With week four already underway, albeit with a clunker between Cincinnati and NC State last night, it’s time to look at the games that should be great. Without further ado, here are the three matchups for week four that I’m most intrigued by.
North Carolina at #25 Georgia Tech: 12:00 p.m.
One team is ranked and the other probably should be. Both teams 2-0 head into the game with the same result but much different ways of achieving it. For the Yellow Jackets, the game plan is simple, run the ball and when that fails run the ball some more. Running the triple option offense, Paul Johnson’s team leads the nation in rushing with a staggering 427 yards per game. While the Yellow Jackets have been able to take advantage of the big play through the air (averaging 22 yards per reception), junior quarterback Tevin Washington has only attempted 28 passes on the season. Relying on the ground game has its advantages though, as the Yellow Jackets have only turned the ball over three times in as many games. On defense, the Yellow Jackets have been solid defending the pass surrendering just 201 yards per game, but have looked shaky in run defense allowing teams to grind it out for an average of 134 yards per game.
For North Carolina it’s the exact opposite. The Tarheels enter the game looking balanced on offense, averaging 243 yards through the air and 179 on the ground. Sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner has been extremely accurate completing 81% of his passes. The problem, of his 13 incomplete passes on the year, four have been interceptions. On the ground, North Carolina has a talented duo of backs in Ryan Houston and Giovani Bernard. Bernard, the home run hitter, is averaging 6.7 yards per carry and has four touchdowns on the year including an explosive 60 yard run in a two point win against Rutgers. Houston has been the bruiser and despite averaging just 3.5 yards per rush, has three touchdowns this season. On defense the Tarheels were looking exceptional allowing just 455 yards of total offense in their first two contests. Last week however, the Tarheels defense was burned for 468 yards against Virginia, including 170 on the ground. This was the first time since a November 2010 loss to NC State that the Heels have given up over 100 yards on the ground. Since that loss North Carolina had allowed just 99 yards rushing in four contests until the game against Virginia last week.
My prediction, the Heels defense gets back on track, and while they certainly won’t hold the Jackets to under 100 yards on the ground they also won’t allow the 604 rushing yards Georgia Tech racked up last week against Kansas. Expect the Tarheels and Yellow Jackets to trade scores with the Heels outlasting the Jackets for a 31-28 victory.
#11 Florida State at #21 Clemson: 3:30 p.m.
Florida State is coming off a disappointing defeat in which they had the #1 Oklahoma Sooners on the ropes at home. Clemson on the other hand, is riding high after a dominating performance against the defending National Champions. While the Clemson fans are probably still celebrating last week’s performance, they better hope their team isn’t. Both teams feature explosive offenses with playmakers all over. On the ground, Clemson has an obvious advantage. Averaging five yards per carry to Florida State’s 3.2 yard average Clemson has been able to rack up 650 yards rushing compared to FSU’s 289 yards.
Clemson features a three headed monster at running back with junior Andre Ellington, and freshmen Mike Bellamy and D.J. Howard. Ellington, has gotten the bulk of the carries but the two freshman have made the most of their chances with both averaging over eight yards per rush. While touchdowns on the ground have been scarce, with just four in three games, the balance provided by their electric ground game has been vital to the Tigers success. For the Seminoles, the same can’t be said. While they definitely have the playmakers to have a successful ground game in senior Ty Jones, junior Chris Thompson and freshmen James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman the offense just hasn’t been committed enough to the ground game to get any of the four in rhythm.
Through the air, both teams have been successful but the edge goes to Clemson again. What was believed to be a weakness for the Tigers heading into the season has turned into quite the pleasant surprise. Led by sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd, the tigers have been explosive through the air with 918 yards in three contests. Even more surprising is how well Boyd has taken care of the ball with 10 touchdowns and just one interception. Boyd has also been extremely accurate completing 67% of his 101 pass attempts. At wide receiver, Clemson has seen the emergence of one of the most deadly weapons in the nation in true freshman Sammy Watkins. Watkins has been able to show off his elite speed burning opposing defensive backs for 292 yards and four touchdowns, including a two touchdown performance against Auburn last week. The Tigers also have arguably the nation’s best tight end in Fayettville N.C. native, Dwayne Allen.
