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» Audibles at the Line: Week 7

Three shutouts in one day, and the worst defense in the league nearly makes it four. Tennessee survives overtime against Cleveland. Chicago completes four passes and wins. Not much was clear on this very weird day in a very weird season.

12 Oct 2017

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 7

by Ian Boyd

We're getting into the big conference showdowns this week, with some big rivalry games and contests that will have major ramifications for the league title races. Week 6 was pretty eventful, with some big shakeups and blows delivered. Washington State took advantage of Oregon's quarterback situation to stay in the lead in the Pac-12 North. North Carolina State took down Louisville at home. Miami dealt Florida State a third loss to reshape the ACC standings. And Michigan State probably ruined Michigan's season with a 17-14 victory in the Big House in Ann Arbor.

This week we have several important Big 12 games, including a big test for the Oklahoma Sooners, who have looked very pedestrian facing spread offenses and now have to deal with another one against a surging Texas team in the Cotton Bowl. Auburn and LSU will duke it out for the rights to be considered the No. 1 contender in the SEC West. Then we also have a fun late-night game between Boise State and nationally ranked San Diego State for the right to be considered THE team in the Mountain West Conference.

All times are listed as Eastern.

TCU (-5.5) at Kansas State -- 12 p.m. (FS1)

Overall TCU Kansas State
2017 S&P+ 14 31
When TCU has the ball Offense Defense
2017 S&P+ 9 53
2016 S&P+ 45 43
2016 FEI 82 34
2016 IsoPPP+ 69 45
2016 Rushing S&P+ 40 29
2016 Passing S&P+ 83 62
When Kansas State has the ball Defense Offense
2017 S&P+ 29 34
2016 S&P+ 51 43
2016 FEI 27 45
2016 IsoPPP+ 40 77
2016 Rushing S&P+ 64 25
2016 Passing S&P+ 22 99

TCU and Texas have improbably risen to the top of the Big 12 standings after the main favorites Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State all dropped early conference games. In the case of Oklahoma State and Kansas State, those losses occurred against TCU and Texas. The Horned Frogs put together a very impressive performance on the road against Oklahoma State two weeks ago, running the ball for more than 200 yards and limiting the explosive Oklahoma State offense.

Then the Frogs took down West Virginia in a narrow victory, repeating their earlier trick of forcing turnovers while running effectively and protecting the football. TCU is plus-four in turnover margin on the year, but plus-five in Big 12 action thanks to careful play by senior quarterback Kenny Hill and an experienced secondary that has led a defense with seven interceptions thus far on the year.

The Frogs are built around speed and have a tiny wide receiver corps with multiple guys under 6 feet tall and all well under 200 pounds. They like to spread the field and throw quick routes underneath to speedsters like Kavontae Turpin or freshman Jalen Reagor. This gets teams to widen out so running back Darius Anderson can carry the ball behind a veteran line. Hill gets involved in the run game some, but Anderson is the main workhorse with 465 rushing yards, and he's a burner as well.

The TCU defense is also built around a speedy 4-2-5 defense with a small trio of safeties, all under 200 pounds, along with a pair of starting linebackers that go 213 and 215 pounds. Even the defensive line is undersized, with starting defensive ends that check in at 245 and 240. They play to keep the ball in front of them, but then swarm with numbers and speed.

Kansas State plays things rather differently, regularly fielding a blocking tight end and a big, bruising fullback in order to pave a way for their quarterback on power runs or to run the option. Against Texas, their starting quarterback Jesse Ertz was dealing with injury, so they mixed in some passes on play-action and option plays that burned the Longhorns early before Ertz had to leave the game. Then his speedy backup Alex Delton came in and ran for 79 yards to keep the Wildcats in the game and force overtime.

The Kansas State defense is similar to TCU's, relying on a 4-2-5 structure that tries to keep the ball in front of them and then close. They've been very solid this year thanks to a strong cornerback tandem and a stout defensive line led by senior nose tackle Will Geary. However, the Wildcats have lacked a pass rush from their defensive ends and aren't much of a blitzing team.

