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27 Oct 2016

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 9

by Ian Boyd

The biggest story of Week 8 in college football was unquestionably Ohio State's defeat in State College against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The parallels from 2014 to 2016 have always been stark with Ohio State, which once again has a young offense led by quarterback J.T. Barrett paired with a young and athletic defense. Like in 2014, the Buckeyes were building some momentum over the course of the year but had to get through a tough road challenge against Penn State.

In 2014, Barrett struggled to throw against the Nittany Lions' defense and the game went into overtime, where the Buckeyes pulled out a 31-24 victory. In 2016 Ohio State succumbed to a 17-point fourth quarter from Penn State and went down 24-21.

That puts Michigan in the driver's seat for the Big 10 title, but the Wolverines still have to travel to East Lansing and finally take down Michigan State, then conclude their season in Columbus against the Buckeyes.

Elsewhere around the country Alabama firmly asserted itself as the dominant team in the SEC with a 33-14 thumping of Texas A&M. Oklahoma survived a scare at Texas Tech in which Red Raiders quarterback Pat Mahomes threw for 734 yards. And Wisconsin and Nebraska both did what they needed to do to make their Week 9 showdown a meaningful one.

Now we're looking at a rivalry week with several games taking place that could have big time implications for the conference title and playoff races.

All times are listed as Eastern.

West Virginia (-3.5) at Oklahoma State -- 12 p.m. (FOX)

Overall West Virginia Oklahoma State
F/+ 15 44
When West Virginia has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 34 60
S&P+ 17 81
IsoPPP+ 49 107
Rushing S&P+ 62 82
Passing S&P+ 37 104
When Oklahoma State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 12 55
S&P+ 33 22
IsoPPP+ 28 40
Rushing S&P+ 36 85
Passing S&P+ 20 38

The Big 12 has been fairly down in 2016, which hasn't really been surprising, but West Virginia has seized the opportunity to surge to the top of the standings, and that has been a shock. The Mountaineers are coming off victories against Texas Tech and TCU in which they held productive quarterbacks Pat Mahomes and Kenny Hill to 6.9 and 4.8 yards per pass respectively.

The Mountaineers have unlocked a strategy for dealing with the stresses of defending explosive, up-tempo, spread offenses in the Big 12. That strategy has been to alternate between dropping eight defenders into coverage and filling all the passing windows or else bringing six or seven defenders on the blitz while playing with zero deep safeties. Big 12 offenses have struggled to adjust to this "all or nothing" strategy, and to beat the Mountaineers corner tandem of Rasul Douglas and Maurice Fleming.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers have their own explosive offense, led by scrappy senior quarterback Skyler Howard, who has 1,821 passing yards and 200 rushing yards. West Virginia has veterans along the offensive line and a deep cast of skill talent, with three receivers at 300 yards or more and two running backs at 300 or more.

Oklahoma State has struggled to lock down good Big 12 offenses this year due to a lack of elite playmakers on its own defense, but it's a sound unit that can confuse opponents at times. The Cowboys' plan from week to week is basically to win games via the arm of quarterback Mason Rudolph, who is averaging 8.9 yards per attempt on the year with 14 touchdown passes to only two interceptions. The Cowboys have also found a running game with freshman running back Justice Hill (565 rushing yards).

If Rudolph can figure out West Virginia's blitz/prevent combinations, then Oklahoma State has a chance to beat just about anyone in the league playing in front of its home crowd. If not, West Virginia will continue to share the top spot in the standings with Oklahoma and Baylor, both of whom have to travel to Morgantown this season.

Watch for:

  • Can Oklahoma State protect Mason Rudolph well enough to allow him to figure out West Virginia's defense?
  • West Virginia's biggest weakness is off-tackle runs -- can the Cowboys capitalize?
  • Which wideout hauls in more deep catches -- West Virginia's Shelton Gibson or Oklahoma State's James Washington?
  • This is likely to be an exciting shootout if the Cowboys can hold up their end of the deal.

S&P+ Outright Pick: West Virginia

Michigan (-24.5) at Michigan State -- 12 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Michigan Michigan State
F/+ 1 75
When Michigan has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 74 116
S&P+ 19 74
IsoPPP+ 10 97
Rushing S&P+ 21 80
Passing S&P+ 14 113
When Michigan State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 5 46
S&P+ 1 83
IsoPPP+ 1 44
Rushing S&P+ 1 71
Passing S&P+ 1 42

On paper this contest is a no-brainer: Michigan should find it relatively easy to blow Michigan State away, even playing on the road in East Lansing. The Spartans have really struggled this season with the running game, failing to give their inexperienced quarterbacks something to lean on, and their normally stalwart defense is collapsing under injuries and opposing adjustments.

