by Ian Boyd
The bigger profile games in Week 2 delivered, with the LSU-Texas prime time contest coming down to a few key possessions in the fourth quarter. LSU's new-look spread offense proved lethal; Joe Burrow had three receivers go over 100 yards receiving and he had 471 yards with four touchdowns in a 45-38 victory. Things came down to Burrow completing a pass under great duress from a Texas zero blitz on third-and-17 that went for a 61-yard touchdown and saved LSU from punting to a Longhorns offense that scored on every second-half possession. The Tigers have never had an explosive offense or quarterback play of this caliber before, so pairing that with their extremely athletic defense makes them an intriguing team in the SEC West this coming season.
Elsewhere in Week 2, USC and freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis took apart a Stanford team missing quarterback K.J. Costello 48-20; California upset Washington; Army nearly went into Ann Arbor and beat Michigan losing in overtime; and Clemson rolled over A&M 24-10.
Week 3 has a few more interesting non-conference battles, including the Cy-Hawk rivalry game between Iowa and Iowa State and Central Florida taking on Stanford, as well as an important SEC East divisional game between Florida and Kentucky.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Washington State (-8.5) vs Houston at NRG Stadium in Houston -- Friday, 9:15 p.m. (ESPN)
|When Washington State has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||51||88|
|2018 Passing SP+||35||96|
|When Houston has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||102||24|
|2018 Passing SP+||33||30|
This is the Air Raid Bowl: a fun battle between Mike Leach, the godfather of the Air Raid offense, and Dana Holgorsen, one of his proteges. The latter has made a point of differentiating himself from Leach, emphasizing his own preference for making greater use of the running attack to set up the passing offense and help control football games. The former has noted that his proteges have tended to lose more often than he has while continuing to chuck the ball around at high volume. It's all good-natured ribbing though as Holgorsen and Leach hold each other in high esteem, whatever tactical disagreements they have over the proper way to raid opponents.
Holgorsen's Houston team is considerably more run-oriented than any other Air Raid squad we've seen from either of these coaches. The Cougars have rushed for over 200 yards in each of their first two games this season, the first coming against the Oklahoma Sooners and the latter against Prairie View A&M. Quarterback D'Eriq King has struggled to find receivers in their passing game, but Holgorsen has not failed to find ways to leverage King's running ability to open up lanes for the Cougars running backs.
Washington State hasn't played any high-level competition yet this season, but they've been as passing-oriented as any Leach team, with quarterback Anthony Gordon at 884 passing yards with a 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio after just two games. Their offensive line has looked very strong through two games, albeit not against top defensive competition.
As it happens, the Washington State Cougars were a bit unsteady in run defense a year ago and could be had while they were shifting and slanting up front to try and generate negative plays and confusion. There could be opportunities for Houston to do real damage in their option run game or when they mix in RPOs where King is either hitting a receiver on the perimeter or running behind lead blockers on an outnumbered front. Houston will need to find ways to hit explosive plays in the run game to keep up on the scoreboard against Washington State.
- How different will Dana Holgorsen's offense be from that of his former mentor Mike Leach?
- Can Houston generate explosive gains to keep up offensively with their rushing attack?
- How do the Washington State Cougars look in their first real test of the season? The Pac-12 North is certainly vulnerable...
FEI Outright Pick: Washington State by 5.8
Kansas State at Mississippi State (-7.5) -- 12 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Kansas State||Mississippi State|
|When Kansas State has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||58||12|
|2018 Passing SP+||108||3|
|When Mississippi State has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||101||6|
|2018 Passing SP+||76||93|
Mississippi State's road trip to Kansas State last year was a big, glaring signal for the end of one era and the beginning of another. Bill Snyder's Wildcats were physically whipped by the visiting Bulldogs and showed little of the discipline or toughness that characterized his overachieving regime. The legendary coach stepped down at the end of the season and was replaced by multi-year FCS champion Chris Klieman from North Dakota State. The Mississippi State Bulldogs proved to have a solid season, their first under head coach Joe Moorhead, who also rose up the FCS ranks and then coordinated Penn State to a couple of 10-win seasons before taking over in Starkville.