Styles make fights, and watching Kansas State's power run game against TCU's undersized defense should be a compelling matchup. The Wildcats ran all over the Frogs a year ago in a 30-6 blowout. Meanwhile, the Kansas State defense may similarly struggle to keep tabs on the TCU run game while minding all of their speedy receivers. This could be another shootout where TCU needs a favorable turnover margin to pull out a victory and stay atop of the standings.

Watch for:

  • Who plays quarterback for Kansas State?
  • Can Kenny Hill find running room against Kansas State's defense like Texas' quarterback did?
  • Which team protects the football best?
  • How does TCU's undersized defense hold up against Kansas State's power run game?

S&P+ Outright Pick: TCU

Auburn (-7) at LSU -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Auburn LSU
2017 S&P+ 9 25
When Auburn has the ball Offense Defense
2017 S&P+ 36 15
2016 S&P+ 31 3
2016 FEI 32 4
2016 IsoPPP+ 49 3
2016 Rushing S&P+ 27 3
2016 Passing S&P+ 43 3
When LSU has the ball Defense Offense
2017 S&P+ 7 44
2016 S&P+ 9 22
2016 FEI 14 31
2016 IsoPPP+ 17 13
2016 Rushing S&P+ 14 6
2016 Passing S&P+ 31 32

The LSU Tigers have really been struggling on offense this season. They really only have one truly effective offensive concept, which is the jet sweep attached to one of their zone runs for lead back Derrius Guice or backup Darrel Williams. Even run effectively, though, as it was against Florida, it doesn't tend to put a lot of points on the board. The LSU defense has been solid this season, but has taken a step back from 2016, and understandably so given that they lost five starters to the NFL. Their younger team has taken some licks, and presumed star pass-rusher Arden Key has gotten off to a particularly slow start. Key missed some time in the spring for personal reasons, and head coach Ed Orgeron recently said that he's only now down to his target weight of 255 pounds after playing much of the early season at 270. The missing explosiveness has been evident in his slowed pass rush this year. There's a lot of problems occurring for LSU right now, and they needed that win over Florida very badly.

Meanwhile, Auburn has been trending up since their loss to Clemson early in the year, and quarterback Jarrett Stidham had another highly efficient day last time out against Ole Miss, throwing for 11 yards per pass taking shots off the threat of the War Eagles running game. Lead running back Kerryon Johnson has 504 rushing yards on the year at 5.9 yards per carry. One of his backups, sophomore Kam Martin, has been exciting this year, averaging 8.1 yards per carry as a change-of-pace back. If they can establish the run against LSU's young defense, then Stidham could continue his hot pace, particularly against a diminished LSU pass rush.

The Auburn defense has been consistently excellent this season. It may find the LSU offense rather simple after shutting down spread-option attacks from Clemson and Mississippi State earlier in the year. The key is still stopping the main zone runs to Guice and Williams, surviving the sweeps, and then teeing off on the young offensive line on passing downs with disguised blitzes. The Tigers are overall a bit young and incomplete in their new offensive scheme, which makes manufacturing points every week against SEC competition a hard task. If Auburn can take down LSU, they will be firmly established as the contender to Alabama within the SEC West division.

Watch for:

  • Can LSU get Derrius Guice rolling against Auburn's tough defensive front?
  • Is Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham and this passing game for real? LSU can test them.
  • Will LSU finally get pass-rusher Arden Key going, or is he no longer a featured component in their defense?
  • Does Auburn have enough talent to compete with Alabama?.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Auburn

Georgia Tech at Miami (-6) -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Georgia Tech Miami
2017 S&P+ 23 11
When Georgia Tech has the ball Offense Defense
2017 S&P+ 32 17
2016 S&P+ 44 13
2016 FEI 21 13
2016 IsoPPP+ 14 6
2016 Rushing S&P+ 17 24
2016 Passing S&P+ 10 7
When Miami has the ball Defense Offense
2017 S&P+ 26 16
2016 S&P+ 57 34
2016 FEI 94 50
2016 IsoPPP+ 67 25
2016 Rushing S&P+ 100 71
2016 Passing S&P+ 75 35

Miami slogged through a tough win against the reeling Florida State Seminoles and now has a chance to sit in pole position in the ACC Coastal Division if they can win on the road against Georgia Tech. The Hurricanes have been playing good defense and were able to force a couple of Florida State turnovers, once to rob the Seminoles of points before the half and then on the 'Noles side of the field to set up a key touchdown.

