Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 Oct 2016

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 6

by Ian Boyd

Washington made a huge statement to begin Week 5 of the college football season, and Clemson spoke their piece as well before everything concluded. With their respective wins over Stanford and Louisville, Washington and Clemson established themselves as big favorites to win their conferences and make a bid for the 2017 playoff. Lamar "Kingslayer" Jackson still has one opponent left on the schedule to potentially eliminate from the playoffs (the Houston Cougars), but by holding Jackson and Louisville off, Clemson put itself in the driver's seat in the ACC.

The Big 10 saw Michigan State continue to falter amidst defensive injuries and post-Connor Cook struggles on offense, while Michigan nailed down the "No. 1 contender" status in the Big 10 after beating Wisconsin at home in a defensive struggle.

Florida State faded completely out of contender status after blowing a lead against North Carolina and Mitch Trubisky (as we noted might happen in this very space), and Tennessee flirted with disaster and escaped ruin one more time thanks to a Hail Mary against Georgia.

Week 6 features the Red River Shootout between resurgent Oklahoma and a Texas program that started the year with promise but now seems likely to completely come apart after consecutive road losses. Tennessee continues its dance with death by traveling on the road to the hostile confines at Texas A&M. Washington will have to prove it can play like a playoff team for more than one week while Alabama has one of its sterner tests of the year in a road trip to Arkansas.

As always, here's the statistical and analytical breakown on how these matchups will be decided.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Texas vs Oklahoma (-10.5) at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas -- 12 p.m. (FS1)

Overall Texas Oklahoma
F/+ 48 17
When Texas has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 9 66
IsoPPP+ 55 33
Rushing S&P+ 29 8
Passing S&P+ 63 44
When Oklahoma has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 97 6
IsoPPP+ 72 1
Rushing S&P+ 47 2
Passing S&P+ 87 2

After an opening game triumph against Notre Dame, it appeared that Charlie Strong had finally righted the ship in Austin and would have Texas on track to compete in the Big 12. Then consecutive road trips against high-powered offenses in Cal and Oklahoma State revealed a broken defense while beating down the revitalized offense with injuries.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma finally got its season on track on the road in Fort Worth with a 52-46 victory over TCU where its offense looked great throughout while its defense looked good in spurts and horribly vulnerable at other points.

For the last few years Texas has been limping into this game in an apparent state of chaos, only to see itself united by the threat of facing Oklahoma. Under those circumstances it administered whoopings in 2013 and 2015 that featured 200-plus-yard rushing days. The Sooners will presumably be braced for a similar event due to returning so many veterans from the 2015 team, and they are still playing for a Big 12 title despite losing two out of three in their non-conference schedule. Who knows, perhaps if they win out they can still even make the playoffs?

Both of these teams have been moving the ball effectively in the air but even moreso on the ground, and Texas has taken off in new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's "veer and shoot" offense from the Art Briles coaching tree. Heading into this game, Texas is a bit more beat up in the backfield, with sophomore running back Chris Warren likely to miss much of the rest of the year and junior running back D'Onta Foreman coming off a mild injury last weekend. Even freshman quarterback Shane Buechele has been playing through some kind of chest injury incurred at Cal and has been wearing a protective vest.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma's backfield tandem of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine has been picking up steam. Quarterback Baker Mayfield took some shots against TCU but finished the game with some tough runs of his own and appears to be in game shape.

With the experience and health of its backfield more intact, Oklahoma would seem to have the advantage. When you factor in its defense's occasionally decent play juxtaposed against the mess at Texas that just saw defensive coordinator Vance Bedford demoted, it suggests that Oklahoma is every bit the 10.5-point favorite that oddsmakers have made it to be. The big question is whether Texas head coach Charlie Strong can successfully take over his own defense and right the ship in time to allow his squad to win a fierce shootout in Dallas.

Watch for:

  • Texas' "18-wheeler" package, featuring 6-foot-5, 250-pound backup quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (No. 18) running the ball off direct snaps. This could be a game changer.
  • Can young Texas quarterback Shane Buechele hold up against an aggressive Oklahoma pass rush and rivalry game hits?
  • Will Oklahoma finally be the more physical team in Dallas again?
  • All the different ways that Oklahoma utilizes star running back Joe Mixon.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Oklahoma

Indiana at Ohio State (-29) -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Indiana Ohio State
F/+ 65 2
When Indiana has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 48 6
IsoPPP+ 10 6
Rushing S&P+ 51 7
Passing S&P+ 8 6
When Ohio State has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 37 10
IsoPPP+ 71 36
Rushing S&P+ 22 3
Passing S&P+ 80 40

The Indiana Hoosiers got a nice tuneup for this challenge in Columbus when they played Michigan State a week ago and managed a late comeback to force overtime, where they ultimately won. Ohio State plays a similar brand of press-quarters defense, and Indiana was able to probe and attack the similar Spartans coverages with a few key deep passes that broke the game open.

