Thursday, October 6, 2016

Spread Offense, College Football Week 6: The Bridge Episode

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

Now that was a fun last Saturday, wasn't it? Last second dramatic wins with multiple lead changes in the final minute in the Tennessee-Georgia and North Carolina-Florida State game, 2 Big Ten heavyweights in Michigan and Wisconsin just pulverizing each other in a great defensive game, and did Louisville and Clemson put on a show or what? Last Saturday delivered big time overall, those types of exhilarating games are what makes this sport so great.

Each season of a TV series has something called a bridge episode. TV series typically start fast to hook you in followed by an episode or two that is more about building characters and storylines by being dialogue heavy while taking away the majority of action. That episode's purpose is to bridge the beginning of the season to the finale, hence the "bridge episode" name. This is what week 6 seems to be, with only 4 games involving 2 ranked teams it seems as though this will be less about the action on the field and more about what's to follow based off of this week. We are starting to get into conference play and we have some rivalry games this week so it will still hold everyone's attention, but this will be a natural come down after week 5's fantastic games and finishes. 


Noon kickoffs are headlined by Texas and #20 Oklahoma playing in their annual Red River Rivalry game. Oklahoma came in to last year's game at a perfect 5-o and ranked #10 in the country while Texas was a disappointing 1-4 at the time. They always say to throw the records out in a rivalry game though and last year was a perfect example, as the Longhorns handed Oklahoma their only regular season loss by a score of 24-17. This year, both teams are in need of a big win as Oklahoma just evened their record out to 2-2 after outlasting TCU 52-46 last weekend, and a promising start to the season for Texas has turned sour after 2 straight losses. Texas coach Charlie Strong will be calling defensive plays now after the Longhorns gave up 49 points to Oklahoma State, some reports are saying that this is a make or break game for him as far as determining his future as coach of the team.
They'll need to slow down an Oklahoma offense that finally got rolling last weekend and looked like the playoff contender that they were expected to be. Oklahoma's main concern will be the 2 QB system that Texas runs, last week they had a ton of problems with stopping TCU and Texas is the type of team that could put up some points if they find a weakness. The luster may be off this rivalry game a bit since both teams are just 2-2, but there's a lot at stake for these two teams and always expect some great moments when bragging rights are on the line.

We also have LSU at #18 Florida at noon. The post Les Miles era started out big for LSU as they rolled Missouri 42-7. Florida gets their starting QB back, Luke Del Rio, as they hope that provides a spark on the offense that they were missing last weekend against Vanderbilt. They still managed to win but the offense was stagnant overall and they coasted to a 13-6 victory. Can a rejuvenated LSU team go on the road and knock off a healthy Florida team on the road? It's a pretty big task for interim head coach Ed Orgeron.

The 3:30 games give us 2 of the 4 games involving 2 ranked teams. In ACC action, we have the #25 Virginia Tech Hokies going on the road to face the #17 North Carolina Tar Heels. The Hokies have moved on from "Beamer ball" and are now running a full time spread offense under 1st year head coach Justin Fuente. The switch is paying off right now, as they are averaging 40 points per game and QB Jerod Evans has found himself on some Heisman sleeper lists. After suffering their lone loss on the season (45-24 to Tennessee), the Hokies have shut out Boston College 49-0 and rolled East Carolina 54-17. North Carolina has also been putting up some impressive numbers on offense, along with pulling out games in crunch time. In back to back weeks, the Tar Heels outscored Pitt 14-3 in the 4th quarter to win 37-36 then had a last second drive against Florida State culminating in a 54 yard game winning field goal for the 37-35 win. Bud Foster's Virginia Tech defense may be the key factor in this, he's one of the best at game planning and disguising blitzes in order to rattle the opposing teams' QB, if he can dial up a game plan to get Mentor, Ohio's own Mitch Trubisky off his game then that will be the deciding factor. It will be close though and North Carolina thrives in close games, expect this game to play out in the final minutes.

We also have the #9 Tennessee Volunteers at the #8 Texas A&M Aggies. Tennessee seems to be living a charmed life, they start slow and sloppy and as it looks like they are going to lose, they seem to do just enough to get the win. OT win against Appalachian State, uninspired win against Ohio, 21 point comeback against Florida and then last week, a last second Hail Mary win over Georgia. This will be their toughest task to date, Texas A&M looks very good and Kyle Field provides a big home field advantage. The Aggies use a balanced attack to put up nearly 40 points and 520 yards per game, with QB Trevor Knight leading the charge for them. Their defense also seems legit this season, as 24 points is the most that they have given up in a game. If they hold Tennessee to that then they have a very good chance of winning this game. This game will tell us a lot about both teams, starting with how serious a contender each team is going forward.

The 7 pm start time takes us to Fayetteville where the #16 Arkansas Razorbacks host the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide. Arkansas looks for a statement win right here to show that they aren't a middle of the road type team. QB Austin Allen is the type of QB that has given Alabama's defense problems in the past and the Razorbacks are going to need him to play at his peak in order to win this game. Arkansas will also look to their 2 RB's, Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley, to provide a big punch and balance out the attack so the Crimson Tide won't have the benefit of keying on Allen. If Arkansas does become one dimensional then that plays right into Alabama's hands, their defense thrives on getting after the QB to force sacks and turnovers. The Crimson Tide offense will look for the same success as Texas A&M had against Arkansas, which is the big play.
The Razorbacks, while a good defensive team overall, are susceptible to giving up big plays and that was their Achilles heel in their 45-24 loss to the Aggies. The Tide does have the weapons, both in their running and passing game, to score quickly and Arkansas has got to do a better job of containment if they want to stay in this game. This is Alabama's 1st of 4 straight big games with Tennessee on deck, Texas A&M in the hole and LSU awaiting after a bye week. Arkansas needs this one badly if they want any shot of earning the SEC West title.

Then our 8pm primetime matchup pits 2 in-state rivals against each other, with the #23 Florida State Seminoles facing off against the #10 Miami Hurricanes. At the beginning of the season, not many people would have believed that FSU would be the team with 2 losses while Miami is undefeated. The Seminoles rebounded against South Florida after the beating they took against Louisville, only to lose on a last second field goal last week to North Carolina. FSU certainly has the talent on offense, starting with RB Dalvin Cook, but miscues on defense have haunted them this season. Mark Richt has revitalized the Miami program already in his 1st season as head coach, and people are starting to buy into this team. This will be their chance to really prove it though as they have yet to play a ranked team and their opponents have a combined 7-13 record.
Their offense, led by QB Brad Kaaya and RB Mark Walton, have been lighting up the scoreboard while their defense has been one of  the stingiest in the country. If they can take advantage of FSU's problems on defense and keep their offense rolling then this could be a long night for the Seminoles. We will see just how good they are though in this game, whether they are a contender in the ACC or fool's gold that put up numbers due to softer competition. Rivalry games always bring an added amount of intrigue and with two teams ranked in the top 25 and with the history they have for playing close, memorable games, then this is a perfect game for that 8pm time slot.

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