Dave Aranda’s second season at Baylor has been one of turnarounds. The Bears improved from 2-7 last year to 7-2 this year, but they suffered a setback last week in a 30-28 loss to an emotional TCU team following Gary Patterson’s departure.
This week provides the best measuring stick yet for Aranda on how far his Bears have come with Oklahoma coming to town. Winners of 17 straight games, the Sooners have also won eight consecutive road games against ranked conference opponents, one shy of matching the longest such streak in the AP poll era (since 1936).
Baylor, meanwhile, is 5-0 during a solid home schedule this season, including conference wins over Iowa State, West Virginia and Texas and a nonconference win over BYU. Aranda lost Joey McGuire, his assistant head coach who also coached outside linebackers, this week when he was named Texas Tech’s new head coach, but said he’s not worried about the disruption. He said the Bears are counting on their home crowd.
“I think everyone knows what’s waiting for us there on Saturday and the stage that we have and the opportunity that’s at hand,” Aranda said this week. “And I know everyone knows the type of effort that it will take.”
The Bears know what to expect by now with Caleb Williams running Oklahoma’s offense. Aranda noted he’d “injected some firepower” into the Sooners’ offense and noted he’s not afraid to throw into tight windows, which will test their corners.
Baylor’s rush offense ranks eighth nationally with 230.9 yards per game, led by Abram Smith, who has already topped 1,000 yards and has six 100-yard games and 11 TDs. The Sooners, despite struggling, still rank 17th in run defense, allowing 108.2 yards per game. The Sooners are optimistic that the rest of the defense could round into shape with the return of cornerback D.J. Graham and defensive tackle Jalen Redmond against Texas Tech last week and the possible return of another corner, Woodi Washington, who could possibly play this week. — Dave Wilson
No. 6 Michigan at Penn State (noon ET, ABC): Michigan and Penn State have had their fair share of consequential games in the past and the game this weekend will be no different.
A Penn State win would hurt Michigan’s shot at a Big Ten championship berth or more, and a Michigan win would keep that chance alive to potentially play against Ohio State in one of the more meaningful rivalry games we’ve seen in the past few years.
It’s a home game for the Nittany Lions, which means the crowd will be a factor. The first play of the game during the 2020 season at Happy Valley resulted in a delay of game for Michigan as the crowd roared in excitement. That crowd factor is welcomed by Harbaugh, though, as he said this week he tried to use it to his advantage as a player.
“Personally, I liked to pretend they’re cheering for me when I was a player,” Harbaugh said. “I think I see our players taking that same mindset. Their music is our music. … When it’s all said and done, there’s only 11 players on each side that are out there on the field that can affect the game and the officials.”
The crowd will try its best to prove Harbaugh wrong and make an impact, but what will undoubtedly play a factor in the game is the red zone efficiency for both programs.
Michigan currently ranks 89th in red zone touchdown percentage, scoring a touchdown 55.6% of the time the offense is in the red zone. Penn State’s defense ranks second in red zone efficiency, holding opponents to touchdowns on 29.4% of drives in the red zone.
Penn State coach James Franklin said an emphasis this offseason was to try to focus on red zone defense. He credits the success to recruiting more length in the secondary, especially with corners over 6-feet, and being able to occupy more space in the red zone through length and size. Franklin also gave credit to defensive line coach John Scott Jr. in creating more awareness in rush discipline and being sound upfront.
“We’re not giving up the big plays on screens. We’re not giving up the big scrambles by quarterbacks, because I think we’re more disciplined in the pocket,” Franklin said. “And that was really a shift when John came in. Had a lot of discussions and that was going to change whether John came in or not. I think that’s helped us as well.”
No matter the reason, Penn State has improved, but the defense will have its hands full with Michigan’s offense, particularly the run.
The Wolverines are averaging 234.1 rush yards per game, which is good for seventh best among all FBS programs. Penn State’s defense ranks 49th in rush yards allowed per game with 137.1, but there are some questions around injuries for Michigan on offense.
Running back Blake Corum went down with an apparent leg injury in the Indiana game and did not return. Receiver A.J. Henning, who is also the team’s leading punt returner, also was knocked out of the Indiana game with an injury, as was receiver Andrel Anthony.
Harbaugh didn’t update the status of those players, but said on his weekly radio show that the team should know their status mid-week.
If those three can’t play, or are limited, it would have a big impact on an important game for both teams. — Tom VanHaaren
No. 1 Georgia at Tennessee (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): Georgia hasn’t been in a close game since the season-opening 10-3 win over Clemson. It’s been a series of blowouts, and the Dawgs have been suffocating on defense. They’ve only allowed five touchdowns on defense in nine games.