For much of the game the Hoosiers focused on trying to pound the ball on a beaten=up Spartans front with lead running back Devine Redding, who reached 100 yards on just 19 carries. Against the Buckeyes, they'll need more big plays in the passing game from quarterback Richard Lagow to loosen up Ohio State's aggressive and healthy linebacker corps.

The Buckeyes have really been picking up steam this season behind a typically fantastic Urban Meyer run game that has three key weapons in running back Mike Weber (495 rushing yards, 7.3 yards per carry), running back/wide receiver hybrid Curtis Samuel (328 rushing yards, 8.0 yards per carry), and of course quarterback J.T. Barrett (205 rushing yards, 4.7 yards per carry).

Barrett has been effective in the passing game as well, with a 14-to-2 touchdown-to-interception rate and 8.71 yards per passing attempt, but the Buckeyes offense is only ranked 47th on passing downs by S&P. Ohio State is lethal when throwing screens and play-action off the threat of the run, but when forced into predictable passing situations its execution is not anywhere near that of a more proficient passing attack.

The big question for this game is whether Indiana can defend Ohio State well enough on first down to force them into predictable passing situations. New Indiana defensive coordinator Tom Allen has had a huge impact, getting Indiana's defensive S&P ranking up to 37th this season after it finished 105th in 2015 and 91st in 2014. His aggressive schemes were effective at slowing down the Michigan State running game, and it will be imperative that the Hoosiers match that success against Ohio State or risk being blown out on the road.

Watch for:

  • Can Indiana force Ohio State into third-and-6 or more?
  • How does Indiana control a multi-faceted run game with three different potential ballcarriers?
  • Can Indiana burn Ohio State's aggressive linebackers with its spread passing attack?
  • Big wideout Noah Brown (6-foot-2, 218 pounds) is an X-factor for Ohio State. If he's having a big game then it's basically all over.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Ohio State

Tennessee at Texas A&M (-7) -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Tennessee Texas A&M
F/+ 15 8
When Tennessee has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 41 20
IsoPPP+ 16 58
Rushing S&P+ 26 81
Passing S&P+ 3 46
When Texas A&M has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 17 22
IsoPPP+ 26 7
Rushing S&P+ 62 23
Passing S&P+ 32 22

As we suspected in this space, Georgia proved to be a major challenge for Tennessee, but the Volunteers came out of the contest with yet another amazing story of survival. All five of their games this season have been either highly anticipated or else turned into major scraps that Tennessee struggled to win. Perhaps the biggest question in this game is whether they have enough in the tank, physically or emotionally, to go into a hostile environment in College Station and grind out another victory.

One area where this could really show up is in the play of the Volunteers run defense against a very good and very explosive A&M rushing attack. The Aggies have been murdering people on the ground with an option-based offense built around the abilities of quarterback Trevor Knight, power back Keith Ford, and explosive freshman running back Travyeon Williams. A&M is fielding a young offensive line, but it's a unit that has thrived under new coaching and in the option schemes on which A&M has been leaning this season.

On the flip side, A&M has struggled to lock down opposing rushing attacks and will now be facing a Tennessee run game that is similar to its own, but which features big, powerful runners at quarterback and running back rather than speedy, explosive players like Knight and Williams. If Tennessee has enough juice left to show up strong in this game, it may be able to wear down the A&M defense as Arkansas came close to doing before goal-line miscues fumbled away (sometimes literally) scoring opportunities.

You can't help but notice now that Tennessee has some breathing room in the SEC East division title race thanks to head-to-head victories over both Florida and Georgia, and it is following this game up with yet another huge matchup when Alabama comes to Knoxville. The coaches and players should try to push through to pull out a win here against a more easily beaten foe than Alabama, but it's all too likely that they will get caught in College Station looking ahead and be forced to regroup heading home to face the Crimson Tide.

Of course, whatever Tennessee's mindset may be heading into this contest, it's more than likely that Texas A&M is the better team regardless.

