by Ian Boyd
We got confirmation of the "Ian Book" effect in Week 5 when Notre Dame blasted Stanford 38-17 while Book produced 325 total yards and four touchdowns for the suddenly surging Fighting Irish offense. Notre Dame has another challenging contest this week that we'll break down, but they are looking increasingly like a playoff contender.
Ohio State barely survived on the road against Penn State, whose quarterback Trace McSorley lit them up for 175 rushing yards, mostly accumulated on draws and scrambles against the aggressive Buckeyes defense. Had they called for one of those on fourth-and-5 at the end of the game, the Nittany Lions may have won.
Clemson had some serious drama when Trevor Lawrence's promotion to starting quarterback led to Kelly Bryant transferring, leaving the Tigers to trust third-stringer Chase Brice to lead them to a comeback victory against Syracuse. He was able to do so, mostly by handing to Travis Etienne (203 rushing yards, three touchdowns), as Clemson survived another week.
The Florida Gators were another big story as they went into Starkville, Mississippi, and beat Mississippi State 13-6 behind great defense. Week 6 will feature the Gators in another big game hosting rival LSU and will also include the Red River Showdown rivalry game between 4-1 Texas and unbeaten Oklahoma.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Oklahoma (-8) vs Texas at The Cotton Bowl in Dallas -- 12 noon (FOX)
|Overall||Oklahoma||Texas||F/+||6||27||When Oklahoma has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||1||10||2017 S&P+||1||21||2017 IsoPPP+||1||9||2017 Rushing S&P+||1||10||2017 Passing S&P+||39||16||When Texas has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||62||80||2017 S&P+||96||99||2017 IsoPPP+||60||124||2017 Rushing S&P+||68||86||2017 Passing S&P+||33||98|
This game has been a single-possession contest for the last four years in a row, despite Oklahoma winning the Big 12 in three of those seasons while Texas had only a single winning record over that time. The 2017 game was a stunning contest that opened with the Sooners unsurprisingly building a 20-0 lead before the Longhorns stormed back and took over in the fourth quarter with 24 unanswered points. Then freshman Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger missed a few plays of a key drive undergoing concussion protocol after going down on the sideline and the offense stalled. Oklahoma scored a quick touchdown on a busted coverage and survived with a 29-24 victory.
The 2018 battle is going to be a major one. Oklahoma has yet to play a major game against a particularly stout opponent and will have plenty of tactics and focus stored up for this game, while all of Texas head coach Tom Herman's teams have been notorious for saving something extra for the big games.
Oklahoma's 2018 team has been defined by their team speed on both sides of the ball. Whereas last year's squad was breaking in new receivers and leaning on multi-year starters at quarterback (Baker Mayfield), tight end, fullback, and all five offensive line positions, this year's team is all about speed. They play a lot more of what I call "10.5 personnel," meaning that they play with three wide receivers and a tight end on most snaps, like an 11 personnel team, but their tight end is either 6-foot-4, 220-pound Grant Calcaterra or 6-foot-2, 212-pound Lee Morris, and they stay flexed out like receivers. Quarterback Kyler Murray gets most of the headlines; he has a contract to play baseball for the Oakland Athletics for $5 million after this season, and his athleticism and ability to run around and throw to receivers recalls fellow Air Raid quarterback Johnny Manziel.
The Sooners wideouts may be the strength of the team though. Marquise Brown has over 500 receiving yards and is a 165-pound blur in the slot while 6-foot-2 Ceedee Lamb is a magnet who has hauled in some amazing catches this season. Texas will likely match with their dime package on defense, a unit that helped them silence a similarly explosive TCU offense and which features blue chip athletes who run sub-4.6 in the 40 at multiple positions.
The less impressive matchup in this game is between Oklahoma's defense and the Texas offense. The Longhorns have been a plodding, ball-control unit this year leaning on a steady run game that doesn't produce many explosive or negative plays. The matchup between big receivers Lil'Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson and Oklahoma's relatively small secondary could be a key matchup in this game, but the Longhorns also have an extra gear they'll likely use to help them control the ball in this contest. Freshman running back Keaontay Ingram has had limited touches while battling injuries and building trust, but had 15 touches for 95 yards last week against Kansas State, while Ehlinger is a regular adjunct in the run game who could see his workload increase this week to something like 15 or 20 carries.
