Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

WentzCar16-1.jpg

» Week 11 DVOA Ratings

DVOA has finally climbed on board the Wentz Wagon! The Eagles move into the No. 1 spot, but they aren't the only strong, well-balanced team in the NFL this year. New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and the Los Angeles Rams make this one of the best seasons ever for multiple teams over 30% in DVOA, and Minnesota isn't far behind.

30 Sep 2016

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 5

by Ian Boyd

Everything is starting to clear up in the hunt for the four playoff spots, with a few more big pieces likely to fall very soon. After their triumphant Week 3, it seemed that Michigan State was poised for yet another big run in the Big 10 ,but Wisconsin blew that up and further cemented Notre Dame's growing reputation as a wildly overrated team in 2016.

The Irish responded to that, and a loss to Duke in which they scored 35 points, by firing defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. LSU lost the "buyout bowl" against Auburn and Les Miles was immediately handed his pink slip as well. If things continue to go poorly for Notre Dame (likely) and if Texas is to fall apart in conference play (unclear), it's possible that three of the best ten jobs in college football would open up this offseason. In the meantime, those three preseason giants are now off the table as playoff contenders unless Michigan State can manage to go undefeated in the Big 10 East.

The SEC divisional battles are still sorting themselves out, but Texas A&M, Alabama, and Tennessee are in the early lead after dispatching Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Florida respectively. The divisional battles in the Big 12 and Pac-12 will heat up in a major way this weekend thanks to big-time matchups between Washington and Stanford in the Pac-12 North and TCU and Oklahoma in the Big 12. In the ACC, Lamar "Kingslayer" Jackson takes on his second of three title contenders when Clemson comes to town in the weekend's biggest game.

At least one team that was a preseason contender for its conference title and a playoff berth is going to bite the dust this Saturday. Here's some analysis and projection on who that may turn out to be.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Stanford at Washington (-3) -- 9 p.m. Friday (ESPN)

Overall Stanford Washington
F/+ 6 21
When Stanford has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 41 14
2015 FEI 2 12
2015 IsoPPP+ 1 14
2015 Rushing S&P+ 21 20
2015 Passing S&P+ 7 25
When Washington has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 11 28
2015 FEI 22 47
2015 IsoPPP+ 41 93
2015 Rushing S&P+ 65 59
2015 Passing S&P+ 57 97

This is Washington's first appearance in Seventh Day Adventure in 2016, despite being a common preseason pick to win the Pac-12 North and potentially even contend for a playoff spot. The reason for the optimism was a top-10 defense (by S&P) that returned many key pieces along with an offense that was lead in 2015 by freshman at quarterback and running back.

So far the Huskies have made the expected leap on offense while still playing pretty high-level defense despite losing a few good linebackers from the 2015 unit. They're a young, physical bunch that's starting to come into their own.

Stanford has looked like the favorite in the Pac-12 thanks to early wins over Kansas State, USC, and UCLA. The Cardinal defense has taken a big step forward from 2015. They're getting pressure with their blitz package and with sudden defensive linemen Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips. The Stanford secondary is improved as well and can play man coverage. Combined with their extensive package of four-man blitzes, that allows them to drop a safety and spy downthe middle.

Suffice to say, both of these defenses are very good, but the issue that Washington faces is that other good defenses have already taken on Christian McCaffrey and totally failed to prevent him from getting "his," which seems to be about 150 to 200 total yards and a touchdown per game. Washington may choose to apply the old "Jordan" treatment to Stanford's running back and just say, "he's going to get his, let's try and just contain him without allowing everyone else to run wild on us." They have enough speed and tackling in their defensive backfield that this just might work.

None of that matters, though, unless sophomore quarterback Jake Browning keeps up his turnover-averse play against Stanford's confusing array of blitzes and coverages.

Watch for:

  • Washington may play more conservatively against the run and rely on good tackling from the secondary to keep McCaffrey in check.
  • How does Jake Browning navigate the Stanford pass-rush?
  • Can Ryan Burns make difficult throws against the Huskies secondary?

S&P+ Outright Pick: Washington

Wisconsin at Michigan (-10.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Wisconsin Michigan
F/+ 12 4
When Wisconsin has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 80 2
2015 FEI 67 15
2015 IsoPPP+ 63 18
2015 Rushing S&P+ 80 28
2015 Passing S&P+ 39 11
When Michigan has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 6 23
2015 FEI 6 19
2015 IsoPPP+ 7 22
2015 Rushing S&P+ 14 61
2015 Passing S&P+ 9 17

Much like the Washington Huskies, Michigan has long been a team worth keeping an eye on in the 2016 hunt, but before this week had not played a big-time opponent that had been profiled in this space. Their first chance comes against a Wisconsin team that has already taken down LSU and Michigan State and now continues its tour of eastern Michigan with a stop in Ann Arbor.

