Seventh Day Adventure
Football Outsiders' weekly preview for people who like their football played on Saturdays

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 11

Boston College Eagles QB Phil Jurkovec
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Week 10's big game lived up to the hype. Despite Trevor Lawrence sitting out for Clemson as he cleared COVID protocols, the Tigers still managed to take Notre Dame to overtime with freshman signal-caller D.J. Uiagalelei. The game was something of a coming-out party for the heir to the line of Deshaun Watson and Lawrence at Clemson, and also for the next great tight end at Notre Dame, freshman Michael Mayer. The Fighting Irish are referring to him as "Baby Gronk" and he caught five balls for 67 yards.

The game came down to the play of Uiagalelei for Clemson; the Irish successfully took away star running back Travis Etienne and dared the freshman quarterback to beat them. He came awfully close, throwing for 439 yards at 10 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and zero picks (one fumble on a pitch though), but the Irish stormed back in the last minute to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed. There seems to be a solid chance we'll see these teams again in the ACC Championship Game and maybe even in the playoff, and both are worth watching again.

Also interesting in the playoff hunt: BYU obliterated Boise State 51-17. Both BYU and Cincinnati have a chance to present a strong resume for inclusion in the playoff if they can finish undefeated. Or college football could pair them off in their own bowl game and the winner could claim a National Championship a la Central Florida in 2017.

Week 11 has been diminished by some COVID infections across the SEC that saw postponements for Alabama at LSU, Texas A&M at Tennessee, and Auburn at Mississippi State. However, we'll get Wisconsin back in action against embattled Michigan, some other Big 10 and Pac-12 action, and then an AAC battle with division title ramifications in SMU vs. Tulsa.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Penn State (-3.5) at Nebraska -- Saturday 12 p.m. (FS1)

Overall Penn State (0-3) Nebraska (0-2)
F/+ 19 44
FEI 21 63
When Penn State has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 39 56
SP+ 18 56
IsoPPP+ 67 59
Rushing success rate 95 29
Passing success rate 55 118
When Nebraska has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 19 58
SP+ 24 26
IsoPPP+ 93 117
Rushing success rate 59 6
Passing success rate 96 68

Penn State and Nebraska are having very tough, disappointing seasons thus far, but something has to give when they play on Saturday. They can't both lose this game, not literally at least. Someone has to win, and whoever that is will then have a chance to try and salvage this season.

Nebraska's start was tough enough when they had to open by taking a whipping in Columbus from Ohio State, but losing 21-13 at Northwestern the following week was also a blow. The positive side here is that the Cornhuskers will get a big home game, which was one of their main goals for this season in keeping the athletic department funded and the city of Lincoln engaged. Through two games, the Huskers have mostly established an identity for this season, but it's a strange one that they're struggling to sort through. Essentially, this is a team that is best when executing the quarterback run game with either Adrian Martinez (26 carries, 187 yards, 7.2 yards per carry, one touchdown) or Luke McCaffrey (17 carries, 129 yards, 7.6 yards per carry, zero touchdowns). While they've tried to split the difference by lining up McCaffrey as a running back at times, their actual main back is Dedrick Mills who has 28 carries for just 84 yards at 3.0 yards per carry with two touchdowns.

The passing game is fairly flat. Martinez is averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt and McCaffrey a respectable 7.0 but with zero touchdowns between them and an interception apiece. Their leading receiver is slot man Wan'Dale Robinson, whose catches are often an extension of running game and come from RPO quick passes attached to runs. Their best chance in a given game is essentially to run a lot of quarterback run or pass RPOs and allow their quarterbacks to get 15 carries or more. That could be a workable formula for winning games with a little more explosiveness, as is evident from their run game success rate, but the defense has struggled to limit opposing passing games. It's hard to beat opponents on the ground, even with consistent gains achieved with a quarterback run game, if you can't stop the opponent's passing game. The latter will always be more efficient for getting points on the board.

Penn State has a similar dynamic going on with their team. They keep defaulting to the quarterback run game as a way to bail them out of issues, except that their quarterback, Sean Clifford, has 52 carries for 150 yards at just 2.9 yards per carry with a score. Now 13 of those carries are sacks which have diminished the perceived effectiveness of the Clifford run game. The fact remains, Penn State has struggled to generate offense without putting a large burden on Clifford. He has thrown for 859 yards at 7.0 yards per attempt with nine touchdowns to five interceptions. If you count sacks as pass plays, he has 135 passes dropbacks and 39 carries, which means his "usage rate" for the Nittany Lions is about 58 plays per game. That's a really big load to carry, and between his five picks and a fumble against Maryland, Clifford has had an average of two turnovers per game trying to carry the Nittany Lions on his back. At 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, Clifford is pretty big, but this is still a heavy burden. They need running back Devyn Ford -- who has had 37 carries for just 141 yards at 3.8 yards per carry -- and the traditional run game to get rolling.

