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Tag:Keys To The Game
Posted on: November 22, 2011 2:31 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Keys to the game: Oregon State at Oregon

Posted by Bryan Fischer

OREGON STATE WILL WIN IF: The Beavers are significant underdogs against their in-state rivals and will need plenty of breaks to go their way on top of playing flawless. Redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 339 yards last week to top the three thousand yard mark for the season and has been a solid option behind center as Mike Riley has opted to throw the ball more than in the past. James Rodgers will need to be healthy and contributing on top of the defense playing their best game of the year if they want to win the Civil War.

OREGON WILL WIN IF: No one wants to come out and get a win more than the Ducks after getting upset last week by USC. A win also gives them the Pac-12 North title and hosting duties for the Pac-12 Championship so there's plenty riding on the outcome. They have the better, more complete team and just need to do what worked well during their long winning streak against conference teams: get skill position players in space and watch them quickly proceed to the end zone.

X-FACTOR: James Rodgers. He got hurt in the first half against Washington and did not return. Considering he's the Beavers best player, Rodgers has to be on the field if Oregon State wants to win or even stay close. Considering it was his ankle that kept him out one is right to doubt his effectiveness but OSU is going to need him there to give Oregon's defense something to think about.


Posted on: November 22, 2011 2:25 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Arkansas at LSU

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ARKANSAS WILL WIN IF: the Hog defensive line plays the game of its collective life. As noted here in the run-up to LSU-Alabama, the Tigers' big plays come almost exclusively in the passing game; even with Spencer Ware and Michael Ford around, LSU ranks among the nation's lowest producers of long runs even as they rank among its most consistent in grinding out 4, 5, or 6 yards a carry. Without that steady diet of chain-moving runs, though, what happens? Against Alabama, what happened was that Jarrett Lee found Rueben Randle blanketed, the LSU passing game got neither big plays nor small ones, and the Bayou Bengal offense as a whole (even in victory) limped to its worst offensive showing of the year.

Obviously, the Hog defense isn't going to be able to do the things Alabama's did, and there's a danger it could get run over completely; already, the Razorbacks have given up 197 rushing yards to Alabama, 381 to Texas A&M, 291 to Auburn, 222 to Vanderbilt. But in players like ends Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright and tackles D.D. Jones and Byran Jones, the Hogs have the potential to play much better than those numbers would suggest. If they can occasionally slow down Ware and Ford and force the LSU passing game to methodically move down the field rather than pop the big one to Randle on second- or third-and-short, their offense will have a chance at outscoring an LSU unit that -- for all its many strengths -- isn't as consistently explosive.


LSU WILL WIN IF:
their secondary comes to play. Let's be honest: Dennis Johnson has given the Razorback running game a real spark over the past several weeks, and the potential return of Knile Davis might spark them further still. But against the nation's No. 4 run defense, the Hogs simply aren't going to win the game on the ground. Tyler Wilson, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Co. are going to have to get theirs. And they've got some hope--against the only other truly dedicated pass-first offense they've faced this year, LSU gave up 463 yards, 7.1 an attempt, and two touchdowns to West Virginia.

But since then, Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Ron Brooks, Brandon Taylor (and the rest) have been on lockdown, allowing zero touchdown passes over their last seven games while collecting seven interceptions. Nationally, only Alabama boasts a lower opposing QB rating. If the LSU defensive backs do anything similar to Wilson like they'd done to everyone else this season that wasn't West Virginia, the Hogs won't stand a chance.

THE X-FACTOR: Adams has long since proven his ability to change a game with his punt returns, but Brad Wing and the elite LSU punt coverage unit mean he may not get much of a chance. The bigger issue: if the Hogs can avoid the backbreaking turnover. Wilson has been largely careful with the ball but may face heavy pressure and has had a brainfart or two here or there; see his gift-wrapped pick-six vs. South Carolina. And Johnson has already given up a handful of critical fumbles this season. If the Hogs hand an LSU team that thrives on field position those kinds of early Christmas presents, forget winning--they'll be lucky to keep the game competitive.  
Posted on: November 22, 2011 1:32 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Stanford vs. Notre Dame

Posted by Tom Fornelli

STANFORD WILL WIN IF: One of the most prolific offense in the Pac-12 will be facing a Notre Dame defense that has been stout against the run this season, allowing only 142.6 yards rushing per game and 8 rushing touchdowns on the season. This despite the fact that Notre Dame has faced option teams like Air Force and Navy this season. Of course, the service academies don't have quite the same level of talent that Stanford has on its offense, and they definitely don't have a quarterback like Andrew Luck. In his career against Notre Dame, Luck hasn't had eye-popping numbers, completing 33 of 52 passes for 436 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions in two previous games. That being said, Stanford is still 2-0 in both of those games and have done so by rushing for 223 yards per game in those contests. A formula that Stanford would be wise to follow again this Saturday, with some Luck sprinkled in for good measure.