Watch for:

  • Which rushing attack wins on the scoreboard? The powerful, lumbering rushing attack of the Volunteers, or the explosive A&M offense?
  • Does the Tennessee defense have the mental focus after another big game to play aggressive, sound football against the Aggies?
  • A&M quarterback Trevor Knight has had accuracy issues in the past when opponents have forced him to throw the ball into windows down the field.
  • More late game heroics by the Volunteers to pull out another improbable win?

S&P Outright Pick: Texas A&M

Alabama (-14) at Arkansas -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Alabama Arkansas
F/+ 1 41
When Alabama has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 21 43
IsoPPP+ 27 94
Rushing S&P+ 7 115
Passing S&P+ 66 58
When Arkansas has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 4 28
IsoPPP+ 2 71
Rushing S&P+ 1 102
Passing S&P+ 3 48

This is just one of many tests that Alabama will face over the course of the season, and it tends to drop at least one game each year, even when they end up winning the championship, so there's always hope in Fayetteville that Arkansas can be the team to catch the Tide. The problem here for the Razorbacks is how poorly they have played the run game this season and how inconsistent they have been at running the ball themselves.

Alabama is generally merciless to teams that can't stop the run, and this 2016 offense is particular fierce thanks to the added dynamic of having a dual-threat quarterback at the helm. The Crimson Tide is still working out the kinks of its passing game that tend to occur when you start a true freshman quarterback, but it has a ton of speed on the perimeter that makes it difficult to stop the run even with a simple passing attack.

Arkansas was gashed by Texas A&M's option runs, so you can expect Alabama to put them to the test with the zone read as well. The key is the play of the unblocked defensive ends, who need to be very disciplined to prevent clear option reads and give the rest of the Razorbacks defense a chance to run to the ball. Arkansas's defensive ends were very inconsistent in this regard against Texas A&M, and it cost them dearly.

The Arkansas offense is going to have a serious challenge on its hands trying to find ways to make headway against the Alabama defense, which is playing up to its usual standards and has never really struggled in the past to control the Razorbacks' style of offense. The main difference this year is that Arkansas has serious experience at receiver in Drew Morgan and Keon Hatcher, and of course it has another good tight end in Jeremy Sprinkle.

If the Razorbacks can finally pull off an upset over Alabama, it will be thanks to freshman Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts making a few mistakes, and the Razorbacks landing some punches in the passing game that allow them to get points on the Tide defense.

Watch for:

  • Can Arkansas give quarterback Austin Allen time to throw the ball against Alabama's pass rush?
  • How much does Alabama involve freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts in the running game and can Arkansas stop it?
  • Will Arkansas continue to play "bend don't break" defense, or will it load the box and try to force Alabama to execute its passing game?

S&P Outright Pick: Alabama

Washington (-8) at Oregon -- 7:30 p.m. (FOX)

Overall Washington Oregon
F/+ 6 21
When Washington has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 23 100
IsoPPP+ 5 90
Rushing S&P+ 11 125
Passing S&P+ 37 36
When Oregon has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 10 5
IsoPPP+ 10 42
Rushing S&P+ 34 27
2015 Passing S&P+ 25 44

Oregon's hope for Pac-12 contention rested largely on new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke revitalizing that squad and putting a top-50 unit on the field that could set its always potent offense up for success. That has not materialized whatsoever, putting pressure on the entire program to find solutions quickly.

Meanwhile, Chris Peterson has Washington in phenomenal shape to emerge in the Pac-12 North and potentially represent the conference in the playoffs if it can continue its current play. The challenge here will be in handling Oregon's offense on the road in Eugene rather than in front of the intensely loud and hostile crowd it enjoyed at home against Stanford last Friday.

The biggest proving ground in this game will be the Huskies' 2-4-5 nickel defense going up against Oregon's spread-option attack. Washington struggled with Arizona's similar offense, surrendering 308 rushing yards, much of it to Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins on power-read plays of the sort that Oregon regularly runs as well.

These concepts are a challenge to the Huskies, as they put a great deal of strain on their linebackers to prevent creases up front or else the ballcarrier is running into open grass with only a deep safety between him and paydirt. Stanford couldn't open those creases or open up the field, but this is Oregon's specialty.

If it comes to a shootout, though, Washington is in great shape thanks to sophomore quarterback Jake Browning's maturation as a player and the Huskies' success with the run game. Oregon has struggled to provide its offense much breathing room with stops or turnovers and has been lit up by Colorado and Nebraska already this season. It will need to find some solutions coming back home or it won't matter if the Huskies are vulnerable to their brand of option football.

