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Seventh Day Adventure: Week 14

22 min read
Seventh Day Adventure: Week 14

Rivalry week is here! There are always big stakes in these final games in terms of conference championships and playoff or bowl game positioning, but there are also heavy doses of the pride and pageantry that makes college football great. We’ll have teams competing for bizarre trophies like Paul Bunyan’s Axe (Wisconsin vs. Minnesota) or in games with cute names like “Farmageddon” (Iowa State vs. Kansas State).

Then there are the really big events like “The Game” between Michigan and Ohio State or “The Iron Bowl” between Auburn and Alabama that will not only include fierce and historic rivalries but also carry major implications for the postseason. Our most recent playoff rankings placed Georgia No. 4 and Alabama No. 5. Georgia still has their rivalry game with Georgia Tech this weekend and then the SEC Championship Game against LSU, so there are a couple of opportunities for them to slip out of the top five and leave room for Alabama to get in pending how things look in the Iron Bowl. Ohio State is also still vulnerable in the playoff picture were they to lose one or both of their upcoming games against Michigan and in the Big 10 title game. The Big 10 is also still open on the West side; Minnesota and Wisconsin’s game will determine not only which team gets Bunyan’s axe, but which wins the division and plays Ohio State for a conference title.

Many of these other games will come down to pride and bragging rights. LSU can still feel the sting of their 74-72, septuple-overtime defeat against Texas A&M a year ago. Michigan fans may go against form and start burning couches were they to finally beat Ohio State, even if they can’t win the Big 10 East.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Ohio State (-8.5) at Michigan — 12 p.m. (FOX)

Overall Ohio State (11-0) Michigan (9-2)
F/+ 1 10
FEI 1 11
When Ohio State has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 4 6
SP+ 5 5
IsoPPP+ 15 3
Rushing SP+ 2 3
Passing SP+ 5 9
When Michigan has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 2 28
SP+ 1 26
IsoPPP+ 5 70
Rushing SP+ 10 64
Passing SP+ 2 26

“The Game” has been extraordinarily lopsided this century. Jim Tressel took the Ohio State job in 2001 and kept it until after 2010, going 8-1 against Michigan. The 2011 season was an interim one for the Buckeyes before Urban Meyer took over in 2012, then went 7-0 against Michigan (as he’s fond of noting these days on Fox Sports). New Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has yet to take on the Wolverines as the head man, but he has a number of advantages in this contest.

For starters, Day was the one who evolved the Buckeyes offense in a way that led to last year’s 62-39 shellacking. Since Michigan hired defensive coordinator Don Brown, attacking the Wolverines defense has been largely about attacking man coverage. Prior to Day’s more heavy involvement, Ohio State would attack man coverage with quarterback runs and RPO passes from spread sets, punishing Michigan for struggling to account for the quarterback. Last year with Dwayne Haskins, the Buckeyes instead attacked man coverage with multiple varieties of crossing routes that completely dismantled the Michigan defensive system. Then in the offseason, Day hired longtime Michigan defensive coach Greg Mattison to co-coordinate the Ohio State defense, giving him an extra leg up on how Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines do things.

Yet for all that, this is a pretty intriguing matchup. After last year’s boisterous “revenge tour,” Michigan has been much more quiet and methodical about their business this season. The defense has evolved to feature more speed across the unit to aid in their aggressive coverage on the back end as well as their pressure package with the linebackers, two of which are converted safeties. The offense has grown over the course of the season as quarterback Shea Patterson has gotten healthier and more comfortable in the system, and they’ve been able to take better advantage of a deep group of wide receivers.

The battle between Michigan’s improved passing game and the Ohio State pass defense is what will determine whether this is a real battle or yet another anti-climactic beating by the Buckeyes. Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley has his unit playing pretty simple coverages on the back end and has designed their formations in order to maintain the matchup of having hybrid linebacker Pete Werner on tight ends, cover safety Shaun Wade on slot receivers, the linebackers in the box, and safety Erick Fuller over the top. There’s not much confusion, just a question of whether you can block defensive end Chase Young (16.5 sacks) and beat their athletes with your own receivers. There’s definitely doubt on either end, both in whether Michigan’s receivers will be able to get open consistently and more to the point whether the Wolverines offensive tackles can block Young. The star defensive end will probably go to work against Michigan’s right tackle Jalen Mayfield, a true sophomore and first-year starter, perhaps with some help from the running backs.

