by Ian Boyd
The Big 10's big showdown between West division contender Wisconsin and East division favorite Ohio State was rather anticlimactic. The Badgers bottled up Justin Fields in the run game and the pass, but J.K. Dobbins ran the ball for 163 yards and two scores and Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan was sacked by Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young on nearly 20% of his pass attempts while running back Jonathan Taylor was held to just 52 yards on 20 carries. It was a thrashing in nearly every phase with the final margin 38-7 for Ohio State.
Elsewhere around the game, Auburn unveiled a 3-1-7 defense that limited LSU's offense to 23 points but still came up short 23-20. Oklahoma's playoff hopes all but evaporated after losing 48-41 at Kansas State, while Texas and Iowa State dropped games as well. Oregon eked out a win over Washington State and now in Week 10 will have a big showdown with USC. Michigan also had a nice week for once, absolutely destroying Notre Dame at home 45-14 while running for 303 yards.
Week 10 will slow things down a touch in terms of big-time matchups, perhaps upsets as well, but it will feature the decisive game of the SEC East in Florida vs. Georgia.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Virginia Tech at Notre Dame (-17) -- 2:30 p.m. (NBC)
|Overall||Virginia Tech (5-2)||Notre Dame (5-2)|
|When Virginia Tech has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Notre Dame has the ball||Defense||Offense|
Michigan completely obliterated Notre Dame's run defense. The Fighting Irish had been getting away with a lot of two-high defense and squeezing the life from opposing pass games, but the Wolverines blew holes in their front that the Notre Dame safeties could not plug. Virginia Tech doesn't have the same sort of rushing attack as the Wolverines, but they will certainly try to probe the defense with some similar tricks.
The Wolverines ran some sweeps, some influence/trap plays, and some standard zone-read schemes and hit the Fighting Irish with enough multiplicity that by the end Notre Dame simply couldn't play fast and confidently enough to handle simpler zone plays. Virginia Tech has a fair amount to their run game playbook as well; it's not as effective, but they can try to hammer some of the same weak spots and see if the Fighting Irish either yield leverage to the pass game or hold up better.
So Virginia Tech will mix in some of their own sweeps and quarterback read schemes with Hendon Hooker and lead running back Deshawn McClease (475 rushing yards). The best features to Virginia Tech's offense have been tight end Dalton Keene and big receiver Damon Hazelton, Jr. The two have combined for nine touchdown catches. Since the Hokies have inserted Hooker at quarterback, their offense has gone up a notch thanks to his running ability and turnover avoidance. They won a shootout against North Carolina 43-41 a week ago while running for 254 yards, so they'll have some confidence in attacking the Fighting Irish run defense.
The other big issue for Notre Dame against Michigan was quarterback Ian Book completing eight of 25 pass attempts for 73 yards during heavy rainfall against the Wolverines defense. Book simply hasn't had the senior year that Notre Dame was counting on and they weren't able to block Michigan's run blitzes well enough to move the ball without their passing attack.
What was once a famous defense is now in its final stages after longtime defensive coach Bud Foster announced that he'll be retiring after this season. The Hokies innovated long ago with a 4-4 defense that morphed into a 4-2-5 and ultimately struggled to adapt once more in the era of the spread offense. The talent has also declined, and many of Virginia's best players are heading off to Penn State or other locales rather than coming to Blacksburg. They could be a slump-buster for Notre Dame if the Fighting Irish can get their offense back on track in better conditions on Saturday.
- How does Notre Dame rebound after their humiliation in the rain against Michigan?
- Can Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker unlock some run game success against the Fighting Irish defense that Michigan pounded a week ago?
- How will Bud Foster's Hokies defense handle their final test against the Fighting Irish?
FEI Outright Pick: Notre Dame by 23.9
Georgia (-6.5) vs. Florida at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
|Overall||Georgia (6-1)||Florida (7-1)|
|When Georgia has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Florida has the ball||Defense||Offense|
"The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" hasn't featured a battle that looked this tight in some years. Last year Florida had a much stronger team to throw at the Bulldogs but succumbed 36-17. The previous season, Kirby Smart's ascendant Bulldogs blew the doors off Florida's program 42-7. Now both Kirby Smart and Florida's Dan Mullen are starting to get their young programs in order and can begin to get this rivalry game going in earnest.
The adjusted stats don't love Florida or their chances in this game. Georgia has been plodding but effective on offense and their defense is back to their 2018 standard. The key has been the experience of inside linebackers Monty Rice and Tae Crowder, who are leading the team in tackles. The Bulldogs have been effective at playing big and stout up front and running to the football with a very fast defense that closes and tackles well and fast.