The Sooners are fast and athletic on defense with a blistering pressure package that has produced three sacks a game, but they've been prone to undisciplined play and shoddy tackling. The Sooners probably can't rely on their defense to hold up in a physical and emotional rivalry game in an atmosphere like this, but will have to trust their offense to simply outscore the Longhorns.
- Texas playing dime packages and trying to go mano a mano with the Sooners in a contest of speed and skill.
- Can Oklahoma stop the run against Texas when the Longhorns unleash their quarterback and young running back?
- Potential Heisman-candidate Kyler Murray, an explosive athlete.
- Rivalry game hits -- this one tends to get pretty physical.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Oklahoma
LSU (-2) at Florida -- 6 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||LSU||Florida||F/+||10||21||When LSU has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||38||13||2017 S&P+||42||54||2017 IsoPPP+||18||49||2017 Rushing S&P+||7||25||2017 Passing S&P+||16||29||When Florida has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||15||45||2017 S&P+||18||108||2017 IsoPPP+||20||100||2017 Rushing S&P+||24||57||2017 Passing S&P+||20||87|
It has been a struggle for much of the college football commentariat to get a good feel for either of these two teams. LSU opened with several victories despite playing Miami and then Auburn on the road, but they put up some less impressive offensive numbers while doing so before opening up the floodgates and blowing away a bad Ole Miss defense last week. The Tigers haven't been great in the run game, but Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow has allowed them to move the ball enough every week to come out ahead. Meanwhile, the LSU defense has been predictably great, with several returning starters from last year making a leap, most notably safety Grant Delpit, who has three sacks and two interceptions while playing a variety of roles in the scheme.
Florida has also been tricky for everyone to get a good feel for. Their defense and run game were made to look worse than was the case last year due to program turmoil that saw the coach fired at midseason combined with an impotent passing attack that hamstrung the offense. So far this season they've been like LSU, doing just enough on offense with returning quarterback Feleipe Franks throwing from spread sets while mixing in the run.
This game has the makings of being a classic LSU-Florida game, with a low score for most of the contest and then fourth-quarter shenanigans that swing the game wildly from one team to the other. Neither offense is going to be well-positioned to attack either defense, where each team has their strongest collection of talent and skill.
Florida tends to lean this season on getting the ball to some of their smaller, more explosive players like slot receiver Freddie Swain or hybrid Kadarius Toney. The Tigers tend to force the issue throwing the ball to a talented collection of receivers like Justin Jefferson. In a game where turnovers probably matter and explosive gains are hard to come by because of the speed of the defenses and the quality of the tackling, LSU probably has an edge.
- Which quarterback can make the big throws against man coverage?
- Can either team run the football in this game?
- Turnovers and field position -- neither team is likely to come out ahead without benefitting from those two factors.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Florida
Florida State at Miami (-12.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Florida State||Miami||F/+||66||17||When Florida State has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||109||26||2017 S&P+||76||22||2017 IsoPPP+||39||23||2017 Rushing S&P+||32||30||2017 Passing S&P+||30||31||When Miami has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||33||24||2017 S&P+||33||36||2017 IsoPPP+||15||12||2017 Rushing S&P+||26||22||2017 Passing S&P+||25||21|
Miami had a rough start to this season, getting blown out by LSU, but they've rebounded since and are now playing true freshman N'Kosi Perry at quarterback. Perry has thrown seven touchdowns to three interceptions thus far on the year and brought greater accuracy to the passing game without doing much to diminish the Hurricanes rushing attack with running backs Travis Homer and star sophomore Deejay Dallas.
The Canes defense has been pretty solid all year and is coming off a win in which they picked off North Carolina quarterback Chazz Surratt three times in 13 pass attempts. They'll likely be the key this week against rival Florida State. The Seminoles have been an absolute wreck on offense due to their slow development within a totally new system combined with the evisceration of their offensive line by injuries. The Noles have effectively been starting a second- or third-team line and it has led to starting quarterback Deondre Francois taking 12 sacks on the year while their run game has faltered.
Things were brighter last week against Louisville in a 28-24 win for the Seminoles, but their lead running back Cam Akers still managed only 42 rushing yards and victory depended on Francois throwing for 294 yards and four touchdowns. The matchup between this offensive line and the Hurricanes defensive line, and then in turn between Francois and the Turnover Chain secondary, portends a grim day for Florida State.