If Michigan has to avoid the Young dilemma by running the ball, then there are some issues that could crop up, such as their own inconsistency in the run game as well as the fact that their offense has been much better this year when they can involve their excellent receivers.

On the other side of things, there’s a more hopeful case to be made for Michigan competitiveness. While his numbers are exceptional (33 touchdowns to one interception), Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields can struggle to find receivers at times and has a sack rate of 7.7%. Penn State was able to stop the Buckeyes run game on standard downs a week ago and were typically only beaten when Fields was able to convert third downs with his legs. If Michigan can contain him with their blitz-heavy pass rushes while defending crossing routes better, both of which are hardly a guarantee, they could put together a much better outing than a year ago.

Ohio State dominates this game if they can bully Michigan’s speedy but smaller defensive front with their quarterback read run game. Fortunately for Michigan, Fields had 21 carries against Penn State and got dinged up late in the game while star running back J.K. Dobbins had 36 carries. That’s quite a lot of wear and tear to bring into a rivalry game, although presumably Ohio State will have done what they can to be ready to take another beating in this contest. The key to Michigan’s run defense, beyond their very effective run blitzing, is anchor defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. At 6-foot-6, 278 pounds, he’s about as big as the Wolverines defensive tackles, but they line him up inside of tight ends to the strong side of offensive formations and ask him to hold the edge so that their speed can wreck run blocking.

If the Buckeyes can avoid or move Hutchinson and get their ground game going, they’ll be able to lean on Michigan’s smaller front over the course of the game and perhaps take over.

Watch for:

  • Michigan’s star receivers against an NFL-caliber Buckeyes secondary playing man coverage.
  • Ohio State’s offensive tackles and secondary trying to make room off tackle against Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.
  • Does Justin Fields pick up where Dwayne Haskins left off in throwing crossers on the Michigan defense or will the Wolverines be able to adjust from last year’s thrashing?
  • Michigan’s young right tackle Jalen Mayfield against superstar Chase Young — can Michigan help him out enough to protect their offense from Young?

FEI Outright Pick: Ohio State by 17.4

Alabama (-3.5) at Auburn — 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Alabama (10-1) Auburn (8-3)
F/+ 2 11
FEI rating 3 14
When Alabama has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 1 3
SP+ 3 4
IsoPPP+ 1 31
Rushing SP+ 5 5
Passing SP+ 2 4
When Auburn has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 10 51
SP+ 6 46
IsoPPP+ 14 105
Rushing SP+ 16 29
Passing SP+ 6 77

The “Iron Bowl” has been a pretty good series this decade, despite Alabama’s 6-3 record. Auburn has made it a game a few times and pulled off a couple of big wins that have helped maintain some annual intrigue around this game. This year’s contest is particularly interesting because while Auburn is about as good as they’ve been in recent years, Alabama looks vulnerable in a couple of places where they haven’t been in the past.

The LSU game exposed that Nick Saban’s defense still doesn’t have a good handle on how to defend modern, pro-spread passing attacks, but there’s another area where the Crimson Tide may be weaker on defense where they are normally excellent. That’s in between the tackles, where the Tide are starting a freshman nose tackle and a pair of freshman inside linebackers where they normally have All-SEC (if not All-American) upperclassmen holding down the A/B gaps from those positions. The Tide defensive numbers have been solid this year, but they’ve been led in tackles by safety Xavier McKinney and have yet to face as physical and multi-dimensional rushing attack yet as Auburn will bring into this contest.