Georgia's run game continues to be powerful. Lead back D'Andre Swift has 752 rushing yards at 6.8 yards per carry with seven touchdowns. Jake Fromm and the transfer-heavy wide receiver corps has been effective -- he has thrown for 1,406 yards at 8.1 yards per attempt -- but not overwhelmingly so. If Florida could stop the Georgia run game, it's reasonable to assume that the Bulldogs would not be particularly likely to put a lot of points on the scoreboard. To that end, the Gators are going to need a big day from their defensive tackles and inside linebackers.
On the other side, Florida's offense has been pretty effective throwing the ball around since making Kyle Trask the starting quarterback. The Gators' leading receiver has been athletic tight end Kyle Pitts, who has 35 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. Florida likes to line him up alone to one side of the field opposite three flexed-out receivers and then punish opponents for whether they weigh their coverage to the trips receiver set or to Pitts. Georgia has a pair of veteran safeties in J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte III who should be well-versed on how to line up against Florida's various formations. Whether or not they can win the matchups is another question.
In games like this against top-line athletic defenses, you usually need the passing game to put you over the top, and Georgia's reliance on the run game is generally what has gotten them beat in some of their high-profile defeats under Smart. Florida will be counting on winning with Trask and their passing game so they'll be equipped for that eventuality, but they need to actually stop the Georgia run game or it won't matter.
- Can Florida's interior defense hold up against the big Georgia offensive line and downhill rushing attack with D'Andre Swift?
- Who makes more plays between Florida quarterback Kyle Trask and Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm?
- How will Georgia's athletic defense match up against Florida's star tight end Kyle Pitts and athletic wide receiver corps?
FEI Outright Pick: Georgia by 12
Kansas at Kansas State (-6) -- 3:30 p.m. (FS1)
|Overall||Kansas (3-5)||Kansas State (5-2)|
|When Kansas has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Kansas State has the ball||Defense||Offense|
This is the most intriguing contest that this in-state rivalry has seen this decade and perhaps this century. Kansas' better days in the mid- to late-2000s under Mark Mangino coincided with Bill Snyder's decline and brief retirement, and the Jayhawks have been next to useless ever since. Both programs hired new coaches this offseason, with Kansas State nabbing North Dakota State dynasty man Chris Klieman and Kansas bringing the "mad hatter" Les Miles to Lawrence. Both new regimes have started off exceedingly well. Kansas State is 2-2 in the Big 12 after upsetting Oklahoma 48-41 a week ago and running for over 200 yards on the Sooners' hyped defense; technically the Wildcats are in the conference title hunt.
Kansas had a typical start, but then Miles promoted wunderkind and RPO spread guru Brent Dearmon from the support staff to offensive coordinator before the Jayhawks' bye week. In the two weeks since, Kansas took Texas to the wire in a 50-48 loss and then beat Texas Tech 37-34. Their offense is humming and they've won half as many games this season as Miles' predecessor did in four seasons. Confidence is skyrocketing for the Jayhawks and they're heading into this game playing for another big win and a shot at bowl eligibility.
The headline matchup is between the Kansas State defense and the Kansas offense. The Wildcats have a defense built from the Tampa-2 in terms of "bend don't break" principles, even though they don't play traditional Tampa-2 all that often. They do play with deep half safeties quite regularly and have sacrificed some run defense for the ability to stop touchdowns; opponents have been settling for field goals against them all season long, which is winning football in the Big 12.
Dearmon has transformed Kansas into a smashmouth spread offense that has turned previous unknowns Andrew Parchment and Stephan Robinson into 614 receiving yards with six touchdowns and 522 receiving yards with six touchdowns. Star running back Pooka Williams has found more room to get loose with 704 rushing yards and another 112 receiving. They're scoring a lot with big plays, vertical bombs over the top, or plays where Pooka creases a defense and breaks away for a touchdown. Kansas State will look to deny both of these and force the Jayhawks to prove they can score 30-plus points by working their way down the field.
On the other side, the Jayhawks defense certainly has a tall order ahead. The Kansas State offense is a traditional, under-center, power run unit with a senior-filled offensive line and running back room. Wildcats quarterback Skylar Thompson is growing increasingly confident in the new system. He can run some power-read and quarterback power schemes and has developed great timing with veteran receiver Dalton Schoen (322 receiving yards). The worst thing that could happen for Kansas would be to allow the Wildcats to control the ball at home while landing a few touchdowns throwing to wide-open tight ends on play-action.
- Can Kansas State tackle Jayhawks running back Pooka Williams in space?
- Will the mad hatter Les Miles keep Kansas surging with an upset road victory over their in-state rival?
- How will the young Jayhawks defense hold up against a veteran offensive line blocking power football?
