4-Down Territory: College Football in October; Big Games but Not Everyone Gets a Trophy
If you are a pacifist who is an anti-tobacco vegetarian environmentalist who believes everyone should get a trophy this week's Pigskin Stew is sure to offend. This blog celebrates traditions involving a pig, a Lumberjack, the military and good cigars. Saturday's slate of big October games will start to knock teams out of the playoff race and conference championship race. The biggest game of the day is in Columbus between Penn State and Ohio State. The last time Penn State won there was 2011 when a surprise Wildcat run offense and a great defense propelled Penn State to a 20-14 win. Will history repeat itself? The Pigskin Stew finishes with an in-depth look at the game.
1st DOWN: Don’t Miss A Good Flyover: #22 Air Force (6-0) at Navy (3-3) 12:00 CBS: After beating Wyoming, Air Force jumped into the top 25. But there is nothing airy about the Air Force attack. They lead the country averaging 334.2 yards per game on the ground and they run the ball almost 60 times a game. As for Navy, they run the ball 48 times a game and average 235 yards. If you like snazzy option offenses this is your game of the week…….UCF (3-3) at #6 Oklahoma (6-0) 12:00 ABC: If you'd rather see lots of passing at noon, flip over to this game featuring two teams that love to throw the ball. UCF is one of the four new Big 12 conference teams who are a combined 2-10 in the Big 12 this year. OU QB Dillon Gabriels spent 3 years at UCF amassing almost 8,000 career passing yards there. At OU he’s passed for over 5,000 yards a number that is likely to climb by a few hundred this Saturday…..#8 Texas (5-1) at Houston (3-3) 4:00 FOX: Houston likes to put the ball in the air too. Never was that more evident than with their “Hail Mary” win over WVU last week. On defense the Texas pass rush will get the Cougars into a quick pass game which has always been just fine with Coach Dana Holgorsen. Texas will have to be ready for the running ability Houston QB Donovan Smith. A couple of key QB scrambles really hurt them in the loss to OU…….Army (2-4) at #19 LSU (5-2) 7:30 SEC Network: It’s not often that we get all three service academies in the Pigskin Stew but Army is headed to LSU hoping to avoid being stewed in a pot of Gumbo. Like Navy, Army runs the ball 48 times a game, but they’ve been less effective. They’ll need to run the ball and run the clock to keep LSU’s explosive offense from an air and ground assault against the Army defense.
2nd Down: Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: We start 2nd down with a couple of Big Ten trophy games celebrating a pig and a lumberjack, the first of two annual Big Ten Trophy games celebrating Paul Bunyan……Minnesota (3-3) at #24 Iowa (6-1) 3:30 NBC: These two teams will be playing for a bronze pig named “Floyd of Rosedale” and positioning in the Big Ten West. Iowa is 27th in total defense, which is unusually low for them. But digging deeper they yield just 4.28 yards per play, which is the 5th-lowest total in the country. The health of Minnesota RB Darius Taylor who leads the Big Ten with 133 yards per game will be something to keep an eye on. If he plays the Gophers have a chance to get the pig…..
#2 Michigan (7-0) at Michigan State (2-4) 7:30 NBC: Michigan and MSU play for Paul Bunyan in a rivalry whose hostility was reignited by a “little brother” comment made by a Michigan player about fifteen years ago. Michigan has the best QB in the Big Ten in JJ McCarthy. He’s 2nd in the country in completion percentage (78.2%) and his clever mobility gives opposing defenses fits. MSU’s Nate Carter and Michigan’s Blake Corum are two of the Big Ten’s leading rushers. For MSU to have a chance they’ll need Carter to have a big game and for QB Noah Kim to avoid INTs. That is a tall order against a Michigan secondary that is 6th in the country in interceptions……Virginia (1-5) at #10 North Carolina (6-0) 6:30 The CW: This is considered “The South‘s Oldest Rivalry.” But in a nod to the preppy refinement and southern sensibilities of these two schools, there is no tacky trophy for the winner of this game. UNC is a playoff contender. As well as Drake Maye was playing all year, the addition of newly eligible WR Devontez Walker gives him an incredible talent at receiver that changes how you play defense against the Tarheels. Virginia has gotten better as the season has progressed evidenced by their close losses to NC State and at BC. But UNC is playing at another level right now……..Arizona State (1-5) at #5 Washington (6-0) 10:30 FS1: And speaking of Trophies, UW QB Michael Penix is playing for one they hand out in NYC in December. As we make the halfway turn of the college football season, he has both the numbers to win it AND the “Heisman Moment” from last week’s win over Oregon. While ASU is just 68th in pass efficiency defense, they did hold Colorado’s explosive offense to just 27 points. But the Huskies’ offense is a much bigger challenge.