Watch for:

  • Can Washington stop the Oregon quarterback running game in the spread-option?
  • Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning for Washington is quietly putting together a major season.
  • Will Oregon continue to roll with grad transfer quarterback Dakota Prukop or turn to freshman Justin Herbert?
  • Can Washington's defensive tackles own the line of scrimmage as they did against Stanford, or does Oregon successfully move the game's focal point to the perimeter?

S&P Outright Pick: Washington

Florida State at Miami (-3) -- 8 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Florida State Miami
F/+ 10 11
When Florida State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 3 11
IsoPPP+ 4 13
Rushing S&P+ 15 32
Passing S&P+ 13 4
When Miami has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 79 30
IsoPPP+ 51 3
Rushing S&P+ 65 40
Passing S&P+ 52 10

Like Washington, Miami is one of the sneaky good teams nationally that may end up having a bigger say in the ACC title race and playoff picture than anyone would have assumed. The key has been the play of its defense, which defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has playing at a high level thus far in the year.

This will be the Hurricanes' sternest test of the season by far, mostly from the Florida State offense, which has been starting to really get going under redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois. Dalvin Cook has shaken off whatever was slowing him down earlier in the year as well and ran for 140 yards on North Carolina last week. The Seminoles have really taken things to another level by allowing Francois to play a role in the run game, running a little bit of zone read to prevent defenses from swarming to gang-tackle Cook without paying a price.

The Hurricanes have done a good job so far this year in limiting big plays, currently ranking 13th in IsoPPP on defense and really clamping down on the passing game. If they can limit Francois with two-deep coverages while also denying Cook the space to accelerate, then they'll stand a good chance of matching Louisville's success in slowing the Florida State offense.

The Hurricanes offense has seen similar success on the ground as the Seminoles, with running backs Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby both averaging more than 7 yards per carry with 13 touchdowns between the two of them. Quarterback Brad Kaaya has been punishing teams on play-action as a result and is averaging 9.84 yards per pass attempt.

The Seminoles defense has really struggled this year fitting the run up front and losing multiple starters, including star safety Derwin James, who was one of the better defenders in the country. Florida State has been giving up big plays pretty regularly and is basically vulnerable to any kind of effective offense, much less the kind of balanced attack Miami runs that can overstress a defense by combining the run and pass.

If Florida State can't pull this game out on the road, it will be out of the hunt in the ACC and at risk of a pretty weak finish to a year in which it had playoff aspirations.

Watch for:

  • Can Florida State get its mismatched defensive unit on the same page in a road environment?
  • How does Miami handle the stress of limiting Francois' deep throws while also keeping Dalvin Cook corralled?
  • Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya has a chance to join the Heisman discussion, if not improve his draft stats.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Miami

S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 6

Favorite Spread Underdog S&P Pick S&P Pick against the spread
Oklahoma 10.5 Texas Oklahoma Oklahoma
at Ohio State 29 Indiana Ohio State Ohio State
at Texas A&M 7 Tennessee Texas A&M Texas A&M
Alabama 14 at Arkansas Alabama Alabama
Washington 8 at Oregon Washington Washington
at Miami 3 Florida State Miami Miami

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

S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 9-21

Posted by: Ian Boyd on 06 Oct 2016

3 comments, Last at 14 Nov 2016, 7:09am by Wright8

Comments

1
by Will :: Thu, 10/06/2016 - 5:40pm

Ohio State has been playing a lot of cover 1 man this season, so I'm not sure it's fair to call them a press quarters defense anymore. The abundance of cover 1 man is what drove the Oklahoma backup QB to call the defense basic - the scheme is about as basic as you can get. They just try to out athlete you. The corners have been very good and Malik Hooker has been amazing at safety which is allowing the coverage to work despite a less than elite pass rush.

Will

2
by IrishBarrister :: Thu, 10/06/2016 - 6:29pm

"The biggest proving ground in this game will be the Huskies' 2-4-5 nickel defense going up against Oregon's spread-option attack."

Definitely. I think one of two things are likely to happen. Either A, Petersen's defense comes out in a press-quarters package that they've previously never used regularly and does a decent job of shutting down Oregon. Or B, Petersen's defense struggles to stop Oregon in its 2-4-5 Cover 3 package because the Ducks excel at hammering the OLBs and safeties when facing this scheme, but the Huskies defense generates enough negative plays and turnovers to put their team in position to win.

(Implicitly what I'm saying here is that I find it very unlikely that Oregon's offense or Washington's defense will dominate in this game. It's going to be a tough fight between these two units.)

3
by Wright8 :: Mon, 11/14/2016 - 7:09am

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