NOTRE DAME WILL WIN IF: This Stanford offense is too powerful to keep off the scoreboard very often, so it may be up to the Irish offense to outscore the Cardinal on the road when it comes down to it. Which is something this Notre Dame offense is capable of as long as it doesn't turn the ball over. As we saw in the Stanford loss against Oregon, this is a defense that can be beaten if you spread it out and try and beat it with speed. Notre Dame doesn't have nearly the same amount of speed on offense that Oregon does, but it can spread the Stanford defense out. Without Jonas Gray the Irish won't be able to try and grind the Cardinal defense down, but it can get the same type of effect utilizing a short passing game, while trying to hit Michael Floyd for a big play once in a while. If the Irish offense can take care of the football and give its defense time to rest on the sideline during this game, then it has a chance to pull off the upset.

X-FACTOR: Notre Dame's front seven. This will be the toughest test that Notre Dame's defense has faced this season, as the Stanford offense is built around its running game, but also has Andrew Luck who can tear your secondary apart. Which means the impetus will be on the defensive line and linebackers to not only stop the run, but to also get pressure on Andrew Luck. If the Cardinal are able to run the ball consistently and therefore give Luck all the time in the world on play-action, then the Irish aren't going to have much of a chance in this contest.
Posted on: November 22, 2011 12:13 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 12:14 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Texas A&M vs. Texas

Posted by Tom Fornelli

TEXAS A&M WILL WIN IF: The defense that shows up against Kansas last week returns for an encore performance. In the Aggies three-game losing streak before the Kansas win, they were allowing 44 points a game. Kansas only managed to score 7 against them last week, and though there's quite a difference in talent between Kansas and Texas, the Texas offense has been in a rut the last few weeks. Texas A&M needs to make sure they stay there. Especially considering that the Aggies offense has lost Christine Michael and may be without Cyrus Gray as well in this game. Which means Ryan Tannehill may have to shoulder a lot of the load, and it won't be easy to do against the best defense in the conference. The good news for Texas A&M is that the Longhorns don't provide much of a threat through the air, and that may be playing into Texas A&M's strength as the Aggies defense is allowing a conference best 2.74 yards per carry.

TEXAS WILL WIN IF: The Longhorns have had trouble establishing a passing attack all season long. They average only 181.6 yards passing per game, and the team's efficiency rating of 119.45 is the lowest in the Big 12 outside of Iowa State. If there were ever a week to find a passing attack, this may be it. While the Texas A&M defense leads the Big 12 in sacks, its secondary is also allowing 292.3 yards per game and nearly 3 touchdowns for every interception. So whether it's David Ash or Case McCoy under center on Thursday night, Texas would be well-served to try and move the ball through the air. The Longhorns defense is the best in the conference, but Texas A&M should be able to put up some points against it over 60 minutes, and I don't believe the Longorns offense can outscore the Aggies if it remains so one-dimensional.

X-FACTOR: Case McCoy. McCoy has been Texas' "throwing quarterback" for the most part this season. Despite the limited amount of time he's seen under center, he's thrown more touchdowns on the year than David Ash (4 to 3) and is also yet to throw an interception. So if Texas is going to get a passing game going against the Aggies on Thursday night, then it's going to be McCoy who has to get the job done for them. The more successful he is, the more successful the Longhorns will be.
Posted on: November 16, 2011 4:35 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 4:46 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Nebraska at Michigan

Posted by Adam Jacobi

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: Its mobile quarterback can curtail his errant throws and open up easy passes with his running ability. Yes, Nebraska has a gifted option quarterback, but that doesn't mean that his passing skills are up to par with... Hang on a second. If this is Nebraska's key, then what's Michigan's...


