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» 2017 Offensive Personnel Analysis

It's a three-receiver league, but for the first time since 2010, the frequency of 11 personnel actually went down last year. Was it a blip, or sign of things to come?

21 Sep 2017

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 4

by Ian Boyd

Week 3 in college football didn't offer too much shock or entertainment, save for a few games previewed in this space. LSU was indeed vulnerable to Mississippi State's explosive spread offense, led by star quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, while the Texas Longhorns put together an incredible defensive effort and a game but flawed performance from freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger to take the No. 4 ranked USC Trojans to double overtime.

This week has a few games with early surprise teams from 2017, as well as some teams that are still in position to reach the Playoff or win their conference if things keep going right for them. Washington and Colorado have both picked up where they left off from 2016 and will face off in a rematch of last year's Pac-12 title game, while Big 10 contenders Penn State and Michigan each have some tough conference games this weekend that should help clear up the picture in that league as well.

Finally, Florida is immediately back to work after their stunning victory over the Tennessee Volunteers on a Hail Mary pass from freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks. Their matchup with the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats is poised to be a much more compelling and important game than most people probably thought before the season started. Here's how these matchups look.

All times are listed as Eastern.

TCU at Oklahoma State (-13) -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall TCU Oklahoma State
2017 Proj. S&P+ 19 20
When TCU has the ball Offense Defense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 22 67
2016 S&P+ 45 66
2016 FEI 82 47
2016 IsoPPP+ 69 72
2016 Rushing S&P+ 40 77
2016 Passing S&P+ 83 67
When Oklahoma State has the ball Defense Offense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 33 2
2016 S&P+ 51 8
2016 FEI 27 23
2016 IsoPPP+ 40 24
2016 Rushing S&P+ 64 65
2016 Passing S&P+ 22 21

Oklahoma State has been absolutely devastating on offense so far this season and just dropped some hurt bombs on Pat Narduzzi's Pittsburgh Panthers defense to the tune of 676 yards and 59 points. Quarterback Mason Rudolph almost hit 500 passing yards before he was pulled from the game, and four different Oklahoma State receivers went over 100 receiving yards on the day. The Cowboys weren't even playing with emerging star receiver Tyron Johnson. They are absolutely loaded with weapons.

The TCU Horned Frogs have always prided themselves on their ability to defend spread offenses, and they're coming off a nice tune-up against the SMU Mustangs. In that contest, TCU was determined to double-team future NFL receiver Courtland Sutton and make the Mustangs prove they could beat them by running the ball or throwing to another receiver. SMU managed to score 36 points, but they couldn't keep pace with TCU's 56. Trying to take away Oklahoma State star receiver James Washington is a much less hopeful endeavor, as the Cowboys are both deeper at the other wide receiver positions and stronger at running the football than SMU.

The Horned Frogs will instead have to get back to their patented philosophy of playing their safeties to help their receivers inside on post routes, but otherwise looking to arrive and stop the run. Oklahoma State loves to attack that now-common style with play-action and multiple vertical routes to the same side of the action to isolate receivers against cornerbacks and safeties down the field. It's hard to keep up with all the speed that Oklahoma State has, so TCU will need to pressure Rudolph and prevent him from getting his feet set and try to bump the Oklahoma State wideouts off their paths.

The other option is to try and beat the Cowboys in a shootout. TCU quarterback Kenny Hill has protected the football better this year, with just two interceptions in three games, and he threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns against SMU last week. The Frogs' running game is solid as well, but they'll want to use their offense to hold the ball and protect their defense, because there probably aren't enough weapons here to keep pace with Oklahoma State.

Watch for:

  • Will TCU quarterback Kenny Hill protect the football?
  • How will TCU's defense match up to Oklahoma State's potent and balanced offense?
  • James Washington, perhaps the most dominant deep threat receiver in the college game.
  • Lots and lots of points, especially as these defenses tire in the midday sun.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Oklahoma State

Michigan (-10) at Purdue -- 4 p.m. (FOX)

Overall Michigan Purdue
2017 Proj. S&P+ 10 92
When Michigan has the ball Offense Defense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 40 90
2016 S&P+ 40 99
2016 FEI 11 120
2016 IsoPPP+ 46 122
2016 Rushing S&P+ 49 123
2016 Passing S&P+ 29 109
When Purdue has the ball Defense Offense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 5 89
2016 S&P+ 2 94
2016 FEI 8 97
2016 IsoPPP+ 2 99
2016 Rushing S&P+ 4 112
2016 Passing S&P+ 1 84

You have to throw out a lot of the statistical projections of these Purdue Boilermakers because this simply isn't the same team that took the field a year ago. New head coach Jeff Brohm and his staff have brought a tremendous amount of skill and precision to their overall team. The defense managed to hold down Lamar Jackson and Louisville and keep the offense within striking distance in a close 35-28 loss. Then they shut down the Missouri Tigers a week ago in a dominant 35-3 victory.