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said statistically, Georgia’s defense is “maybe as good as anybody that has ever played the game, I mean as a unit.”
One NFL coach told ESPN that even without suspended linebacker Adam Anderson, the Dawgs still have as many as five or six players in their defensive front seven that will probably be taken in the 2022 NFL draft.
What’s intriguing about Georgia’s trip to Neyland Stadium on Saturday is that the Dawgs are expected to be tested in a way defensively that they haven’t been this season. The Vols’ tempo on offense has been a problem for just about everybody, not to mention their ability to generate explosive plays.
In fact, if Tennessee is going to have a chance in this game, the Vols have to find a way to strike quickly and get to a Georgia secondary that has been well-protected by a defensive front that has been dominant. In SEC games this season, Tennessee leads the league with 20 plays of 30 yards or longer and nine plays of 40 yards or longer. By contrast, Georgia has given up just seven plays of 30 yards or longer all season.
Heupel, in his first season at Tennessee, has the Vols ranked third in the SEC in scoring offense (38.2 points per game). He said the Vols will have to find some balance on offense and not allow the Dawgs to load up against the pass.
“You look at how some games have unfolded and their defense has flipped the game in a span of two, three minutes,” Heupel said. “So we have to do a great job of taking care of the football and then go out and make some plays, too.”
It’s anybody’s guess how the Dawgs would react in a fourth-quarter game on the road because they’ve yet to be in that position this season. For the Vols, their lack of depth, particularly on defense, is starting to show up in the second half, which means Georgia may just try to play keep away with the running game.
In their four losses this season, the Vols have had poor quarters or even entire halves that have killed them. They were shut out in the second half against Florida and outscored 28-7 in the fourth quarter against Alabama.
Tennessee has played above its personnel level for much of this season and has masked its thin roster with its frenetic pace on offense. Georgia coach Kirby Smart knows this will be a different challenge for his defense.
“It’s very unique. You don’t face it every day,” Smart said. “They’ve done a tremendous job through tempo of being explosive.” — Chris Low
No. 19 Purdue at No. 4 Ohio State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): Purdue coach Jeff Brohm and his players likely smiled when they saw the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Sure, the Boilermakers were excited for their first CFP placement (No. 19). But they might have been even more excited to see this week’s opponent, Ohio State, slide into the top four.
After taking out two opponents ranked in the CFP or AP poll’s top four in the past four games, Purdue now takes aim at the Big Ten’s greatest Goliath.
“I think we’re willing to take some chances against really good opponents that maybe others aren’t,” Brohm said. “We’re not afraid of the challenge, and we look forward to really tough opponents and seeing how we match up.”
Ohio State’s defense, which has made significant strides since early in the season, tries to slow down the most creative offense it has seen all season. Not to mention a hot quarterback in Aidan O’Connell, whose completion percentage of 71.6% ranks fifth nationally and is on pace for a team record. David Bell, an All-America candidate who leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally in receiving yards (1,003), will test a mostly young Buckeyes secondary.
“This is a new challenge,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “We really haven’t gone against a style of offense like this.”
After consecutive nine-point wins over Penn State and Nebraska, Day has reiterated that Ohio State doesn’t need to win with style points. He’s certainly right this week. After what the “Spoilermakers” have done lately, the Buckeyes simply need to win. — Adam Rittenberg
Miami at Florida State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN app): It has been quite some time since this rivalry game had national implications, but their meeting this year does have ACC ramifications. That might seem hard to believe considering the way both these teams started this season: The Seminoles 0-4 and Miami 2-4, with major questions about their head coaches and the direction of their respective programs.
Both teams have shown improvement since then, but none more than Miami. The Hurricanes have won three straight after opening ACC play with heartbreaking losses to Virginia and North Carolina. Included in the win streak is a victory over Coastal Division leader Pitt — and that is why the Hurricanes are still alive in the race to make the ACC championship game.
Currently, ESPN FPI gives Pitt a 67% chance to win the Coastal. Miami is next at 17%. To get to Charlotte, North Carolina, the Hurricanes need to win out and then they need some help. Essentially, Miami needs Pitt and Virginia to each lose at least one ACC game over the final three weeks. The easiest path: A Pitt loss to North Carolina on Thursday night, followed by a Pitt win over Virginia on Nov. 20. Easier said than done, of course.
