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

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 13

Notre Dame Fighting Irish RB Kyren Williams
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

One of the big expectations for Week 12 in college football was that it would clarify the Big 12 race with some intense rivalry games in the Farmageddon series between Iowa State and Kansas State and then afterward in Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Those games couldn't help but clarify the race for the Big 12 title as all four teams were at the top of the standings, but the outcomes weren't fiercely contested.

The Sooners have received a boost from getting running back Rhamondre Stevenson and defensive end Ronnie Perkins back from suspensions that occurred at the end of 2019, and with those additions to their rushing attack and pass rush, they are now overwhelming Big 12 opponents. They blew out the Cowboys 41-13 in a game that never really looked competitive. Beforehand, Iowa State came in against Kansas State looking fresh off their bye week, while the Wildcats looked like a team that had run out of answers for all of their injuries and COVID-related player losses. The Cyclones whipped 'em 45-0.

Another game that didn't quite meet expectations was Indiana at Ohio State, which the Hoosiers made more of a game than most of us expected. Their sticky-fingered secondary successfully picked off Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields three times and had the ball within a score with around four minutes left on the clock at the end of the game before Ohio State's pass rush and then run game finally put it on ice. It was a coming-out party for Indiana quarterback Michael Penix (who threw for 491 yards at 9.6 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and one interception) and his top receiver Ty Fryfogle (who caught seven of those passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns). The Buckeyes survive and advance, but their aura of invincibility is now diminished.

Elsewhere in college football, Cincinnati barely held off Central Florida 36-33 to keep their undefeated season alive and Georgia finally plugged in USC transfer quarterback J.T. Daniels to see him promptly throw for 401 yards and four touchdowns. This won't be the year for Georgia, but their 2021 team is going to generate a tremendous amount of hype based off this Daniels performance.

Week 13 will give us a solid Friday slate on ABC before coming back Saturday with some SEC rivalry games (including the Iron Bowl) and an Oklahoma prime-time battle with West Virginia that could offer some intrigue for the Big 12 title hunt.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Iowa State at Texas (-2) -- Friday 12 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Iowa State (6-2) Texas (5-2)
F/+ 16 23
FEI 18 20
When Iowa State has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 15 34
SP+ 21 38
IsoPPP+ 60 26
Rushing success rate 19 21
Passing success rate 26 101
When Texas has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 21 28
SP+ 17 22
IsoPPP+ 67 42
Rushing success rate 16 59
Passing success rate 50 81

Iowa State has a chance to win their first-ever Big 12 championship this season, and their first conference championship since they won the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association title back in 1912. Winning the Big 12 is less rare for the Longhorns but still not terribly common; their Big 12 Championship trophies are engraved with the years 1996, 2005, and 2009, making it a full decade now since they won while rival Oklahoma is in pursuit of their sixth consecutive league crown. Beyond that, there are coaching jobs at stake here. Ohio native Matt Campbell would surely be a primary target for Michigan if they find themselves hiring a new coach this winter while Tom Herman is fighting to prevent Texas from aiming to replace him.

The matchup would really seem to favor Texas, but Iowa State's convincing 45-0 victory last Saturday certainly caught everyone's attention. Outside receiver Xavier Hutchinson has been coming on for Iowa State and has 41 catches now for 518 yards and four scores after his six-for-111 day against Kansas State. They've been moving Hutchinson around in order to hit him on both the RPO post routes and fades they like to throw as well as the shallow crossing routes that make up a substantial chunk of their offense. The Cyclones also regularly play with two or even three tight ends; the primary receiver in those sets is Charlie Kolar (25 catches for 286 yards and four touchdowns) whose specialty is getting open on deeper crossing patterns. These dimensions to their offense have improved of late but it has been a struggle for junior quarterback Brock "Pump Fake" Purdy. He has thrown for just 1,713 yards at 7.2 yards per attempt with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Iowa State's main force on offense has instead been sophomore running back Breece Hall, who has had 180 carries for 1,169 yards at 6.5 yards per carry with 15 touchdowns. They've been mixing a variety of zone schemes that move their tight ends around to create false keys, extra gaps, and misdirection, and Hall has thrived at picking his way through the resulting creases.

