Whole Nine Sports

Pac-12 Week 3 Preview

Pac 12
Jon Otiker
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Week 3 of college football, the last week before inter-conference games and the real fun begins. Despite several unevenly matched teams playing, there are a few games that should be high scoring affairs, with several air raid teams and top quarterbacks going head to head. Below are things to watch for week 3 of Pac-12 football.

Air Force @ Colorado

Air Force Colorado

Saturday, September 14th @ 1:00 PM EST

What to expect: Air Force’s style of play can beat any team that doesn’t play disciplined and hard nosed football. However, I expect Mel Tucker’s defense to play assignment sound football and Steven Montez and Laviska Shenault Jr. to have big games in a victory.

Air Force keys to success:

Don’t forget about the other Buffalo Wide Receivers. Laviska Shenault Jr. is a beast and well deserving of the attention he receives from defenses, but Nebraska found out the hard way that the other receivers on the team aren’t to be ignored. KD Nixon, Tony Brown, and Jaylon Jackson are also capable of producing big plays and can’t be left out.

First real game of the season. Air Force trounced Colgate before heading to an early bye week, so this game will be their first real challenge of the season. The extra week of preparation should help, but Air Force will need to be ready to play a physical opponent who has already played two tough opponents.

Play your style of football. The beauty in watching teams like Air Force or Army is that their style of football gives them the opportunity to upset teams any given week. Just look to Army versus Michigan last week, or Army versus Oklahoma last year. While Air Force hasn’t had the same success as Army, they can hope to replicate it this week.

Colorado keys to success:

Avoid the emotional win hangover. Last week’s comeback victory over rival Nebraska was fantastic, and a great start for Mel Tucker’s regime. But emotionally charged wins like that can sometimes have a “hangover” and distract from the next opponent. I expect Mel Tucker and senior quarterback Steven Montez to keep the team focused on Air Force and not be hung up on the win.

Assignment sound defense. Defensive coordinator Tyson Summers has already talked about in the pressers this week, but versus a triple option team you have to continuously execute your assignment every play. Recognize you’re going to give up some yards on the ground, but keep doing your job and trust your teammates to do theirs.

Take what the defense gives you. Against run heavy teams like Air Force, it’s crucial the offense doesn’t have short drives that result in no points. Montez needs to not get greedy going after the big play and take the positive yards that are there.

Stanford @ Central Florida

Stanford UCF

Saturday, September 14th @ 3:30 PM EST

What to expect: KJ Costello is back from injury, and the Cardinals will be looking to take their anger out on UCF after an embarrassing loss to USC. UCF has rolled over their fellow Florida teams, and is looking forward to their first real challenge in Stanford. I think UCF comes away with the victory, with Stanford struggling to bounce back from last week’s loss.

Stanford keys to success:

Establish the run. KJ Costello is healthy enough to play, but not truly at 100%, and star left tackle Walker Little is out for the season, and right tackle Foster Sarrel is listed as doubtful. To keep Costello upright, the Cardinals will need to establish the run and use play action pass to give him time.

Help the true freshman. True freshman Walter Rouse will start his second game at left tackle, and giving him an extra tight end or running back to stay in and chip the pass rusher to his side could help him build confidence early.

Be aggressive on defense. UCF has rotated through Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush and true freshman Dillon Gabriel at quarterback, but both should have issues if blitzed and pressured. Wimbush struggled when pressured at Notre Dame, and Gabriel is young and inexperienced.

UCF keys to success:

Pressure off the edge. If right tackle Foster Sarrel is out for the Cardinals, then they’ll be starting both backups versus the Knights. The Knights have 7 sacks through 2 games so far, and should be able to get after Costello as well.

Balanced attack. It has been against lesser competition, but UCF has done a great job using a stable of running backs and spreading the ball out to multiple receivers. USC was able to keep Stanford’s defense off balance using the same approach, and UCF should look to model their approach.

Attack away from Paulson Adebo. Again looking to last week’s game against USC, they often attacked the side of the field away from Stanford corner Pauslon Adebo, and had plenty of success. While Adebo is one of the top cornerbacks in the country, the rest of Stanford’s secondary struggled.

USC @ BYU

USC BYU

Saturday, September 14th @ 3:30 PM EST

What to expect: Both teams are coming off big wins, albeit in different ways. USC and Stanford started off close before USC’s new look offense opened the floodgates, blowing them out 45-20. BYU traveled to Tennessee and came out on top after going to double overtime. BYU opened as 4 point underdogs at home.

USC keys to victory:

Ignore the outside noise. Amidst a 2-0 start for the Trojans, USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann decided to step down from his position after three years. This is seen as a preemptive move by Swann as his tenure has involved a decline in USC athletics, two FBI investigations, and questions of whether a wealthy school donor bought him the position. A sports radio and talk show topic throughout the week, rumours of Urban Meyer’s connection to the AD job or an AD that will bring in Meyer as Helton’s replacement won’t make this easy. Coach Helton needs to keep his players focused on this week’s game, and not let the new AD search become a distraction.

