Category Archives: College Football

Alabama vs Mississippi State

Alabama vs Mississippi State: In advance of Alabama’s matchup with Mississippi State on Saturday, we talked to Clarion Ledger Mississippi State beat writer Will Sammon.

Here’s what he said about the Bulldogs and the matchup.

What’s been different for Mississippi State since the losses to Georgia and Auburn?

Alabama vs Mississippi State

Not playing teams like Georgia and Auburn have helped, but Mississippi State’s secondary, pass-rush and offensive line have all improved since the lopsided loss to the Tigers in Week 5. The biggest test for an offensive line that featured redshirt freshmen tackles — at the time; Martinas Rankin has since returned at left tackle — was on the road against Texas A&M. The offensive line couldn’t (handle) the crowd noise at Georgia and Auburn, but there were no communication issues in College Station. Big plays are prevalent in college football, but they especially hurt MSU. Its secondary has since improved its discipline in that regard. Lastly, edge-guy Montez Sweat has really emerged as a top pass-rusher and leads the team in hurries, sacks and hits on the quarterback.

What have people from Mississippi State been saying about this matchup with Alabama?

We’ve heard most of the usual, cliche stuff like, “It’s just another game,” from players, but the mood around the team is that of a quiet confidence, according to quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. You won’t find anyone declaring victory since, after all, Dan Mullen has yet to beat Alabama. But the players do have a firm belief in their collective ability, it seems. Now, fans? They sort of take a more realistic approach to this game. Just staying in the game and not getting embarrassed, of course, would be OK here for many. And that’s just about the case anywhere else in the country, I’d think. For MSU, the Bulldogs don’t need a win this week to feel good about their season — they are on pace for nine wins in a year many figured they’d get six. But this game is a good assessment to see just where MSU stands and if it can close even just a bit the wide gap established last year that separates the two programs.

What’s the team’s greatest strength?

MSU’s biggest strength is its rushing attack and offensive line. Fitzgerald breaks the explosive plays, but running back Aeris Williams does the dirty work, often putting the Bulldogs in manageable third downs while racking up more than 20 carries. Everybody on the offensive line pulls, including center Elgton Jenkins, so MSU gets creative with its blocking schemes and designs. The team’s 259.3 rushing yards per game is No. 11 in the country.

What’s the biggest weakness?

MSU doesn’t have a vertical threat in its passing game. What’s more, the group is banged up and No. 1 receiver Donald Gray (groin) may not play. The team’s leading receiver is Keith Mixon. He has 255 receiving yards. That ranks No. 28 … in the SEC.

What’s your personal feeling about this game and how it’s going to go?

MSU has a decent shot — or as a good a shot as anyone else who is a 14.5-point underdog. I see the game ending up closer than that — yet still with Alabama winning — because I think MSU’s offense, which relies heavily on RPOs and deception, could find some success against Alabama’s linebackers, who are banged up.

Oklahoma vs TCU

Oklahoma vs TCU – Preview, Prediction & Keys to the Game.

As we move further into championship November, the No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners face yet another CFP elimination game against No. 6 TCU. The game this Saturday will arguably be the biggest November home game for Oklahoma since they hosted TCU during their 2015 run to the College Football Playoff. In the epic 2015 matchup between the Sooners and the Horned Frogs, Oklahoma squandered a 30-13 lead after Baker Mayfield went out with a concussion at halftime. Luckily for the Sooners, TCU coach Gary Patterson opted to go for two to win the game late, and Steven Parker saved the day by batting the ball down. I think we all can agree that the play was one of those moments that will go down in Sooner lore for a long time.

Oklahoma vs TCU Game Notes

As we fast forward to 2017, Steven Parker is still holding down the back end of the defense at strong safety, but both teams look very different. The 2017 Oklahoma Sooners (8-1) are headlined by a more polished Baker Mayfield, a great offense, and a defense that has struggled mightily since the start of conference play. On the other side, the 2017 TCU Horned Frogs (8-1) have a solid offense and stout defense. They win games by playing the ball control game and shutting teams down on offense. In fact, over the last month, the TCU defense has allowed only 27 points. To put this into perspective, the Sooner defense has surrendered an astounding 138 points during the same time span! Despite the defensive struggles of Oklahoma, they have an offense that can keep them in any game.

Oklahoma vs TCU

Here are some of the keys to the game for Oklahoma vs TCU teams.