With Malik Rosier regularly involving himself in the run game and launching consecutive touchdown drives to end the game, Miami now has some momentum and confidence heading into this contest. They're up against a surprisingly stiff challenge, though, from a Georgia Tech defense that is much improved from a year ago. The Yellow Jackets have a lot of experience in their secondary, which generally makes for a sound and difficult college defense, although they struggled to contain star Tennessee running back John Kelly in Week 1.

Miami lost starting running back Mark Walton for the year against Florida State and will now be turning to sophomore Travis Homer, who had some big runs late in the comeback against the Seminoles. He's an explosive back on whom Georgia Tech will have to keep careful tabs while dealing with Miami's spread sets and running threat quarterback.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech's main reason for taking off this season has been plugging in junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound speedster has led the Yellow Jackets in rushing this season with 523 yards. In Football Outsiders Almanac 2017, it was noted that Georgia Tech typically only reaches their ceiling in Paul Johnson's flexbone, triple-option offense when they have an explosive quarterback at the helm that can run for a thousand yards or more. They seem to have that with the ultra-elusive Marshall at the helm.

Miami has a good linebacker corps and will probably play their safeties back and hope to play "bend don't break" so that the inevitable yardage Georgia Tech finds in their option game isn't enough to kill them. But if Marshall gets loose for a big day at home, this could be a shootout that Miami struggles to keep up in.

Watch for:

  • How will Miami handle the triple option the week after a marquee matchup?
  • Taquon Marshall, Georgia Tech's speedster quarterback.
  • Can Georgia Tech's defense corral Miami's two-headed rushing attack?

S&P+ Outright Pick: Miami

Texas vs Oklahoma (-7.5) at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Texas Oklahoma
2017 S&P+ 29 8
When Texas has the ball Offense Defense
2017 S&P+ 41 64
2016 S&P+ 30 55
2016 FEI 85 53
2016 IsoPPP+ 71 58
2016 Rushing S&P+ 59 50
2016 Passing S&P+ 67 39
When Oklahoma has the ball Defense Offense
2017 S&P+ 30 1
2016 S&P+ 60 1
2016 FEI 45 2
2016 IsoPPP+ 29 1
2016 Rushing S&P+ 41 14
2016 Passing S&P+ 38 1

The last few games may have exposed Oklahoma as lacking a defense that can lock down the spread offenses that litter the landscape in the Big 12. The Sooners shut down Ohio State in their huge early-season win in Ohio Stadium, but the Buckeyes are basically an option team that struggles to throw the ball in spread passing sets. The Sooners looked bad against the Baylor Bears and Iowa State Cyclones, giving up nearly 400 passing yards in each contest while barely getting out with a win over Baylor and then losing at home to Iowa State.

Meanwhile, the Texas Longhorns have now firmly established an identity as a spread team that combines four-wide receiver formations and passing-heavy play calls with 6-foot-1, 225-pound, dual-threat freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger. They handed Ehlinger the keys to the offense against USC when starter Shane Buechele went down, and Ehlinger responded with 298 passing yards and a fourth-quarter comeback that took the Trojans to double-overtime. After another Buechele injury against Iowa State, Ehlinger took over again last weekend against Kansas State and threw for 380 passing yards while adding 100 more on the ground in another double-overtime contest, this one ending in victory. He's now the starter for a team with a clear identity, and that identity is more or less the one that has exposed the Oklahoma defense this season.

