Tag:Keys To The Game
Posted on: November 29, 2011 12:45 pm
Edited on: November 30, 2011 5:23 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Georgia vs. LSU



Posted by Jerry Hinnen

GEORGIA WILL WIN IF:
they can avoid giving LSU easy points. No kickoff returns for touchdown, no short fields following fumble giveaways, no pick-sixes or 60-yard bombs over the top. Simple, right?

Not against LSU, it's not; such is the Tigers' incredible strength in special teams and defense that they rank a mediocre 62nd in total offense ... and still a robust 13th in scoring offense at 38 points a game, better than all but seven other BCS conference teams. But as those low yardage totals indicate, putting together 8, 9-play drives that cover 75, 85 yards are not what LSU wants to do or what plays to their strengths. Even the 14-play, 77-yard march that got the Tigers on the board vs. Arkansas had to survive a botched option pitch and a near-interception from Jordan Jefferson to hit paydirt.

The Tigers can bang out those kinds of drives, of course, thanks to Spencer Ware and Michael Ford and the rest of LSU's pounding ground game. But Georgia can answer that with the nation's No. 6 rush defense, Jarvis Jones, John Jenkins, Christian Robinson and the rest. If Ware and Co. find some tough sledding somewhere between their own 20 and the end zone, is Jefferson good enough to repeatedly execute in the passing game -- against the nation's fourth-ranked secondary in opponent's QB rating, no less -- enough to put those usual 38 points on the board? 

Probably not--which is why if Aaron Murray can protect the ball against Morris Claiborne and the rest of the LSU ballhawks, if the Dawgs can avoid getting burned in special teams, if Drew Butler can match Brad Wing inside-the-20 punt for inside-the-20 punt, if the Dawg secondary can keep Rueben Randle from shortcutting a long drive into a quick one, the Dawgs will have a chance. Those are big -- gigantic -- if's, of course. But that's where the Dawgs have to start.

LSU WILL WIN IF: they play their game. Georgia shouldn't be able to stay even in the special teams department when no one else has. Georgia shouldn't be able to run well enough to keep Murray out of the 3rd-and-8's in which Barkevious Mingo can tee off and Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu, and the rest of the defensive backs thrive. Georgia shouldn't be able to get their receivers free against that secondary. Georgia shouldn't be able to offensively overcome to kinds of holes Wing will put them in.

LSU is the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. Georgia's good, but are they so good that if LSU plays to their potential, they'll be able to win anyway? No.

THE X-FACTOR: When Arkansas went up 14-0, the immediate reaction was "how will LSU respond?" Those 14 points represented a deficit more than three times larger than their previous season high ... and it was still erased and then some before halftime. But that was at home, against a team with no ability to stop the LSU ground game, and they got the benefit of Mathieu's game-swinging punt return. Let's say the Bulldogs not only ride a surge of early energy and momentum to a two touchdown first half lead, but hold on to keep a narrow edge into the game's final 20 minutes. Then how does LSU respond? It's a de facto road game. It's against the best defense they've seen since Alabama. It's for the SEC title. Do they keep their unflappable 2011 cool in that situation, too? Or not? 

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Posted on: November 29, 2011 11:56 am
 

Keys to the Game: Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma

Posted by Tom Fornelli

OKLAHOMA STATE WILL WIN IF: For the first time in many years, the Cowboys come into this game against their in-state rivals and should be considered the better team. The most important thing Oklahoma State may have in this game is knowing exactly that, as it sometimes seems that the Cowboys have a "little brother" syndrome against Oklahoma. Aside from confidence, however, the Cowboys should pay attention to what Baylor did against Oklahoma a few weeks ago. The Bears threw for 485 yards against the Sooners and protected Robert Griffin from the Oklahoma pass rush. Which is exactly what Oklahoma State will need to do for Brandon Weeden. Another huge factor will be turnovers. The biggest reason Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State was not the Oklahoma State defense having one of its worst nights of the season -- though it surely didn't help -- it was the fact that Oklahoma State turned the ball over 5 times, including 3 interceptions by Weeden. It doesn't matter who you are, you turn the ball over 5 times, you're going to lose more often than not. So in order for Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma, taking care of the football will be priority number one.

