Welcome to Week Eight of The Lowe Down.
Alabama’s dominating win over Tennessee last week was not only impressive, but it also proved one thing: Nick Saban’s ability to adapt to the current college game — and its rules.
Think about it.
During Saban’s first few years in Tuscaloosa, his teams ran a pro-style, ball-control offense that relied on a power running game and play-action passing. That style of play went hand and hand with a big, physical 3-4 defense that was predicated on stopping the run first and foremost (still the No. 1 priority for Bama’s defense), which allowed Saban and then-defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to sub in the Crimson Tide’s exotic nickel and dime packages on second-and-third-and-longs to counter teams passing sets by putting more speed and athleticism on the field.
But that defensive philosophy fell by the wayside the last couple of season due to restrictions on subbing for defenses when the infiltration of hurry-up, no-huddle offenses — run by dual-threat quarterbacks, who are extremely tough on defenses to defend — overtook college football. And with so many teams running the HUNH (hurry-up, no-huddle) with a running QB, which used to give Alabama’s defense problems, Saban has slowly transformed his team, on offense and defense, to be the team that used to occasionally beat his team.
Take Auburn as an example. In 2010, Cam Newton gave Saban’s defense fits with his running and throwing ability. In 2013 and ’14, Nick Marshall did the same thing. So did Cardale Jones when Ohio State beat Alabama in the first-ever College Football Playoff semifinal. And with teams having built in run/pass options into plays nowadays, it’s become a lot harder for defenses to get a bead on if the play is a run or pass after the snap.
So recently, Saban went out and got a great play-caller in Lane Kiffin, who has opened up the offense. He also sought out a true dual-threat quarterback and found a gem in Jalen Hurts. Before Hurts it was Blake Sims.
Alabama is also running no-huddle and finding ways to utilize all of its great athletes in many different ways. But this year’s version of Alabama, on offense, is way different than the offenses that Saban had earlier in his tenure.
And defensively, Alabama doesn’t have the Terrence Codys of the world playing defensive tackle anymore. Sure, Bama’s D-linemen have size, but they are also athletic and durable and won’t tire out as quickly as a guy like Cody would when no-huddle teams are on the move. And keeping a fresh defensive line, with the talent the Crimson Tide has, is playing a major role in Bama’s D maintaining its label as one of the nation’s best defensive teams in today’s offensive-oriented college game.
Last week’s record was 17-6, bringing the yearly record to 106-41. To the games we go…
Friday, October 21
South Florida (6-1) at Temple (4-3) 6:00 p.m. CT
The dynamic duo of dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers and tailback Marlon Mack are a big reason why South Florida is one of the top scoring team’s in the country (44.1 points an outing to be exact) and a major threat to win the American Athletic Conference. The two have combined for 1,247 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on the ground through seven games and are a big reason why the Bulls have rushed for at least 200 yards or more in a nation-leading 12 consecutive games. Temple has a nice QB/RB tandem of its own in veterans P.J. Walker and Jahad Thomas, but Walker has been plagued by costly interceptions (10) at key times. He’ll have to play a clean game against an opportunistic Bulls defense if the Owls want to pull the upset. Temple defensive end Haason Reddick, who leads the nation in tackles for loss (14), will also need to make an impact if the home team wants to slow the high-powered Bulls offense.
The Lowe Down: South Florida 43, Temple 33
In other Friday games:
Oregon 41 at Cal 48
San Jose State 17 at San Diego State 45
Saturday, October 22
No. 10 Wisconsin (4-2) at Iowa (5-2) 11:00 a.m. CT
Iowa has been one of the big disappointments of the 2016 college football season, but it still controls its own destiny as far as the Big Ten West is concerned — and a win over Wisconsin would be a major boost to its positioning moving forward. The Hawkeyes have a strong rushing attack, led by the thunder and lightning tandem of LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley, but Kirk Ferentz’s team will need to have some success through the air if it wants to upend the defensive-minded Badgers. That means veteran QB C.J. Beathard will need to have a heck of a day. Can he do it? Yes. Will he do it? That remains to be seen. Wisconsin is battle tested and its only two losses came at Michigan and to Ohio State.
The Lowe Down: Wisconsin 23, Iowa 17
NC State (4-2) at No. 7 Louisville (5-1) 11:00 a.m. CT
If Louisville plays the way it did last week against Duke, it will have its hands full with an NC State team that almost — well, should’ve— upset Clemson. Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley is a veteran of the ACC wars, as is bruising tailback Matt Dayes, and his offensive line, which really impressed me a week ago, is big and athletic and could push around a Louisville defensive line that relies more on quickness and athleticism rather than sheer brute strength. No defense this season has yet to stop Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, but NC State did a nice job of limiting Clemson’s rushing attack last week. Jackson will get his share of yards on the ground, but he will need to be on in the passing game if Louisville wants to stay in the College Football Playoff race. The Wolfpack has been vulnerable against the pass, but Jackson is coming off his worst passing performance of the year (13 of 26 for 181 yards and a score). Something will have to give.
The Lowe Down: NC State 24, Louisville 27
TCU (4-2) at No. 12 West Virginia (5-0) 2:30 p.m. CT
As it stands right now, West Virginia looks like the top team in the Big 12. The Mountaineers are confusing and stifling opponents defensively, and quarterback Skyler Howard, who is coming off one of his best games of the season (21 of 31 passing for 318 yards and a score) against a lousy Texas Tech D, leads a balanced offensive attack that’s averaging just a shade over 530 yards per game. Like the Mountaineers, TCU is also potent offensively. But moving the ball against WVU’s 3-3-5 scheme has been difficult for opponents this season, and Horned Frogs’ QB Kenny Hill, who has been plagued recently by interceptions, will have to be sharp if the visitors want to pull the mild upset.