This approach will face perhaps its toughest challenge of the season against the Texas defensive front. The Longhorns' defensive tackle tandem of Keondre Coburn (6-foot-2, 348 pounds) and senior Ta'Quon Graham (seven tackles for loss) are a heavy lift -- or shove as the case may be -- while edge player Joseph Ossai leads the team in tackles and has 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Texas is difficult to move in the box, and while their linebackers are still improving in the new scheme, safeties Chris Brown, B.J. Foster, and Chris Adimora are regularly in close to the action while safety Caden Sterns and the cornerbacks are playing match or man coverage on the perimeter. They'll challenge the Cyclones up and down the field in a fashion similar to how Oklahoma State played Iowa State when the Cowboys beat them earlier this season.

On the other side of the ball, Texas is coming off three consecutive off weeks due to a bye and then the postponement of their contest with Kansas. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger should be rested and healed up from some bumps and bruises that slowed him down in earlier games this season. The Longhorns have also had time to fix up their run game and pass protection, both of which have struggled this season, and make better use of freshman running back Bijan Robinson and sophomore wide receiver Jake Smith, who established themselves in Texas' first seven games as the most potent skill players on the roster.

If the Longhorns have some sort of breakthrough in the run game or with Smith, they could break this game open, but it's more likely that Iowa State's bend-don't-break flyover defense will stymie them as it has over the last few years and we get a defensive struggle. Then things come down to whether Purdy or Ehlinger take better care of the ball and are able to finish drives in the red zone with points.

Watch for:

  • Breece Hall and the Iowa State running game against Texas' NFL-caliber defensive linemen.
  • What has Texas been able to cook up on offense with three weeks off to heal and tinker?
  • Brock "Pump Fake" Purdy and Sam Ehlinger dueling in a defensive struggle that will come down to decision-making at quarterback and red zone conversions.

FEI Outright Pick: Texas by 2.5

Nebraska at Iowa (-13.5) -- 1 p.m. (FOX)

Overall Nebraska (1-3) Iowa (3-2)
F/+ 66 11
FEI 69 10
When Nebraska has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 62 21
SP+ 41 2
IsoPPP+ 123 4
Rushing success rate 28 12
Passing success rate 73 39
When Iowa has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 82 15
SP+ 76 54
IsoPPP+ 53 116
Rushing success rate 97 16
Passing success rate 103 70

The Heroes Game is one of the rivalries that was intended to power and make meaning for Nebraska's transition to the West division of the Big 10 conference. Nebraska and Iowa are neighboring states with a lot of overlap in fanbases; both economies include a heavy dose of corn farming; and the programs historically have similar profiles and strategies as a result of their comparable demographics and position in the country. It has been a lopsided exchange, though, with Iowa winning six to Nebraska's three, including six of the last seven. Nebraska's season would really get a nice boost if they could pull out a win in this game. Their victory a couple weeks back against the flailing Penn State Nittany Lions was useful in avoiding a rock-bottom sort of season, but another win here would make them 2-3 with a meaningful accomplishment.

One of takeaways from the Penn State win was expected to be the rise of Luke McCaffrey. Nebraska head coach Scott Frost gave the redshirt freshman the start for that game and was rewarded with a solid outing and the win. Then McCaffrey had a much tougher go against Illinois the following week, throwing for only 134 yards at 5.2 yards per attempt with zero touchdowns and three interceptions. In the run game he had 26 carries for 122 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but the Fighting Illini smashed them 41-23. Now it's unclear if they'll throw McCaffrey back out there against Iowa or give old starter Adrian Martinez another chance.