Michigan seemed to have more advantages last year as well though, and that game went upside down for them thanks to that fateful fumbled punt snap. Looking back, Michigan won this game six times in a row from 2002 to 2007 before Michigan State went 7-1 from 2008 to 2015, with the single loss a 12-10 defeat in 2012. It would seem as though the pendulum is about to swing back to the Wolverines, but that hasn't happened yet.

The Spartans say their starting quarterback will be a gametime decision -- it will either be veteran Tyler O'Connor or freshman Brian Lewerke. O'Connor is basically a more limited version of his pocket passing predecessor Connor Cook, while Lewerke is a running quarterback who is still learning to execute the Spartan passing game. It's not improbable that the Spartans will rotate both players and try to keep the Wolverines defense off balance, much like they did when Cook was out against Ohio State in 2015.

The biggest issue in this series for Michigan has been dealing with the aggressive Spartans defense, which is designed to stuff run-heavy attacks like Michigan's and also mixes in some unique zone blitzes that have bewildered previous Wolverines quarterbacks. The Spartans may be beat up on defense, but if you don't think their players will be ready to play fast and aggressive against Michigan then you're gravely mistaken. The question is whether Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has worked out ways to counter the Spartans' aggressive tactics.

Watch for:

  • Can Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight navigate the Michigan State blitz package?
  • Will the Spartans be healthy enough up front on defense to attack the Michigan run game like they usually do?
  • How healthy are the Michigan State safeties, and can they handle Michigan tight end Jake Butt on routes up the seams?
  • Special teams went horribly wrong for Michigan last year, but could be a major strength in this game thanks to explosive return man Jabrill Peppers.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Michigan

Washington (-10) at Utah -- 3:30 p.m. (FS1)

Overall Washington Utah
F/+ 6 36
When Washington has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 5 42
S&P+ 4 38
IsoPPP+ 2 62
Rushing S&P+ 17 35
Passing S&P+ 3 65
When Utah has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 10 71
S&P+ 9 64
IsoPPP+ 6 75
Rushing S&P+ 16 60
Passing S&P+ 10 74

Washington has begun to dominate the Pac-12, with North division rivals Stanford and Oregon already safely dispatched by scores of 44-6 and 70-21. The Huskies' path to a Pac-12 title and playoff berth was getting clearer every day, but last Saturday the picture got just a little bit cloudier.

Utah running back Joe Williams, in his second week back from injury, ran over the UCLA defense with 332 yards and four touchdowns on just 29 carries. With a feature back to lean on, the Utes' strategy of playing field position and relying on the running game and defense really starts to come together. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham's main strategy at Utah has been to shorten games and win low-scoring battles, where his aggressive defense can generate turnovers or short fields that allow his run-heavy, ball-control offenses to capitalize with points.

Washington is clearly the superior football team, but when a game is shortened and there are fewer possessions to go around, there's always the risk of being out-executed by a solid squad like the Utes. The Huskies will need to keep Williams from controlling the tempo of the game with steady gains on first downs.

They'll also need to score points and put pressure on a Utah team that is used to scoring in the 20s or 30s and isn't designed to keep up in a shootout if the Huskies unload a 40-plus-point torrent like they did against Oregon or Stanford. Washington faced a similar defense last week from the Oregon State Beavers and was able to drop 41 points on them while throwing for 9.7 yards per pass against a pressuring defense.

If Utah can't get pressure on Washington quarterback Jake Browning, then it won't be able to shorten the game or impact field position and opportunities with turnovers. Overall Utah is going to have to show the Huskies something they haven't seen yet, or else the most likely outcome is that it'll just be another Pac-12 chew toy for this surging team.

Watch for:

  • Both teams want to run the ball on standard downs -- can both of them do so or will one pull away here?
  • Utah often steals a ton of yardage via its punt game, which adds up over the course of 60 minutes.
  • Can the Utes' blitzes rattle Washington quarterback Jake Browning?

S&P Outright Pick: Washington

Florida -7.5 vs. Georgia at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Florida -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Florida Georgia
F/+ 11 72
When Florida has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 63 58
S&P+ 57 39
IsoPPP+ 67 66
Rushing S&P+ 91 28
Passing S&P+ 58 93
When Georgia has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 6 74
S&P+ 3 89
IsoPPP+ 9 92
Rushing S&P+ 12 110
Passing S&P+ 7 77

Despite a run game that is still pretty fearsome and a run defense that's still tough, Georgia has had some major struggles this year. The problems all came to a head when it lost a game against Vanderbilt in which it had 421 yards to the Commodores' 171, but only 16 points to show for it while Vanderbilt finished with 17.

