College Football: Three Big Games, Two Views

    
October 31st, 2008
Well, we're back for more this weekend with two huge games from a national standpoint and another game that could be a conference title preview. The three games are: #15 Florida State @ Georgia Tech (3:30 PM on ABC), #8 Florida vs. #6 Georgia in Jacksonville (3:30 PM on CBS) and #1 Texas @ #7 Texas Tech (8 PM on ABC). There are some question marks in each game, from the play of Florida State QB Christian Ponder to how effect the Red Raider defense can be against the powerful Longhorns. Here's a breakdown of each game by Billy Palmer and myself, along with predictions.

#15 Florida State (6-1, 3-1 ACC Atlantic) @ Georgia Tech (6-2, 3-2 ACC Coastal)

Billy Palmer: You thought Papa Bowden was done at Florida State didn't you? The Seminoles have come out this year and have impressed against a rather weak ACC. FSU could easily be in the National Championship talk if they'd just have managed some kind of offense against Wake Forest in September. Georgia Tech on the other hand has a nice looking record at 6-2 but they really haven't been all that impressive. Paul Johnson was brought in to install an option offense which was supposed to give defenses in the ACC fits. It hasn't really lived up to billing only netting about 23 points a game for the Yellow Jackets. In fact, they cranked out a whopping 10 points against Gardner Webb.

Florida State's offense on the other hand has been a methodical opportunistic offense that has been very efficient. The Seminoles have averaged 36 points a game in 2008 and are completely balanced (197 yards per game rushing, 196 yards per game passing). We know FSU will probably keep that balance against Tech. Frankly, I don't see Florida State scoring less than 28 this game. I believe the big key to this game will be the ability of the aggressive Florida State defense to stay disciplined.

Against the option, aggressiveness can really kill you. Florida State has the athleticism to shut anybody down but they don't have much experience against the option attacks. If Florida State stays disciplined, Georgia Tech will self destruct. The Yellow Jackets are second to last in the nation in terms of fumbles lost. OUCH!

Raphielle Johnson: Billy, you make a good point about the job that Coach Bowden and his staff have done with the Seminoles. But let's not forget who they beat for those first two wins: Western Carolina and Chattanooga. Christian Ponder has, for the most part, looked rather pedestrian under center but the passing game has improved in recent weeks thanks to the emergence of freshman WR Bert Reed.

Antone Smith is part of a suddenly effective backfield and the offensive line is playing the way that line coach Rick Trickett demands on a daily basis. But they go up against one of the ACC's best defensive lines, featuring a senior end in Michael Johnson who's thought of as a Top 10 pick in April's NFL Draft. Thanks to the defense (tops in the ACC) the Yellow Jackets still have a positive turnover margin (+ 1) despite those aforementioned ten fumbles.

Florida State does lead the conference in rush defense, but they haven't run into a quarterback like Georgia Tech's Josh Nesbitt, who should be healthy after missing time a couple of weeks ago due to injury. Tyrod Taylor has the ability to run for Virginia Tech, but his line isn't as good as a Yellow Jacket group that anchors the conference's best rushing attack. Add to this RB Jonathan Dwyer and WR Demaryius Thomas and you have a team that can explode for the big play at any given moment.

And speaking to your point on discipline, Florida State is last in the ACC in penalties with an average of 91.2 yards per game. That's thirty yards more than North Carolina, the 11th-ranked team in penalty yards. That could play a role in front of a loud crowd in Atlanta.

Key to the Game

BP: The discipline of the FSU defense in stopping the option

RJ: Florida State's offensive line

Prediction

BP: Florida State is a little too pumped up early and gives up a couple of Georgia Tech drives. The Seminoles then calm down and capitalize on three Georgia Tech fumbles to win a 31-17 game.

RJ: Georgia Tech wins a close game 23-17 thanks to the ability of their defense to harass Christian Ponder into a couple of early turnovers.

#8 Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC East) vs. #6 Georgia (7-1, 4-1) (in Jacksonville)

BP: Ah, the World's Biggest Cocktail Party! There is so much on the line this year. Both teams only have one loss and are trying to avoid that second loss that would most likely keep them out of the National Title race. Is Tebow the key? Nope. What about the Georgia offense? Nope, they aren't the key either. The key to this game is the Florida defense. Coming into 2008, the big question for Florida was if their defense was improved from last year. The answer has been a resounding YES.

The Gators are giving up a rather impressive 11.9 points per game. However, they haven't really played teams with productive offenses. The one time they did play a good offense this year Ole Miss beat them in Gainesville. I'm not saying UGA has a great offense, but they have world class athletes everywhere. Florida is going to score, that's what they do but their Defense is definitely the key to this game.