But a month ago, nobody was talking about the possibility of making the ACC championship game in Miami — as all the discussion centered on coach Manny Diaz and whether he would return for another year. Miami has won four straight over Florida State, its longest win streak in the series since 2000 to 2004. Another win would be huge not only for Diaz to answer questions about his future, but for Miami’s ACC championship hopes. — Andrea Adelson
No. 11 Texas A&M at No. 15 Ole Miss (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN app): Matt Corral’s ankle isn’t getting any better.
Rest might be the only remedy for Ole Miss’ star quarterback, but there’s none to be had. He can’t continue to sit out practice, as he did in the week leading up to last Saturday’s win over Liberty. And there’s no bye week coming.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said Corral is in a situation where he’s re-aggravating the injury every Saturday and, “I think this week will be very similar to last week.”
While Corral can continue to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball downfield, his lack of mobility is a problem. Just look at what happened against Liberty: Take away Jerrion Ealy’s 70-yard run and the Rebs combined for 72 yards on 27 carries.
Without the threat of Corral keeping it in the option game, and without the benefit of senior offensive lineman Ben Brown, who was lost for the season with a torn biceps, Ole Miss’ offense is limited heading into this top-15 matchup.
Remember, Corral is already without his top three receivers.
Dontario Drummond missed the Liberty game with a hamstring injury. Braylon Sanders is out of his walking boot and working his way back from an ankle injury, but he’s “nowhere near 100%,” according to Kiffin. And Jonathan Mingo might not return from his broken foot until a potential bowl game.
Quarterback-turned-receiver John Rhys Plumlee had a career day against Liberty, catching seven passes for 110 yards, but he has only seven catches for 54 yards in four SEC games this season.
And this Texas A&M defense, Kiffin said, is the best in terms of personnel that Ole Miss has seen all season and loaded with NFL-caliber talent at all levels.
“These guys have elite, elite players,” he said. — Alex Scarborough
Washington State at No. 3 Oregon (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): While Washington State’s season was overshadowed nationally by the off-field saga involving former head coach Nick Rolovich, the Cougars did something few outside their fan base probably noticed: They started to win.
Wazzu has won four straight Pac-12 games, which is tied for the longest streak in the conference with … Oregon. The game at Autzen Stadium is a must-win for the Ducks’ College Football Playoff hopes, but it also represents a massive opportunity for the Cougars, who would take over first place in the North with a win. With Arizona on deck and reeling Washington in the Apple Cup to close out the season, the Cougars would be in a strong position to play for the Pac-12 title.
“Really impressive, especially against the teams they have played against and the way in which they have won,” Ducks coach Mario Cristobal said. “The way they force turnovers … playing with a lot of passion, executing at a high level because at the end of the day playing hard is great but executing and playing hard, that’s what separates the really good teams from the rest of the pack. That’s what they’re doing.”
The Cougars have forced 16 turnovers in conference play, which is four more than anyone else in the league, and seven more than Oregon. When WSU is unranked, the Cougars are just 3-14 against a ranked Oregon team all time, but most of the players on the WSU roster have experienced success against the Ducks. Prior to Oregon wins in 2019 and 2020, WSU ran off four straight victories against the Ducks, including when both teams were ranked in 2018. In quarterback Jayden de Laura and running back Max Borghi, the Cougars have two of the most impactful offensive players in the conference, but understand playing at Oregon provides the biggest challenge they’ll have seen all year.
“The biggest thing and why I have such high regard and respect for their program is it’s not just good players,” WSU acting coach Jake Dickert said. “They’re coached well, their schemes are very detailed and attack people week to week. They win the game of the line of scrimmage, their details, their discipline, they don’t beat themselves, they don’t just turn it over.
“You don’t do what they’ve done and turn into the No. 3 team in the country without doing those things.”
While Oregon’s 31-24 overtime loss at Stanford has looked progressively worse since Oct. 2, the Ducks have improved. After getting off to a slow start due to injury, Kayvon Thibodeux has showcased the talent over the past month that is sure to make him one of the earliest players off the board in the 2022 NFL draft. His five quarterback hurries over the past four games are nearly as many as he had over his first 24 games in a Ducks uniform (6).
The magnitude of the game can’t be understated and that will continue to be the case the rest of the season for Oregon as long as it keeps winning. It’s hard to come up with a realistic scenario where it could lose again and still reach the playoff. A loss to WSU is a worst-case scenario because, as mentioned earlier, it opens the door for the Cougars to reach the Pac-12 title game, which would take appearances in both that game in Las Vegas and the Rose Bowl off the table. — Kyle Bonagura
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