Friday, October 28, 2016

Spread Offense, Week 9: The Cure for Complacency

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

The past few weeks in college football have felt like treading water. Only a few games of note each week, no real shake ups in the top 10, just sort of staying afloat in one spot. When a pattern like this keeps up then it's easy to get complacent and start to not enjoy or really get interested in the games each week.

College football fans should have no worries about that going forward though, as week 9 snaps everyone out of that funk. Big games and some rivalries are slated for this weekend which fill each time slot, guaranteeing that a big game will be going on at all times. Week 9 takes us down that last turn as we go into the home stretch of the regular season, this week is definitely something that will keep fans glued to their TV's.


People are starting to take notice of #10 West Virginia, with good reason. The Mountaineers are undefeated, putting up 15 points per game more than they are giving up and have now entered the playoff discussion. Dana Halgorsen has his squad playing well, and this weekend will be another test for them as the Oklahoma State Cowboys welcome WVU to Boone Pickens Stadium for a noon kickoff. While Oklahoma State is looking to get back into the Big 12 hunt along with regaining their top 25 status, they are currently 5-2 but one of those losses was on a controversial last play against Central Michigan. OKSU will need QB Mason Rudolph to play a very good game, the Cowboys' offense is a pass heavy spread so he will have to perform in order to get this upset win. West Virginia, however, has one of the better defenses and will look to put pressure on Rudolph all game. In  last week's game against Kansas, Rudolph was sacked 5 times and WVU will look to blueprint that game plan in order to get to him multiple times. The Mountaineers have done a great job of shutting down teams that are known for their high powered offense, giving up only 17 points to Texas Tech and 10 points to TCU, so being able to hold Oklahoma State to well under their season average of 41 points a game could end up being the deciding factor.

Also at noon, we have an in-state rivalry up in Michigan. In week 3 of this season, Michigan State beat Notre Dame handily and it was then that everyone circled October 29th as an undefeated showdown with the Michigan Wolverines. Then a streak of 5 straight losses happened and instead of welcoming their rival to East Lansing at 7-0, they do so with a 2-5 record. Michigan held up their end of the deal, the #2 team in the country is undefeated and will look to end a 5 game losing streak to their rival and knowing their Head Coach, they aren't going to take it easy on the Spartans even if they put the game away early. Michigan State will have to hope for the "throw the records out in rivalry games" cliché, win the turnover battle and somehow move the ball on offense. Michigan needs to go out there and put an end to this one early, MSU has nothing to lose so the Wolverines have to bury them quickly and keep them down.

At 3:30, we have the "World's largest outdoor cocktail party", and yes I will always refer to this game as such regardless of the push to change it's name. #14 Florida and Georgia meet in Jacksonville for this annual rivalry game, with the Gators looking to remain atop the SEC East standings. For Georgia, this could notch their first big win under 1st year head coach Kirby Smart, and they really need this one after losing 3 of their last 4 games. The Gators have a healthy Luke Del Rio at QB now, which gives the offense the potential to put up a lot of points. Stagnant while he was out with injury, the offense broke out big time last week by putting up 40 points against Missouri. For Georgia, they are in a transition year now with freshman QB Jacob Eason, hoping to get him the necessary experience to prepare him for the next 2 seasons when they feel they can make a run at the SEC title. Florida's offense should make them the favorite to win this one, but a win for Georgia would be a big statement going forward.

And the game most will be watching at 3:30 is a Pac-12 showdown, as #4 Washington plays at #17 Utah. The Huskies seem to be a year ahead of schedule, with QB Jake Browning having as Heisman contending season. Washington is currently a playoff team and a win would solidify their ranking even more since some believe that a 1 loss Louisville is currently more deserving of that 4th playoff spot. The Utes are a hiccup against Cal away from also being undefeated and this game is personal for QB Troy Williams. Williams was at Washington to start his collegiate career but transferred after the 2014 season. He is looking to prove what he can do out there, but it will not be easy against one of the best defenses in the country.
Utah, however, has been a chameleon when it comes to winning games, winning close games(31-27 against USC), defensive games(19-14 against Oregon State) and offensive shootouts(52-45 against UCLA.) If there's a team that can figure out a way to beat Washington regardless of the type of game it is, Utah is that team. They are equipped to play close games going into the 4th quarter while Washington hasn't been challenged this year, winning every game by at least 24 points. That, along with the Utah home crowd, could be a big factor if it is a close game in the 2nd half.

At 7pm, the Big Ten West takes the stage with the #7 Nebraska Cornhuskers facing the #11 Wisconsin Badgers. The undefeated Cornhuskers can all but ensure a trip to Indianapolis with a win here to play in the Big Ten title game, while the Badgers need this win to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive. Nebraska should have star WR Jordan Westerkamp back for this game, which will be a huge plus for them as they go up against one of the stingiest defenses in the country. The Badgers have given up the fewest TD's in the country, having played against 4 teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time of their games makes it even more impressive. Wisconsin defense does so well because they control the trenches, so Nebraska will need some very good offensive line play and will turn to dual threat QB Tommy Armstrong to play mistake free ball. Nebraska looks to remain unbeaten while Wisconsin's backs are against the wall, a ton is at stake in this game.

Then the 8pm primetime slot is an ACC battle amongst teams that have recently dominated the ACC Atlantic division. The #3 Clemson Tigers go on the road to Tallahassee to face the #12 Florida State Seminoles. Florida State has battled back well after a blowout loss against Louisville and a heartbreaking loss to North Carolina earlier in the season. They look to get back into the top 10 and remain alive for a ACC title game berth here as a loss all but eliminates them from contention. Giving up the big play has haunted the Seminoles all season and they now face a Clemson offense that is capable of putting up big numbers. Last we saw of Clemson though, they escaped with an OT win at home against North Carolina State. They have been Jekyll and Hyde all season on offense, they looked every bit as good in their win over Louisville as they did bad in their win against NCSU. Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson can get the offense rolling again here though and a win against Florida State really puts them in the driver's seat for the ACC Atlantic title.
 Louisville will also be watching this game intently as a Florida State win not only puts the Seminoles back in the division hunt, but the Cardinals get that much needed Clemson loss since the Tigers own the head to head tiebreaker. Doak Campbell stadium will be alive and rocking Saturday night when these two ACC heavyweights do battle, the ACC Atlantic picture will become very clear with a Clemson win and very murky with a Florida State win.

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