The Penn State defense has been solid but predictably took a few steps back after losing four starters to the NFL and then also star linebacker Micah Parsons, who chose to opt out for 2020 and focus on the next NFL draft. For all their losses in the linebacker corps, the Lions are really taking on water in the secondary. Ohio State and Maryland both torched them in the passing game, which isn't a particularly likely outcome in this game.

This one likely comes down to Penn State playing a cleaner game while still leaning on Clifford to throw the ball regularly and carry the load for their run game so that they can outscore the Nebraska quarterbacks. The Lions still have a strong defensive front and good linebacker play against the run that should have a solid shot at containing the Huskers' option plays. A loss here would be tough for Nebraska and head coach Scott Frost, but this season is going to be a mess almost regardless of how this game turns out. For Penn State, to drop a road game against Nebraska and start the season at 0-4 would be a complete catastrophe that would put a lot of pressure on head coach James Franklin to make some adjustments next offseason or risk facing a hot seat in 2021.

Watch for:

  • Will both teams continue to rely on running their quarterbacks? And can Penn State's Sean Clifford hold up with such a high usage rate?
  • Which of these two weak pass defenses can best avoid surrendering game-changing plays in the throw game?
  • Will we see desperation from one or both of these teams to finally get a W on the board?

FEI Outright Pick: Penn State by 5.8

Miami at Virginia Tech (-2.5) -- 12 p.m. (ESPN2)

Overall Miami (6-1) Virginia Tech (4-3)
F/+ 21 26
FEI 24 32
When Miami has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 36 60
SP+ 39 46
IsoPPP+ 10 79
Rushing success rate 93 107
Passing success rate 67 65
When Virginia Tech has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 23 19
SP+ 22 10
IsoPPP+ 55 33
Rushing success rate 56 12
Passing success rate 38 58

Much like Penn State at Nebraska, both of these teams have gotten where they are by asking a lot of their quarterbacks. Miami has surged on offense this season by plugging in Houston transfer D'Eriq King and running a lot of zone-option with the dual-threat player. King has thrown 223 passes for 1,828 yards at 8.2 yards per attempt with 16 touchdowns to four interceptions and added another 82 rushes for 406 yards at 5.0 yards per carry with two rushing touchdowns.

Meanwhile Virginia Tech has been leaning on dual-threat Hendon Hooker, who in five games has thrown 98 passes for 870 yards at 8.9 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns to three interceptions and run the ball 82 times for 515 yards at 6.3 yards per carry with eight rushing touchdowns.

King is averaging 31.8 pass attempts per game and 11.7 rushes for 43.5 plays per game while Hooker is averaging 19.6 pass attempts per game and 16.4 rushes for 36 plays per game. Interestingly Hooker is the bigger guy at 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, but perhaps there's something to be said for being smaller and quicker like King, who is 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds but has a knack for avoiding big hits and staying healthy.

The running ability of these two stars looms over the contest. As you can guess from his numbers, Hooker has a lot of shiftiness in his own right, and when you bring some shake and burst at 228 pounds you can pick up a lot of yardage running downhill and sidestepping defenders. The same effect can be seen with Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger; defenders will coil up in the open field to either try and land a big shot or at least to not be run over and Ehlinger (or Hooker) have the vision and quickness to wait for them to commit and launch, then side-step the blow to keep moving forward. Both teams also have effective passing games that are built from their ability to run zone and power-option schemes with their quarterbacks and generate conflicts on RPOs, rollouts, and pocket play-action.

This could be a high-scoring shootout. There's a lot at stake for these two teams, who are both in the Coastal Division of the ACC and only one game apart. The difference is in Miami's favor and could either be erased by the Hokies with a win or else extended to two games, which would (probably) make North Carolina's road trip to Miami at the end of the year the decisive game for the division crown.