The Tigers haven’t been as good in the run game as they were in 2010, 2013, or 2017. They lack power runners like Cam Newton, Tre Mason, or Kerryon Johnson. However, they’re diverse and solid with multiple ballcarriers that get into the action in the power game, on sweeps, or in the option game. Quarterback Bo Nix is quite capable running read schemes with 372 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the year; he has also been decent at finding receivers like big Seth Williams (6-foot-3, 234 pounds), who leads the team with 735 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

In all likelihood, Auburn will seek to mix in play-action to keep Alabama off the scent, but ultimately aim to win by testing the Tide between the tackles, where they are young and relatively untested by the schedule. Mississippi State was able to run the ball 37 times for 188 yards on the Tide, in particular by running quarterback Tommy Stevens between the tackles on spread out Alabama fronts. Auburn could look to deploy similar tactics.

That Mississippi State game also had another important event occur, the injury of Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is now out for the season. Mac Jones now takes the helm for Alabama and will not only carry responsibility for leading the Tide to victory in this game, but may also need to do so in a fashion that convinces the playoff selection committee that Alabama is a worthy entry to the final four. Alabama’s main strength as a team has been their ability to put three or even four lightning-fast receivers on the field together and fling the ball around for enormous gains on overmatched defenses. But if their quarterback isn’t proficient at getting the ball to Devonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III, then should the presence of those players on the roster or what they’ve done this season really measure into the resume of Alabama as a playoff team?

Auburn’s defense is the worst kind of unit to have a big audition against. The Tigers have a few strong pass-rushers up front in defensive end Marlon Davidson and tackle Derrick Brown, as well as some effective blitzing linebackers behind them, but they also squeeze opposing passing attacks with press-quarters coverage from nickel personnel. It’s a tough unit to move the ball against unless you’re ready to beat their cornerbacks down the field. That may not be Saban’s preference given the stakes of this game, Jones’ lack of experience, and the quality of Alabama running back Najee Harris. The classic Saban move for this game would be to fall back on double-tight end sets and try to win with ball control and defense while feeding Harris repeatedly, but that’s really exactly what Auburn wants.

The Tigers defensive line and aggressive safeties would love nothing more than for Alabama to ignore that their star receivers are getting man coverage outside and try to force the issue with the run game. That’s the scenario in which it’s least likely that Alabama can exert pressure on Auburn to give up on their own run game and try to ask Nix to win by flinging the ball around 30-plus times.

Watch for:

  • Will Nick Saban trust quarterback Mac Jones to air the ball out to Alabama’s star receivers against press coverage? If he does, will Jones be able to execute?
  • Auburn’s multiple, power-spread rushing attack against an Alabama interior defense filled with true freshmen.
  • Trickery from Gus Malzahn looking to confuse the young Alabama defense and build an early lead that puts pressure on the Tide offense to get aggressive.

FEI Outright Pick: Alabama by 15.9

Wisconsin (-3) at Minnesota — 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Wisconsin (9-2) Minnesota (10-1)
F/+ 8 13
FEI 6 12
When Wisconsin has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 5 32
SP+ 11 25
IsoPPP+ 114 23
Rushing SP+ 7 13
Passing SP+ 19 32
When Minnesota has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 12 7
SP+ 14 8
IsoPPP+ 118 68
Rushing SP+ 66 47
Passing SP+ 17 8

With their loss at Iowa last week, Minnesota left themselves vulnerable to losing their grip on the Big 10 West division crown should they lose this week to Wisconsin. The Badgers have two losses, but they could inflict a second loss on the Gophers in this game and then hold the tiebreaker from a head-to-head victory as the rest of the division has three or more losses.

Last year, Minnesota upset the Badgers with a big 37-15 win on the road in Madison. That was the second contest between Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck and Wisconsin in which Fleck had a strong team running his preferred style of offense. Round 1 occurred in a bowl game when Fleck was the head man at Western Michigan; Wisconsin played man coverage against the Broncos’ spread RPO system to deny easy reads for the quarterback and force Western Michigan to run the ball inside. That worked out quite well for Wisconsin, but last year they had to handle things differently. Minnesota had a big offensive line and an even more advanced RPO attack which dealt damage early in the game. After a kick return score and multiple Wisconsin turnovers, the Golden Gophers eventually contented themselves with running against loaded boxes by the Badgers and still overpowering them with their big offensive line.