The Badgers made a big move for their Michigan State game, rolling with redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook rather than senior Bart Houston. The young signal-caller completed nine of 12 passes on third down against the Spartans and was 6-for-6 on third-and-10 or more. That's a brilliant performance for any quarterback, but it was particularly huge for Wisconsin as it allowed the Badgers to keep plugging away with the running game on standard downs and run clock.

Hornibrook will face a different challenge from the Wolverines defensive backfield, which features more athleticism and more man coverage defenders than the Spartans and will bring more press-man blitzes as opposed to the zone pressures on which Michigan State relies. If the Badgers can't get more of a ground game going it may be difficult for Hornibrook to pull out another spectacular performance on third down to bail them out.

For Michigan this will be a major proving ground for its running game, which last week absolutely pulverized the Nittany Lions with 326 rushing yards on 49 runs (6.7 yards per carry). After building an initial lead, Michigan controlled the second half with run-heavy drives that went the length of the field, ran clock, and ended in the end zone.

Wisconsin has a very stiff run defense in its own right. The Badgers survived their encounter with Leonard Fournette in Week 1 (23 carries, 138 yards, zero touchdowns) and shut down the Michigan State run game (27 carries, 75 yards, zero touchdowns). Their defensive line is big and sturdy while a linebacker corps headlined by T.J. Watt (yes, younger brother of J.J. Watt) and former walk-on Jack Cichy has been very disruptive this season, regularly making stops behind the line of scrimmage.

While it doesn't appear as though the Badgers will have the firepower to keep up with Michigan, their defense gives them a puncher's chance and if nothing else should reveal a lot about how close Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines are to fielding a dominant rushing attack.

Watch for:

  • Can Michigan's emerging offensive line find Wisconsin's excellent linebackers and keep them blocked in their runs and passes?
  • How well does Alex Hornibrook navigate Michigan's pressuring defense on the road?
  • T.J. Watt is an exciting pass-rusher who fans of J.J. Watt should enjoy watching.
  • Can the Wisconsin run game finally get going against a big, talented Michigan front?

S&P+ Outright Pick: Michigan

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

Overall Tennessee Georgia
F/+ 13 53
When Tennessee has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 35 45
2015 FEI 46 21
2015 IsoPPP+ 41 28
2015 Rushing S&P+ 25 23
2015 Passing S&P+ 43 23
When Georgia has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 17 65
2015 FEI 62 57
2015 IsoPPP+ 31 23
2015 Rushing S&P+ 17 14
2015 Passing S&P+ 31 29

I have a suspicion that this game will be much closer than the numbers anticipate. While last week featured Tennessee blowing away Florida down the stretch while Georgia was overwhelmed against Ole Miss, this game will be in Georgia and won't feature the same dynamics.

The Volunteers' biggest problem this season has been a lack of explosiveness on offense, which they overcame against Florida by landing a few deep shots in the passing game. However, Georgia may not repeat the Gators' favor of playing a single deep safety in order to load the box against the Vols run game and instead make quarterback Joshua Dobbs prove he can execute well enough to work his way down the field.

The better defenses on Tennessee's schedule have managed to consistently prevent the Volunteers running game from really getting loose and inflicting big plays, so it will fall to Dobbs to produce enough in the passing game to put away stronger opponents, such as Georgia.

Georgia hasn't looked as strong this season as some expected, but it has also been breaking in freshman quarterback Jacob Eason against very good defenses from Ole Miss and Missouri. In these last two games the freshman has thrown 91 passes for 445 yards (4.9 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Although he has managed to avoid too many mistakes and find the end zone a few times, those are fairly dismal numbers, and that lack of firepower has made it hard for the Bulldogs to punish opponents for overplaying their potent run game.

Facing the Tennessee pass defense at home may be a more manageable task. If so, the Bulldogs could seize control of the SEC East division race.

Watch for:

  • Can Jacob Eason make big plays against an aggressive Tennessee defense playing at home?
  • Joshua Dobbs needs to land some deep shots for the Volunteers to score points and avoid stagnation on offense.
  • Georgia needs Nick Chubb to be the most impactful player on the field, but is the star running back healthy enough to do it?
  • Can Georgia's defensive front hold up against the Tennessee run game for four quarters?