Early layups for Kedon Slovis. In last week’s win over Stanford, the USC offense took off when Slovis found his rhythm as a passer. As an eighteen year old true freshman, OC Graham Harrell needs to help his young quarterback out, scripting some easy completions in order to build his confidence and help him find his rhythm as a passer for the game.

Establish the run. This will be a major focal point for both teams, and I think the deciding factor. The best friend of a young quarterback is a strong run game, and runningbacks Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai, and Markese Stepp were able to combine for 108 yards and 3 touchdowns last week. Last week BYU gave up 231 rushing yards to Tennessee, so the USC backs could be primed for a big day.

BYU keys to victory:

Feed Ty’Son Williams. Although Zach Morris looked much improved versus Tennessee from his week 1 performance against Utah, he’ll benefit the most from having a strong run game to lean on. Williams was excellent last week, and should get a heavy workload to control the clock and limit the amount of offensive opportunities USC has.

Pressure Slovis. Slightly obvious, but young, inexperienced quarterbacks tend to make bad decisions and break down under pressure. BYU was able to get their first interception and sack last week, and will need to put pressure on Slovis and force him into bad decisions.

Zach Morris to Micah Simon connection. Last week Simon had a career day with 7 receptions for 127 yards, including a 64 yard catch and run to put the Cougars in field goal range and go to overtime. A strong run game lead by Williams should help spring Simon free down field for more big plays.

Arizona State @ Michigan State

Arizona State Michigan State

Saturday, September 14th @ 4:00 PM EST

What to expect: Michigan State was upset last year by Arizona State, but it’ll be tough for Herm Edwards’ squad to repeat that in East Lansing with a true freshman quarterback at the helm. I expect Michigan State to get a relatively easy win.

Arizona State keys to victory:

Somehow get a ground game going. Michigan State has a fearsome front 7, holding teams to -3.0 rushing yards per game. That’s right negative. Arizona State is going to have to get star running back Eno Benjamin going after only averaging 2.9 yards per rush against Sacramento State.

Get the ball out quickly. Michigan State is tied for 6th in the country with 9 sacks through two games, so quarterback Jayden Daniels is going to have to get the ball out on time and have his internal clock running.

Hope to get the Week 1 Michigan State Offense. Carried by redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins 17 carries for 192 yards, Michigan State’s offense looked completely different in their route of Western Michigan 51-17 in week 2. That was after a only scoring one offensive touchdown in week 1 versus Tulsa. It’s hard to say which is truly Michigan State’s offense, but for ASU hopefully it’s closer to week 1.

Michigan State keys to victory:

Elijah Collins encore. As stated above, Elijah Collins had a monster game in his first start for the Spartans, and will look to keep his momentum going into next week. If Collins can continue to be the workhorse, it’ll alleviate pressure on inconsistent quarterback Brian Lewerke.

Limit the big play. Jayden Daniels passing stats looked impressive last week, but was mostly bolstered by a 79 yard screen to Eno Benjamin and a 52 yard pass to Brandon Aiyuk. The Spartans need to limit these plays, and force Daniels to produce long scoring drives.

Don’t get over-aggressive. This partly goes with the above point. I think Herm Edwards knows that the Spartans are going to be aggressive in pressuring Jadyen Daniels, and will look to take advantage of that with screens and trick plays. Michigan State needs to stay disciplined and not get caught jumping the gun.

Texas Tech @ Arizona

Texas Tech Arizona

Saturday, September 14th @ 7:30 PM EST

What to expect: Arizona, the number 6 team in terms of total offense, hosts Texas Tech, the number 9 team in total offense, in what should be a high scoring shootout in the desert. If you’re a fan of offense then this game will be the perfect way to cap your Saturday night. I think Texas Tech’s defense actually ends up being the deciding factor, getting the crucial extra stop.

Texas Tech keys to victory:

The defense being for real. UTEP and Montana State aren’t intimidating opponents, but given Tech’s past defensive performances, allowing only 13 points and 420 total yards is impressive. Khalil Tate will be Texas Tech’s first real test, and if they can keep this performance up, they can leave Tucson with the win.

Alan Bowman’s coming out game. Okay, Bowman did have a great freshman year, and is known by fans of the Big 12, but this game could give him some national recognition. Only a sophomore, Bowman already has 696 yards passing and 5 touchdowns. A big game at night versus Arizona could have Bowman become a college football regular who fans will be excited to watch as he continues to grow.

A new brand of Texas Tech Football. This may be a cheesy answer, but head coach Matt Wells has his team playing a more disciplined and hard nosed style of football, while still keeping their air raid offense running smoothly. Tech is running the football well, and only has 8 penalties through two games. Not even one season in, and it seems like the players have bought into what Wells has been teaching, and will play hard for him.