FEI Outright Pick: Kansas State by 13.1
Utah (-3.5) at Washington -- 4 p.m. (FOX)
|Overall||Utah (7-1)||Washington (5-3)|
|When Utah has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Washington has the ball||Defense||Offense|
It has been a disappointing season for the Huskies. Truth be told, their offense has been pretty effective with new figures stepping in for four-year starters Jake Browning (quarterback) and Myles Gaskin (running back). Washington finished 34th in offensive SP+ last year and are currently 22nd with Jacob Eason doing solid damage in the passing game and the run game continuing to pick yards up at a good clip. Lead back Salvon Ahmed has 662 rushing yards at 5.8 yards per carry while backups Richard Newton and Sean McGrew have a combined 656 yards at 5.7 yards per carry.
The problem in Washington has been the defense, which simply hasn't been able to overcome the exodus of talent that claimed nose tackle Greg Gaines, middle linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (176 tackles in 2018!), both starting safeties, and both starting cornerbacks. The Huskies have recruited and developed well in the secondary for years now and haven't gone over a cliff there, but the run defense has definitely suffered without Gaines and BBK holding down the middle of the field.
That's a problem against Utah, who has playing to keep pace in the Pac-12 South after dropping a game to USC, and have run the football quite effectively this season. The Utes have done real damage with the passing game this season -- quarterback Tyler Huntley is averaging 10.6 yards per attempt -- and they are doing it with RPOs and play-action off their potent run game. Against Cal, the Utes landed a few big blows throwing the ball on third-and-short against loaded boxes. The Huskies typically don't yield easy throws off RPOs or play-action, but their hand may be forced if they can't stop the Utes run game without crashing defenders into the box.
On the other side of things, running the ball and executing a ball-control strategy like Washington prefers against the Utah defense is a tough order. The Utes have a pair of defensive tackles in John Penisini and Leki Fotu that each check in at 330 pounds or more, and the four leading tacklers on the team are the inside linebackers followed by the two safeties. Teams just aren't finding much up the middle against this team, and those four defenders also have a combined six interceptions and 10 pass break-ups.
That more or less covers the favorite strategies of the Huskies' offense -- running the ball and then slipping it out to tight end Hunter Bryant when teams start to crash on run looks. Washington will need top receiver Aaron Fuller back in the mix and healthy in this game to try and hit a pressure valve against Utah's tendency to load the box and fire up zone blitzes.
Washington has had Utah's number in this series of late, winning every regular-season game since 2015 and beating them twice in 2018 with a 10-3 victory in the Pac-12 title game. Utah has played great defense on the Huskies but simply has not been able to get anything going on offense themselves. This could be the year that changes.
- Can Washington hold up in the box against Utah's downhill run game?
- Is Washington receiver Aaron Fuller healthy and ready to get open against the Utes' man coverages in the secondary?
- Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley potentially running the ball 15 times or more in order to give the Utes a numbers advantage in the run game.
FEI Outright Pick: Utah by 14.7
SMU at Memphis (-6) -- 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||SMU (8-0)||Memphis (7-1)|
|When SMU has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Memphis has the ball||Defense||Offense|
SMU has been one of the surprise teams of 2019. There are three teams in the top 25 right now that are currently undefeated that no one expected to find in such a lofty position: the Mustangs, the Baylor Bears two hours south down I-35, and the Minnesota Gophers 14 hours up the same freeway. Head coach Sonny Dykes has his variety of Air Raid spread offense rolling with veteran running backs Xavier Jones and James Proche unlocked by Texas grad transfer quarterback Shane Buechele (2,325 yards, 20 touchdowns).
Memphis is an established power and regular frontrunner in the AAC West under head coach Mike Norvell. They've won the division and gone to the last two championship games, and are a win here away from being in the driver's seat to do it again after already beating 4-1 Navy. Quarterback Brady White has made a leap in Year 2 with the program after transferring from Arizona State to be reunited with Norvell. He has thrown for 2,161 yards at 10.3 yards per attempt with 20 touchdowns to four interceptions through eight games.
The Memphis offense is an RPO spread system geared around a power run game executed with a unique take on 21 personnel. The Tigers play with an inline tight end to increase the number of gaps opponents have to defend and use a "slotback" hybrid who moves back and forth between serving as a runner on sweeps or running quick routes from the slot. Antonio Gibson is the slotback this year while Kenny Gainwell is their new feature back. Gainwell has 979 rushing yards at 7.1 yards per carry with 11 touchdowns; this is an explosive offense that really stresses defenses with run/pass conflicts.
The Mustangs have played pretty good defense so far this year, typically with their ability to bring pressure and inflict negative plays. Patrick Nelson has been the star of the show with 10 sacks on the year from his spot as a linebacker/defensive back hybrid to the wide edge. Controlling Nelson on the edge will be the priority for Memphis' offense.