Oklahoma

Create and capitalize off turnovers

We all how much this defense has struggled as of late. The good news is that Oklahoma has done a good job producing turnovers in recent weeks. Against Kansas state, Oklahoma had a forced fumble and a crucial interception by Jordan Thomas late in the second quarter. The next week, the Sooner defense came up with a big interception by Caleb Kelly that turned the tide of the game in the Sooners’ favor. Granted, that one came of fourth down, but it was still a refreshing sign. During Bedlam, the Oklahoma defense stepped up again and produced two interceptions and a forced fumble. These turnovers stopped the Cowboys from taking a commanding lead in the game.

While these turnovers have been crucial for the success of Oklahoma over the last couple of games, the offense needs to make sure to capitalize off them. Against both OSU and Kansas State, the Sooners produced turnovers that gave the ball to the offense with a short field and they settled for field goals both times.

Keep feeding Marquise Brown

After Bedlam last saturday, I could not stop watching highlights of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy Gus Johnson yelling out “Hollyyywood!!”, but it was great to see the sophomore junior college transfer have a record-setting day. When Marquise Brown is rolling, it adds a whole new dimension to the Sooner offense. It creates too many weapons for the defense to account for. If DBs slide over to watch Brown, then that opens up space. On top of this, it opens up lanes in the middle of the field for guys like Mark Andrews, Mykel Jones, and Dimitri Flowers. In addition to opening up the field, Brown has also proven to be a reliable security blanket for Baker Mayfield on third down. This takes some pressure off Mark Andrews, who has been the security blanket for Mayfield for most of the year.

Against TCU, Marquise Brown needs to continue to win one-on-one battles and make big plays. If he is able to do this, it makes the offense virtually unstoppable. Last year, Dede Westbrook was able to burn TCU for 158 yards and two touchdowns in a shootout. Look for Marquise Brown to do the same this year against the Horned Frogs. If Mayfield gets Brown going early, then the Sooners should have no trouble putting up points against TCU.

TCU

Kenny Hill has to play clean

Last season, Kenny Hill threw 17 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. This season, he has done a better job of taking care of the football and has thrown only 5 interceptions so far on the season. This improved play by Hill has led the Horned frogs to an 8-1 start after going 6-7 last year. Hill has also improved his accuracy this year and is completing 68% of his passes. This is substantial improvement over his 61% completion rate last season.

If Hill can continue to play well and take care of the football against the Oklahoma defense, it could be another agonizing day for Mike Stoops. Hill has the ability to beat Oklahoma with his feet and with his arm. On top of this, Hill gets to play against a banged-up Oklahoma secondary. Corner Jordan Thomas is questionable with a knee injury, strong safety Khalil Haughton is out, and free safety Will Johnson will have to sit out the first half after being hit with a targeting penalty against OSU. With the exception of Steven Parker, this means that Hill will be throwing against young and inexperienced guys in the Oklahoma secondary.

To make matters worse , TCU has some skilled receivers. The trio of Jalen Reagor, John Diarse and KaVontae Turpin have been lethal this year. They should have no problem finding holes in the young Oklahoma secondary. If Kenny Hill is able to hit these guys for some big plays and take care of the football, then he should be able to keep TCU in the game.

Create turnovers

As good as this TCU defense is, I think even they will have trouble slowing down this Sooner offense. The Oklahoma offense is the top offense in the country for a reason, they can move the ball at will against anyone. Although OU will not be able to score as much on TCU as they did against OSU, I still see them putting up plenty of points against the Horned Frogs.

For TCU to slow down the offense, they have to get them off the field by creating turnovers. Against OSU, Baker Mayfield threw two interceptions on plays where OSU was able to disguise coverage. Since TCU plays better defense and disguises coverages better most teams in the country, they should have some success doing this against Baker Mayfield. If they are able to get a couple picks and capitalize off those plays, then that could be the difference in the game.

In addition to interceptions, TCU could come up with some fumbles if the Sooners do not take care of the football. Both Jeff Badet and Abdul Adams have been plagued by the fumble bug this season so they will likely be easy targets for the TCU defense. TCU boasts a strong front seven led by seniors Travin Howard and Chris Bradley. Howard is a skilled linebacker who flys around the field while Bradley is a stout defensive tackle who plugs holes up front. If the front seven is able to create turnovers and control the line of scrimmage, it could spell disaster for the Sooners.

Prediction

I think this game will be close for much of the first half but then the Sooners will pull away in the second half. With plenty of time to scheme for Kenny Hill, the Sooner defense should be able to at least hold TCU to around 30. This means that as long as it’s business as usual for Baker Mayfield and co. (which is far from a given against this defense), the Sooners will win this game.