Klieman has brought toughness and physicality back to K-State in a major way. He has the Wildcats running an old-school, power run game offense that has propelled lead running back James Gilbert to 8.4 yards per carry through two games. Junior quarterback Skylar Thompson has thrived in the new system, throwing for 12.1 yards per attempt, and they have some power run schemes that get him involved in the action as well. They'll get their first major test against Mississippi State, whose defense finished 2018 as the no. 1 unit by both FEI and SP+. The Bulldogs like to play a lot of sky quarters coverages that rely on the safeties to make downhill fills from flat-footed, robbing positions on the hashmarks, and they are much bigger and stronger up front along the D-line and at linebacker than your typical Big 12 defense.
This may be more of a leading indicator for how the Big 12 season will go for Kansas State than anything else. If they can bully the Bulldogs up front and run power downhill on them, than the chances for the Big 12 to withstand this new power run game aren't particularly promising. The Wildcats will likely mix it up, though, utilizing their confusing motions and play-action passing. This won't simply be a contest of whether they can get push up front or not.
Additional intrigue in this game centers around the Mississippi State offense. Starting quarterback Tommy Stevens (a Penn State grad transfer) left their Week 2 game early with an "upper body injury." They're indicating that he'll play, but former blue-chip freshman Garrett Shrader looked effective in spot duty last week. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Shrader has the blend of physical toughness and passing skill to make Moorhead's offense potentially deadly in upcoming seasons. Stevens has a similar mixture of size and skill that could make for a big Year 2 in Starkville. In either event, it should be fascinating to witness how they handle the spread guru's offense against a solid K-State defense.
The Wildcats are currently just off the radar for most as a dark horse contender in the Big 12, but their early returns against overmatched competition have been very promising. The stats love the Bulldogs and their potential this season, and if they can administer another whooping to K-State, that may mean more than anyone would have guessed. Running back Kylin Hill is the key figure for their offense; he broke out in this game last year, turning 17 carries into 211 yards and two scores.
- Can Kansas State's new power run game make headway against Mississippi State's big but rebuilt defensive front?
- Which quarterback takes the field for Mississippi State, and how firm is their grasp on Joe Moorhead's spread-option schemes?
- Can Kansas State withstand Kylin Hill and the Bulldogs power run game?
FEI Outright Pick: Mississippi State by 16.1
Stanford at Central Florida (-7.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
|When Stanford has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||107||47|
|2018 Passing SP+||8||50|
|When Central Florida has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||65||32|
|2018 Passing SP+||90||12|
Stanford got mixed news after the USC game. Quarterback K.J. Costello has now cleared the concussion protocol and will be back behind center this week, but his starting left tackle Walker Little is lost for the whole season. The Cardinal power run game hasn't taken off this year anymore than it did a year ago, and it seems likely that their ability to win 10 games again this season will hinge on Costello guiding another explosive passing attack.
Slot receiver Connor Wedington has been a key target, as has big tight end Colby Parkinson. The Cardinal yielded three sacks though against USC's pressure a week ago, and aside from a 44-yard gain by running back Cameron Scarlett, the lead rusher had 16 carries for 38 yards at 2.4 yards per carry. Central Florida typically has a pretty stout front and Stanford shouldn't count on winning the game in the trenches; they'll need to do it in the passing game.
The Knights have had their own issues with quarterback health. McKenzie Milton is lost for the year but his replacement in 2018, Darriel Mack Jr., was only just cleared to practice with the team. Additionally, Notre Dame grad transfer Brandon Wimbush has been shaking off some undisclosed but hinted at injuries as well. That leaves freshman Dillon Gabriel, a Hawaiian like McKenzie, who has thrown for 372 yards at 11.6 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The Knights run an Art Briles-inspired "veer & shoot" offense heavy on spread-option schemes from wide splits that set up regular shots down the field. Both lead backs Greg McRae and Adrian Killins have run for 6.2 yards per carry in the generous space created by the extra wide receiver splits and vertical passing dimension. Gabriel has been pretty effective managing the system so far, leading a 48-14 blowout victory over Florida Atlantic in Week 2, so things aren't too dire.
Normally a team like Stanford will respond to the veer & shoot by playing man coverage on the receivers, using a safety and outside linebacker as overhangs to protect either alley in between the receivers, and dare the offense to beat them throwing downfield against coverage. Cardinal cornerback Paulso Adebo looms large in this contest; if he can shut down top receiver Gabriel Davis, then the Knights may lack another good pressure release valve when the Cardinal man them up.