The problem areas included special teams (where Vanderbilt gained considerable advantages from its punting game and a 95-yard kick return) and on offense (where Vanderbilt successfully shut down the Bulldogs run game and forced freshman quarterback Jacob Eason to try and beat them by throwing the ball 40 times).

Eason avoided turnovers and managed 8.65 yards per pass and a touchdown, but the Georgia offense simply isn't designed to move the ball and score without leaning on its run game. Against Florida, that will be a tall order, as the Gators have one of the best defenses in the entire country. Gators defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has enough resources to slow the Bulldogs run game and still cause problems for Eason in the passing game, particularly if he can force passing downs.

The Gators have quarterback problems of their own, though. It sounds as though Luke Del Rio will stay in a starting role in this game after a three-interception performance in his last outing. Head coach Jim McElwain has not struggled at all to find playmakers on the roster he inherited, nor has he struggled to manufacture a run game that can stay ahead of the chains, but finding a top-flight quarterback to make his system take off still lies ahead in the future. In the meantime, that could make Florida vulnerable if the Bulldogs can stop the run and force Del Rio into uncomfortable situations on passing downs.

But here's where Georgia has been weak this year, ranking only 80th in the country in defending said passing downs. The Bulldogs' inability to disrupt and attack quarterbacks like Del Rio is the main reason for their struggles and a major reason why Florida is the likely winner.

Watch for:

  • Florida's exotic third-down defenses that will come up if it can stop the run on standard downs.
  • Can the Gators punish the weak Georgia pass defense with quarterback Luke Del Rio at the helm?
  • Jacob Eason is getting a little better and more comfortable every week -- if he takes another step forward against Florida then Georgia will have a chance.

S&P Outright Pick: Florida

Nebraska at Wisconsin (-9) -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Nebraska Wisconsin
F/+ 21 9
When Nebraska has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 40 2
S&P+ 34 5
IsoPPP+ 61 3
Rushing S&P+ 87 5
Passing S&P+ 22 11
When Wisconsin has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 24 39
S&P+ 22 65
IsoPPP+ 40 18
Rushing S&P+ 60 15
Passing S&P+ 34 6

Wisconsin has really started to put things together in recent weeks, with redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook playing well enough to allow its offense to feed running back Corey Clement more often and more effectively. Clement has amassed 60 combined carries for 298 rushing yards in the last two weeks, and the Wisconsin offensive line is starting to look like a traditional Badgers blocking unit.

The Badgers dispatched 2015's Big 10 West division champion Iowa Hawkeyes 17-9 last Saturday, while Nebraska continued to take care of business with a win over Purdue. Now they meet in Madison, with the winner sitting in excellent position to win the Big 10 West and play for the conference title game in December.

Currently Wisconsin is 2-2 in Big 10 play, but its remaining schedule includes Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota -- all teams that the Badgers will be heavily favored to beat. Nebraska is still undefeated in Big 10 play, but if it drops this game against Wisconsin and any other conference game this season, then it will lose the head to head tie-breaker. With road trips to Columbus in Week 9 and Iowa in late November, Wisconsin can't afford to give up its head-to-head advantage over Wisconsin.

Nebraska is hoping that the return of top receiver Jordan Westerkramp combined with improved health from quarterback Tommy Armstrong and the offensive line will allow the Cornhuskers to put up points on this fantastic Wisconsin defense. The challenge opposing teams have had this year is handling the Badgers front, which includes top linebackers Jack Cichy and T.J. Watt. Even when opponents have managed to get the ball past the front, Badgers safety Leo Musso makes a habit of erasing any big plays with open-field tackles. The Cornhuskers will need to move Westerkramp around and find advantages in the passing game, and also probably lean on Armstrong and the running game, in order to make headway against this defense.

On the other side of the ball, the Cornhuskers have been OK against the run this year, but are playing good pass defense. They will probably play some "bend don't break" strategies against Wisconsin and hope to prevent touchdowns, much as Ohio State did against the Badgers two weeks ago. If they can keep the game close, Armstrong could give them the edge late against young Alex Hornibrook.

Watch for:

  • Can Nebraska make any headway against the Wisconsin defense, or will it be overmatched?
  • Does Wisconsin finish drives with touchdowns or field goals? Tommy Armstrong can always lead the Cornhuskers on a comeback if they aren't put down hard early in the game.
  • Who's the healthier, fresher team, with Nebraska coming off a bye week to nurse injuries while Wisconsin has played a tough slate?