The margin is interesting because the major difference between these two teams is arguably on defense, where the Hurricanes field a very solid unit and the Hokies do not. In addition to plugging in King, Miami head coach Manny Diaz also rebuilt his defense by taking in USC safety transfer Bubba Bolden, who leads the team in tackles, and then defensive ends Jaelan Phillips (UCLA) and Quincy Roche (Temple). Roche and Phillips have combined for 16 tackles for loss and five sacks and their play in this game could be decisive. The key to handling the Virginia Tech offense will be their ability to play the option on the edge and spill runs wide and laterally so that neither Hooker nor running back Kahlil Herbert can accelerate downhill. Bolden will also have a part to play there as the boundary safety that is often a "first responder" if something breaks open in the opposing run game.

Considering that the phenomenal Liberty quarterback Malik Willis torched Virginia Tech's defense for 325 total yards and four touchdowns, it would appear that the difference between these two defenses would make Miami a favorite in this game. Yet the Vegas line prefers Virginia Tech at home, which makes this a curious matchup.

Watch for:

  • A pair of dual-threat quarterbacks dueling it out on the ground and in the air in a decisive division matchup.
  • Can Miami's transfer-infused edge players on defense help them control the Virginia Tech run game and get the edge?
  • Why is Virginia Tech favored against a team with a comparable offense and superior defense? Are there injuries at play here that will limit Miami?

FEI Outright Pick: Virginia Tech by 0.6

Notre Dame (-13) at Boston College -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Notre Dame (7-0) Boston College (5-3)
F/+ 8 55
FEI 7 54
When Notre Dame has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 10 59
SP+ 19 69
IsoPPP+ 53 54
Rushing success rate 36 70
Passing success rate 33 56
When Boston College has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 11 60
SP+ 12 43
IsoPPP+ 75 92
Rushing success rate 10 64
Passing success rate 27 50

Notre Dame's victory over Clemson was far and away their most impressive and complete game of the season. They had been sorta skating by their opponents till that point, winning by controlling games decisively in the box with a veteran offensive line, quarterback, and interior defense. Against Clemson they really put it all together with a multi-faceted winning effort. Their defense controlled Travis Etienne and the Tigers run game; they ran the ball 41 times for 209 yards; and then their passing game managed to land some shots with new emerging weapons.

Freshman tight end Michael Mayer (Baby Gronk) had a good game with five catches for 67 yards and then redshirt senior Javon McKinley -- who had always been a backup -- had five catches for 102 yards against Clemson and is now up to 19 catches for 366 yards on the year for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame's main issue this season is still the same: they have a running game and a lot of big possession targets such as McKinley (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), tight ends Mayer and Tommy Tremble, and Ben Skowronek (6-foot-3, 224 pounds). Maybe one of the bigger breakthrough moments in the game was quarterback Ian Book throwing a post route to Avery Davis for 53 yards that set up their late touchdown and forced overtime. Davis is a smaller receiver with some speed to take the top off the defense and potentially open up even more room for the Irish run game and bigger receivers.

This is the development that could help Notre Dame continue to build on their existing 2020 success and give them a chance to win out and win in the playoff. The other pieces for this team are mostly there -- the big question is whether they have improved enough at receiver to keep up with other high-powered teams. Beyond the need for improvement there, Notre Dame also needs to avoid coming out against Boston College with a hangover from their big win because the Eagles have some bite.

The key to the Eagles is quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who transferred to Boston College from Notre Dame in search of playing time because he was stuck behind Book. He has been down in the last few games; he threw for over 300 yards against North Carolina, Pitt, and Virginia Tech and then threw for 145 against Georgia Tech before barely breaking 200 against Clemson and Syracuse. The reasons for the decline are not obvious; perhaps the big and powerful passer has taken some bumps and bruises that have slowed him down or hampered his ability.

Boston College doesn't have much of a run game to set up his strong suits, play-action passing and rollouts. Lead running back David Bailey has just 429 rushing yards at 3.9 yards per carry with four rushing touchdowns. The offense works when Jurkovec can hit speedy deep threat Zay Flowers (600 receiving yards, six touchdowns) and tight end Hunter Long (501 receiving yards, three touchdowns). Their challenge against Notre Dame will be setting up Long to break into the backfield or clearing space for Flowers. One of the keys to accomplishing that goal will be protecting Jurkovec from the Irish base pass rush.

Notre Dame has three defensive ends now with three sacks or more; they'll need their defensive line to amp up the pressure so they can eliminate options for Jurkovec either on play-action or when he's escaping the pocket to push the ball down the field. Another big factor here will be how well Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah can close and harass Jurkovec when he leaves the pocket.