This year’s Wisconsin defense is considerably better than a year ago, particularly up front, but the secondary may be vulnerable trying to play man coverage against the route combinations that Minnesota will run attached to their downhill run schemes. The Badgers have been popped a few times this year by teams that can punish their lack of speed on the back end and Minnesota is certainly a team capable of accomplishing that. How well the Gophers attack would fare if Wisconsin sits in two-deep coverages is less clear; it would become a contest of whether Wisconsin’s improved defensive front could hold up against the massive Minnesota offensive line and downhill run schemes better than a year ago.

Wisconsin’s zone-blitzing defense simply doesn’t give them the advantages against this offense they get against other units because the ball tends to come out either as a pass option when their linebackers are dealing with run blocking or else on play-action attached to max protection schemes. In some regards this game could be a major passing of the torch from Wisconsin to Minnesota for control of the Big 10 West, not only for this season but for future years, if the Badgers’ approach can’t keep up with Fleck’s more cutting-edge schemes.

But the Gophers will still have to deal with Jonathan Taylor and the Wisconsin rushing attack. The Badgers have run over a lot of the Big 10 West simply by doing their thing, playing power football with fullbacks, tight ends, and big offensive lines paving the way for their star back. Taylor is at 1,685 rushing yards this season at 6.5 yards per carry with 18 touchdowns. Wisconsin has a lot to their run game and can create angles and double-teams in multiple spots to target weaknesses and spring their runner free.

The Minnesota defense has been improving; they’ll run blitz and lean on safety Antoine Winfield to try and help the linebackers keep creases filled and Taylor on the ground. They have a throwback 4-3 under defensive scheme that they modify and tweak with different run blitzes and techniques to work against spread teams, but was originally designed to deal with teams like Wisconsin. Ultimately it comes down to getting sturdy play at the point of attack from strong-side defensive end Winston DeLattiboudere and nose tackle Micah Dew-Treadway and then great recognition from senior inside linebackers Thomas Barber and Kamal Martin.

Watch for:

  • Wisconsin’s secondary trying to handle Minnesota wide receiver Tyler Johnson on RPOs.
  • Can the Badgers linebacker corps hold up in a straightforward game of power football from a big Minnesota offensive front?
  • Can the Minnesota defensive line hold the point against Wisconsin’s power run game or will Jonathan Taylor run them over?
  • Which team matches up better with Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship Game?

FEI Outright Pick: Wisconsin by 2.2

Texas A&M at LSU (-16.5) — 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Texas A&M (7-4) LSU (11-0)
F/+ 20 4
FEI 26 4
When Texas A&M has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 33 29
SP+ 23 29
IsoPPP+ 94 93
Rushing SP+ 9 25
Passing SP+ 42 40
When LSU has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 25 2
SP+ 18 2
IsoPPP+ 61 10
Rushing SP+ 23 4
Passing SP+ 24 4

LSU clearly marked this game on their calendar; they haven’t really been shy about letting everyone know that they’re hungry for revenge for last year’s 74-72 defeat. The Tigers had the game in hand before late heroics from Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond and some controversial calls led to the Aggies tying the game and ultimately out-lasting LSU after seven overtimes. After the game there were some kerfuffles on the field and a lot of ill feelings from both sides over an intensely long and emotional game.

Now LSU is in pursuit of a perfect season after installing a new offense and unleashing quarterback Joe Burrow to throw for 4,014 yards (and counting) at 9.9 yards per attempt with 41 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Their changes have led to LSU being the first team in SEC history to have a quarterback with 4,000 passing yards, a running back with 1,000 rushing yards (Clyde Edwards-Helaire), and two different wide receivers with 1,000 receiving yards (Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson). It’s a tough team to match up against as they tend to play with 11 personnel sets utilizing great receiving tight ends Stephen Sullivan and Thaddeus Moss, who can create matchups in the passing game all over the field. When teams try to downsize to play with more defensive backs, the Tigers will pack their big receivers in to run from bunch formations. That dimension to their offense is less dangerous than the passing attack, but obviously still dynamic thanks to the play of Edwards-Helaire.