At their core, the Cornhuskers are facing a dilemma related to how they use their quarterbacks. Both McCaffrey and Martinez are most dangerous when running the ball in option schemes or direct-snap quarterback runs, but running the quarterback so often inevitably diminishes his ability to consistently make good throws. Nebraska may need to choose between employing spread option schemes that allow opponents to force them to throw the ball by loading the box, or else more closely mirroring the Nebraska teams Frost played for in the 1990s that would put big bodies on the field and run the option from power sets.

Iowa could be vulnerable due to their own struggles at quarterback. This is Year 1 for Spencer Petras, who takes over for current NFL quarterback Nathan Stanley after three great years as the starting quarterback for the Hawkeyes. With a young quarterback and experienced offensive line, the Hawkeyes have put more emphasis on their rushing attack again this season. Running backs Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent have combined for 131 carries for 759 yards at 5.8 yards per carry with 12 rushing touchdowns.

The receiving corps is experienced and returns a lot of the key figures from 2019, and sophomore tight end Sam LaPorta appears to be the next great Hawkeyes player at that spot, but the overall passing game hasn't come together. Petras has thrown for 945 yards at only 5.8 yards per attempt with three touchdowns to four interceptions. This lack of firepower could be a problem in safely putting away the Cornhuskers the day after Thanksgiving.

If the game comes down to defensive play, the Hawkeyes are at an advantage, and this area is the main reason for the discrepancy in the point spread. Iowa is once again a hard-nosed, fundamentally strong defensive team. They have 10 interceptions in just five games as well as 10.5 sacks from their starting defensive line. Returning end Chauncey Golston has been boosted by the addition of grad transfer Zach VanValkenburg on the opposite edge while tackle Daviyon Nixon leads the team in both tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (four) and has one of the team's 10 interceptions. As is always the case, the Hawkeyes focus on playing base defense with great fundamentals, keeping the ball in front of them, and tackling well.

They locked up the Penn State rushing attack, and the fear from Nebraska will be that they can do likewise to their own spread-option game without conceding much over the top in the passing game. Safeties Jack Koerner and Kaevon Merriweather are a reliable duo on the back end and tend to play the ball from the hashmarks. Traditionally Iowa would make a team like Nebraska earn their way down the field without sneaking up defensive backs to stop a quarterback run game.

Watch for:

  • Who starts at quarterback for Nebraska and will they lean more on the run game or try to start landing shots in the passing game?
  • How will Nebraska's struggling defense handle Iowa's improved stretch running game with Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent?
  • Nebraska's solid offensive line and consistent if not terribly explosive quarterback run game against the big Iowa defensive line and always sound linebacker corps.

FEI Outright Pick: Iowa by 20.1

Notre Dame (-4.5) at North Carolina -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Notre Dame (8-0) North Carolina (6-2)
F/+ 6 15
FEI 7 22
When Notre Dame has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 7 81
SP+ 9 44
IsoPPP+ 55 78
Rushing success rate 23 106
Passing success rate 21 17
When North Carolina has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 10 6
SP+ 8 4
IsoPPP+ 83 6
Rushing success rate 12 7
Passing success rate 24 15

Notre Dame's run at their only ever conference championship continues with the Tar Heels on Friday after the Texas-Iowa State game. North Carolina is a tricky opponent; the Tar Heels haven't been able to put it together on defense this season despite their disruptive numbers across the front. Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman's aggressive blitzing tactics are the sort that often struggle in the college game with higher-level skill and spread spacing. When you make a mistake against the pass with fewer coverage defenders, ACC quarterbacks can make you pay by getting the ball to speed in space. Safe pressure is hard to come by when bringing five defenders, and even when dropping more the Tar Heels have struggled to trade receivers properly in zone coverages.