S&P Outright Pick: Wisconsin

Clemson (-4) at Florida State -- 8 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Clemson Florida State
F/+ 3 19
When Clemson has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 22 70
S&P+ 24 46
IsoPPP+ 17 21
Rushing S&P+ 39 29
Passing S&P+ 5 25
When Florida State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 4 16
S&P+ 2 8
IsoPPP+ 8 6
Rushing S&P+ 13 14
Passing S&P+ 3 8

Early in the year, this game was anticipated to have potential national championship implications for both teams and was circled on every calendar. After the Seminoles were rocked by injuries, blasted by Louisville, and dropped a home game against North Carolina, some of that fervor died down. However, even if Florida State is out of the running, it has a lot to play for, including the chance to play spoiler to undefeated Clemson.

The Seminoles have been putting together some excellent offensive games, and if not for three fumbles against Wake Forest would likely have put the Demon Deacons down in a forceful blowout. Freshman quarterback Deondre Francois is looking pretty comfortable in Jimbo Fisher's passing game, and running back Dalvin Cook (who ran for 194 yards on Clemson a year ago) is already at 900 yards rushing on the year.

Clemson tends to address explosive offenses by pressuring them relentlessly, and aggression is pretty much the patented approach of defensive coordinator Brent Venables. The Tigers used a wide array of blitzes to check Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson and try to force him to play in the middle of the field rather on the edges. They will likely blitz Francois aggressively as well, and with less concern about containment since his running skills are not the same as Jackson's.

Venables' approach a year ago was to keep Cook corralled between the tackles as well, which went fairly well save for a few long runs, including an early 75-yard touchdown. Cook running the ball or catching it on slip screens or checkdowns is the simplest and best way to bust Clemson's pressure package.

The Clemson offense had been picking up before it struggled against North Carolina State, but perhaps the Tigers were looking ahead to this game in Tallahassee. They got slot receiver Hunter Renfrow back against the Wolfpack, and he caught six balls for 53 yards in that game. His presence in the slot makes Deshaun Watson and their quick passing game even more dangerous than it already was. The Tigers have five different players with at least 200 receiving yards without including Renfrow, and their ability to spread opponents out and attack them with the passing game or Watson's legs takes this offense to another level.

Unfortunately Florida State star safety Derwin James is still out with a knee injury, but the Seminoles have started to lock things down on defense in recent weeks. If the Seminoles can avoid allowing Watson to run wild on the edges of their defense like Lamar Jackson did, they will have a chance to cover up the Tigers' quick passing game with their own athletic defensive backfield.

Watch for:

  • Can the Clemson defense keep Dalvin Cook under wraps, or does he get loose for crucial, big plays?
  • How well does Deondre Francois handle the Clemson blitz packages?
  • Was Clemson looking ahead last week, or did North Carolina State expose weaknesses that Florida State can pounce on?
  • Can Florida State keep tabs on Deshaun Watson, or does he get loose on the ground as he did last year in a 107-yard rushing day?

S&P+ Outright Pick: Clemson

S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 9

Favorite Spread Underdog S&P Pick S&P Pick against the spread
West Virginia 3.5 Oklahoma State West Virginia West Virginia
Michigan 24.5 Michigan State Michigan Michigan
Washington 10 Utah Washington Washington
Florida 7.5 Georgia Florida Florida
Wisconsin 9 Nebraska Wisconsin Nebraska
Clemson 4 Florida State Clemson Clemson

S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 3-3

S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 16-32

Posted by: Ian Boyd on 27 Oct 2016

5 comments, Last at 03 Nov 2016, 2:01pm by ekshi

Comments

1
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 10/27/2016 - 3:18pm

A #1 ranked U-M's record against <.500 MSU teams is not stellar.

3
by LionInAZ :: Thu, 10/27/2016 - 9:47pm

Calling them 24.5 points favorites is a sucker bet no matter what. All of you gambling suckers deserve what ever happens.

2
by Anger...rising :: Thu, 10/27/2016 - 5:06pm

The Clemson offense had been picking up before it struggled against North Carolina State ... Was Clemson looking ahead last week, or did North Carolina State expose weaknesses that Florida State can pounce on?

In 10 regulation possessions, Clemson had two touchdowns, a field goal, turned the ball over on downs inside the one, fumbled inside the one on first and goal, fumbled at the end of a completion that would've set up first and goal, and fumbled at the end of a completion that would've given it a first down inside NC State's 30. I doubt FSU learned anything from the "let Clemson march down the field and pray it drops the ball as it approaches the goal line" blue print the Wolfpack laid out.

4
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 10/28/2016 - 11:54am

Except they did it against Auburn and Troy, too.

5
by ekshi :: Thu, 11/03/2016 - 2:01pm

Was Clemson looking ahead last week, or did North Carolina State expose weaknesses that Florida State can pounce on http://www.gudtechtricks.com/2014/09/how-to-download-install-android-4.4... thank you nice