pick: Baylor

Stanford (-1.5) at UCLA -- 8 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Stanford UCLA
2016 Proj. F/+ 13 9
When Stanford has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 12 26
2015 S&P+ 5 51
2015 FEI 2 34
2015 IsoPPP+ 1 19
2015 Rushing S&P+ 21 54
2015 Passing S&P+ 7 19
When UCLA has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 35 14
2015 S&P+ 41 23
2015 FEI 22 28
2015 IsoPPP+ 41 49
2015 Rushing S&P+ 65 64
2015 Passing S&P+ 57 47

After pounding USC 27-10, the Cardinal look very much like the frontrunnes in the Pac-12, with its next two games looming as season-defining contests. First it gets quarterback Josh Rosen and the UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl on Saturday evening, then the Washington Huskies the following week.

Rosen has been off to a slow start this season, first going down against the NFL-laden Texas A&M defense and then struggling to lead his team past BYU's defense in Utah. The big problem for the Bruins has been an inability to get the ground game going despite their move to a more pro-style, downhill attack on offense. The Bruins have averaged 3.5 yards per carry on the year and were totally stonewalled by the BYU defense, which held them to 50 yards on 34 carries.

Stanford may or may not have as stout a front as the BYU Cougars do, but what it does have is a versatile and dangerous blitz package that could make life difficult for Rosen if the Bruins can't protect him with their run game.

Stanford also has Christian McCaffrey, who has thus far proven impervious to gameplanning and last year rushed for 243 yards against the Bruins in a 56-35 Stanford victory. We're only two games into the 2016 Stanford season, but so far no one has been able to control McCaffrey or force quarterback Ryan Burns to beat them by making difficult throws on passing downs.

UCLA has been stout on defense though, and may have the best shot of any Cardinal opponent yet at keeping this game close enough that Rosen has a chance to take over in the fourth quarter.

Watch for:

  • How does Josh Rosen fare against Stanford's deceptive blitz package?
  • Does UCLA look to control McCaffrey with its base defense or sell out to stop the Cardinal running back?
  • Keep an eye on special teams, a facet where McCaffrey regularly impacts the game for Stanford.
  • Stanford's physical secondary and how they are officiated away from home.

S&P Outright Pick: UCLA

Arkansas vs Texas A&M (-5.5) at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas -- 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Arkansas Texas A&M
2016 Proj. F/+ 11 23
When Arkansas has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 34 19
2015 S&P+ 70 29
2015 FEI 7 30
2015 IsoPPP+ 3 23
2015 Rushing S&P+ 10 82
2015 Passing S&P+ 1 2
When Texas A&M has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 37 44
2015 S&P+ 71 55
2015 FEI 61 64
2015 IsoPPP+ 92 60
2015 Rushing S&P+ 56 22
2015 Passing S&P+ 118 80

The SEC West is always an exciting division to watch although this year it's not clear if there are any squads up to the task of challenging Alabama for the crown. Texas A&M and Arkansas have both had strong seasons thus far and both have given the Crimson Tide trouble in recent years. First they have to settle their own battle for "no. 1 contender" status with a neutral site battle in Dallas.

The Aggies have benefitted richly from the stability that transfer quarterback Trevor Knight has brought to the team, and also from his ability to run the football. Knight is averaging 5.4 yards per carry on the year, and his ability to win the edge on option runs at the goal line has already resulted in three rushing touchdowns this season. He's only averaging 6.98 yards per pass and is not consistently accurate on deeper tosses, but he has avoided huge mistakes (only two interceptions) and has allowed the Aggies to move the ball well enough to capitalize on their excellent defense.

For its part, Arkansas tends to play fairly conservatively on defense, but it is capable of loading up to take away an opponent's right arm if it needs to. The Razorbacks were gashed by former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill when he was running the TCU offense two weeks ago, but they overcame that difficulty thanks to the play of their own quarterback, Austin Allen.

The younger brother of last year's starting Razorback quarterback Brandon Allen, Austin has taken very well to the Arkansas offense and has proven he has the accuracy and arm strength to take advantage of passing lanes outside the hashmarks when opponents pack the middle of the field to stop the run.

A&M has proven largely impervious to teams attacking outside with the passing game, mostly thanks to a blistering pass rush from defensive ends Daeshon Hall and Myles Garrett. However, Arkansas loves to throw off run action and run off pass action (with their lead draw play), so this may prove to be a different challenge for the A&M pass defense.

Watch for:

  • How disciplined are Texas A&M's linebackers against all of the false keys Arkansas sends with their draws and play-action passing?
  • Can Austin Allen avoid the A&M pass rush and attack its still unproven cornerbacks?
  • Is Trevor Knight accurate enough with the football to beat Arkansas' tight coverage?
  • If the game is close in the fourth quarter, who's taking over this game?

S&P+ Outright Pick: Arkansas

S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 4

Favorite Spread Underdog S&P Pick S&P Pick against the spread
at Ole Miss 7 Georgia Ole Miss Georgia
at Michigan State 6 Wisconsin Michigan State Michigan State
at Tennessee 6.5 Florida Tennessee Tennessee
at Baylor 9.5 Oklahoma State Baylor Oklahoma State
Stanford 3 at UCLA UCLA UCLA
Texas A&M 5.5 Arkansas Arkansas Arkansas

S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 1-5

S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 7-11

Posted by: Ian Boyd on 22 Sep 2016

2 comments, Last at 22 Sep 2016, 4:15pm by Aaron Brooks Good Twin

Comments

1
by hoegher :: Thu, 09/22/2016 - 2:52pm

Can I ask why you're using the pre-season projections for the S&P+ ratings/picks, rather than the current ratings?

2
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 09/22/2016 - 4:15pm

Ole Miss has to make sure they don't run up an early 3 TD lead on Georgia. That's what Georgia wants them to do.