The Boston College defense is much improved under head coach Jeff Hafley. Their pass rush depends heavily on blitzing linebackers, though, which is a tough look against the veteran Irish offensive line, scrambling Book, and a wide receiver group that can present their quarterback with a lot of big safety valves underneath.

Watch for:

  • Will Notre Dame be able to build on their big win over Clemson?
  • Former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec facing his former team and trying to carry Boston College against a top offense.
  • Can Boston College successfully pressure Ian Book against Notre Dame's offensive line?

FEI Outright Pick: Notre Dame by 14.1

USC (-14) at Arizona -- 3:30 p.m. (FOX)

Overall USC (1-0) Arizona (0-0)
F/+ 27 91
FEI 28 84
When USC has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 24 96
2019 SP+ 9 114
2019 IsoPPP+ 83 47
2019 Rushing success rate 24 130
2019 Passing success rate 6 105
When Arizona has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 41 53
2019 SP+ 60 50
2019 IsoPPP+ 14 38
2019 Rushing success rate 120 45
2019 Passing success rate 65 86

Arizona is really counting on being better on offense this season. They return sophomore quarterback Grant Gunnell to try and lead a breakthrough along with several returning starters on the offensive line and receivers Jamarye Joiner and Brian Casteel. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone runs a spread system that allows the quarterback to attack multiple areas of the field and force spacing that opens up the run game. Last season in eight games Gunnell threw 155 passes for 1,239 yards at 8.0 yards per attempt with nine touchdowns to a single interception. His ability to see the field and hit targets outside the hashmarks is the great hope for this team.

The Arizona defense is not the great hope for this team. Last year's leading tacklers Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II, the starting linebackers, both transferred to Big 12 programs (Texas Tech for Schooler, West Virginia for Fields) and are thriving in their new destinations. Fourth-leading tackler Scottie Young also transferred to West Virginia. The entire unit is essentially being rebuilt and it's being restocked earlier than a normal cycle because so many starters abandoned the unit via the transfer portal.

Arizona will be looking to engage in a shootout here with the Trojans, who demonstrated some vulnerability on defense under new coordinator Todd Orlando last week against Arizona State. The Trojans had to erase a 27-14 deficit starting with a drive that begun with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter. USC managed a nine play, 80-yard touchdown drive in 1:36 and then recovered an onside kick and scored again in a single play.

USC's defense handled the Arizona State passing game well, holding quarterback Jayden Daniels to just 5.8 yards per attempt, but Daniels ran for over 100 yards while Sun Devils running backs DeaMonte Trayanum and Rachaad White had a combined 24 carries for 160 yards at 6.7 yards per attempt with two rushing scores. Arizona had a few quick scores that helped USC control the ball for over 34 minutes of clock and run the ball 40 times while throwing 55. They return starting quarterback Kedon Slovis after his sensational freshman run in 2019 and have a deep cast of receiving targets for him including returning stars Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown along with big, emerging youngsters Drake London and Bru McCoy.

Todd Orlando will need more time to fine-tune his aggressive defense but is certainly inheriting some players that match his aggressive, zone-blitzing style with big safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao. Confusing Gunnell and his offensive line will be key to their strategy. One of the main concerns for USC this season is their own offensive line holding up against pressure. New left tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker played guard last season and the Trojans surrendered three sacks, albeit in 58 attempts, against the Sun Devils in their first week.

There's a lot at stake for USC this season. Head coach Clay Helton has barely been hanging on to his post and there are a lot of rumblings out there about Urban Meyer potentially coming back to coach; both USC and Texas would be keen to have an opening for him if their current head coaches can't get it done this season. Then beyond that, USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell will be a hot commodity as an up-and-coming Air Raid coach should there be staff turnover in Los Angeles. Or the Trojans could work things out this season and build on their miraculous victory with further wins this season that keep the existing staff together and allow them to enter 2021 with a more experienced Slovis and a lot of surrounding weapons.

Watch for:

  • Can Arizona make a leap with returning quarterback Grant Gunnell coming off their odd, pandemic offseason?
  • USC's Air Raid offense coming to life against a transfer-depleted Arizona defense.
  • Will the Trojans be able to put together a strong 2020 season and retain their staff for 2021?

