The great Vince Lombardi always said, “Football is a game of inches and inches make the champion.” In what is now technically Week 9 of the 2020 college football season, there are three conference contests with matchups that can impact these critical inches:
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 18 Penn State
The Buckeyes are traveling to Happy Valley, where Penn State has only won this matchup once in the previous six contests. To put the odds even less in the Nittany Lions favor, Beaver Stadium will be completely empty due to the Big Ten’s COVID-19 protocol. A night game at State College is one of the most electric environments in all of college football and not having the usual 100,000-plus screaming fans will be a massive advantage for the Buckeyes, as if they needed any more of those.
We all know this Buckeyes offense, led by highly touted NFL draft prospect, QB Justin Fields, can put points on the scoreboard. Since his arrival to Columbus, Fields has been utterly sensational. In only 15 games as the starter, he has completed 68.8% of his passes while throwing 43 TD passes to a mere 3 INTs. The Buckeyes have averaged 47.2 points per game in those 15 contests as well.
It’s safe to say Penn State is going to need to execute at a high pace against the Ohio State defense to even have a chance and here are a couple matchups to watch:
QB Sean Clifford and TE Pat Freiermuth vs. Ohio State Linebackers
There is no denying TE Pat Freiermuth plays a pivotal role in this offense. Last week he was responsible for seven of Clifford’s 24 completions as well as one of his three touchdowns. Standing at 6-5 and nearly 260 pounds, Freiermuth presents a tough cover for any defense. It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs attempts to neutralize the talents of the Penn State tight end.
In last week’s brutal loss to Indiana, QB Sean Clifford was the leading rusher in the game with 119 yards and with Penn State’s sudden lack of depth at running back, his legs may be relied upon more heavily in this game as well.
Buckeye linebackers Pete Werner, Baron Browning and Tuf Borland will have their hands full with Freiermuth and Clifford. It will be extremely vital for them to spy and contain Clifford so he cannot hurt them when he tucks and runs.
Texas vs. No. 6 Oklahoma State
Tom Herman’s seat is getting warmer and warmer as the weeks continue. He and the Longhorns are looking to avoid being 3-3 for the first time since Herman’s inaugural season in 2017. After a promising 2018 campaign where the Longhorns went on to beat Oklahoma during the regular season and defeating Georgia in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, QB Sam Ehlinger proclaimed that Texas “was back.” Since that strong statement from the Texas quarterback, the Longhorns are 7-6 against conference opponents.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys and head coach Mike Gundy are the sixth-ranked team in the country, the highest ranking they have held since 2017. The usual storyline, especially when it comes to the Big 12 conference, is all about the offense. However, the Cowboy defense has been particularly impressive this season, especially on third down, having only surrendered 11 conversions on 57 attempts (.193).
This matchup in Stillwater is defined by one statistic: Scoring. The Longhorn offense ranks first in the conference averaging 45.0 points per game, while the Cowboy defense is allowing only 12 points per game, also good for tops in the Big 12.
Containing Ehlinger should be the Cowboys’ number one priority. He leads the conference with 354.8 total yards per game and leads his team in rushing yards per game (58.6). Not to mention, the Longhorns losses are directly correlated to the rushing statistics. They are 3-0 in games where they outrush their opponent and 0-2 when vice-versa.
RB Chuba Hubbard is the catalyst of a Cowboy offense that is averaging 216.2 yards/game on the ground, which is good for best in the conference by close to 30 yards. If Oklahoma State struggles to get the run game going, keep an eye on stud WR Tylan Wallace, the conference leader thus far in receiving yards. Hubbard and Wallace should both hear their names called within the first two days of the 2021 NFL Draft.
LSU vs. Auburn
It’s been a rollercoaster year for both Tigers. They both find themselves with two losses already on the season and this game is a must-win for both to stay alive in the SEC West.
Auburn really should be 1-3 after the referees gifted them a win over the Razorbacks on the controversial QB Bo Nix spike near the end of the game. Speaking of Nix, there were high expectation coming into the season after flashing a bit as a true freshman. However, it does not appear that Nix has made any tremendous improvement as a sophomore as he is only completing 58.7% of his passes this season, which ranks second-worst in the SEC.
Despite losing three first-round picks on offense from a year ago, including the No. 1 overall pick in Heisman winner QB Joe Burrow, the LSU offense really has not missed a beat, averaging 42 points per game. However, it’s the defense under new defensive coordinator Bo Pellini that has greatly underwhelmed this season for the defending national champions. They are allowing 471.8 yards per game, 344.0 through the air is the fourth-worst in the FBS as well. Hence here are some matchups to watch in this game:
Auburn Wide Receivers vs, LSU Cornerbacks
After relinquishing a baffling 623 passing yards to Mississippi State in their first game, the Tigers have allowed only 251 passing yards per game in their previous three contests. Not to mention, LSU was without stud sophomore CB Derek Stingley Jr. in that first week. He will have his hands full this week with Auburn WR Seth Williams, who ranks sixth in the SEC in receiving yards. The other matchup on the field to watch is the speedster WR Anthony Schwartz versus true freshman CB Eli Ricks. Ricks is tied for first in the SEC with 3 INTs and even returned one of those for a touchdown last week against the Gamecocks.
Auburn is 3-0 this season when having a receiver eclipse 100 yards in the game. Seth Williams has done it twice and Schwartz has done it once. If the LSU corners can shut down the Auburn receivers, they will have a great chance of coming out victorious.
The Battle of the Bo’s
QB Bo Nix has a chance to redeem himself against a Bo Pellini-led defense that ranks near the bottom of the SEC. With Nix’s ability to use his legs to make plays, keep an eye on graduate transfer LB Jabril Cox from North Dakota State and junior LB Damone Clark, who reps the coveted number 18 for the Tigers. They will be responsible for making sure that Nix does not crush the Tigers by making big plays outside of the pocket.