The Tar Heels are going to be up against it trying to pressure and attack the Notre Dame offense. The combined experience of the five returning starters on the offensive line along with multi-year starting quarterback Ian Book and excellent pass protecting running back Kyren Williams make the Fighting Irish very difficult to pressure. With every week they're becoming more dangerous as they develop the skill talents around that infrastructure, including young tight end Michael Mayer (21 catches for 247 yards, four touchdowns) and transfer wide receiver Ben Skowronek (14 catches for 239 yards and five scores). The most dangerous dimension to this offense is the extent to which they spread the wealth though -- five different players have 200 or more receiving yards.

North Carolina will need to start by putting up a strong resistance to the Notre Dame running game, which is complicated due to the breadth of schemes and plays they run on offense this season. The Irish will often try to base their identity in the running game on a given week based on your perceived weaknesses rather than their own strengths; then it's a matter of whether they can pull it off or not. Provided they keep things simple enough to handle the Tar Heels' run blitzes, expect to see a lot of Irish scoring.

On the other side of the ball is where this matchup will make for an interesting battle or not. The Tar Heels have been scoring enough to turn any game into a shootout. Quarterback Sam Howell has thrown for 2,631 yards this season at 10.6 yards per attempt with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions, and their running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter have a combined 236 carries for 1,675 yards at 7.1 yards per carry with 19 rushing touchdowns. The passing game this season has zeroed in more on Dyami Brown, who has 45 catches for 829 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Tar Heels lean heavily on RPOs and play-action from spread sets, particularly the former, which they often run with vertical passing concepts. Notre Dame will mix coverages in an attempt to prevent Howell from having clear reads to fire off throws in the RPO game, but the main way to stymie that approach is with man coverage that forces difficult throws. If a quarterback pulls the ball on an RPO but finds that the window to throw to his receiver isn't there, he runs out of time before his offensive line, which isn't pass protecting, either lets a pass-rusher into him or drifts downfield and makes any forward pass illegal.

The Irish will need a big game from cornerback Nick McCloud (seven pass break-ups) playing man coverage on Brown and then from their safeties in the middle of the field against North Carolina's vertical play-action combinations that are designed to generate creases for Howell to fire in post routes for touchdowns.

Watch for:

  • Notre Dame's multiple rushing attack and balanced skill roster against North Carolina's defense that has struggled in zone.
  • How will Notre Dame try to cover up North Carolina's explosive, vertical passing game?
  • Style points -- can Notre Dame keep up their increasingly precise offensive attack and make a case for the no. 1 seed in the playoff?

FEI Outright Pick: Notre Dame by 6.4

Auburn at Alabama (-24) -- Saturday 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Auburn (5-2) Alabama (7-0)
F/+ 18 1
FEI 15 1
When Auburn has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 27 9
SP+ 38 9
IsoPPP+ 98 87
Rushing success rate 29 25
Passing success rate 60 26
When Alabama has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 19 1
SP+ 25 1
IsoPPP+ 8 9
Rushing success rate 85 5
Passing success rate 81 2

Auburn has quietly won two of the last three Iron Bowls, including last year's game in which Mac Jones had to take over for an injured Tua Tagovailoa and threw four touchdowns but also two interceptions in the 48-45 Tigers victory. Put another way, Jones threw six touchdown passes, but two of them were thrown to Auburn, and one of them was a 100-yard interception return.

The Tigers' prospects aren't as great this time around. Jones has thrived behind unbelievable pass protection and the Crimson Tide have moved on from the Jaylen Waddle injury, throwing to Devonta Smith (65 catches for 903 yards and 10 touchdowns) and John Metchie (25 catches for 535 yards and four touchdowns). They also have workhorse running back Najee Harris, who's at 137 carries for 797 yards at 5.8 yards per carry with 16 rushing touchdowns and then another 210 receiving yards. The offensive line are the real stars of the show; they have a thorough run scheme and simply don't give up pressure on Jones. Teams really struggle to get pressure on Jones in the play-action game and backing off the stop the receivers makes life hard in stopping Harris in the run game.