FEI Outright Pick: USC by 8.3

SMU at Tulsa (-2.5) -- 7:30 p.m. (NBC)

Overall SMU (7-1) Tulsa (3-1)
F/+ 35 53
FEI 48 47
When SMU has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 16 23
SP+ 14 47
IsoPPP+ 23 41
Rushing success rate 43 5
Passing success rate 28 58
When Tulsa has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 61 79
SP+ 64 66
IsoPPP+ 42 32
Rushing success rate 53 61
Passing success rate 29 83

These two teams are currently at or near the top of the West division in the American Athletic Conference. Tulsa is 3-0 but have this game and then other big looming contests against both Houston and Cincinnati. SMU has already had to play Cincinnati, and took a loss, but has a chance to seize control of the West division by dealing losses to Tulsa and Houston after already defeating Memphis.

This is an interesting matchup for the contrasting styles at play. Ever since hiring Phil Montgomery as head coach back in 2015, the Golden Hurricane have attempted to be a "veer and shoot" offense in the style of the Baylor Bears that Montgomery had coordinated under Art Briles to consecutive Big 12 championships in 2013 and 2014. After an initial breakthrough in 2016 when Tulsa was 10-3, they've failed to win more than four games in any year since until now. The 2020 Golden Hurricane hoped to realize the offensive vision with quarterback Zach Smith, a big and strong-armed passer who was originally a Baylor recruit before transferring when Briles was fired. Last season Smith threw for 3,279 yards at 7.6 yards per attempt with 19 touchdowns to nine interceptions and this season as a senior it was hoped he could trigger a big season. This season he has thrown for 925 yards through four games at 7.8 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. That's not how this system is supposed to work. The goal is to use ultra-wide receiver splits and to mix in RPOs and play-action in order to clear space in the alleys to run the fooball. The two Tulsa running backs -- T.K. Wilkerson and Deneric Prince -- are both bigger power backs, each weighing around 220 pounds, whose role in this offense is akin to a triple-option fullback, hitting downhill off tackle. They've combined for 95 carries for 476 yards at 5.0 yards per carry with five touchdowns. Solid work that has kept Tulsa ahead of opponents, but the passing game doesn't have the corresponding pop because teams have just played man coverage to take away easy throws and Smith and his receivers haven't been able to make them pay. SMU has some experienced corners and will employ a similar approach, outnumbering the run game and daring Tulsa to make good on their strong-armed passer and wide splits by successfully pushing the ball down the field.

But Tulsa has been effective this season because of the play of their defense. Their cornerbacks Akayleb Evans and Allie Green IV are 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 respectively and will often play on islands outside while Tulsa moves their three safeties and 3-3 front around in the middle of the field to try and choke out opposing offenses. Those two cornerbacks have held up fairly well, at least well enough to allow SMU to stop the run consistently by aggressively deploying their safeties around the box.

SMU has been more of a full-blown Air Raid team after utilizing more double-tight end sets a year ago under previous offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee (now with Miami). Their own Big 12 transfer quarterback, Shane Buechele from Texas, has successfully unlocked the intended design of the system and thrown for 2,581 yards thus far at 9.1 yards per attempt with 20 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Tight end Kylen Granson is a key piece, moving around to create matchup problems while hauling in 30 catches for 485 yards and three scores. Rashee Rice is the home run-hitter with 39 catches for 580 yards and five scores. Because of all their threats on the perimeter, the run game has maintained a big place in the offense as well with young Ulysses S. Bentley IV running for 774 yards at 5.9 yards per carry with 10 rushing touchdowns.

It's a difficult offense to cover up because of all the threats and Buechele's command of the system. Tulsa will likely play a lot of drop-eight coverages and hope to hold up forcing the Mustangs to work their way down the field slowly and deliberately throwing and running for small gains at a time. If their cornerbacks can't match up one-on-one outside, though, their strategy can unravel. If SMU starts to heat up on offense, it may be too difficult for Tulsa to match them.

Watch for:

  • Which team's quarterback can beat man coverage outside with his receivers to open up the field?
  • SMU's senior quarterback Shane Buechele trying to maintain drives getting through progressions against Tulsa's drop-eight coverages.
  • If this game becomes a shootout, can Tulsa keep up?