MICHIGAN WILL WIN IF:
Its mobile quarterback can curtail his errant throws and open up easy passes with his running ability. Glitch! We have a glitch! 


In all seriousness, Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson aren't that similar as players, and the Nebraska and Michigan offenses are fundamentally dissimilar as well. While Nebraska doesn't run an offense heavy on wishbone or I-formation triple option like the days of yore, it does utilize heavy amounts of read option between Martinez and Rex Burkhead. Martinez is also being trusted to throw the ball more often, and he's been improving in that facet over the last couple weeks.

Still, Martinez is most dangerous as a runner at this point, and if you give him a lane, he'll take it -- and Nebraska's downfield blocking is good enough that Martinez can potentially take that open lane for a score from any point on the field. Thus, the key for the Michigan defense is to get Martinez out of his comfort zone and force him to make split-second decisions to do something with the ball -- a pitch on the option, a check-down in his pass progression, a scramble to the outside when, say, Mike Martin blows up the front of the pocket. Those are situations that turn Martinez into a less effective player, and that's what defensive coordinator Greg Mattison needs to strive for.

On the other sideline, Nebraska's aims on defense should be different. Denard Robinson is a wonderfully gifted improviser with the football, so quite unlike Martinez, Nebraska should make sure Robinson doesn't have to make the split-second decisions. That's what he's good at! No, the lesson defensive coordinator Carl Pelini should have taken from Michigan's losses is that you don't give Robinson the edge; it's all contain, contain, contain, then funnel, funnel, funnel to the middle of the field. Lavonte David needs to have about 30 tackles in this game. 

X-FACTOR: The tailbacks. Both Michigan and Nebraska also have hard-nosed running backs that will probably be getting 20 carries in this game -- Burkhead for Nebraska, and Fitz Toussaint for Michigan -- and while Burkhead's much more of a focal point of the Nebraska offense than Toussaint is, Toussaint is certainly capable of breaking a long run or two and getting over 100 yards. Both players are tough to bring down once they get a full head of steam, but Burkhead in particular is the kind of guy you need to bring down at the line or prior, or he's getting 5-10 yards and that drive's going to keep going. So if Michigan lets Nebraska move the point of attack, it might not be enough to just wait for Taylor Martinez to make a bad play or three.
Posted on: November 15, 2011 3:51 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Clemson at NC State

Posted by Chip Patterson

CLEMSON WILL WIN IF: They can take care of the ball. The Tigers' offensive potency is well-documented, but their recklessness almost cost them a chance at their first ACC Championship since 1991. In the last two games - 31-17 loss to Georgia Tech and 31-28 win over Wake Forest - the Tigers have turned the ball over seven times. The Tigers can score in a hurry, but games like the 18-point comeback at Maryland will be much tougher with a banged up Sammy Watkins (shoulder) and shifting along the offensive line. Clemson has an advantage over the Wolfpack on paper, but must keep their focus and take care of the ball to reverse the downward trends of the recent weeks.

NC STATE WILL WIN IF: The Wolfpack back seven play their best game of the year. Led by the nation's interception leader David Amerson, the NC State back seven have the opportunity to step up and keep bowl hopes alive with an upset. The unit played especially well in wins over Virginia and North Carolina, demonstrating great gap discipline and forcing tough throws that resulted in interceptions. The defense played well enough to win on the road against Boston College last week, but got no help from the other side of the ball. With Clemson's offensive firepower, the first concern will be frustrating and shutting down Tajh Boyd. If you let Boyd get comfortable, like Wake Forest did late in the game last Saturday, he will eventually figure out ways to beat you.

X-FACTOR: Clemson's focus. With the ACC Atlantic Division locked up, the Tigers could potentially lose this game and still accomplish many of the same achievable goals on the season. A loss on Saturday would still give them the opportunity to win the ACC Championship and potentially the Orange Bowl. Still several spots away in the BCS standings, it is unlikely that Clemson's best-case scenario is anything other than the Orange Bowl. But Dabo Swinney knows his young Tigers team needs to take every game as an opportunity to get better, especially if they want to win a potential rematch with Virginia Tech in the title game come December.