Auburn's defensive front has improved over the course of the year as new players have grown into roles left behind by some terrific starters along the defensive line and linebacker. Speedy junior linebacker Zakoby McClain is the team's leading tackler and will be counted on in a big way with senior linebacker K.J. Britt out. It's a tough set-up for the Tigers; they don't tend to shut down rushing attacks without involving safeties Jamien Sherwood and Smoke Monday, both of whom would be more useful trying to stop the Tide vertical passing game. Nevertheless, the Tigers will have to embrace some bend-don't-break tactics in this game to have a chance at keeping the score manageable.

The Tigers offense for the duration of the Gus Malzahn era tends to hinge on whether or not they have a featured, power runner to drive their downhill run game. Malzahn's spread concepts are heavily geared around generating space and angles to run the ball in the box and their best seasons involved players named like Cam Newton, Tre Mason, and Kerryon Johnson. When the Tigers have a back that can handle 250 carries or more, they've won the SEC West, save for 2014 when Cameron Artis-Payne ran the ball 303 times for 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns but the Tigers were only 8-5.

This season they've done well feeding freshman Tank Bigsby, who has 92 carries thus far for 572 yards at 5.7 yards per carry with five touchdowns. However, Bigsby and both offensive tackles are questionable for this game after leaving the Tennessee game with injuries. Auburn's passing game is explosive at times working the ball to speedy Anthony Schwartz and big Seth Williams, but quarterback Bo Nix is averaging only 7.3 yards per attempt overall with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Alabama's defense is stouter up front against the run game than a year ago thanks to a year's maturation from nose tackle D.J. Dale and inside linebacker Christian Harris as well as the return of inside linebacker Dylan Moses. They can be had outside at cornerback, though, which means this game will probably turn on whether or not Nix can land a few deep shots to Williams and Schwartz and whether or not the Auburn defense can keep the game close enough that the number of big throws Nix has to make isn't too high.

In a big twist on this game, Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID again, and this time is experiencing symptoms and seems to be sick whereas the last occasion was a false positive. With Saban unavailable for this game, it'll be interesting to see what impact that has on the Tide's organization on the field and how confident and aggressive their players and staff prove to be without the head man stalking the sideline.

Watch for:

  • How will Auburn's young defensive front hold up against this ultra-potent Alabama offensive line and running back Najee Harris?
  • Can Bo Nix land some shots down the field to Seth Williams throwing against the Alabama cornerbacks?
  • How will Alabama respond to missing Nick Saban on the sideline as he is quarantined with COVID-19?

FEI Outright Pick: Alabama by 21.9

Pittsburgh at Clemson (-25) -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Pittsburgh (5-4) Clemson (7-1)
F/+ 39 3
FEI 46 4
When Pittsburgh has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 91 2
SP+ 80 7
IsoPPP+ 17 98
Rushing success rate 54 5
Passing success rate 76 5
When Clemson has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 26 8
SP+ 15 6
IsoPPP+ 122 29
Rushing success rate 23 55
Passing success rate 19 11

Pittsburgh has been on a two-game winning streak since suffering a 45-3 whooping at the hands of Notre Dame. They've had an interesting season with a lot of games successfully played and a somewhat unique and perhaps cutting-edge approach to strategy. Defensively they remain a 4-3 over, press-quarters team under the direction of head coach Pat Narduzzi, just as Michigan State was under Narduzzi in the first half of the decade. Offensively they've evolved into a ball-control team that moves the chains primarily with the passing game rather than the rushing attack.

Quarterback Kenny Pickett shoulders the load for the offense and has attempted 259 passes this season, or about 28.7 per game, for 2,003 yards at 7.7 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns to four interceptions. Their entire approach is oriented around the passing game with tight end manned by the smaller Daniel Moraga (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) who flexes out and moves around to help the Panthers target their slot receivers in different matchups. Lately it has been D.J. Turner doing the heavy lifting; the 5-foot-9, 205-pounder caught 15 passes for 184 yards and a score against Virginia Tech in Pitt's 47-14 victory. With a running back's build and speed, Turner has been able to essentially serve as a running back for the offense, keeping the chains moving with his route-running and regular targets in the seams. On the year, he's at 36 catches for 520 yards and two scores, while fellow slot Jordan Addison has 52 for 611 yards and three more scores. Pickett leads the team in touchdowns scored directly with seven rushing scores.