For Florida State the play of E.J. Manuel has been hot and cold leading to six touchdowns but four interceptions, including two last week to the Sooners. Freshman quarterback Clint Trickett has also seen playing time, throwing for 310 yards with four touchdowns to just one interception. The Seminoles feature a plethora of capable wide receivers including Rashad Greene, Rodney Smith, Greg Dent and the dynamic Bert Reed.
If the X-factor is defense, the Seminoles hold the definite advantage. While the Tigers are getting gashed on defense for a staggering 419 yards per game, the Seminoles have been stout allowing just 195 yards per game. The Seminoles defense is littered with playmakers at every position including a star studded secondary featuring playmakers Greg Reid, Karlos Williams, Nick Moody and Lamarcus Joyner.
My prediction, this game is likely to be very high scoring as both teams feature instant offense at every skill position. I expect close to 1,000 yards of offense and a back and forth game all day. In the end, I believe the Seminoles will make the one or two critical stops needed to win a thriller 48-45.
#2 LSU at #16 West Virginia: 8:00 p.m.
In the primetime game of the week, the Bayou Bengals will head to Morgantown for a rematch of last year’s game in which LSU barely escaped an upset by the Mountaineers in Baton Rouge. While on paper this matchup may look like another SEC non conference blowout, between the lines it could be much closer than that.
Both teams enter the game with unscathed records, however LSU has the definite advantage as far as the quality of opponents is concerned. While West Virginia’s wins have come against Marshall, Norfolk State and Maryland, the Tigers have had convincing victories over last year’s runner-up Orgeon (ranked #3 at the time of the contest), and fellow SEC West foe Mississippi State (#25) as well as a 49-3 blowout of Northwestern State.
LSU also features a dominating defense that ranks 14th in the nation in points given up at 12 points per game. Outside of the 27 points surrendered to the Oregon Ducks light speed offense, the Tiger defense has given up just three field goals in their two other contests. The Tigers defense is anchored by a great front line that has been instrumental in holding opponents to just 48 yards on the ground. On the back end, the Patrick Petersonless secondary hasn’t missed a beat holding opponents to just 160 yards passing per game. The Tigers have also been very opportunistic on defense forcing seven turnovers in three games.
On offense, LSU has done the majority of its damage on the ground, with eight of their 11 offensive touchdowns coming in the running game. Senior quarterback, Jarrett Lee, has filled in admirably for the suspended Jordan Jefferson. Lee has completed 68% of his passes for 444 yards, and while the touchdown numbers aren’t there at just three on the year, Lee has been able to protect the ball with just one interception. At wide out, LSU has struggled without playmaker Russell Shepard. Shepard returns from suspension this week and should be a dangerous weapon in the passing game Saturday night.
For West Virginia the story is all about offense, and quarterback Geno Smith. The Mountaineers are 7th in the nation in passing yards with 356 a game, and 15th in scoring offense with 42 points per game. Both of these rankings will be tested by the stingy LSU defense. Junior Geno Smith has been electric, completing 70% of his passes for just over a thousand yards. Smith has found paydirt seven times through the air and only has one interception in the Mountaineers first three games.
At running back, the Mountaineers have been abysmal. Averaging just 2.6 yards per carry as a whole, the Mountaineers only have one running back with more than 30 attempts. The wide receiver corps features several playmakers including junior Tavon Austin. Austin, is a burner and if the LSU defense lets him get loose he may still be running at this time next week.
My prediction, LSU goes into the half with only a field goal lead. During the first half both teams will have their share of big plays and missed opportunities. In the second half, the Tigers size, depth and speed will prove to be too much for the Mountaineers and Les Miles and the Bayou Bengals come away with the three score win 41-24.
Check back next Friday where I’ll preview my three most intriguing matchups for week five!