S&P Outright Pick: Tennessee

North Carolina at Florida State (-11) -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall North Carolina Florida State
F/+ 38 10
When North Carolina has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 7 68
2015 FEI 10 25
2015 IsoPPP+ 12 5
2015 Rushing S&P+ 15 33
2015 Passing S&P+ 23 5
When Florida State has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 95 4
2015 FEI 56 25
2015 IsoPPP+ 62 15
2015 Rushing S&P+ 106 9
2015 Passing S&P+ 65 30

Florida State hasn't been anywhere near the level we all expected from them this season thanks to injuries on defense that have robbed them of potential All-American safety Derwin James and now star pass-rusher Josh Sweat as well. Meanwhile the offense has been excellent, with freshman quarterback Deondre Francois offering enough with his arm and legs to help free up Dalvin Cook to run wild behind a veteran offensive line.

That offense is going up against an easy mark in North Carolina, who has been at least as atrocious on defense thus far in 2016 as it was in 2015. The Tar Heels prefer to play a conservative style under defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, but they simply haven't been good enough to execute against a schedule that hasn't even challenged them as Florida State will.

What makes this game interesting is that Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky has started to come alive -- he torched Pittsburgh last Saturday for 453 yards and five touchdowns. The Panthers play an ultra-aggressive run defense that often concedes space and leverage against the passing game, but Trubisky's performance in that game and growing command of the North Carolina offense has to be concerning for a Seminoles defense that has been ravaged by injuries. In particular, he has a big frame, nice mobility, and a cannon arm that all combine to allow him to buy time and land some impressive deep throws in North Carolina's spread offense. Without Derwin James to erase the deep field or Josh Sweat to apply extra pressure, there's a chance Trubisky can make enough plays to allow the Tar Heels to win a shootout in Tallahassee.

Watch for:

  • Can Florida State effectively pressure Mitch Trubisky?
  • How disciplined and sound is the injury-depleted Florida State defense against North Carolina's balanced spread offense?
  • Is North Carolina capable of containing Dalvin Cook or does he just blow their doors off?

S&P Outright Pick: Florida State

Oklahoma (-3) at TCU -- 5 p.m. (FOX)

Overall Oklahoma TCU
F/+ 17 24
When Oklahoma has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 8 55
2015 FEI 12 20
2015 IsoPPP+ 8 40
2015 Rushing S&P+ 18 37
2015 Passing S&P+ 10 26
When TCU has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 58 11
2015 FEI 2 42
2015 IsoPPP+ 3 19
2015 Rushing S&P+ 6 65
2015 Passing S&P+ 6 14

I have been very down on the Sooners this year, suspicious of the defensive numbers they posted in 2015 against a slate of otherwise good offenses that had to play backup quarterbacks, and skeptical of their ability to overcome the loss of several key players. Their 1-2 start and the thrashings they have received from Houston and Ohio State now has their program in a desperate state heading into a major road challenge in Fort Worth.

TCU hasn't quite been what I expected due to deficient cornerback play that allowed its defense to be shredded by both South Dakota State and Arkansas. The TCU offense has continued to chug along despite losing Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson from the 2015 team, but it has now lost hybrid running back/wide receiver Kavontae Turpin as well, which may put a serious dent both in the Horned Frogs offense and in their special teams.

Oklahoma's offense has been quite good this year, as expected, but it is still looking for a replacement for departed senior receiver Sterling Shepard that could attack the Horned Frogs' cornerbacks and free up space for the Sooners run game. They may have found one in sophomore A.D. Miller, who caught three balls for 72 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State. If Baker Mayfield can continue to find Miller down the field, it will be the final piece to an already strong unit and make it very simple for offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to attack the TCU defense.

The Frogs were able to track and control Iowa State's star receiver Allen Lazard, but doing the same against Oklahoma will be a much more difficult challenge unless one of their cornerbacks is up to the challenge of playing on an island.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma has continued to cycle through young defensive backs looking for answers in its own secondary after being torched by Houston quarterback Greg Ward and then surrendering four touchdown catches to big Ohio State receiver Noah Brown. TCU has a pair of big, physical targets in the red zone in Emmanuel Porter (6-foot-4) and Taj Williams (6-foot-3). With Kenny Hill serving as an extra running option on the goal line, the TCU offense is very dangerous in the red zone. If the Sooners don't start clamping down between the 20s on defense, they're going to find themselves in some shootouts. Winning that kind of game in Fort Worth is a tall order.