Clemson will be a stern test here, but the Tigers have been beat up at safety and outside linebacker this season with Nolan Turner, Lannden Zanders, and Mike Jones all missing time recently. The Tigers closed the Notre Dame game with two of defensive coordinator Brent Venables' literal children on the field at middle linebacker and strongside linebacker. Without health at linebacker and safety, the Pitt passing game could be a challenge.

The Tigers have had a strange go of things -- they had a bye week after their own overtime loss to Notre Dame and then saw their game last Saturday against Florida State postponed when it came out that a Clemson player had tested positive for COVID after practicing with his teammates. The circumstances around the situation led to a war of words between the programs with Clemson accusing Florida State of trying to avoid the game while the Seminoles accused Clemson of incautious treatment of the virus. At any rate, we move on now to this contest, which is a must-win for Clemson in order to stay ahead of Miami in the standings and get their chance at a rematch with the Fighting Irish in the ACC Championship Game.

Trevor Lawrence will be back, which makes a considerable difference for the Tigers even though D.J. Uiagalelei had a solid first start on the road against Notre Dame. The Tigers have settled on redshirt senior wideout Cornell Powell as their go-to guy on the outside; he had 100-plus receiving yards against Boston College and Notre Dame in Clemson's last two outings. Senior Amari Rodgers mans the slot and leads the team with 48 catches for 720 yards and six touchdowns to Powell's 31 catches for 418 yards and three scores.

These two receivers will have a massive impact on the Pitt game as the Panthers prefer to play press-man coverage outside in order to aggressively attack opposing rushing attacks. The Clemson run game has struggled all year as a result of turning over four-fifths of the offensive line from 2019 and having to establish new weapons on the perimeter after losing Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins. Star running back Travis Etienne's numbers have dipped to a more normal 121 carries for 634 yards at 5.2 yards per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns, where in 2018 and 2019 he averaged 8.1 and 7.9 yards per carry. He has also had his workload in the passing game tick up with 37 catches this season for 491 yards and two more touchdowns. Pitt cornerbacks Marquis Williams and Jason Pinnock have a pair of interceptions apiece and will be asked to lock down Powell and the other outside receiver so everyone else on the team can focus on Rodgers and Etienne in the middle of the field.

Watch for:

  • Can Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett guide their pro-spread passing game against Clemson's defense?
  • Pitt's cornerbacks locked in man coverage outside with Tigers senior wideout Cornell Powell.
  • Will the return of Trevor Lawrence loosen up the pressure on the Clemson running game and free Travis Etienne?

FEI Outright Pick: Clemson by 21.9

LSU at Texas A&M (-14) -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall LSU (3-3) Texas A&M (5-1)
F/+ 33 13
FEI 26 14
When LSU has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 21 28
SP+ 29 23
IsoPPP+ 102 37
Rushing success rate 33 37
Passing success rate 30 81
When Texas A&M has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 61 11
SP+ 75 11
IsoPPP+ 126 82
Rushing success rate 92 25
Passing success rate 98 14

Texas A&M has been having a pretty special season in 2020, which was always the expectation but appeared to be in doubt when the schedule was released and pitted the Aggies against Florida early in the year. When the Aggies pulled out a victory in that game, it completely turned around the narrative of their season, which was threatened to be defined by a 52-24 blowout loss to Alabama and potentially another season without a signature victory.