OKLAHOMA WILL WIN IF: When playing Oklahoma State, first and foremost you need to slow down the Cowboys offense, and the Sooners have a defense that is capable of doing that. The Sooners should have a simple three-word mantra for this contest, and that's "Get To Weeden." The Oklahoma State offensive line has allowed only 11 sacks this season, but this is an Oklahoma defense that is second in the Big 12 with 37 sacks on the season. Which means that the battle between the Oklahoma State offensive line and Oklahoma defensive line will be one of the most important matchups in this contest. Odds are whichever side wins is going to win the game. On offense for the Sooners, Landry Jones will have to follow the advice given to Brandon Weeden and protect the ball. Everyone likes to think the Oklahoma State defense is terrible, but it has a defensive pass efficiency rating that is better than Oklahoma's, and has 21 interceptions on the season compared to 13 touchdowns allowed. 

X-FACTOR: Blake Bell. The Belldozer has taken on a bigger role within the Sooners offense over the last few weeks since guys like Dominique Whaley and Ryan Broyles went down to injury. Well, that role may expand against Oklahoma State. Bell is a bruising quarterback in the mold of a Tim Tebow or Collin Klein. Well, Klein rushed for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Oklahoma State defense earlier this season, and if you don't think Bob Stoops is very much aware of that, well, trust me, he's very much aware of that. 
Posted on: November 22, 2011 9:49 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Florida State at Florida

Posted by Chip Patterson

FLORIDA STATE WILL WIN IF: They can get a strong performance from the offensive line. Not only has Florida State given up more sacks than anyone in the ACC (31), but the offensive line has also repeatedly been guilty of committing penalties that negate a big play. Many of the offensive line's faults have been blamed on injury issues, forcing the staff to constantly rotate players in and out of different positions. But regardless of health or depth, the Seminoles offensive woes always begin up front. Florida's defense presents on of their toughest challenges all season, and with that kind of athleticism on the other side of the ball Florida State has to bring their best performance.

FLORIDA WILL WIN IF: Florida's defense can frustrate EJ Manuel and force turnovers. Florida's defense has been fantastic against the run this season, and the Gators should have a chance to make Florida State one-dimensional. Creating more possessions for John Brantley, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps gives more chances for the home-run play. Unfortunately, that seems to be one of the best forms of offense Florida can create. The Seminoles have struggled offensively for long periods in each of the last two games, and keeping them out of rhythm will be essential for Will Muschamp to get his first win over longtime friend Jimbo Fisher.

X-FACTOR: Penalties. Only two teams (Arizona and Colorado) have committed more penalties this season than Florida and Florida State. Their 89 penalties each ranks for No. 117 in the nation, and has been cited by each coach as a reason for frustrating losses. Whichever team can maintain their focus and limit their penalties will have an edge in this matchup. Nothing crushes the momentum of a Chris Rainey run or long EJ Manuel pass play quite like a holding penalty, particularly in the an emotionally-charged rivalry matchup like this one.

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Posted on: November 22, 2011 5:56 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Virginia Tech at Virginia

Posted by Chip Patterson

VIRGINIA TECH WILL WIN IF: They can jump out to a lead and continue to press for four quarters. The Hokies have struggled at times this season scoring late in games, allowing some conference opponents to climb back into games in the fourth quarter. Just ask Florida State how that worked out for them in the 14-13 loss on Saturday. You cannot let Virginia hang around in this game because they have demonstrated a tenacity and grittiness that makes them dangerous late in games. Virginia Tech needs to rise to the occasion and end this game early. If Logan Thomas and David Wilson have big games and are able to keep drives alive with third down conversions, even the Cavaliers' impressive run defense will wear down by the fourth quarter.

VIRGINIA WILL WIN IF: They win the battle up front and establish their bruising rushing attack. Virginia Tech is thin on both the offensive and defensive line because of injury, and Saturday is the opportunity for that physical style of play to shine on the biggest stage. Mike London's team has beat up conference opponents on their division title chase, and benefited from some hard running from Perry Jones and Kevin Parks. Florida State was able to limit both backs early, but the Hokies' rush defense has declined recently - giving up 477 yards on the ground in their last three contests. By comparison, the unit averaged only 84.6 yards in their first eight games.