Central Florida has a lot riding on this game; they need to protect home field and beat Stanford big to build a resume as a playoff contender in the event that they can win out in the AAC.
- Who starts at quarterback for Central Florida, and can he beat Stanford's man coverage?
- How healthy is K.J. Costello, and does Stanford get back to their successful pro-spread passing against a strong Knights defense?
- If the Knights were to make a statement win here, would that give them a playoff resume?
FEI Outright Pick: Central Florida by 8.7
USC (-4.5) at BYU -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
|When USC has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||78||28|
|2018 Passing SP+||60||14|
|When BYU has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||68||41|
|2018 Passing SP+||35||72|
The big news in USC this week could have been how freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis threw for 377 yards on the Stanford defense in a big USC victory. The new Air Raid offense at Southern Cal installed by another former Mike Leach protege (Graham Harrell) has been a big boost to the program. But the main story instead has been that athletic director Lynn Swann has resigned. USC will now began looking for a new AD, and that new director will potentially be asked to seek for a replacement for head coach Clay Helton.
It was already known that Helton would be on the hot seat this season, but a pair of early wins has clearly not abated the pressure in the least. It seems reasonable to assume that another failure to win a Pac-12 conference that lacks a particularly imposing frontrunner will mean the end of the line for Helton's regime in Los Angeles.
Next up is BYU, who as served as hot-seat mercenaries as recently as last Saturday when they upset the Tennessee Volunteers and raised questions over whether head coach Jeremy Pruitt is long for Knoxville or not. The Cougars had the more efficient day in the air than the Vols, whose lead running back Ty Chandler had 26 carries for 154 yards, which wasn't enough in a 29-26 defeat. BYU has their passing game rolling with sophomore Zach Wilson in his second year in the offense. In the event of a shootout, the Cougars probably feel fairly comfortable in their ability to get points on the board.
But it could be a real challenge for USC to turn this into an up-and-down contest. BYU specializes in stopping the big play and typically has a tough pressure package that makes life hard on a young quarterback figuring out how to get the ball out quickly. If USC can torch BYU's defense with their own freshman quarterback at the helm, perhaps Harrell at least should be protected by the new athletic administration at USC even if changes come at the end of the year.
Since neither team has shown off all that impressive a rushing attack this season, the game could come down to quarterback play. In that realm, the Trojans have the better athletes but BYU has savvier and more experienced players on offense, and also a trickier and more savvy secondary.
- Freshman USC quarterback Kedon Slovis carrying the weight for his coaching staff.
- How will USC's defense handle dual-threat quarterback Zach Wilson and the BYU Cougars at altitude?
- Can either team get a run game going, or will this hinge on which young quarterback balances playmaking with protecting the football?
FEI Outright Pick: USC by 0.9
Iowa (-2) at Iowa State -- 4 p.m. (FS1)
|When Iowa has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||122||35|
|2018 Passing SP+||39||25|
|When Iowa State has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||22||102|
|2018 Passing SP+||23||21|
Iowa is off to a hot start in 2019, whipping Rutgers in Week 2 by a score of 30-0. On the one hand, it seemed that Iowa was due for a drop-off with the loss of a pair of NFL tight ends from their 2018 team. In reality, Iowa didn't use their tight ends all that creatively or aggressively anyway, so the loss isn't as keen. This is a team that wants to run the football with pro-style schemes, then work rollouts and play-action off the threat of the run game. The offensive line is improved from a year ago and has been able to get Hawkeyes running backs loose more often; lead back Mekhi Sargent has 150 yards at 5.6 yards per carry through two games.
Quarterback Nate Stanley is back, and while he doesn't have a stud tight end to work the ball to, the Hawkeyes receivers are a little better than a year ago with Ihmir Smith-Marsette headlining the group. The problem they'll have this week is trying to pound away at an Iowa State defense that's built to bend without breaking while utilizing an innovative "inverted Tampa-2" defensive scheme from a 3-3-5 personnel package. The Cyclones play with three deep safeties, one of them playing as a sort of hybrid like a Tampa-2 middle linebacker. They have some confusing blitz packages from that set. Last year Iowa struggled mightily to score and won 13-3 due to Iowa State's own ineffective play with the ball.