Now they're 5-1 with the loss to Alabama as the sole blemish and a chance to sandwich their 2019 blowout loss to LSU with a pair of victories. The season has been powered by an offensive line with four seniors and then star sophomore left guard Kenyon Green; some steady play by senior quarterback Kellen Mond; and then a realized cast of skill talents around him. The Aggies have run more spread this season and forced opponents to contend with the dual-threat nature of tight end Jalen Wydermyer, a 6-foot-5, 260-pounder who's fearless over the middle. Additionally, third-down running back Ainias Smith gets involved in the passing game and has 26 catches for 312 yards and five touchdowns working in the space underneath afforded by the concentration defenses have to put on the threat of Wydermyer up the seam or Mond on the scramble.

Teams can't put too much focus in the middle of the field, though, with receivers Chase Lane and Caleb Chapman, the latter of whom is 6-foot-5 and a matchup problem on the perimeter. Of course the run game is primary to this offense, and running back Isaiah Spiller has run for 643 yards at 6.2 yards per carry with five touchdowns. What has changed this season is the improved options on third down for the offense with Wydermyer dominating and Smith giving Mond dangerous checkdown options underneath.

These are all serious challenges for the LSU Tigers defense, which has been shuffling through different options in the secondary this season with their sole stalwart returner from the 2019 championship unit (cornerback Derek Stingley) in and out of the lineup. Stingley should be available in this game, which makes a considerable difference in the capacity of the Tigers defense to play some single-high coverages that utilize a safety to help create an inside-outside bracket on Wydermyer and deny him the ability to run the in-breaking option routes he has torched other teams with this season.

LSU will hope to bottle up Texas A&M by bringing down big safety and leading tackler Jacoby Stevens both to help cover up Wydermyer and also to outnumber the Aggies run game as an extra hat around the box. LSU will still need to show up and hold their own at the point of attack against A&M's offensive line, but their chances of keeping the Aggies offense down enough to give their own offense a chance hinge on being able to man up the Aggies receivers and have all hands on deck in the box.

The Aggies defense has been effective this season, but they're a big unit that's at their best defending the run. They can be had in the passing game if the Tigers can get after them in a fashion remotely comparable to how they played a year ago with Joe Burrow. It's not clear if they'll have Myles Brennan healthy for this game or if they'll need to turn to freshman T.J. Finley for his fourth consecutive start. Finley took down Arkansas a week ago, mostly by protecting the ball and making a couple of big throws to star receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. Marshall powers the LSU offense and has 38 catches for 597 yards and nine touchdowns on the year. Freshman tight end Arik Gilbert has been putting things together and had five catches against the Razorbacks while the run game has been steady if unremarkable. The Aggies safety tandem of Demani Richardson and Leon O'Neal can help stuff a rushing attack, but they are vulnerable against teams that work vertical route combinations.

LSU needs to rediscover their capacity for playing press-man coverage outside, loading up the interior with Jacoby Stevens and athletic linebackers, and flinging the ball around. Otherwise A&M has a strong and veteran team that will be hungry to administer some payback for the smackdown LSU gave them a year ago.

Watch for:

  • Can LSU control the middle of the field on defense against A&M's senior offensive line and star tight end Jalen Wydermyer?
  • LSU cornerback Derek Stingley against A&M's big receiver Caleb Chapman in man coverage.
  • Who starts at quarterback for LSU and will they be able to kick-start the spread passing game against a suspect Aggies secondary?

FEI Outright Pick: Texas A&M by 7.8


FEI PICKS: WEEK 13

Favorite Spread Underdog FEI Pick FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Ian's Pick
Against the Spread
at Texas 2 Iowa State Texas Texas Texas
at Iowa 13.5 Nebraska Iowa Iowa Nebraska
Notre Dame 4.5 at North Carolina Notre Dame Notre Dame Notre Dame
at Alabama 24 Auburn Alabama Auburn Alabama
at Clemson 25 Pittsburgh Clemson Pittsburgh Pittsburgh
at Texas A&M 14 LSU Texas A&M LSU LSU

FEI picks against the spread in Week 12: 2-4

FEI picks against the spread this year: 36-27-1

Ian's picks against the spread in Week 12: 2-4

Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 35-28-1

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