Quarterback David Blough is starting to catch on to how to execute within Brohm's very creative and pro-style offense, while the Boilermakers have a pair of tight ends and a redshirt freshman wideout (Jackson Anthrop) who are emerging as deadly weapons within the attack. They are already very good at moving players around and attacking opponents' soft spots with misdirection and then a nice blend of speed and power. Purdue has their stiffest test yet by far, though, in the form of the Michigan Wolverines' defense.

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown will undoubtedly look to attack a still-learning offensive line and quarterback with a dizzying array of formations and blitzes designed to kill play designs before they can get started. Purdue has already been ahead of schedule, and if they show well in this game it will be a major sign of things to come for this program.

Making things more interesting is the fact that on the other side of the matchup, the Michigan offense has really struggled this season, and failed to score a touchdown against Army a week ago. Purdue's defense has been playing well this year, mostly utilizing bend-don't-break strategies from a 3-4 defensive scheme and playing with a lot of toughness up front. Michigan has a very sturdy running game led by running back Ty Isaac, who is averaging more than 7 yards per carry so far this year. The Wolverines will hope to just lean on Purdue and push them around before the game is over. If they can't do that and David Blough starts to find a rhythm, this will be a very interesting game to tune in for.

Watch for:

  • How will the new-look Purdue offense fare against a top Michigan defense?
  • Will the Michigan offense get on track against the Purdue defense?
  • Trick plays -- the new Purdue staff loves mixing in gadget plays to catch opponents off guard.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Michigan

Mississippi State at Georgia (-5.5) -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Mississippi State Georgia
2017 Proj. S&P+ 33 21
When Mississippi State has the ball Offense Defense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 15 13
2016 S&P+ 32 34
2016 FEI 37 36
2016 IsoPPP+ 21 20
2016 Rushing S&P+ 7 28
2016 Passing S&P+ 58 29
When Georgia has the ball Defense Offense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 74 55
2016 S&P+ 73 93
2016 FEI 106 80
2016 IsoPPP+ 99 93
2016 Rushing S&P+ 56 82
2016 Passing S&P+ 103 91

Mississippi State's attempt to have another special, competitive season is immediately put back on trial this week against the Georgia Bulldogs. Working in their favor is the fact that Georgia seems likely to turn to freshman quarterback Jake Fromm for another week.

Georgia has struggled for years to make the most of a perpetually loaded running back roster. This year they feature Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at the position, but pair them with a rebuilt offensive line and a young and unproven passing game. In recent games the Bulldogs have mixed in pass options to their runs, sweeps, and as many play-action shots as they feel they can safely take in order to take some pressure off their running backs, without putting too much pressure on their new freshman quarterback. It's a tightrope walk, but one that the Bulldogs have done well so far this season.

Mississippi State is coming off a game against an LSU offense that was very creative about protecting their running back and utilizing him in a variety of creative methods, but they thwarted it in two ways. First, they scored early and often when they had the ball which put pressure on LSU to try and keep pace by throwing more. Second, they loaded the box and played a lot of 46 "bear" fronts designed to prevent the run game at all costs and force LSU to beat them by throwing the ball. If they can match both of those strategies this week, then Georgia may prove even more vulnerable due to their youth on offense.

Georgia's defense has carried them so far this year, and they have already faced a strong offense led by a dual-threat quarterback when they took on Notre Dame, but Nick Fitzgerald is a more experienced quarterback than Fighting Irish signal-caller Brandon Wimbush, and he's playing with a lot of confidence now after taking down LSU. Mississippi State will use his legs to free up their own running back Aeris Williams (who ran for 146 yards against LSU), while also using his arm to push the ball down the field and out wide to their receivers. The Bulldogs will have to be able to stop the run without overcommitting numbers to the box. If neither they or LSU can pull it off we'll have to wonder who in the SEC can.

Watch for:

  • Can Georgia's defense match up to Nick Fitzgerald and all the threats from this spread offense?
  • How will Georgia do throwing the ball to get pressure off running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel?
  • Can Mississippi State get pressure on freshman quarterback Jake Fromm?

S&P+ Outright Pick: Georgia

Penn State (-12-5) at Iowa -- 7:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Penn State Iowa
2017 Proj. S&P+ 9 52
When Penn State has the ball Offense Defense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 6 16
2016 S&P+ 18 15
2016 FEI 17 30
2016 IsoPPP+ 7 27
2016 Rushing S&P+ 69 59
2016 Passing S&P+ 2 16
When Iowa has the ball Defense Offense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 18 107
2016 S&P+ 14 78
2016 FEI 48 58
2016 IsoPPP+ 41 58
2016 Rushing S&P+ 25 33
2016 Passing S&P+ 48 74

Penn State was a sort of second-tier playoff pick before the season started. Most people preferred to pick the ultra-talented Ohio State Buckeyes to come out of the Big 10 East and win the conference, but the Nittany Lions have an explosive running back of their own in Saquon Barkley (8.1 yards per carry) and a better returning quarterback in Trace McSorley than Ohio State has in J.T. Barrett.