X-FACTOR: The Rivalry. Virginia played a very big role in bringing Virginia Tech to the ACC in 2004, and the Hokies have repaid the favor by winning every Commonwealth Cup showdown since their arrival. With Virginia riding a four game winning streak that includes wins over Miami and Florida State, the Cavaliers have all the confidence that this is the year to knock off their in-state rivals. At the same time, Virginia Tech senior safety Eddie Whitley mentioned this week that he's been getting texts from former players encouraging the Hokies to take care of business.

Not to mention, a berth to the ACC Championship Game is on the line in this "winner take all" battle for the Coastal Division. Virginia Tech could clinch their fifth berth in seven years. Virginia could have a shot at their first conference title since 1995. It is the first sellout in Charlottesville all season, and promises to be physical game for 60 minutes. In matchups this heated, the biggest X-Factor is "who wants it more."

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Posted on: November 22, 2011 5:46 pm
 

Keys to the game: Alabama at Auburn

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ALABAMA WILL WIN IF:
they shut down Michael Dyer and the rest of the Auburn running game. Because the hard truth for the Tigers is that there's little-to-no reason to believe Clint Moseley and the Tiger passing game are going to get anything going against the Tide. Though Moseley has been a slight improvement on Barrett Trotter, neither QB has had much success against any SEC opponent not named Ole Miss--over those six games, Auburn's averaged just 131 yards per-game and 5.8 per attempt, and a 5-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. And unfortunately for the Tigers, the Tide are as good-if-not-better than any of the teams they've faced yet, ranking No. 1 in the FBS in both straight pass defense and opponent's QB rating.

Dyer and the Tiger running game will pose a much more formidable challenge; the speedy Onterio McCalebb may be particularly troubling for the Tide, given their struggle to hold the edge against the option looks of LSU and even Georgia Southern. But if the Tide do keep the Auburn ground game in check, it's hard to see how the Tigers ever more the ball enough to pull out the win.

AUBURN WILL WIN IF: they get some help from AJ McCarron. In our "Keys to the Game" prior to the Tigers' contest against Georgia, we noted that Auburn had been oustanding vs. teams with questionable quarterbacking and terrible vs. teams with anyone decent under center. Aaron Murray? He was far better than decent (14-of-18, 12.4 YPA, 4 TDs) and Auburn was naturally shelled to the tune of 45 points and 528 total yards. Can McCarron reprise anything like Murray's domination? Certain early-season performances suggest he can, but the redshirt sophomore has been noticeably less effcient on the road (three non-Ole Miss games have yielded a combined 5.8 YPA and just one touchdown pass), and his past three SEC games anywhere have yielded just a 1-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

If McCarron is on his game, everything about the Tigers' season-to-date suggests they'll give up major yards and points. But that's a big if given the kind of environment McCarron will face and his erratic play of late.

THE X-FACTOR: the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd. It's often said that a given football team is "a different team on the road" than at home, and that goes double for one as young as Auburn has been this season. That's how it's played out for Gene Chizik's team, which has dodged a few close scrapes (and played a couple of terrible teams) but nonetheless enters the Iron Bowl with a perfect 6-0 home record. It was just two years ago Alabama came to the Plains to face a 7-4 Tiger team with a national title game berth on the line, and left needing a last-minute touchdown and knocked-down Hail Mary to escape with the win. The Auburn team that's shown up for most of the season may not be quite as fierce as the one the Tide has to tangle with Saturday. 
Posted on: November 22, 2011 4:45 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Clemson at South Carolina

Posted by Chip Patterson

SOUTH CAROLINA WILL WIN IF: They can move the ball against Clemson's defense. The Gamecocks offense has struggled in the back half of the season, but was able to gain some momentum in Week 13 - even if it was against The Citadel. After averaging 16.5 points per game in their previous four contests, quarterback Connor Shaw led a 473 yard offensive performance that resulted in the 41-20 win. The Gamecocks defense has been the most consistent aspect of this year's team, but the unit enters the rivalry game with some injury issues. The Tigers' defense has shown they are vulnerable, and South Carolina may need to take advantage just to play keep-up with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins.