On the other side of the ball, the Noles have been reasonably solid on defense in their new scheme, but the Cardinals managed to run the ball pretty effectively with their two main backs combining for 127 yards on 25 carries at around 5 yards a carry. The Noles defense tends to be loaded with star athletes, and this game likely comes down to how well they handle the Miami rushing attack. Anything less than a decisive victory there for Florida State likely means catastrophe on the scoreboard.
- Will Florida State's offensive line allow the team to function against the Miami defense?
- How does freshman Miami quarterback N'Kosi Perry look against a top-40 defense?
- Will Florida State be able to stop the run and make this game interesting?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Miami
Kentucky at Texas A&M (-6) -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Kentucky||Texas A&M||F/+||14||26||When Kentucky has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||69||43||2017 S&P+||69||71||2017 IsoPPP+||54||52||2017 Rushing S&P+||58||41||2017 Passing S&P+||33||35||When Texas A&M has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||3||22||2017 S&P+||97||48||2017 IsoPPP+||80||60||2017 Rushing S&P+||100||109||2017 Passing S&P+||94||41|
There have been few transitions more dramatic this season than that of the Kentucky defense, which was one of the nation's very worst units in 2017 but has been one of the very best so far in 2018. Their offense determined to help better protect them this season with a ground-and-pound approach utilizing explosive tailback Benny Snell Jr., and helping him out with an option attack involving speedy quarterback Terry Wilson. The Wildcats passing game hasn't been much, but they can move the ball, put points on the board, and help protect their defense.
The Wildcats defense has made an incredible leap. Returning their two starting safeties and outside linebacker Josh Allen seem like principle factors. Allen, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound wrecking ball, had a strong 2017 season with seven sacks and seven run stuffs, but thus far this year he has already nearly matched that production through just five games. He'll probably be a first-round draft pick in 2019, but for now he's a destroyer of worlds who is surrounded by experienced role players all around him on their defense.
Allen's task in this game will be to work through an A&M offense that has shaky offensive line play but bolsters it with multiple tight end sets and an elusive quarterback in Kellen Mond. The sophomore Aggies signal-caller has 1,221 passing yards on the year and another 215 on the ground, and his ability to improvise has helped the Aggies involve a deep and talented cast of receivers. Lead running back Trayveon Williams is the main featured player of the unit; he has run for 582 yards at 6.1 yards per carry thus far on the year. It's a balanced attack and the Wildcats will need to eliminate some aspect of it in order to hold the Aggies down on the road.
Scoring in College Station on Texas A&M's defense is a more straightforward task provided they're able to confuse Aggies linebackers Otaro Alaka and Tyrell Dodson effectively enough to allow the Kentucky offensive line to reach them on their zone running concepts. The name of the game for the Wildcats run game is to stretch the defense horizontally with zone blocking, lure the linebackers into advancing blockers, and then shoot Snell or Wilson through a resulting crease for a big gain. The Aggies have some solid hitters behind the linebackers at safety as well, but the battle up front against the Kentucky zone blocks and explosive runners could be where the game is decided because you don't want to tackle these guys in space.
- Can Kentucky run the ball against A&M on the road?
- Josh Allen chasing Kellen Mond on passing downs.
- Is this Kentucky defense really an elite unit? The Aggies' balance and athleticism will test them.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Texas A&M
Auburn (-3.5) at Mississippi State -- 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
|Overall||Auburn||Mississippi State||F/+||8||23||When Auburn has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||82||12||2017 S&P+||34||19||2017 IsoPPP+||37||26||2017 Rushing S&P+||16||16||2017 Passing S&P+||12||4||When Mississippi State has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||1||41||2017 S&P+||5||63||2017 IsoPPP+||2||61||2017 Rushing S&P+||5||18||2017 Passing S&P+||1||37|
Mississippi State has played reasonably well in every game this season, yet only has a 3-2 record to show for it thanks to close losses to Florida and Kentucky from the SEC East. It's insanely difficult to win the SEC West while dropping games against East division opponents, but the Bulldogs may be able to play spoiler this week for Auburn, who already has a conference loss to LSU.
Auburn has had real trouble this season, mostly centered around their lack of growth in the passing game to make up for the loss of running back Kerryon Johnson and their struggle to replace him. Redshirt freshman JaTarvious Whitlow seemed like the solution here, but he hurt his shoulder a week ago and is questionable for this game, as are both starting offensive tackles for the Tigers. The game may very well come down to which of those three players are healthy and ready to compete against a very good Mississippi State defensive line.
Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham has been solid, throwing for 963 yards at 7.4 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and two interceptions, but this offense is really designed to run the ball from spread sets. They haven't adjusted well to the lack of a strong running threat and are really counting on Whitlow to pull through in conference play to help them along. Their other back, Kam Martin, is an explosive athlete but tends to try and bounce runs rather than punching through the interior gaps where the blocking schemes are designed to generate running lanes.
The Mississippi State offense has had their own share of struggles, mostly centering around their ineffectiveness in the passing game and their reliance on running the ball with quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Defenses that have been able to play their option schemes to force inside runs have had success (besides Kansas State) and Auburn's aggressive and sound defense will likely be too strong up front and too reliable on the back end for the Bulldogs to find much headway this week on the ground.
Mississippi State's chances hinge on protecting the ball with their ground game and then busting up the vulnerable Tigers offense by beating their back-up or injured tackles and inflicting negative plays and turnovers with their pass rush and explosive defensive line.
- How healthy is Auburn at offensive tackle and running back?
- Can the Mississippi State defensive line dominate the game and gift-wrap victory for their own offense?
- Will Mississippi State be able to move the ball on the ground against the nation's No. 1 defense?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Mississippi State
Notre Dame -6 at Virginia Tech -- 8 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Notre Dame||Virginia Tech||F/+||7||30||When Notre Dame has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||37||57||2017 S&P+||24||9||2017 IsoPPP+||9||65||2017 Rushing S&P+||5||15||2017 Passing S&P+||65||24||When Virginia Tech has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||5||30||2017 S&P+||27||96||2017 IsoPPP+||5||87||2017 Rushing S&P+||13||68||2017 Passing S&P+||7||45|
As I noted a week ago, the rankings for Notre Dame largely reflect an offense that doesn't exist in the same way anymore now that Ian Book has been established as the starting quarterback. The 6-foot-0, 203-pound junior quarterback is similar to Trace McSorley in that he can operate the Fighting Irish quarterback run schemes but he does real damage through the air throwing to their talented wideouts. Notre Dame has always had extraordinary wide receiver play under head coach Brian Kelly and they've been able to make the most of it with Book behind center while the run game has continued to be highly effective. As a result, the Irish may sneak into the S&P+ top 10 on both offense and defense this year as they continue to light up defenses with an increasingly balanced attack.
They draw a vulnerable foe this week in Virginia Tech, who has struggled with having to replace much of their effective 2017 defense and got crushed on the road by Old Dominion in a confidence-shaking defeat. They rebounded against Duke last week and held the Blue Devils to only 14 points, but their ability to withstand a high-level spread attack that can throw the ball around or run it with physicality up front is very much in question.
Virginia Tech made a big move on offense last week. With starting quarterback Josh Jackson out with an injury they turned to Kansas transfer Ryan Willis, who threw for over 300 yards against Duke. Willis was always a talented quarterback with Kansas but struggled to fit in their system while surrounded by the worst talent in the Big 12 and ended up opting to transfer to Virginia Tech. Now he's in command of an offense with a lot of weapons.
Notre Dame will be a different kind of test of course. Irish linebackers Drue Tranquill and Tevon Coney are always around the ball covered up by a big defensive line and the need for opponents to double-team defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. The Irish pass rush has also leaned heavily on Tillery, who has seven sacks on the year and seems a lock for the first round of the 2019 draft. If Virginia Tech can't handle the 6-foot-7, 305-pound tackle, then the Irish will swarm them and blow this team out.
- Virginia Tech backup quarterback Ryan Willis, who has actually upgraded their offense.
- Can Virginia Tech block Jerry Tillery?
- Notre Dame's balanced offense under new quarterback Ian Book.
- Is Notre Dame rounding into form as a playoff contender?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Notre Dame
S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 6
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||S&P+ Pick|| S&P+ pick
against the spread
| Ian's pick
against the spread
|Texas A&M||6||Kentucky||Texas A&M||Kentucky||Kentucky|
|Auburn||3.5||Mississippi State||Mississippi State||Mississippi State||Auburn|
|Notre Dame||6||Virginia Tech||Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Notre Dame|
S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 4-2
S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 19-11
Ian's Picks against the spread last week: 5-1
Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 19-11