The Nittany Lions have been humming along so far, shutting out Akron and Georgia State in 52-0 and 56-0 victories that sandwiched a 33-14 win over Pittsburgh. They haven't even been pushing the ball down the field with vertical passes like they did in the second half of the 2016 season -- Penn State has barely had to push down on the gas pedal to blow away the teams they've drawn so far. Iowa is a much stiffer test though, especially with their defense led by star linebacker Josey Newell. Iowa is always a very fundamentally sound unit that plays a bend-don't-break strategy and dares teams to consistently out-execute them up and down the field. Penn State beat them soundly last year 41-14 at home, but now they have to travel to Iowa City for a night game and show the same explosiveness.

Iowa's offense has also been much better than expected given the loss of quarterback C.J. Beathard and some transitions on their offensive staff. New quarterback Nathan Stanley has been solid, while returning running back Akrum Wadley has become deadly effective running behind their always stout offensive line on the zone stretch plays that have defined the team for years and years under head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Wadley hurt his ankle recently, but is expected to play in this game. If Iowa can run the football on Penn State's defense, then we've seen the Hawkeyes pull off upsets in prime time games at home before. That would grievously hurt the Lions' chances of winning the Big 10 East, repeating as Big 10 champions, and finally getting a Playoff berth.

Watch for:

  • Will Iowa be able to match up to Penn State's increasingly explosive spread offense?
  • Is this Penn State defense ready to shut down opponents and make this a championship-caliber team?
  • Will Iowa running back Akrum Wadley be healthy and ready to go against the Penn State defense?

S&P Outright Pick: Penn State

Florida (-2.5) at Kentucky -- 7:30 p.m. (SECN)

Overall Florida Kentucky
2017 Proj. S&P+ 15 45
When Florida has the ball Offense Defense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 59 64
2016 S&P+ 88 83
2016 FEI 6 80
2016 IsoPPP+ 72 65
2016 Rushing S&P+ 86 93
2016 Passing S&P+ 53 64
When Kentucky has the ball Defense Offense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 2 38
2016 S&P+ 4 52
2016 FEI 6 54
2016 IsoPPP+ 5 27
2016 Rushing S&P+ 12 11
2016 Passing S&P+ 6 65

No one really expects much from Kentucky on a year-to-year basis in the SEC, but this team pulled off a statement win over fellow surprise team South Carolina last week in a 23-13 victory and essentially took their spot as the dark horse SEC East contender. They've done it mostly with a stifling defense that has consistently stopped the run against all of their opponents thus far and held South Carolina to 2.7 yards per carry.

Shutting down the Florida running game wouldn't leave much for the Gators to work with, given their inconsistent passing attacks over recent seasons. Florida also depends rather heavily on getting steady yardage running off tackle behind their tight ends, and taking away their ability to make consistent gains on first down could really put young quarterback Feleipe Franks in a tough spot trying to beat coverage on passing downs time and time again.

Florida has been trying to get their passing game up to speed in order to get past their dependence on a grinding run game keeping them in games and protecting their defense. They've had repeated setbacks though, such as losing Will Grier to suspension in 2015 or losing star receiver Antonio Callaway to suspension this year. However, young Tyrie Cleveland has led the team in receiving and made the big play against Tennessee a week ago, and Franks has shown promise while protecting the football well.

The issue for Kentucky is that their own offense hasn't been amazing either, and they now face a very athletic Florida defense that has six sacks in two games so far this year. Dual-threat quarterback Stephen Johnson has been able to give their offense a boost while also bringing in some explosiveness to their passing game, but Kentucky is going to need a huge game from the senior quarterback in order to get points on the board to overcome Florida.

Watch for:

  • Will either team be able to get points on the board?
  • How will Kentucky's offensive line fare against Florida's dominant defensive line?
  • Will Feleipe Franks have fresh confidence after his game-winning throw against Florida?

S&P Outright Pick: Florida

Washington (-10) at Colorado -- 10 p.m. (FS1)

Overall Washington Colorado
2017 Proj. S&P+ 13 46
When Washington has the ball Offense Defense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 9 56
2016 S&P+ 15 12
2016 FEI 8 7
2016 IsoPPP+ 5 13
2016 Rushing S&P+ 10 32
2016 Passing S&P+ 5 9
When Colorado has the ball Defense Offense
2017 Proj. S&P+ 20 45
2016 S&P+ 8 47
2016 FEI 3 67
2016 IsoPPP+ 4 59
2016 Rushing S&P+ 10 89
2016 Passing S&P+ 5 28

This game didn't prove to be all that competitive a year ago when it was played for the Pac-12 championship, but a lot has changed since then. While Washington sent off most of the secondary that repeatedly picked off the Colorado passing game to the NFL, the Buffaloes are now rolling with young Steven Montez as the full-time signal-caller, and he's working with a very veteran group of wide receivers. The Buffaloes have three different receivers that are already over 200 receiving yards, and have also run the ball effectively with running back Phillip Lindsay (5.3 yards per carry).

