5 Things I Think: Going Into Week 4!

FootballWeek 4 doesn’t have a whole lot of intriguing matchups as the only team in the Top 10 that plays someone that could challenge them was #5 Clemson. That ended up happening, by the way, last night as they faced N.C. State. Remember that the Wolfpack ruined Florida State’s run at a national title last season, so they’re known for getting up for big games. Wolfpack fans will focus on the 83-yard touchdown run that was called back to the 47 because the official ruled he stepped out (and depending on the replay angle it was tough to definitively say either way), but what they should focus on was their team’s terrible play on third down. They were a terrible 3-16 for the night and one of those was the late-game touchdown run. My Buckeyes play Florida A&M this weekend and the only comment worth making on that one is that I hope Urban Meyer rests Braxton Miller one more week in preparation for Wisconsin and let smooth Kenny G take care of business. So let’s go ahead and dive in!

1. Michigan State at #22 Notre Dame (2:30pm CST NBC): To be honest, I have not been impressed with the Fighting Irish yet this season. I realize they’re 2-1 and their loss is to a team they probably should have lost to in TTUN (although Akron may have something to say about that), but what have they done that is all that impressive? Outside of not completely imploding after losing Everett Golson to academic issues in the offseason … nothing. Tommy Rees only having two interceptions thus far is admittedly surprising. Last week, they squeaked past a Purdue team that lost by 35 to Cincinnati in the season opener (keep in mind that the Bearcats subsequently lost to Illinois by 28). I realize that the transitive property doesn’t always translate to sports, but it sure doesn’t make Notre Dame look any more impressive. On the other side of the coin, Michigan State, as usual, looks strong defensively. They haven’t played anyone really (Western Michigan, South Florida, and Youngstown State), but they’ve only allowed three offensive touchdowns and have allowed only a 16% success rate on third down conversions. It appears, with a small sample size in mind, that the Spartans may finally have their starting quarterback in third-year sophomore Connor Cook as he threw four touchdown passes last week which is something a Spartans quarterback hasn’t done since 2007 (Brian Hoyer). I think if the Spartans defense can contain wide receivers DeVaris Daniels and TJ Jones who have more than half of the Irish’s total receptions; they have a great chance at pulling out a win. Cook needs to just take care of the ball and let the Spartans defense do what they do. I think this game will be relatively low scoring in that neither team may break 20 points and that is certainly in the Spartans’ favor. Michigan State wins in a game in which I think we’ll see the return of the Tommy Rees we all know.

2. Utah State at USC (2:30pm CST ESPN2): Kiffin, coaching from a seat that is warming up, is matched up in a game that probably doesn’t look like much to the average onlooker. However, keep in mind that Utah State lost just two games last season, by a combined 5 points (Wisconsin by 2 and BYU by 3), and beat Utah, San Jose St., and high-scoring Louisiana Tech. In addition, if you haven’t heard of him yet, you will soon; Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keaton is a beast. Luckily, for Kiffin and Co., defense is just about the only thing the Trojans are playing well right now. They’re 4th in the nation in total defense allowing just 212 yards per game (to put that in perspective, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, and Florida are ahead of them). Where the problem lies is that USC’s offense has struggled while Kiffin has decided who his quarterback is (he finally decided on Cody Kessler who played well against a weak Boston College team last week) and is ranked 85th in the nation in total offense. If that weren’t bad enough, Utah State’s defense is ranked 13th in total defense, so Kessler has his work cut out for him. The Trojans need to get the running game going. They’ve had more than 40 carries in each of their three games and have only broken 200 yards in the one against Boston College. They need to do better this week to keep Keaton off the field and so that they can set up the play-action game and utilize the best player in the country, Marqise Lee. What should comfort Kiffin and Kessler is that Utah State is one of just 12 FBS teams that has not yet recorded an interception. Additionally, the Aggies have only recorded three sacks. I look for Kiffin to use Lee and wide receiver Nelson Agholor on the same side of the field and have one run a deep route and one an intermediate route (what he should have done with Lee and Woods last year!) because that will cause defensive nightmares for the Aggies nearly regardless of the defensive scheme. I think Kiffin wins a close one this week and can sit a little more comfortably… for a bit.

