CFB uk tv game previews: week 11
By Joshua Edwards
A whole 7 live CFB games this weekend for UK viewers on BT Sport, starting on Friday night with UCF @ Tulsa. Then there’s the small matter of the by far the biggest game of the season, #1 LSU @ #2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Josh Edwards previews all the action here. Let’s go!
UCF @ Tulsa
The 7-2 Knights roll into Tulsa under the Friday night lights looking for their 33rd win in 36 games and their 4th straight. Tulsa, on the other hand, are 2-7 under 5th year head coach Philip Montgomery and are riding a 5 game losing streak, giving this one the look of a probably walkover on paper. But the Golden Hurricane has played well for the majority of those losses and they’ll have a glimmer of hope about turning over UCF, everyone’s ‘love to hate’ team in the AAC.
UCF were 23-21 down to Houston at HT last week but rallied in the second half, scoring 21 second half points on the way to a 44-29 victory behind the arm of freshman Dillon Gabriel, who finished 21 of 30 for 298 yards and 3 scores, with a rushing touchdown to boot. Receivers Gabriel Davis and Tre Nixon have combined for 17 touchdowns on 89 catches this season and are a threat to any secondary. The offense ranks second in the country, averaging 551 yards per game, and Tulsa, allowing 407 yards per game, will need to put up the performance of their season to stand a fighting chance at stopping them. The UCF defense has not been as strong as in recent years but is led by promising pass rusher Brendon Hayes (6.5 sacks).
Tulsa’s hopes of upsetting the Knights probably rest squarely on the shoulders of junior QB Zach Smith, given that their rush offense is not even in the top 100 in the country, averaging just 131 per game. Smith has a couple of decent weapons in Keylon Stokes and Sam Crawford JR. Ultimately though, the Knights offense is likely too strong for the Hurricane. Look for running back Bentavious Thompson to have a strong showing against a weak Tulsa run defense.
Prediction: UCF 40-20 Tulsa
(5) Penn State @ (13) Minnesota
On any other weekend this would be my go to game, with two unbeaten, ranked teams in the Big 10 facing off against each other in a critical late season tilt. It’s only the fact that LSU-Bama play straight after this one that means the Nittany Lions and Gophers take second billing on Saturday. Regardless, this could be a cracker, and it’s worth looking at the matchup in depth.
At 8-0 Penn State has steadily climbed the rankings week in week out, with impressive victories against Iowa and Michigan along the way. James Franklin’s team are led on offense by sophomore QB Sean Clifford, who has played relatively well, throwing for 20 touchdowns with just 3 picks on the season. Their rushing attack has been characteristically diverse, running backs Noah Cain, Journey Brown, Devyn Ford and Ricky Slade combining for 1008 yards at an average of 5.3 yards per carry. The foursome have a total of 13 scores on the ground between them, Clifford adding another 3 of his own. On defense, the Penn State run defense is absolutely fantastic. Their speed and tackling has been exceptional, and they allow fewer than 2 yards per carry this season.
Minnesota are 8-0 too, but PJ Fleck’s team are yet to face another ranked team and there are question marks about their suitability as the 13th ranked team in the nation. They’ve got a great chance to put those questions to bed on Saturday if they can beat Penn State. Running back Rodney Smith has 889 yards on 154 attempts with 7 scores on the ground this season with Mohamad Ibrahim adding another 6 rushing touchdowns. Minnesota play old school, smash mouth football and Penn State will need to be up for a fist fight in Minneapolis on Saturday.
I actually like Minnesota in this game, as I think the Gophers have been underrated thus far in 2019. They can control the clock and, if they get ahead, force Penn State into mistakes on offense. The Gophers are also probably a bit miffed at being ranked behind teams like Baylor. Look for the upset or, at the least, for Minnesota to cover in a tight loss.
Prediction: Penn State 17-21 Minnesota
(20) Kansas State @ Texas
A ranked team as an underdog on the road at an unranked team? Could be fun, right? Hey, look, I know, it’s LSU-Bama in the same time slot over on BT Sport ESPN. But if you’re a Longhorn or a Wildcat, or even if you just hate the SEC, here’s your alternative viewing. And it’s got a lot of potential to be a great watch. So let’s break it down…
No. 20 Kansas State are 6-2 on the season (3-2 in the Big 12) with a most impressive win against (at the time) 5th ranked Oklahoma two weeks ago in a 48-41 thriller. The Wildcats, under first year head coach Chris Klieman, are looking for their first win over Texas in 3 seasons and will likely fancy their chances more than in most seasons given their impressive showing thus far this year. Dominating time of possession has become their MO, last week against Kansas the epitome of this approach, Kansas State holding the ball for 38:03. Their rushing attack is the 23rd best in the country averaging 217 yards per game, running back James Gilbert leading the way with 558 yards and 5TDs on 100 carries. Dual threat quarterback Skylar Thompson has 68 carries for 331 yards and 10TDs, giving you an excellent idea of the thrust of the Wildcats offense.