The Cyclones offense looked a bit off in Week 1 against Northern Iowa, but they also abstained from giving playmaking quarterback Brock "pump fake" Purdy a single carry in the run game. In a contest like this with greater stakes, the Cyclones will heavily utilize the quarterback run on direct-snap plays and option schemes. The big question mark for this team is whether they have a single running back who can carry the load like the departed David Montgomery, or a receiver who can take the top off a defense like Hakeem Butler did.
However, aside from concerns over a lack of feature playmakers, the Cyclones do have a lot of quality tight ends and some solid receivers that could combine with a more aggressive offensive game plan to create an effective, ball-control offense. The Cyclones are playing at home in a rivalry contest that their exciting young head coach Matt Campbell has yet to win. They're just on the outside looking in to the top 25, and going up against an Iowa defense that has been playing exceptional bend-don't-break defense this year and the last.
Whatever the Cyclones didn't show against Northern Iowa will likely come in abundance in this contest as they hunt for a signature win coming off a bye week. The advantage that Iowa State will get from having only played an FCS opponent before taking the next week off is not insubstantial. Iowa has had to show enough on film to get through two opponents.
- Iowa State to open up the playbook considerably more than in their overtime battle with Northern Iowa in Week 1.
- How will Iowa finish drives against Iowa State's inverted Tampa-2 defense?
- Iowa State quarterback Brock "pump fake" Purdy to run wild on some exotic spread-option schemes and exciting scrambles.
FEI Outright Pick: Iowa by 6.7
Florida (-8) at Kentucky -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)
|When Florida has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||20||40|
|2018 Passing SP+||31||19|
|When Kentucky has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2018 Rushing SP+||41||52|
|2018 Passing SP+||24||94|
The Wildcats had a tough challenge to match the heights of a 10-win 2018 season. Star pass-rusher Josh Allen had an unbelievable 17.5 sacks in 2018 while flanked by seniors across the Wildcats defense, and now they're all gone save for linebackers Kash Daniel and Jamar Watson. The new players have held up through a pair of non-conference games, but Florida will be a much tougher test.
Kentucky has relied on growth they've made on offense with a big and experienced line blocking for returning quarterback Terry Wilson and new lead running back Asim Rose. The Wildcats developed into a zone-option team last year in their breakthrough season, which allowed them to control the ball and lean on their defense to make the difference in multiple games.
Offensive line and the run game has been more of a question mark for Florida. The Gators struggled to get their run game going in the season opener against the Miami Hurricanes. Instead they won thanks to a pair of 60-plus-yard passing plays and a fumbled punt by the Hurricanes that gave the Gators the ball in the red zone. That was the "Week 0" game, and it's likely that Florida will play a cleaner and improved style of football three weeks later. The Florida offensive line kept quarterback Feleipe Franks pretty clean against Miami, but the redshirt junior has rarely shown an ability to carry his team in the passing game. They'll need to run the ball more effectively to win the SEC East.
Georgia looks like the runaway favorite in the East division, but Florida and Kentucky were both in the picture a year ago, and if nothing else will be jockeying for position in this game. The loser will be in a tough spot trying to stay in the division hunt with Georgia looming on both schedules. Florida in particular has a really tough SEC West draw with Auburn coming to Gainesville and then a road trip to LSU; they can't afford to drop this game. Kentucky will be hoping to prove that they weren't just the Josh Allen team but can still play high-level defense and compete in big games.
- Can Kentucky rush the passer and set the edge without generational talent Josh Allen?
- How does Florida's rebuilt offensive line look three weeks after the "Week 0" opener against Miami?
- Is the improving Kentucky offense now good enough to control the game by running the ball on the Gators' athletic but smaller defense?
FEI Outright Pick: Florida by 5.2
FEI PICKS: WEEK 3
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||FEI Pick||FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Against the Spread
|Washington State||8.5||Houston||Washington State||Houston||Washington State|
|at Mississippi State||7.5||Kansas State||Mississippi State||Mississippi State||Mississippi State|
|at Central Florida||7.5||Stanford||Central Florida||Central Florida||Stanford|
|Iowa||2||at Iowa State||Iowa||Iowa||Iowa State|
FEI's Picks against the spread last week: 3-3
FEI's Picks against the spread on the year: 7-5
Ian's Picks against the spread in last week: 2-4
Ian's Picks against the spread on the year: 7-5