RJ: Haha, someone didn't get the memo that you can't refer to it as the "Cocktail Party" since it encourages drinking. But don't worry about it; I'd put more blame on the fact that both schools take a break for this big weekend. But back to the game, one that features four Gators who could probably represent the country in the 4x100 meter relay at the Olympics. Brandon James, Percy Harvin, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are absolute blurs, and with a combined zero fumbles they probably won't (ahem) drop the baton either. And that's not even mentioning reigning Heisman winner Tim Tebow. Georgia had some trouble with LSU's offense last week, but there isn't a power runner the likes of Charles Scott to deal with this weekend.

The Florida defense, which leads the SEC in scoring defense will be tested early and often by a Georgia offense that doesn't lack for weapons. The unit that struggled early in the season is actually the SEC's best offense, and in QB Matthew Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno and WR A.J. Green the Dawgs have three contributors who will earn some serious money in the coming years. And there's the subplot of last year's celebration and the fact that these are the two most penalized teams in the SEC. Penalties put Georgia behind the 8-ball against Alabama so they head into this one with a good idea of what can happen when you lose discipline.

Key to the Game

BP: Florida's defense

RJ: Special teams (Urban Meyer's pride and joy)

Prediction

BP: I have a feeling this game may turn into a route one way or the other. It's just one of those weird gut feelings I get from time to time. I believe Florida will come out and score quickly on Georgia. Georgia will then have to turn to the passing game. I don't like Stafford against this Florida defense at all. Florida wins running away 49-31.

RJ: I agree with the choice of Florida. And if the score does get out of hand, look for an "extra touchdown" as payback for last year. After watching LSU skill players find open field last week, it's hard seeing Florida's skill players (who to a man are faster than those Tigers) not doing the same. Florida 45-28.

#1 Texas (8-0, 4-0 Big 12 South) @ #7 Texas Tech (8-0, 4-0)

BP: Texas travels to Lubbock for what is probably the last high percentage chance for a Longhorn loss. We all know Texas has been on a roll. Last weekend against the Cowboys they survived to move on another week. The Longhorns have a super offense and you can almost peg them to get 35 on almost anybody. So we can take the UT offense out of the equation and just give them 5 TD's. Their defensive line is legit and the linebackers are solid. That leads me to the one thing left, the key to this game, the defensive secondary for UT.

Graham Harrell is one heck of a quarterback when he is on a hot streak and gives everybody problems. He has a plethora of productive receivers at his disposal (in fact seven of those receivers have caught at least 20 passes this year). Texas is very young in the secondary and a little banged and bruised up. Young banged-up UT defensive backs + a veteran QB like Harrell and tons of good wide receivers = disaster waiting to happen. If Texas can manage to come up with a few turnovers and keep Tech off the field some they will win this game easily. If they let Tech control the ball and go on long drives it's going to be a long afternoon.

RJ: For all the talk about how explosive Texas Tech's offense is, some praise needs to be thrown in the direction of defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill. If you remember McNeill took over the defense following that explosive (on the field and off) loss at Oklahoma State last year and the Red Raiders have been much better for it. Now playing aggressive football, Tech is allowing 346.5 yards per game. And with their ranking of seventh in time of possession it's not like Graham Harrell and the offense are keeping them off the field. But they're going to have their hands full with a Texas offense that has a pair of solid wide receivers in Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby.

One thing to look for is how effective a Texas pass rush featuring DE Brian Orakpo and LB Sergio Kindle can be against the Red Raiders. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has been dialing up the pressure and you never know where those two stars will be coming from in passing situations. Sometimes they'll be on opposite sides of the line; others stacked one behind the other. You'd have to think that they main objective is to rush the passer and get the running back on the way should the Red Raiders run the football.

But Tech is averaging 138.5 yards per game on the ground, good for seventh in the Big 12. While that isn't an enormous number it is enough to make the Longhorns pay should they ignore RB Shannon Woods. Texas Tech has given up just three sacks on the season, so that line is more than capable of keeping Harrell upright. And just as you pointed out, that Longhorn secondary is young and a standing Harrell could light them up.

Key to the Game

BP: Texas secondary

RJ: Texas Tech RB Shannon Woods

Prediction

BP: It's hard to pick against Texas. I'm a Sooner fan at heart (I try to be unbiased when I write) and it pains me to say this but this Texas team reminds me plenty of the 2000 National Championship team Oklahoma had. Tough schedule week after week, yet they win week after week. Last week I picked the key to the game being the ability of Oklahoma State to run the ball and keep Colt McCoy off the field. Well, OSU ran the ball to the tune of 217 yards kept the time of possession pretty close and still got beat. I predict this week Harrell throws for 450 yards and leads the Red Raiders to a 41-35 win.

RJ: As much as I'd like to agree with you and take Texas Tech, I can't help but feel that we've been here before in this rivalry. In recent years the question has always been "Can Texas Tech finally knock off Texas?", only to get their doors blown off. I don't see them getting blown out, but it kind of like assessing the chances of the Patriots winning the Super Bowl: you've got a better chance of being wrong should you pick against them. Hook ‘em. Texas 38-34.