The Aggies play a 4-3 under defense akin to Minnesota’s scheme and will move safeties Leon O’Neal and Demani Richardson around to create confusion for the offense, bring run blitzes, and try to shore up the areas in that scheme that opponents like to target. They had some success against Georgia’s downhill run game, mostly by encouraging passes from Jake Fromm that they defended well. When the Bulldogs ran the ball with D’Andre Swift, they got 103 yards on 19 carries. The approach this week will be completely different; the Aggies will need to encourage the Tigers to run the ball and then have players in position to hold up and get stops. It’s a tougher task; they’ll need to play with two deep safeties or risk getting torched outside by Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. and then up the seam by Jefferson. There’s yet to be a team that played LSU effectively without selling out to stop the pass.

The LSU defense has had a tougher year; they’ve looked beat-up at times, especially star safety Grant Delpit, whose production is way down from a year ago. They also lost star linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. for “personal reasons,” and he’ll be ineligible until no sooner than the National Championship Game should LSU get that far this season. Safety JaCoby Stevens has taken the mantle as the Tigers’ main playmaker this year, and he has five sacks and 10.5 run stuffs along with a pair of interceptions hanging around near the action while Delpit plays back more.

A&M’s offense wants to run the ball if at all possible and will try to do so from double-tight end formations that test LSU’s depth at linebacker sans Divinity. Freshman tight end Jalen Wydermeyer will be a key part of the game; he has 406 receiving yards and six touchdowns this year breaking over the middle on play-action after run blocking on other downs. The Aggies will also hit the Tigers in the run game with freshman running back Isaiah Spiller (803 rushing yards) and Mond (534 rushing yards) and try to shorten the game and keep LSU’s offense off the field.

LSU could win this game on offense by utilizing tempo and negating A&M’s “slow it down” strategy by simply scoring quickly when they have the ball and thus creating extra possessions in spite of the Aggies approach. A few early scores could also push A&M out of their preferred grind-it-out approach and see them trying to match Burrow by throwing the ball around. However, if the Aggies can slow down Burrow early with some exotic looks on defense and conservative coverage, perhaps their own offense can get something going with a traditional attack that hits the middle of the field with the triple threat of the running back handoff, quarterback option, or seam route to a releasing tight end.

Watch for:

  • Can Texas A&M target LSU’s young linebackers with bigger formations and their rushing attack?
  • How will the Aggies try to match up against Joe Burrow in the dreaded Tigers pro-spread passing game?
  • Which team can dictate the tempo and flow of the game within the first quarter?

FEI Outright Pick: LSU by 22

Iowa State (-4.5) at Kansas State — 7 p.m. (FS1)

Overall Iowa State (7-4) Kansas State (7-4)
F/+ 21 39
FEI 20 34
When Iowa State has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 14 34
SP+ 40 48
IsoPPP+ 28 95
Rushing SP+ 63 79
Passing SP+ 17 48
When Kansas State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 42 47
SP+ 21 61
IsoPPP+ 30 91
Rushing SP+ 47 96
Passing SP+ 22 64

This rivalry has come to be known as “Farmageddon” because of the agricultural roots of both universities. Both teams also have program philosophies built around midwestern kids and the farmer’s work ethic. They each use tight ends to greater extents than the rest of the Big 12 and will seek to build out tough units in the trenches. That said, Iowa State has a more modern approach overall than the Wildcats.

Cyclones quarterback Brock “Pump Fake” Purdy has thrown 40 passes and for over 300 yards in each of the last two games, a pair of victories over Texas and Kansas. Iowa State’s development of their tight end personnel has allowed them to play in 12 personnel packages with a pair of them on the field, motioning them around to create matchups in the passing game or to hand off to freshman running back Breece Hall (783 rushing yards). Charlie Kolar is the key figure, a 6-foot-6 and 250-pound tight end with 649 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, but receiver Deshaunte Jones is the leading target with 822 receiving yards, a dangerous weapon on crossing routes underneath. Defending the Iowa State crossing route game is difficult due to their ability to run off coverage with tight ends or create rubs for their smaller receivers by getting those big tight ends running across the field.