The 2019 Memphis defense is the best one yet for Mike Norvell. In general the offense has carried the defense in recent seasons, but this unit is better than normal. New defensive coordinator Adam Fuller has brought a simplified scheme that has continued to emphasize speed while tossing out the disguises and multiple coverages Memphis had been playing. The Tigers aren't generating a ton of pressure, but they're getting their hands on more balls with seven interceptions and 26 pass break-ups.
The Tigers will play with an extra man in the box. Whether or not they can keep Buechele from connecting with Proche on vertical routes could be the ball game.
- Memphis' new-look defense trying to stop SMU's balanced spread offense.
- Can SMU handle senior Memphis quarterback Brady White throwing RPOs off the Tigers power run game?
- Is SMU ready to hold up in a big-time conference road game? If so, watch their poll ranking after a win.
FEI Outright Pick: Memphis by 1.9
Oregon (-4.5) at USC -- 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Oregon (7-1)||USC (5-3)|
|When Oregon has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When USC has the ball||Defense||Offense|
This is a fun rivalry within the Pac-12 … or it was at one time back when the Ducks were an exciting upstart program under Chip Kelly while USC was the established, traditional power starting to fade at the tail end of the Pete Carroll era. Now the Trojans are hanging on for dear life year after year while Oregon is rising again with a currently rock-solid grip on the Pac-12 North.
Bud Elliott of the Banner Society noted that USC has struggled to field defensive tackles of the caliber that propelled some of their championships in yesteryear. The 2004 team, for instance, had All-Americans Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson and were consequently able to shut down Adrian Peterson in the national championship game. This year's USC tackle tandem of Marlon Tuipulotu and Jay Tufele allowed Colorado to run for 196 yards at 5.8 yards per carry in their last outing in a narrow 35-31 victory.
The Trojans have played solid pass defense though, and may have a chance in this one if they can avoid the mistakes that have plagued other opponents of the 2019 Ducks. Oregon has been very committed to their rushing attack this season, even though their real damage has been done throwing the ball off the threat of the run against loaded boxes with screens, RPOs, and play-action. It's a counterintuitive move, but the right answer for the Trojans in this one is to play two-deep and sit on the pass options from Oregon's star quarterback Justin Herbert and make the Ducks prove they can beat them running on an honest front. If the Trojans defensive front isn't up for stopping it their chances of victory here are slim anyways.
The Oregon defense had some troubles in their last contest against the Air Raid Washington State Cougars. Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon threw 50 passes for 406 yards at 8.1 yards per attempt with three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 37-35 Oregon win. Those interceptions saved Oregon from what otherwise could have been a damaging loss. In his last outing, USC's own Air Raid quarterback Kedon Slovis threw 44 passes for 406 yards at 9.2 yards per attempt with four touchdowns to one interception.
USC's wide receivers have been a load in this offense with Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr. each threatening to go over 100 yards receiving every week. Both each have 50 catches already this season with Pittman at 755 yards and seven touchdowns and Vaughns at 638 yards and five touchdowns. Oregon's improvements on defense were tested last week by Washington State and will be tested again when they're trying to find these guys in space and get them to the ground.
The best strategy for USC has been to drop everyone into coverage and encourage them to run the football for smaller chunks than they can get by flinging it around to all of their talented receivers. That's a new sort of ball game for Oregon's defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, who cut his teeth in the Mountain West where you don't face passing attacks of this caliber.
The stakes of this game are also interesting for both teams. Oregon's spot in the Pac-12 title game is all but locked up, and that game will take place against either USC or Utah. Oregon wants to win this game first for their playoff resume; any chance to win a big game against a renowned school is important for popular perception. Since it's on late, ideally they'd win by a big margin with gaudy stats. Secondly, Oregon probably doesn't want to have to beat USC twice and play them again in the Pac-12 title game; a victory here would help Utah secure the South division. USC of course is playing for the Pac-12 title and probably head coach Clay Helton's job.
- How will Oregon handle USC's Air Raid passing attack a week after giving up 400 passing yards to Washington State?
- Can USC stop the Oregon run game without overcommitting and yielding passing windows to Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert?
- Pac-12 championship implications; USC needs to keep winning to hold onto their tiebreaker edge over Utah, while Oregon would like to knock the Trojans back and build a playoff resume.
FEI Outright Pick: Oregon by 2.1
FEI PICKS: WEEK 10
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||FEI Pick||FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Against the Spread
|at Notre Dame||17||Virginia Tech||Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Virginia Tech|
|Kansas State||6||at Kansas||Kansas State||Kansas State||Kansas|
FEI's Picks against the spread last week: 2-4
FEI's Picks against the spread on the year: 29-22
Ian's Picks against the spread in last week: 2-4
Ian's Picks against the spread on the year: 22-29