The Lowe Down: TCU 23, West Virginia 34
Purdue (3-3) at No. 8 Nebraska (6-0) 2:30 p.m. CT
Purdue fired head coach Darrell Hazell after last week’s loss to Iowa so it will be interesting to see if the Boilermakers respond any better to interim head coach Gerad Parker. But unless Parker has a magic wand he can wave to automatically improve Purdue’s sorry run defense, he won’t help matters either. The Boilers rank 124th out of 128 teams in run D, which doesn’t bode well against a powerful Nebraska ground game led by dual-threat quarterback Tommy Armstrong and talented tailback Terrell Newby. Huskers roll here.
The Lowe Down: Purdue 14, Nebraska 48
No. 6 Texas A&M (6-0) at No. 1 Alabama (7-0) 2: 30 p.m. CT
Earlier in the season I talked about Alabama’s offensive line play being a little shoddy, but that seems to have been corrected over the last couple of games. Now the move by Ross Pierschbacher from right guard back to his left guard spot, which he played all of last year, could be a reason for that, but so could the simple fact that the unit has now played together for seven games. With that said, the Crimson Tide O-line will face its biggest test of the year squaring off against Texas A&M’s defensive line, in particular ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, two potential high NFL first-round picks. If the Alabama front wall can neutralize Garrett and Hall, along with emerging force Daylon Mack at tackle, it could be a long day for a Texas A&M defense that’s played well under the guidance of veteran coordinator John Chavis, but faces a tough task stopping an Alabama offense that’s averaging 45.4 points per game with dynamic quarterback Jalen Hurts running the show. The same could be said for Texas A&M’s offensive line against Alabama’s ridiculously talented defensive front, led by Jonathan Allen. No team the Crimson Tide has played this season has been able to handle Alabama’s pass rushers, and it’s conceivable to think no team can. They are simply that good. But Ole Miss had success against Alabama’s D by hitting some quick passes and working the ball downfield to its bigger receivers, which A&M also has, and running Chad Kelly. Aggies’ QB Trevor Knight isn’t the passer Kelly is, but he’s a more adept runner. If Texas A&M has any shot at pulling the upset, it will have to score some points and keep the Crimson Tide’s defense off-balance. But that is easier said than done. And until that happens, it would be dumb to pick against an Alabama team that’s a threat to score every time it has the ball, or doesn’t have the ball.
The Lowe Down: Texas A&M 20, Alabama 37
Memphis (5-1) at No. 24 Navy (4-1) 2:30 p.m. CT
Navy has already busted Houston’s bubble this season and now it has an opportunity to take control of the American Athletic Conference’s West division, which also includes the Cougars, with a win over Memphis, whose only loss this season came on the road at Ole Miss. The Midshipmen’s triple-option offense, led by quarterback Will Worth, has been running roughshod over opponents all season long and don’t expect that to change against the Tigers, who will be making their first-ever trip to Annapolis.
The Lowe Down: Memphis 30, Navy 37
No. 17 Arkansas (5-2) at No. 21 Auburn (4-2) 5:00 p.m. CT
Arkansas showed a lot of heart by rallying to upend Ole Miss last week in the waning moments, but you have to wonder how much gas is left in the tank for Bret Bielema’s team following back-to-back games against Alabama and the Rebels — and no week off since the season began. Auburn, which has suddenly found a groove on offense, is fresh off a bye week and should control the ball, and the game, with a powerful rushing attack led by Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway, who have both surpassed 500 yards on the ground this season. Arkansas has really struggled defending good running teams and the Tigers’ offensive line, which received a much-needed jolt with the shift of Austin Golson from left tackle to center — a position he played all of last season — and the insertion of Darius James at left tackle, has really come on the last few games. Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen and Auburn signal-caller Sean White have been two of the better QBs in the league so far, but Allen’s protection has been shaky at best, which doesn’t bode well against a Tigers D-line that seems to be improving week by week.
The Lowe Down: Arkansas 23, Auburn 34
No. 23 Ole Miss (3-3) at No. 25 LSU (4-2) 8:00 p.m. CT
It’s hard to believe that Ole Miss could wind up at 6-6 or 7-5 at the end of the year, but that may be the case if the Rebels can’t dig deep and upset LSU. A big problem for the Rebels has been the lack of a consistent running game. Sure, Chad Kelly and Ole Miss’ receivers can make life difficult on any defense, but being one-dimensional against LSU’s D spells trouble. The Tigers are playing with a lot of confidence at the moment and getting Leonard Fournette back for this week’s pivotal matchup with the Rebels may simply be too much for Hugh Freeze’s team to overcome. Oh, and did I mention this game is in Baton Rouge? At night? The Tigers get the W and remain in the SEC West divisional race.
The Lowe Down: Ole Miss 26, LSU 33
In other Saturday games:
No. 22 North Carolina 37 at Virginia 26
Texas 33 at Kansas State 37
Central Michigan 23 at Toledo 26
Colorado 19, Stanford 22
Eastern Michigan 10 at No. 20 Western Michigan 38
Illinois 10 at No. 3 Michigan 52
No. 19 Utah 26 at UCLA 23
No. 11 Houston 48 at SMU 23
Mississippi State 24 at Kentucky 30
No. 2 Ohio State 38 at Penn State 17
No. 16 Oklahoma 52 at Texas Tech 35
Washington State 39 at Arizona State 28