Kansas State’s defense has been pretty vulnerable to most everything on standard downs, but their situational play is much better as their third-down defense is ranked fourth nationally in success rate. They have a Tampa-2 base defense that they’ve heavily hybridized and infused with some blitzes and man coverages. When they are facing key third downs, they have a lot of flexibility in their defense to double-team troublesome receivers, blitz weak spots on offensive lines, and get their senior-filled defense in the right positions. Pump Fake Purdy has nine interceptions on the year to 26 touchdown passes; the bigger issue for Iowa State is probably their offensive line, which can be targeted by a good pass-rush.

The Wildcats pass rush mostly comes down to the abilities of defensive end Wyatt Hubert, who has seven sacks on the year. If the Cyclones can keep track of him on third down, then they stand to have a chance to hold up and set up Purdy to make plays.

The Kansas State offense this year had a slow stretch for a couple of weeks due to injuries to top running backs James Gilbert and Jordon Brown, a pair of seniors that transferred in to bolster a completely depleted running back depth chart. Brown has struggled in recent weeks due to apparent injuries, but they’ve been working Gilbert back into the mix and he has been solid of late against West Virginia and Texas Tech. Wildcats quarterback Skylar Thompson can also get involved in the run game on the option or direct snap runs and he’s a savvy passer, but the Kansas State receiving personnel is currently being remade by the new staff and isn’t stocked full of developed, dangerous targets.

The Wildcats are dangerous on offense when they can keep the score down and control the game by running power from the I-formation and leaning on Thompson to pick up key third downs or convert in the red zone with accurate passing or the quarterback run game. Iowa State is a very tough team to control the ball against thanks to a strong defensive line and linebacker corps. Nose tackle Ray Lima doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he routinely stands his ground against double-teams and frees up linebackers Marcel Spears Jr. and O’Rien Vance to make tackles, and Sam linebacker Mike Rose gives the Cyclones a lot of physicality on the edge against Big 12 spread attacks.

This is a tough team to beat by trying to ram the ball through the interior or the edge because of Lima and Rose, which suggests a difficult task for the Kansas State offense.

Watch for:

  • Can Kansas State get their power run game humming again vs. the stout Iowa State defensive front?
  • Brock “Pump Fake” Purdy against Kansas State’s smart and experienced third down defense.
  • Passion and dramatics — this game has yielded five consecutive one-possession games and the fans have really bought into the rivalry.

FEI Outright Pick: Iowa State by 3.9

Oklahoma (-13.5) at Oklahoma State — 8 p.m. (FOX)

Overall Oklahoma (10-1) Oklahoma State (8-3)
F/+ 7 28
FEI 8 33
When Oklahoma has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 3 50
SP+ 1 47
IsoPPP+ 7 78
Rushing SP+ 3 62
Passing SP+ 3 71
When Oklahoma State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 70 36
SP+ 41 17
IsoPPP+ 84 19
Rushing SP+ 95 20
Passing SP+ 18 61

“Bedlam” has been as entertaining a rivalry series as you could expect given how lopsided it has been for the last decade or so. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is 2-12 against Oklahoma in this series, with the last victory coming in a 2014 overtime game. However, the last two games were exciting shootouts that came down to the wire. In 2017 the Sooners eked out a 62-52 win and then in 2018 they came out ahead 48-47 when Oklahoma State missed an open receiver on a two-point conversion that would have won the game. The theme of this series has tended to be a pair of teams that can’t stop one another, with Oklahoma edging State out due to having a more overpowering offense.