Watch for:

  • Does the Oklahoma defense play with the desperation of a 1-2 team that's still fighting to win the Big 12?
  • Can the Horned Frogs find a lockdown cornerback, and is Oklahoma ready to punish them if they haven't?
  • Who wins the field position battle with explosive kick returner Kavontae Turpin out?
  • Oklahoma will continue to find creative ways to utilize star running back Joe Mixon while still feeding workhorse back Samaje Perine.

S&P Outright Pick: TCU

Louisville at Clemson (-2) -- 8 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Louisville Clemson
F/+ 5 3
When Louisville has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 1 1
2015 FEI 55 3
2015 IsoPPP+ 45 18
2015 Rushing S&P+ 24 28
2015 Passing S&P+ 60 11
When Clemson has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 26 63
2015 FEI 55 19
2015 IsoPPP+ 25 22
2015 Rushing S&P+ 7 61
2015 Passing S&P+ 51 17

The poor play by the Clemson offense has been a pretty major storyline in 2016. And it's going to become a dominant narrative if the Tigers don't show up in a major way against the upstart Louisville Cardinals, who are THE story of 2016.

There have been two problems for the Tigers offense. The first is a lack of growth in the run game, and the second is a decrease in proficiency with the passing game. The Tigers ranked just 61st in rushing S&P in 2016, and were only dominant running the ball when they were willing to give DeShaun Watson enough carries to take over the game. They relied much more on their 17th-ranked passing attack, which figured to improve in 2016 with all the key pieces returning.

Instead, Watson has averaged only 6.6 yards per pass attempt and thrown four interceptions in four games. The run game has been little better, with Watson at 3.4 yards per carry on the year and lead running back Wyatt Gallman at 4.1. Louisville has already held down Dalvin Cook this season (54 yards on 16 carries) and its defense excels at stopping the run thanks to a big, stout defensive line and the run support of safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Chucky Williams.

Of course Clemson doesn't have to light up the scoreboard if its defense continues to play as well as it has, and that's the major matchup in this contest. This game will clash S&P's No. 1 ranked offense and defense against each other, and it features some of the brightest minds in the game as Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino takes on Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

The key to stopping this Louisville offense is to contain Lamar Jackson within the pocket via a disciplined pass rush by the defensive line and to keep the ball inside in the Louisville option game. If defenders allow Jackson to get loose on the perimeter, they're going to be made to look silly because his change of direction and acceleration in the open field is nearly impossible to overcome.

As it happens, Clemson is well equipped to try that approach, as they already prefer to use their defensive ends to set the edges and have been dominating between the tackles with freshman sensation Dexter Lawrence, a 6-foot-5, 340-pound nose tackle. By carefully tending the edges and then bringing their safeties down the alleys, the Tigers can force Louisville to beat them either by pounding the ball up the middle or else executing from the pocket.

So far this season Lamar Jackson has been very effective throwing the ball, averaging 10.6 yards per attempt with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. That said, Clemson's best hope of keeping the Cardinals under wraps is going to come from forcing him to prove it against a top secondary.

Watch for:

  • Can the Tigers force Louisville to beat them in the middle of the field or from the pocket?
  • How does Lamar Jackson handle his first prime time road game against a top-ten opponent?
  • Can Deshaun Watson get the Clemson passing game back on track?
  • The battle between the interior of Louisville's offensive line against big, bad Dexter Lawrence.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Clemson

S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 5

Favorite Spread Underdog S&P Pick S&P Pick against the spread
Washington 3 Stanford Washington Washington
Michigan 10.5 Wisconsin Michigan Michigan
Tennessee 3 Georgia Tennessee Tennessee
Florida State 11 North Carolina Florida State Florida State
Oklahoma 3 TCU TCU TCU
Clemson 2 Louisville Clemson Louisville

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

S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 8-16

Posted by: Ian Boyd on 30 Sep 2016

2 comments, Last at 01 Oct 2016, 4:35am by big10freak

Comments

1
by Pen :: Sat, 10/01/2016 - 4:26am

Not only did Mcaffrey not get "his", but the rest of the crew had the most horrifying stat line you can imagine.

2
by big10freak :: Sat, 10/01/2016 - 4:35am

Vince Biegel, Wisconsin's senior linebacker and best pass rusher, is out for several weeks with a broken foot.