Oklahoma 47, TCU 30

 

Miami vs Notre Dame

Miami vs Notre Dame: Notre Dame comes to town this Saturday night for what could be a College Football Playoff eliminator. Does Hard Rock have one more level to hit? The Fighting Irish and Hurricanes are similar in a lot of ways.

Miami vs Notre Dame

Offensive profile: Both have semi-inefficient offenses capable of huge gains. Notre Dame ranks 55th in success rate but fifth in explosiveness (per my IsoPPP measure), and Miami ranks 53rd and sixth, respectively.

Finishing drives: Miami averages 4.8 points per scoring opportunity (first downs inside the opponent’s 40) and allowed 3.2, a plus-1.6 point margin that requires its opponents to create 50 percent more scoring chances to score the same number of points. Notre Dame’s margin: plus-1.5 (5.2 on offense, 3.7 on defense).

Hit-and-miss passing: Miami’s Malik Rosier is completing 56 percent of his passes, while Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush is completing just 52. The Hurricanes have an edge once you adjust for quality of defense — Miami ranks 16th in Passing S&P+, and ND ranks 44th — but Rosier also makes more mistakes. He threw three picks against Virginia Tech, and his INT rate is 2.6 percent to Wimbush’s 1 percent.

Stellar pass defenses. Notre Dame’s defense ranks second in Passing S&P+, and Miami’s ranks 27th. The defenses appear to have the advantage any time the QB drops to pass.

Notre Dame has Adams, though. And while the Miami defense has taken clear strides since Manny Diaz took over as Mark Richt’s defensive coordinator in 2016 — they were 52nd in Def. S&P+ in 2015, before this staff’s arrival, but were 13th last year and are 27th so far in 2017 — the Canes don’t quite have all the pieces for a sturdy run front.

It’s possible that nothing else matters. Not the crowd, not Rosier vs. Wimbush, not red-zone execution. The biggest advantage in this game is Adams vs. Miami’s run front.

“The whole thing was a learning process for me,” the Notre Dame senior linebacker said. “I’ve heard about it, obviously, but when they had the ‘30 for 30,’ they broke down the details of (the rivalry) and how nasty it really got.

“I was like, ‘Dang.’ But that was something very interesting to watch.”

Watching is one thing. Now Morgan gets to participate in a high-stakes game against the Hurricanes.

The third-ranked Irish (8-1) visit No. 7 Miami (8-0) on Saturday night in Miami Gardens, Fla. ESPN’s “College GameDay” will be broadcasting from Hard Rock Stadium to add to the buzz.

“The rivalry is really embedded,” said Morgan, a Crete-Monee alumnus. “That just brings more into the hype of the game. But it has nothing to do with us because our motto on defense is ‘nameless and faceless.’

“All that stuff is cool and it’s all glamorous and builds more hype and more attention, but we’re just worried about winning the game.”

Morgan tied for the team high with nine tackles and had two sacks in last year’s 30-27 victory against the Hurricanes in South Bend.

That game was played on Oct. 29, 2016, under much different circumstances. Both teams were struggling. The Irish had lost four of five and were on their way to a 4-8 season. The Hurricanes entered on a three-game losing streak.

Saturday’s game takes on much more significance.

“This week, it’s old-fashioned,” Notre Dame left tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “It’s where these programs should be. It’s what college football wants, and in some ways it’s what it needs.”

Miami hasn’t lost since the defeat at Notre Dame Stadium. The Hurricanes’ 13-game winning streak is the longest active one in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

They have relied on a defense that ranks first nationally in tackles for a loss (8.8 per game) and fifth in sacks (3.5 per game).

“We’re designed to attack,” coach Mark Richt said.

The Hurricanes have created 20 turnovers. They had 19 takeaways all of last season.

A similar turnover boost has sparked Notre Dame. The Irish have 19 takeaways after totaling only 14 last year.

“In big games like this, defense wins the game,” Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “Whoever plays better defense on Saturday is going to win. And we’re preparing with that mindset. We have to take the ball over on the road (and) put our offense in favorable situations to score.”

Saturday’s winner will remain on the playoff path while adding its personal stamp to the series.

“The rivalry that we share with them is definitely one of a lot of intensity and a lot of fire,” McGlinchey said. “And I’m excited to finally be part of what looks to be a pretty classical Notre Dame-Miami game.”