That could be what happens again this year, but the dynamics are definitely different. Gundy highlighted the Oklahoma offense as being a “one-man show” this season with Sooners quarterback Jalen Hurts as the feature. Hurts has 1,260 rushing yards (after removing sack yardage) thus far on the year and has had 20-plus carries in each of the last three games. He has also thrown for 3,165 yards to a variety of targets, although Sooners wideout CeeDee Lamb is their best option (999 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns). Virtually the only thing that has stopped Oklahoma in the red zone this year has been Hurts turnovers, as teams haven’t figured out how to stop both the outside throw to Lamb AND the Hurts quarterback power run game at the same time.

Gundy’s comments suggest that he sees the ticket as being to focus on Hurts; the presence of big senior cornerback A.J. Green on his roster at right cornerback might offer him a viable path to singling up Lamb and trying to focus the rest of his team on bottling up Hurts. The issue for Oklahoma State would likely be up front, where even with greater concentration of resources they could struggle to match up against the big Oklahoma front and Hurts. The Cowboys lack enough beef up front to maximize their defensive strategies, but they have had good results this year from fielding an athletic linebacker tandem of Malcolm Rodriguez (converted safety with 12 run stuffs) and Amen Ogbongbemiga (14 tackles for loss and 15 run stuffs). Safety Kolby Harvell-Peel gets to hang around in the seams behind them and has broken up 13 passes and picked off five.

The Cowboys have some personnel to corral Oklahoma’s play-action passes over the middle and option schemes; their concern will be that Oklahoma simply blows open holes in the run game too consistently for State to get off the field.

On the flip side, Oklahoma’s task in this game seems to keep getting simpler. First Oklahoma State lost superstar receiver Tylan Wallace for the year, then they also lost quarterback Spencer Sanders. The Cowboys still have running back Chuba Hubbard, who has been their own “one-man show” with 285 carries for 1,832 yards at 6.4 yards per carry with 20 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Dru Brown takes over for Sanders and brings some competent distribution in the passing game but considerably less explosiveness in the run game. Sanders ran for 735 yards before going down with the injury.

The Cowboys would be better off facing Oklahoma’s aggressive defense with some option dimensions to attack the edges; that has been a worthwhile recipe this season. Mike Gundy will undoubtedly have a plan in place to punish the Sooners for their aggressive, 5-1 fronts that aim to get penetration and attack the run game, but running option with Sanders would have been a great counter. Dru Brown’s ability to beat press coverage outside against the Oklahoma secondary is probably not a workable solution, which leaves fewer methods to constrain the Sooners from keying Hubbard.

The best case for this game for Oklahoma State is that they are able to get away with playing man coverage outside and this game becomes a contest of whether Hurts or Hubbard is better able to pound away and make something happen against loaded fronts on a chilly Saturday night in Stillwater. The Sooners won’t hold anything back in this game as they still have the playoff in their sights. If Hurts has to carry the ball 30-plus times to get the job done, that’s what will happen.

Watch for:

  • Can Oklahoma State get away with playing man coverage on CeeDee Lamb and get all hands on deck to stop Jalen Hurts and the Oklahoma run game?
  • How will the Oklahoma State defensive line hold up against the big and multiple Oklahoma offensive front?
  • Can Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard carry the load without his injured teammates and find room against the aggressive Oklahoma defense?
  • Oklahoma State quarterback Dru Brown — the Sooners will try to make him beat them.

FEI Outright Pick: Oklahoma by 9.7


Favorite Spread Underdog FEI Pick FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Ian’s Pick
Against the Spread
Ohio State 8.5 at Michigan Ohio State Ohio State Michigan
Alabama 3.5 at Auburn Alabama Alabama Auburn
Wisconsin 3 at Minnesota Wisconsin Minnesota Minnesota
at LSU 16.5 Texas A&M LSU LSU LSU
Iowa State 4.5 at Kansas State Iowa State Kansas State Iowa State
Oklahoma 13.5 at Oklahoma State Oklahoma Oklahoma State Oklahoma

FEI’s Picks against the spread last week: 1-5

FEI’s Picks against the spread on the year: 38-36

Ian’s Picks against the spread in last week: 4-2

Ian’s Picks against the spread on the year: 36-38

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