Texas are 5-3 this year and had an October to forget. A tough loss to Oklahoma was explainable but scraping past Kansas and a forgettable win over West Virginia were worrying enough before a dreadful performance against TCU (37-27 loss) to close out the month. Sam Ehlinger has been fine, throwing for 2378 yards and 23 scores, but the team’s issues this season are primarily on the defensively side of the ball. Todd Orlando has had the bye week to dream up some solutions to his unit’s biggest problem: the fact that they’re allowing so many yards and points against (494 and 37.5 per game in October respectively). Injuries have hit the Longhorns hard and Orlando will be delighted that BJ Foster and Caden Sterns will return to face the Wildcats on Saturday.
Despite such an awful October, I’m siding with the rested, home team Longhorns, though I think it could be as close as the line suggests. I like Ehlinger and co. to get the job done through the air and put up a big enough total to out shoot Kansas State, who’s sub-par passing attack might be one of the few reasons they won’t compete for the Big 12 title this season.
Prediction: Kansas State 33-35 Texas
(1) LSU @ (2) Alabama
Oh what a doozy we’ve got in store in Tuscaloosa. Any time these two meet we can expect fireworks but this season there’s added juice, with the teams deservedly occupying the top two spots in the AP Poll at a critical juncture. LSU haven’t beaten Bama in 8 straight attempts since the last time the two teams were 1 and 2, a 9-6 defensive battle back in 2011, but they’ve impressed all year, beating 3 top 10 teams (at the time) in Texas, Florida and Auburn along the way. Bama’s only win against a ranked opponent was against Texas A&M in week 7 but the manner in which they’ve beaten lowly teams into submission has been spectacular.
LSU (8-0) have the leading candidate for the Heisman trophy in quarterback Joe Burrow, a revelation in their new-fangled spread passing attack masterminded by ex-Saints assistant coach Joe Brady. The senior has thrown for 30 touchdowns, 2805 yards and just 4 interceptions through 8 games this season and has a remarkable command of the offense. And he’s not just putting on a show against middling opposition – against two fantastic defenses in Florida and Auburn, Burrow completed 76% and 78% of his passes respectively. LSU have a complimentary ground attack to keep things balanced too, both Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Tyrion Davis-Price averaging over 5.4 yards per carry. This Tiger offense has been a joy to watch and LSU haven’t just been winning games, they’ve been steamrollering teams.
Alabama’s unbeaten start has been no less convincing despite start quarterback Tua Tagovailoa missing time and the Tide being forced to start Mac Jones in relief. Jones was more than capable of dispatching Arkansas and Bama now get Tua back after successful ankle surgery and the added benefit of a bye pre-LSU. The Hawaiian born signal caller has pretty similar numbers to Burrow, throwing for 2166 yards, 27 scores and just 2 picks. He will have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal Saturday night including receivers Jerry Jeudy (52 catches for 682 yards and 8TDs) and Henry Ruggs III (26 catches for 513 yards and 6TDs). If he’s healthy, we’re in for a blockbuster of a game which will go quite some way in crafting the Heisman narrative for the season, given that the eyes of the nation will be on both young men Saturday night.
But it’s not all about the quarterbacks and vaunted offensive attacks of both teams. Sunday will likely come down to which defense can step up the most relative to the other. Alabama’s defense is really, really good, but relative to some of the units Nick Saban has been able to put out in recent years, it’s below average, and it’s yet to face a offense the likes of which LSU can field on Saturday. Bama’s best defense might well be offense – long, sustained drives could tire out the LSU unit and keep the ball out of Burrow’s hands, though it won’t be easy to do so against an impressive Tiger linebacking corps led by Michael Divinity JR and Jacob Phillips.
This is the least confident prediction I’ve made this year. Joe Burrow has been exceptional but I have more faith in Alabama’s coaching (and offensive playmakers) to come up trumps in a big game like this than I do in Burrow, in spite of the supporting evidence thus far. Given that it’s in Tuscaloosa and not Baton Rouge, I give Bama the best shot at remaining undefeated and, in doing so, wrestling back that number one spot.
A side note: US President Donald Trump is likely to be in attendance on Saturday, hoping for a better reception than that which he received at the Washington Nationals World Series game last month. There is precedent for a president to attend a 1 vs 2 regular-season college matchup. Nixon watched Texas vs. Arkansas in Fayetteville in 1969. Dubbed ‘The Game of the Century’, Texas came back from 14-0 down in the third quarter to win 15-14, and the rest, as they say, is history (including a certain impeachment).
Prediction: LSU 35-40 Alabama
(4) Clemson @ NC State
Last season’s CFB playoff champs are 4th in the AP Poll and 5th in the newly announced College Football Playoff poll. Should 9-0 Clemson be worried? Probably not. The Tigers have won 24 straight games and Penn State, currently occupying the no.4 spot, have Minnesota and Ohio State left on the schedule. The Tigers have put up over 50 points on 4 separate occasions this season and go to Raleigh on Saturday night as huge 32.5 point favourites. In a mid-week press conference, HC Dabo Swinney expressed his disappointment at not being able to run the ball as effectively as he would have liked in last season’s game against NC State. He didn’t mention the 41-7 final score in his self-criticism, which shows you just how dominant Clemson have been against the Wolfpack (7 straight wins and a 58-28 all time advantage).