FEI Outright Pick: Tulsa by 3.2

Wisconsin (-4.5) at Michigan -- 7:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Wisconsin (1-0) Michigan (1-2)
F/+ 4 17
FEI 5 16
When Wisconsin has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 4 29
SP+ 12 19
IsoPPP+ 90 62
Rushing success rate 82 35
Passing success rate 12 71
When Michigan has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 13 17
SP+ 2 30
IsoPPP+ 114 17
Rushing success rate 12 65
Passing success rate 1 42

This is another big, desperation-type game in the Big 10. Michigan's season has been a complete disaster thus far, first losing a big rivalry game at home against a weakened rival (Michigan State) and then taking a blowout loss against lowly Indiana. Now they draw Wisconsin, who looked terrific in their season opener before missing all subsequent games due to COVID. A loss here would make Michigan 1-3 and greatly increase the chances of a losing season and potentially the end of the Jim Harbaugh era.

Indeed, while losing to Ohio State annually has been a major thorn in the side of Harbaugh, it has been his 3-3 record against Michigan State and 2-2 record against Wisconsin that have really diminished his case for retention. In those four games against the Badgers, Michigan is 2-0 at home with both of the losses coming at Camp Randall, so a loss here would be Michigan's first home loss to Wisconsin under Harbaugh in addition to giving them a below-.500 mark against the West division's toughest program.

For this matchup, the biggest question going in is the availability of Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz. The redshirt freshman and former blue-chip recruit took over in the opener because returning starter Jack Coan was injured and he completed 20 of 21 pass attempts for 248 yards at 11.8 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. It was a fascinating display and a bit of a departure from the normal Wisconsin methodology of being more run-centric. The Badgers still lined up under center and threw on play-action, but they did all their real damage in the passing game with senior tight end Jake Ferguson and senior wide receiver Danny Davis, each of whom had 72 receiving yards against Illinois with Ferguson scoring three times.

Their run game will be a focal point at some point in this season. Running backs Nakia Watson and Garrett Groshek had a combined 32 carries for 132 yards at 4.1 yards per carry and simply weren't as explosive as we've seen with past Badgers running backs such as Melvin Gordon or Jonathan Taylor. Michigan is fairly well equipped to handle this less explosive Wisconsin run game; their own defensive tackles are still not a strong suit and the safeties have had to make a lot of the tackles for this team. This is problematic not only in its own right but for the fact that Michigan really needs their safeties helping out the cornerbacks, who have been absolutely torched in virtually every game this season.

If Mertz has cleared the COVID protocol and can play in this game and be sharp, then the obvious challenge is whether or not Michigan can fare any better on pass defense. Wisconsin also presents additional challenges in that if Michigan attempts to play the safeties back to prevent getting burned over the top, the Wisconsin run game that was a bit sluggish against Illinois could roar to life and control the game against the Wolverines front.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan has been heavily reliant on their own run game which mixes some sturdy gains with quarterback run schemes and then occasional explosive gains when they crease or out-leverage a defense. The Badgers have their normal collection of big, powerful defensive linemen lead by nose tackle Keeanu Benton and good linebacker play. They also have a big leg up stemming from the ability of junior cornerback Rachad Wildgoose. The Badgers have been happy to play Wildgoose on an island in press-man coverage while shifting the safeties to other receivers and loading up the box with linebackers to blitz or simply crowd out rushing attacks.

If quarterback Joe Milton can't find star receiver Ronnie Bell when he's covered up in man coverage, there's little to stop the Badgers from loading the box with linebackers and perhaps a safety and making life a veritable hell for Michigan's run-centric offense. Protection will be another factor to watch here -- Wisconsin brings a lot of disguise in their coverages and blitzes that can confuse a young line such as Michigan's or a young quarterback such as Milton.

Watch for:

  • Will Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz be cleared of the COVID protocol and ready to play?
  • How will Michigan balance the need to help their flailing cornerbacks with the ever present threat of the Badgers rushing attack?
  • Joe Milton and the Michigan offense trying to attack the Badgers' over-shifted schemes and array of blitzes.

FEI Outright Pick: Wisconsin by 4.5


FEI PICKS: WEEK 11

Favorite Spread Underdog FEI Pick FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Ian's Pick
Against the Spread
Penn State 3.5 at Nebraska Penn State Penn State Nebraska
at Virginia Tech 2.5 Miami Virginia Tech Miami Miami
Notre Dame 13 Boston College Notre Dame Notre Dame Notre Dame
USC 13 at Arizona USC Arizona USC
at Tulsa 2.5 SMU Tulsa Tulsa SMU
Wisconsin 4.5 at Michigan Wisconsin Wisconsin Wisconsin

FEI picks against the spread in Week 8: 3-3

FEI picks against the spread this year: 29-22-1

Ian's picks against the spread in Week 8: 5-1

Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 29-22-1

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