On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma's Heisman-contending quarterback Baker Mayfield has had a brilliant season despite leading an offensive with fewer playmakers than a year ago. The Sooners have particularly missed Mayfield's fellow Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook and have had to lean on freshman Ceedee Lamb as their main outside receiver. Lamb hurt his shoulder against Iowa State, but is expected back for this game.

The Texas defense has been putting together a strong resume after an initially catastrophic beginning to the season against Maryland. They were able to mostly shut down USC before having some struggles against Kansas State and their spread-option tactics. The Longhorns will look to shut down the Oklahoma run game early and make this game a contest with defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and his creative blitzes featuring star linebacker Malik Jefferson on one side, and Baker Mayfield's incredible knack for evading pressure and creating offense with improvisation on the other. This is a heavyweight bout worth tuning in for in its own right. The fact that Texas' offense may be able to keep them in the game so as to add drama to the battle between their defense and Baker Mayfield just makes this one of the more intriguing Red River Rivalry games of the decade.

Watch for:

  • How will Texas freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger handle the atmosphere of the Red River Rivalry?
  • Can Oklahoma run the ball on Texas' aggressive, pressuring defense? Can Texas get to Baker Mayfield?
  • How will Oklahoma's defense handle to Texas' surging spread offense?
  • How healthy are key Sooners skill players like wide receiver Ceedee Lamb or star safety Steven Parker?

S&P Outright Pick: Oklahoma

Utah at USC (-12.5) -- 8 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Utah USC
2017 S&P+ 30 16
When Utah has the ball Offense Defense
2017 S&P+ 55 20
2016 S&P+ 57 20
2016 FEI 73 37
2016 IsoPPP+ 65 15
2016 Rushing S&P+ 46 17
2016 Passing S&P+ 79 13
When USC has the ball Defense Offense
2017 S&P+ 27 18
2016 S&P+ 38 11
2016 FEI 33 22
2016 IsoPPP+ 33 6
2016 Rushing S&P+ 46 15
2016 Passing S&P+ 28 3

USC's big breakout season never seems to be fully realized, and this year the issue has been injuries. The Trojans were already replacing a pair of senior offensive tackles after last season, along with most of their top receivers, and have struggled to rebuild their offensive line while also taking injuries to nearly every position over the course of the year. Quarterback Sam Darnold has struggled with the inconsistent blocking, young crop of receivers, and perhaps the pressure of carrying the program and contending for a Playoff berth and a Heisman trophy.

Now the Trojans' hastily rebuilt offensive line has to go up against Utah, which is typically very stout up front, but has not been getting to the quarterback this year like they have in the past. The 2017 Utes defense has depended more on their defensive backfield, which is loaded with playmakers. The team already has nine interceptions on the year, while linebackers Kavika Laufatasaga and Sunia Tauteoli have led the team in tackles. The Utes regularly play a single deep safety while dropping down strong safety Chase Hansen, a big, 220-pound defender tied for third on the team in tackles. They're going to load the box on USC and dare the Trojans to abandon the run and beat their defenders playing in man coverage.

USC doesn't like to abandon the run game, which alone makes this an interesting matchup. The Trojans may be weary of allowing the Utes to bring pressure all day and dictate the game's flow by encouraging the Trojans to be one-dimensional. Technically, that's a matchup the Trojans could thrive in, having Darnold drop back 40 times or so and throwing to an improving group of receivers, but their question marks along the offensive line make it a shakier proposition.

The Utes have their own issues on offense, largely as a result of their injury situation at quarterback. Tyler Huntley is the best man for the job, combining brilliant running with a better mastery of the spread passing attack than senior Troy Williams. However, he's injured and seems very questionable to be available for this game. Williams has struggled playing behind the Utes' inconsistent protection and doesn't offer near the same dynamics as a runner that Huntley brings to the table. Even if they can play USC close. it's likely that Darnold will be able to make the crucial plays to bring USC the win and put them in the driver's seat for the Pac-12 South.