CLEMSON WILL WIN IF: They can win the battle in the trenches. Clemson's offensive line only allowed 18 sacks through their first ten games, but allowed six sacks to NC State alone in the embarrassing 37-13 defeat on Saturday. By the same measure, Clemson's defensive line has to do a better job of getting into the backfield and pressuring the quarterback. Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson were near the top of everyone's midseason watch list for all-conference honors, but both players have been much more quiet in the last three games. Clemson has to regain their focus to get a win against South Carolina, and they need a strong performance to build some momentum heading into the ACC Championship Game.

X-FACTOR: Sammy Watkins. The superstar freshman injured his shoulder against Wake Forest and was unavailable for the Tigers' loss at NC State. With Watkins cleared to play, the question is now how much he can play. Watkins in his most dangerous form impacts the game as a wide receiver, punt returner, and kick returner. Every touchdown by the opposition is followed with the question of whether you want to kick the ball to Watkins, or risk giving Clemson's high-powered offense a short field. Every punter has to undergo the same concerns, causing him to rethink or readjust his kick. As Watkins shifts around in the offense, the secondary has to be aware and ready to close in at any moment. Rivalry games like this are often decided by big plays, and few people can impact a game in a split-second like a healthy Sammy Watkins.

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Posted on: November 22, 2011 3:39 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Georgia at Georgia Tech

Posted by Chip Patterson

GEORGIA WILL WIN IF: The Bulldogs can establish their running game. In this contest, making the most of every possession will be crucial. Georgia has had a revolving door at running back recently because of health and personal issues, but to win Saturday they will just need SOMEONE to be productive out of the backfield. Freshman sensation Isaiah Crowell is questionable with an ankle injury, Carlton Thomas's status after another one-game suspension is murky, Richard Samuel is still recovering from Nov. 1 ankle surgery, while backups Brandon Harton and Ken Malcome combined for three fumbles against Kentucky. The questions of "who" and "how many" running backs play against Georgia Tech do not matter as long as the Bulldogs offense can establish a consistent ground attack.

GEORGIA TECH WILL WIN IF: They catch the Bulldogs off guard between crucial SEC contests. Georgia Tech is out of the ACC Coastal Division race, and has nothing to save themselves for in their new mission for 10 wins. Two of Georgia Tech's losses this season have come against teams that have had extended time to prepare for defending Paul Johnson's offense. Extra time isn't the only way to beat Georgia Tech, but both of those coaches and/or players credited the extra time as a helpful advantage after the fact. Georgia enters the game having just wrapped up the SEC East with the SEC Championship in Atlanta just a week away. If there is any scheduling advantage here, it favors the Yellow Jackets.

X-FACTOR: Isaiah Crowell's availability. In Georgia Tech's three losses this season the defense allowed an average of over 220 yards per game on the ground, in wins that number is 145.5. Early reports make it appear that Mark Richt will have up to four of his tailbacks ready to go against the Yellow Jackets, and some have suggested the Bulldogs rest their star freshman to allow his ankle to fully heal in preparation for the SEC Championship Game. If the Bulldogs run all four backs, they will be able to limit Georgia Tech's time on the field and likely have an opportunity to eat up yards against the 3-4 defense already concerned with stopping Murray through the air.

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Posted on: November 22, 2011 3:13 pm
 

Keys to the game: UCLA at USC

Posted by Bryan Fischer

UCLA WILL WIN IF: Though there is certainly a talent deficit in Westwood, that doesn't mean the Bruins can't win and end their crosstown rival's promising season with a loss if they put together a well executed game plan. The Pistol offense has had it's moments recently and can give the Trojans plenty of problems if they move the ball consistently. UCLA will need to be flawless against a good team and the defense - especially the secondary - will have to take a step up if Rick Neuheisel is to win this for the Pac-12 South title and, probably, to save his job.

USC WILL WIN IF: The running game has started to pick up for the Trojans as both Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal have given opposing defenses something else to worry about other than the trio of Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. With firepower like that, they really just have to keep doing what they did against Oregon last week but against a defense that is in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12.

X-FACTOR: Emotions. This is USC's final home game and therefore final game of the season as they serve out their two-year bowl ban. It could also be Barkley's final game in the cardinal and gold so you wonder if emotions will get the best of him and others on the team. Likewise, UCLA will come in looking to pull the upset so if they face some adversity early on, their reaction will be key as to whether they can turn momentum around.
 
 
 
 
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