Arizona keys to victory:

Better defense. Surrendering 45 points to Hawaii in the season opener is certainly understandable, but giving up 41 points to Northern Arizona is inexcusable. Defensive Coordinator Marcel Yates could be coaching for his job, and will need his players to respond positively and back him up.

Let Khalil Tate keep doing his thing. After a down year last season, Tate has looked like his old, explosive self, not being afraid to win with both his arm and his legs. I’m not a Kevin Sumlin fan, but he does give his quarterbacks leeway to create on their own, and Tate will need to be at his best to win this shootout.

Keep getting turnovers. Despite playing overall bad defense, the Wildcats have 6 interceptions on the year, and will need to snag a few more, as every offensive possession will count in this game.

Best of the Rest

Utah UCLA Oregon Oklahoma

Idaho State at Utah (Saturday, 4:15 pm, Pac-12)

Utah hasn’t lost a regular season non-conference game since 2012, and that trend should continue against a less talented Idaho State team.

Oklahoma at UCLA (Saturday, 8:00 pm, Fox 28)

UCLA is simply not a good football team, and even if running back Joshua Kelley can have a big game, it won’t be enough to slow down the Sooners. Jalen Hurts and company should roll past them for the easy victory.

Hawaii at Washington (Saturday, 7:30 pm, Pac-12)

Yes Hawaii is off to a 2-0 start, but versus arguably the worst team in the Pac-12, Oregon State, and an inconsistent Arizona team. Washington will have something to prove after last week’s upset loss at home to Cal, and I think Jacob Eason and the offense have a bounce back game.

Montana at Oregon (Saturday, 10:45 pm, Pac-12)

The Grizzlies are one of the top teams in the Big Sky, but Oregon is simply a better team. I don’t expect Oregon to match their offensive output from last week and reach 77 points, but this game shouldn’t be close.

North Texas at Cal (Saturday, 4:15 pm, Pac-12)

Jason Wilcox and Cal’s defense look for real, but the Mean Green and quarterback Mason Fine are no easy win. The UNT defense has been stout against the run, and with Cal quarterback Chase Garber’s inconsistent play, the Cal backfield will need another big day. This game could be close to start, but the talent of Cal will allow them to pull away for the win.

Cal Poly at Oregon State (Saturday, 4:15 pm, Pac-12)

The Beavers will need to rely heavily on running back Jermar Jefferson, who put up 188 yards on the ground versus Hawaii despite being banged up. Cal Poly isn’t a household name in college football, but quarterback Jalen Hamler is good dual threat quarterback, who has thrived in Cal Poly’s triple option spread attack. The Beavers are more talented than FCS Mustang, but will need to play hard to secure the win.

Game of the Week

Washington State @ Houston

Washington State Houston

Friday, September 13th @ 9:15 PM EST

What to expect: Two of the more exciting offensive coaches in all of college football, Mike Leach and his former player and offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. Air Raid versus Air Raid, and below average defenses should lead to an exciting shoot out, that’s worth watching on Friday night. Also a rare same mascot battle, Cougars versus Cougars.

Washington State keys to victory:

Force D’Eriq King to play quarterback. Despite putting up impressive passing numbers last year, King’s transition to Holgorsen’s offense hasn’t gone smoothly to start the season. Most of his production has as a runner, only completing 54.7 percent of his passes for 5.6 yards per attempt. If Washington State can contain King and force him to win as a passer, they might be able to stifle the Houston offense.

Contain Kyle Porter. Although he comes from the air raid coaching tree, Holgorsen emphasizes a strong complementary run game. Last week Porter was a workhorse for Houston, with 33 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown. Shutting down Porter and King in the ground game will put all the pressure on King to win the game as a passer.

Improved tackling. Washington State has played two lesser quality opponents so far in New Mexico State and Northern Colorado, leading them to get away with some things on defense, including poor tackling. Houston’s playmakers will make them pay if they don’t rally to the football and wrap up.

Houston lets to victory:

Let the big plays come on their own. Houston has the offensive weapons and coaching to keep up with Washington State, they just need to run their offense and let the big plays come to them. The pressure of trying to win against a big time opponent can sometimes lead to forcing plays that aren’t there. King and the rest of the team need to trust in their game plan and let things come to them.

Use misdirection and get playmakers in space. Washington State has a history of issues with dual threat quarterbacks, and King is one of the most explosive running quarterbacks in college football. Washington State also struggled with tackling in space versus Northern Colorado. I expect Holgorsen to scheme up some plays to get his athlete’s in space and create yards after the catch.

Time of possession. Houston’s defense is better than anything Washington State has seen so far, but you can’t expect to stop them, only slow them down. If Houston can establish a strong ground game, then they can keep their defense fresh and limit the amount of time Anthony Gordon and company have the ball.