Washington has been playing well enough on defense so far, but they were caught a few times by Rutgers in the season opener and struggled to recognize and respond to the Scarlet Knights' different formations and plays on multiple long drives. They have had a few weeks to use that film to get their young defense up to speed, but Colorado will bring greater diversity and explosiveness to this contest and give their defense a smaller margin of error.

Meanwhile, Colorado's defense has done remarkably well at replacing all of their own departing defensive backs who headed out to the NFL. They opened the year by holding Colorado State (who just dropped more than 20 points on Alabama) to three points total. Coach Mike MacIntyre seems to have an knack for finding and developing talent in the secondary. The Buffs just sent three defensive backs to the NFL, yet the secondary once again seems one of the strengths of the team, and the source of perhaps another future NFL player in cornerback Isaiah Oliver.

The Huskies have been brutalizing opponents so far with their own offense thanks to a veteran offensive line, returning quarterback Jake Browning, and the emergence of Dante Pettis in place of last year's star John Ross. Oliver and Pettis are nearly the exact same size, both at around 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds and may be matched up all night. If that matchup goes decisively in one direction or the other that would likely determine the ball game.

Washington has a very solid running game, and Colorado will look to outnumber them and force them to beat Oliver in man coverage or else throw the ball elsewhere. If the Huskies want to win the Pac-12 again and get back to the Playoff, they'll need to find some more weapons on offense and prove their young guys are ready on defense.

Watch for:

  • Is this a breakout opportunity for young Colorado quarterback Steven Montez?
  • How will Washington's rebuilt secondary hold up against Colorado's veteran receivers?
  • Dante Pettis trying to get open against Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver.

S&P Outright Pick: Washington


Favorite Spread Underdog S&P Pick S&P Pick against the spread Ian's Pick against the spread
Oklahoma State 13 TCU Oklahoma State TCU Oklahoma State
Michigan 10 Purdue Michigan Michigan Michigan
Georgia 5 Mississippi State Georgia Georgia Mississippi State
Penn State 12.5 Iowa Penn State Penn State Penn State
Florida 2.5 Kentucky Florida Florida Florida
Washington 10 Colorado Washington Washington Colorado

S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 3-3

S&P+ Picks against the spread in 2017: 11-7

Ian Picks against the spread last week: 1-5

Ian Picks against the spread in 2017: 5-13

Posted by: Ian Boyd on 21 Sep 2017

9 comments, Last at 30 Jan 2018, 6:40am by alisha5050


by zlionsfan :: Thu, 09/21/2017 - 10:33pm

since Army was playing Ohio State. :) But your point about not scoring a TD on Air Force is well taken. Losing a lot of talent seems to have had much more of an impact on the Wolverine offense than on the defense; coupled with a bit of regression by Wilton Speight, Michigan looks just weak enough to let Purdue make a game of it if they can't fix some problems this week.

But that defense is good enough that Michigan may not need an offensive TD this week, either. UM special teams and defense have put a lot of points on the board already, and Purdue's made some mistakes against weaker teams that Michigan would absolutely eat up. Brohm's already playing with house money, but I don't think he has enough to pull this one off ... not this year. Next year ...

by ChrisS :: Fri, 09/22/2017 - 12:28pm

With Nordin following Allen Michigan is trying to erase a long history of bad FG kicking. I am not quite sold on the greatness of the defense, having played very limited opponents, but I am a bit worried about the offense.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/22/2017 - 12:59pm

Long history?

When was U-M particularly bad at FG kicking?

by BroncosGuyAgain :: Thu, 09/21/2017 - 11:27pm

Well, that and Michigan did, indeed, score an offensive touchdown, albeit with 1:02 left in the game (in addition to the touchdown by punt return -- it is really hard to score 29 points without a touchdown).

That aside, this is a really well thought out article that has me fired up for Saturday. I'll re-read it Saturday morning just to reignite. Keep 'em coming, (though I don't see myself taking your betting advice anytime soon).

by Ian Boyd :: Wed, 09/27/2017 - 2:27pm

S&P+ has been back on track in picking against the spread this year. I've been terrible so far.


by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/22/2017 - 10:25am

U-M played Air Force. OSU played Army.

Also, it's Josey Jewell, not Josey Newell.

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by fileorgin :: Thu, 10/26/2017 - 9:09am
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