Watch for:

  • How will USC's beat-up offensive line handle Utah's pass rush?
  • Is USC starting to find more receivers to allow Sam Darnold to dominate like in 2016?
  • Who will play quarterback for the Utes, and can they get the spread passing game going?

S&P Outright Pick: USC

Boise State at San Diego State (-7) -- 10:15 p.m. (FS1)

Overall Boise State San Diego State
2017 S&P+ 39 51
When Boise State has the ball Offense Defense
2017 S&P+ 71 43
2016 S&P+ 19 24
2016 FEI 26 26
2016 IsoPPP+ 26 16
2016 Rushing S&P+ 57 6
2016 Passing S&P+ 17 44
When San Diego State has the ball Defense Offense
2017 S&P+ 31 67
2016 S&P+ 39 70
2016 FEI 17 76
2016 IsoPPP+ 11 66
2016 Rushing S&P+ 13 64
2016 Passing S&P+ 30 78

It has been a tough year for Boise State, with losses in two of their big nonconference games against Virginia and Washington State leading into this major Mountain West showdown. The San Diego Aztecs are back-to-back Mountain West champions. Boise State's season will unravel in an awful hurry if they miss their chance to re-establish themselves as the premier brand in their own league.

Meanwhile, San Diego State has already defeated Stanford and have launched a Heisman campaign for running back Rashaad Penny, who's at 993 rushing yards with 6.9 per carry thus far on the year. Last season Penny ran for a thousand yards despite backing up the Aztecs' lead running back Donnel Pumphrey, who ran for two-thousand yards. The Aztecs have a thundering running game that provides the backbone of the program, along with their defense.

Boise State has played strong defense this season and has been effective at stopping opposing rushing attacks, but the Aztecs are a different and greater challenge than what the Broncos have faced elsewhere on the schedule. San Diego State plays old-fashioned offense, lining up with tight ends and fullbacks on the field and looking to physically impose their will at the line of scrimmage. The Boise State defense has been designed in recent years to stop spread offenses and features some smaller defenders at strongside linebacker or at safety then you'd see from defenses back in the day when stopping offenses like this was Job 1.

The Broncos have also struggled with their own running game, which is intended to be the basis for their offense. They started to get that going a week ago against BYU, and it'll be essential moving forward, as their pass protection and wide receiver corps have not been anywhere close to as strong as they were in 2016 when top receivers Thomas Sperbeck and Cedrick Wilson both had more than a thousand receiving yards on the year.

Watch for:

  • Can Boise State stop San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny?
  • Did Boise State fix its own run game against BYU?
  • Is San Diego State a nationally competitive team or will Boise State bring them back down?

S&P Outright Pick: Boise State

S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 3

Favorite Spread Underdog S&P Pick S&P Pick against the spread Ian's Pick against the spread
TCU 5.5 NC State TCU TCU Kansas State
Auburn 7 LSU Auburn Auburn Auburn
Miami 6 Georgia Tech Miami Miami Miami
Oklahoma 7.5 Texas Oklahoma Oklahoma Texas
USC 12.5 Utah USC USC Utah
San Diego State 7 Boise State Boise State Boise State Boise State

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

S&P+ Picks against the spread in 2017: 20-16

Ian Picks against the spread last week: 3-3

Ian Picks against the spread in 2017: 11-25

Posted by: Ian Boyd on 12 Oct 2017

4 comments, Last at 17 Oct 2017, 1:09am by smily

Comments

1
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Fri, 10/13/2017 - 9:58am

TCU finally gets covered this week. Of course, it appears they have to beat 2 opponents the same day

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The standard is the standard!

2
by dbostedo :: Fri, 10/13/2017 - 3:21pm

That's the boldest pick I've ever seen... I mean, to predict a team not even playing in the game?!? Stunning.

3
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Sat, 10/14/2017 - 9:37am

good thing you didn't try picking Clemson or Cal
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The standard is the standard!

4
by smily :: Tue, 10/17/2017 - 1:09am

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