3rd Down: At The Half-Way Turn: Being halfway through the season this is a time where each week more and more conference championship contenders fall by the wayside. Some of these teams need to win to stay alive…..Washington State (4-2) at #9 Oregon (5-1) 3:30 ABC: Given the depth of the Pac 12 it may be possible for a two-loss team to make the Championship game. WSU has two losses after a bad showing against an Arizona team that may make some PAC 12 noise before it’s all said and done. For Oregon, every game from here on in is a playoff-type game. If they win out and win the Pac 12, they’re a playoff team. They will have to take care of business against a pass-happy WSU offense. But the Oregon offense should roll against the Cougar defense….. South Carolina (2-4) at #20 Missouri (6-1) 3:30 SEC Network: The Tigers only loss came to LSU so that means they still have a chance to make the SEC title game. This is a tricky game because South Carolina had a week off to get ready for this one and they’ve also played well at Georgia and at home against Florida. The Gamecocks are among the best teams in the country throwing the ball, but among the worst in scoring defense. Missouri has a very productive running back in Cody Schrader and three WRs that pose real threats…..#13 Ole Miss (5-1) at Auburn (3-3) 7:00 ESPN: Auburn is out of the SEC race with three losses but Ole Miss still has hope. The Tigers offense is still a problem for them perhaps most evident by the fact that QB Payton Thorne is the team’s leading rusher. It looks like too tall a task for the Tigers to keep up with Ole Miss…..North Texas (3-3) at #23 Tulane (5-1) 3:30 ESPN2: Tulane QB Michael Pratt came through in their win at Memphis last week. He is the catalyst for the Green Wave. North Texas is just fine with getting into shootouts as they’ve rolled up 200 points in the last 5 weeks and have a dynamic QB of their own in Chandler Rogers…..#25 UCLA (4-2) at Stanford (2-4) 10:30 ESPN: No one had a more interesting weekend last week than Stanford by virtue of their comeback OT win at Colorado after trailing 29-0 at halftime. The Cardinal will find it much harder to score points this week. Last week UCLA threw 3 INTs which proved critical. If they avoid those mistakes, they should win this road game.
4th Down: Break Out The Cigars: Tradition dictates that the winner of the Alabama/ Tennessee game smokes cigars, but winning any of these games would be cigar-worthy …….#17 Tennessee (5-1) at #11 Alabama (6-1) 3:30 CBS: Everyone wrote Alabama off following the Texas loss, and the QB shuffle and struggle against USF. But here we are in October and the Tide are undefeated in conference play atop the SEC west. The Tide are riding a top 15 defense, playing opportunistic offense and are 13/13 on field goals. Looks like the Saban of yore. They’re also top 5 in the country in sacks. Tennessee has put up good offensive numbers for the year, but if you evaluate them against the better defensive teams they’ve played, all signs point to Alabama being able to contain them…… #16 Duke (5-1) at #4 Florida State (6-0) 7:30 ABC: Duke continues to impress with a solid win over NC State last week even without QB Riley Leonard. No matter who plays QB they will need some balance to attack the FSU defense and Duke has been willing to run the ball to win games. At the start of the year, Duke surprised everyone by holding Clemson to seven points. The more you watch them and evaluate their defense the more you see that they are no fluke. If that defense plays to that level, they have a chance to pull this one off……#14 Utah (5-1) at #18 USC (6-1) 8:00 Fox: On Saturday night the familiar refrain that USC was a soft team came back as Notre Dame got downright physical and thumped the Trojans. This will be an even bigger test of their toughness. Utah prides itself on being physical, playing with bad intentions and seeing if you can make it through four quarters. USC QB Caleb Williams lost twice to Utah last year so you’d suspect he is anxious to get after this one. While stories emerged from Caleb Williams' representation that he'd like to get part ownership of an NFL team in a future contract, USC fans would like to see him own a chunk of Utah this week.
5th Down: The Big One in in The Big Ten: #7 Penn State (6-0) at # Ohio State (6-0) FOX: While the PSU offense is 5th nationally in scoring, they rank 79th in yards per play, and 91st in yards per pass attempt (6.87 ypa) reflecting a lack of big plays. Of PSU’s 266 points, 99 of them have come from turnovers or special teams. That offense faces an OSU defense whose tackling and pursuit are reminiscent of the OSU defenses of old. They have yet to allow a play of more than 36 yards and they have three tall, physical safeties (average size 6-2 215). PSU is still looking for a breakout WR. While OSU’s offense is not setting the pace they have in recent years, they've been adept at making big plays because of a talented receiving corps that goes beyond Harrison, Egbuka and Fleming. Tight End Cade Stover is a legitimate problem. But in Columbus, all eyes this week are on the medical staff. But Ryan Day has proven adept at moving personnel to adjust. Egbuka did not play at WR last week, but freshman WR Carnell Tate stepped in and made plays. At running back with the top three guys out, Sophomore RB Dallan Hayden and hybrid WR/RB Xavier Johnson carried the ball. And inside the ten yard line and in short yardage 2nd-team QB Devin Brown came in and gave the OSU offense a spark as a wildcat. Keep an eye on the interior lines. The most experienced part of the OSU o-line line are their two guards and that is a match-up to watch. For Penn State the guard and center position struggled against Illinois's two d-tackles. They will have to perform against the OSU DTs who are active and physical. The best part of PSU’s defense remains their pass rush and ability to get turnovers to set up the offense in scoring position. PSU’s offense has scored nine TDs after turnovers or 4th-down stops with an average TD drive length of just 33 yards. With inexperienced QBs, pass rush becomes a factor and that would seem to favor PSU. As for overall team experience and clutch performance, Ohio State has won a clutch game in the 4th quarter at Notre Dame. On that game-winning drive QB Kyle McCord converted a third and ten, a fourth and seven and a third and 19. Drew Allar has yet to face that kind of pressure, but Saturday may be the day he delivers. These two defenses have both posted great stats so far. But the offenses Penn State has played rank 100th in scoring and 98th in total offense, while OSU’s opposing offenses rank 65th in scoring and 72nd in total offense. Given the relative inexperience at QB for both teams this game may come down to turnovers or a play in the kicking game. One wildcard was the emergence last week of Penn State's punt returner Daequan Hardy who returned 2 punts for TDs against UMass. This could be an old-school Big Ten defensive battle.