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Posted on: November 15, 2011 3:20 pm
 

Keys to the Game: North Carolina at Virginia Tech

Posted by Chip Patterson

VIRGINIA TECH WILL WIN IF: They create turnovers and dictate the pace of the game. One thing Virginia Tech has done as well as anyone in the conference is hold on to a lead. It is not always pretty, as shown in the Hokies' 14-10 victory over Duke, but for the most part the ability to control the ball and shut down offensive drives has helped keep Virginia Tech at the top of the division. As the clock winds down in the second half, the Hokies will force their opposition to start taking chances in order to get back into the game. That's when Bud Foster's defense thrives, forcing turnovers and coming up with a stop in a crucial situation. The Tar Heels have lost three of their last four, and looked shaky outside for their win against Wake Forest. If Virginia Tech can get a first half lead and rattle Bryn Renner early, they could set themselves up for second half turnovers to ice the game.

NORTH CAROLINA WILL WIN IF: Logan Thomas and David Wilson are neutralized. This may be done with on-field performance or it may happen by sickness/injury. But if Thomas and Wilson are given the freedom to get going offensively North Carolina will not have much of a chance on the road in Blacksburg. Ball control has been an essential part of several Hokie victories, so running back Gio Bernard will need to get the ground game going to keep drives alive. The Tar Heels need to revert back to their performance against Wake Forest, when the offense put up 562 yards of offense and 49 points on the Demon Deacons. Bryn Renner was calculating and accurate with the ball, completing 21 of 28 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. North Carolina's offense needs to get that type of production in order to knock off the Hokies at home.

X-FACTOR: North Carolina's secondary. Logan Thomas has been streaky with his ability to consistently get the ball to his receivers for four quarters. However, the North Carolina secondary has been equally inconsistent and burned for a big play more times than Everett Withers would care to count. If North Carolina's secondary steps up to the challenge and makes the Hokies one-dimensional, and North Carolina's rush defense is one of the best in the ACC. If Logan Thomas gets hot playing pitch and catch, he could end up burning the Tar Heels deep with a big play. Something North Carolina cannot afford to give up against an opponent like Virginia Tech.

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Posted on: November 15, 2011 2:17 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Penn State at Ohio State

Posted by Adam Jacobi

PENN STATE WILL WIN IF: They can turn turnovers into points. It's become increasingly obvious over the course of the season that Penn State, despite its 8-2 record, doesn't have the offensive firepower to manufacture long drives with any regularity (even if Rob Bolden has finally, mercifully, been benched for Matt McGloin full time). Against a defense like Ohio State's, which ranks 15th in yards allowed and 16th in points allowed, those long drives are likely going to be even harder to come by. So really, the Nittany Lions are going to need a superlative effort from their defense (which, for the record, they have gotten often this season). That means turnovers that either get returned for touchdowns or at the very least give the PSU offense a short enough field that it can get into the end zone against a brutish Buckeye front seven.

OHIO STATE WILL WIN IF: Those road graders keep the chains moving. Ohio State has made no mystery of its predilection towards keeping the ball on the ground; QB Braxton Miller has more rushes than passing attempts this year, and on the whole, (quick and dirty estimates to follow) OSU has rushed on 72% of its plays. Even that stat belies how much OSU rushes with Miller in the game, though; that number jumps to 79% when Miller's the signal-caller instead of Joe Bauserman. Sure, those rushes come out of a variety of looks, including QB draws/scrambles out of passing sets, so it's not like you can just load up the box with 10 guys and have everyone go to town. But at the end of the day, OSU primarily gets the job done on the ground, while Penn State's rush defense is good but not great. That's the main vulnerability for Penn State in this matchup, and Ohio State needs to exploit it.

THE X-FACTOR: Whether Penn State can maintain its focus amidst ongoing distraction. It's one thing to react to a stressful situation by playing one inspired game. That happens more often than players or games reacting to a profoundly negative off-field event by coming out flat and laying an egg. It's the coming weeks where one might see the cumulative effects of the distraction and the stress of the upheaval that Joe Paterno's dismissal has caused. And yes, interim head coach Tom Bradley is shielding his players from some of that distraction by making them unavailable to the media, and that's certainly his right to do so. But the players still live there in State College and interact with each other and others on a daily basis. There's only so much of a bubble you can put them in, and only so much of the situation they can ignore. How the players maintain their focus and composure will be crucial in these final tough two weeks (and beyond). A division championship hangs in the balance here; let's see if the players have kept sight of that or not.

 
 
 
 
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