NC State are 4-4 on the season and have lost two straight to Boston College and Wake Forest respectively. The Wolfpack have had a disappointing 2019 thus far under 7 year head coach Dave Doeren, with only Syracuse below them in the Atlantic Division. The team has had a lot of inconsistency at the quarterback position but it looks like Doeren is sticking with freshman QB Devin Leary against Clemson ahead of Matthew McKay and Bailey Hoffman. Perhaps there’s hope in that all 4 of NC State’s victories have come at home, though don’t bank on it…in their last three games Clemson have won by an average of 40 points.
Clemson will win on Saturday night but the manner of the victory might be important. An undefeated record is one thing, but blasting through teams like NC State might help remind the pollsters just how good Clemson are. Look for Trevor Lawrence to have a monster outing against one of the lesser secondaries in the ACC.
Prediction: Clemson 51-10 NC State
Missouri @ (6) Georgia
Georgia got back on track last week with a win over Florida that was more dominating than the scoreline (24-17) suggested, the offense clicking again and the defense characteristically stout. The 7-1 Bulldogs are 17 point favourites at home to a 5-3 Missouri team trying to avoid a third straight loss after defeats on the road to Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Bulldogs QB Jake Fromm might not be Joe Burrow or Tua, but he is as steady as they get at the position, throwing for 1685 yards and 11 scores thus far this season. Fromm has played well against Missouri in the past too. He has a completion percentage of 63%, has thrown for 586 yards, 5 touchdowns in the past two matchups between the teams. Coupled with such a dominating defense, the Bulldogs have found a recipe for success which doesn’t fill the mid-week highlight reels but is effective nevertheless. On defense, the Bulldogs haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season, which is just plain ridiculous. It’s not just good red zone defense either, Georgia are only allowing an average of 77 rushing yards against them. Much of their defensive strength comes in the form of their linebacking corps, led by 50 tackle stalwart Monty Rice. Realistically I could roll off 10 dominant defensive players but there’s little point. Just watch and enjoy.
For Missouri, a lot rests on whether QB Kelly Bryant can play. Bryant is nursing a hamstring injury sustained during the loss to Kentucky and said in the week that he feels only 75% ready to play. Their rushing attack has been poor, and let’s be honest, even if it was good, Georgia would fancy their chances. Head Coach Barry Odom would do well to watch the South Carolina-Georgia game tape to develop his strategy. Stay in the game as long as you can with solid defense, hope your defensive players make big plays ala Israel Mukuamu, and get some luck with kicking.
With the status of Bryant in doubt, the Bulldogs defense will be licking its lips at the prospect of facing Taylor Powell (4-10 against in relief against Kentucky). At night, at home, this could easily be a rout by Georgia standards.
Prediction: Missouri 7-33 Georgia
Wyoming @ (21) Boise State
If you’re still up at 3:15 on Sunday morning, and you can stand watching a game played on that god-awful blue turf, Wyoming at Boise State is your jam. The 21 ranked, 7-1 Broncos host a 6-2 Cowboys team desperate for the upset win to help build further credibility.
Boise State’s 6-0 start came crashing down to earth with a loss at BYU in October. Alarm bells started ringing after the Broncos shootout win against San Jose State too. Even though they put up 52 points on offense, they allowed 42 points and 438 to Spartans quarterback Josh Love. Losing RB Robert Mahone to injury has hurt the Broncos, but, ultimately, their offense is still fantastic. They have genuine playmakers in wide receivers John Hightower and CT Thomas, who’ve combined for 8 touchdowns on 56 catches on the year. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier has over 1750 yards passing and will want to get back on track after a dodgy week against San Jose in which he threw a pick and was sacked 3 times.
The Cowboys are coming off a bye week and a win before that, convincingly beating Nevada 31-3. Running back Xazavian Valladay had a career high 206 yards in the win and now has 631 yards on the year. Dual threat quarterback Sean Chambers has thrown for 7 scores and rushed for another 10, with wide receiver Raghib Ismael JR leading the team with just 11 receptions. The Cowboys are a run first, pass later team, and have only thrown the ball 56 times this year.
Boise might have lost at BYU and scraped past San Jose State, but I believe in their 6-0 start. They’re deservedly ranked and deservedly favourites for this late night tilt. I like them to win and cover.
Prediction: Wyoming 14-33 Boise State
JOSH IS A CFB SPECIALIST, LONG SUFFERING RESKINS FAN AND BUDDING HISTORIAN OF THE GAME BASED IN LONDON. CHECK OUT HIS ARTICLES HERE AND FOLLOW HIM @JOSHWA_1990 ON TWITTER.