3. #23 Arizona State at #5 Stanford (6pm CST Fox): The battle of two teams who had Week 1 byes ensues. Furthermore, it’s a battle of two very different offensive philosophies and the only one that pits two ranked teams against each other this week. Arizona State is a spread-option team that has a quarterback that very few are familiar with, but should be, in Taylor Kelly. He’s a threat with his arm and his legs. Don’t let them fool you though, they can run it up the gut with senior running back Marion Grice as well. Stanford is a smash-mouth, drop-back quarterback, west coast offense that also enjoys playing defense. They also may possibly have the best offensive line in the country this season. People thought they’d lose a lot when Stepfan Taylor took his 1530 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns to the NFL, but the Cardinal got a surprise in the offseason when Tyler Gaffney returned to the team after playing in the minors in 2012 for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Gaffney is averaging 5.9 yards a carry and doesn’t seem to have lost a step at all. The biggest difference you’ll see in the Cardinal offense this year is in the passing game. We were all introduced to quarterback Kevin Hogan last season after he took over for Josh Nunes midway through the season, but we’ve become accustomed to the offense being dependent on the tight ends in the passing game, which isn’t the case this year. Watch receiver Ty Montgomery, who has a third of the Cardinal’s receptions this season, and you’ll see that the offense is more wide open than it has been in recent years. In fact, there has only been two balls caught by Cardinal tight ends thus far. Are they keeping in reserve for Pac-12 play? We’ll see, but it seems unlikely given that’s what teams came into the season expecting. These two teams have combined for just five penalties and five turnovers lost in their first two games, so it doesn’t look like they’ll be shooting themselves in the foot a whole lot in this game. Arizona State did a good job against the inside runs against Wisconsin last week, but did horrible on the edge, so I look for Stanford to use quick passes and wide receiver screens to loosen up the edges (they don’t have a quick back like Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon) so that Tyler Gaffney can do his work inside. Stanford wins but Arizona State will show the nation that they’re not a team that should be easily dismissed.

4. Auburn at #6 LSU (6:45pm CST ESPN): Death Valley is a hard place to play at night for anyone. Since 2005, LSU is 36-2 in such games, the only two losses being to Alabama in 2012 and to Florida in 2009. How will this affect Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall in his fourth career FBS start? We’ll have to wait and see but recent history doesn’t bode well for him as the starters who led to those two LSU losses were AJ McCarron and Tim Tebow, both of whom were coming off a national championship run. I’ve been impressed with Marshall thus far especially knowing that he’s still learning the quarterback position having been a former defensive back at Georgia. Does Marshall have that same ability to will his team to victory that a certain other quarterback of recent Auburn lore who played under Gus Malzahn (as an offensive coordinator) had? I don’t know, but he and the rest of his team did a great job of pulling off two close wins against teams that legitimately played well enough to win. Unfortunately, for Marshall, Malzahn, and company, they haven’t yet faced a defense as athletic, strong, and fast as LSU will put on the field on Saturday. Also, unfortunately for M&M, is that quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s progression, which finally showed itself against Alabama last season, has been hastened under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. A former member of the Georgia Bulldogs himself, Mettenberger is finally looking like the player everyone expected him to be when he signed at LSU. What is in Auburn’s favor, however, is that LSU has not yet faced an offense as fast-paced (and Malzahn is convinced it will get faster as the season progresses) as theirs. Can they wear down that defense as the game progresses? That’s the plan. Malzahn’s squad is only averaging about 64 plays per games right now and his goal is to reach the 80-85 range. I can’t pick Auburn in this game, but I think this will be a great measuring stick to find out exactly where they are, particularly defensively. However, keep in mind, that LSU only beat Auburn, a team that won three games (and none in the SEC) last season by merely 2 points last year. Mettenberger is much improved however. LSU wins by about 10.

5. Kansas State at Texas (7pm CST ESPN): If anyone ever needed a losing streak to end, it’s Mack Brown. I’m not even talking about the two-game skid they’re currently on. Kansas State has beaten the Longhorns six consecutive times and letting it get to seven will get the fans, the media, and everyone else in an uproar. Especially after KSU started the season with a loss to an FCS team (albeit the two-time defending FCS national champions). Led by quarterback Jake Waters, KSU is 2-1, and as they head into Austin, they have to be feeling confident. Waters, a JUCO transfer that won the junior college national championship last season (one of three current starters in the FBS to have won one; who are the other two? Answer below.), has struggled with interceptions having already thrown five (against four touchdowns). Both he and quarterback Daniel Sams are rushing threats (which has to scare Longhorns fans as they have flashbacks of BYU’s Taysom Hill), but when Sams is on the field it’s a pretty sure bet that he’s running as he’s only attempted 4 passes this season. For the Longhorns, I haven’t heard whether David Ash is returning for this game or whether Case McCoy will play. However, if I’m Mack Brown and Ash can’t play — and maybe even if he can — I might start Tyrone Swoopes. The Longhorns clearly need a spark and have they had a real spark since Colt McCoy or Vince Young lined up behind center? Why not put a dual-threat guy back there and see if he can light a fire under this offense that clearly has the talent to be explosive? It can only open up lanes for Gray, Bergeron, and Brown because KSU won’t be able to put seven or eight in the box and dare the quarterback to throw because he can take off … or buy enough time for a receiver to be open. Going into the week I didn’t think Texas had a chance of losing this game, but the more I think about it, the more I think maybe Mack has lost this team and they are not inspired to follow him right now. That’s why I think maybe putting Swoopes out there will give the team someone to rally around because playing to save Mack’s job doesn’t seem like enough right now. I still have Texas winning just because of KSU’s tendency to turn over the football, but I’ll admit I don’t feel great about it. Longhorns win and ugly one.

Answer: LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace.

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