CFB uk tv game previews: week 5
By Joshua Edwards
9 live CFB games this weekend for UK viewers starting on Thursday night and capped off by a bumper Saturday slate which includes Ohio State @ Nebraska. Josh Edwards does his thing in a quick-fire preview article for week five:
Navy @ Memphis
Mike Norvell’s Memphis are one of 23 unbeaten teams heading into week 5 and have been impressive in victories over Ole Miss, Southern, and South Alabama. They host Navy on Thursday night, another unbeaten team, though the Midshipmen have only played two games through 4 weeks, beating Holy Cross and East Carolina in Annapolis. This is Navy’s first road game of the year and comes a week prior to their first Commander-In-Chief’s trophy game of the season, vs. Air Force.
As usual, Navy are running the ball extremely well. The Midshipmen are averaging 371.5 yards on the ground while scoring 43.5 points per game. It’s so much easier to be great defensively when your offense controls the clock, and Navy is allowing just 8.5 points per game thus far, albeit against lowly opposition. Quarterback Malcolm Perry has played well but obviously faces a stiffer test this week.
The Tigers are led by quarterback Brady White who’s thrown for 715 yards and 5 scores (with 2 picks) this season. Memphis has a good rushing attack too – last week both Kenny Gainwell (fantastic name for a running back) and Kylan Watkins ran for over 100 yards each in the win over South Alabama. Their defense has been the most impressive unit all things told, limiting Ole Miss to 10 points in the opener and allowing just 13.3 points and fewer than 230 yards per game, but, that being said….
IT’S UPSET TIME! I like Navy to continue their recent trend of causing Memphis all kinds of problems (they’ve beaten the Tigers in 3 of their 4 meetings including last year in Tennessee), and get the big win on the road. It’ll all be about whether Navy can limit mistakes offensively and churn points out of long, sustained drives but I love what they’re doing offensively to start the year and I love that they’re coming into this one fresher than any team in the country. Let’s go Midshipmen.
Prediction: Navy 31-20 Memphis
Duke @ Virginia Tech
Duke alum Daniel Jones lit up the NFL in his debut for the Giants on Sunday but the Blue Devils will be pretty pleased by what his replacement, Quentin Harris, has done the past couple weeks. After an understandable drubbing by Bama in the opener Duke have gone 2-0 against North Carolina A&T and Middle Tennessee. In the latter game Harris threw for 237 yards and 4 touchdowns and ran for another 107 yards as the Blue Devils ran out to a convincing 41-18 win.
This week Duke travel to Blacksburg to face a Virginia Tech team who aren’t firing on all cylinders yet this season but will prove tough opposition, especially defensively. The Hokies are coming off a bye week and are 2-1 overall after they followed up an opening day defeat to Boston College with wins against Old Dominion (31-17) and Furman (24-17). Their defense under famous co-ordinator Bud Foster (now in his 25th and final season) remains one of the most consistent and talented units in college football, and will throw a lot of disguised blitzes and strange looks at Harris and company.
Though Hokies quarterback Ryan Willis has struggled thus far in 2019 (QBR of 41.3), all that misdirection and organised chaos from the Virginia Tech offense might be too much for Duke to contend with defensively. I like the Hokies to get this one done and roll to their 4th straight win against the Blue Devils in what will be both teams ACC opener for the year.
Prediction: Duke 24-37 Virginia Tech
Arizona State @ (15) California
Cal are ranked 15th and are 4-0 having beaten UC Davis, Washington, North Texas and Ole Miss through 4 weeks, and are the only unbeaten team left in the Pac-12. They’re yet to score 30 points in a game however and have only won by a combined 28 point margin in those victories. Their win against Ole Miss was their first as a ranked team on the road in over 10 years but it was marred by controversy, many arguing that Ole Miss wideout Elijah Moore had scored late in the fourth.
On Friday night the Bears host a 3-1 Arizona State team who were left reeling after a devastating last minute loss to Colorado in week 3. The Sun Devils were unbeaten going into that game having given up only 7 points in each of their wins against Kent State, Sacramento State and Michigan State through three weeks, and were understandably distraught at the roughing the holder penalty which gave Colorado the first down and the chance to kneel for the win.
Arizona State junior running back Eno Benjamin is yet to hit the heights of last season’s record breaking sophomore campaign. The back only has 3.8 yards per carry so far this season compared to a season average 5.5 last year, but there’s every chance he flicks into gear soon. Sun Devils fans will be hopeful of weekly improvement from Benjamin but the Bears strength has been their defense so far, and will hope to have starting linebackers Cam Goode and Tevin Paul back from injury for Friday night.
Cal are home favourites but it’s relatively slight and this could be considered a bit of a trap game for the Bears ahead of facing Oregon, Utah and Washington State. I’m loathe to pick either school with much confidence but at a push I’d side with the home team in a low scoring affair, the Sun Devils covering.
Prediction: Arizona State 16-19 California
Northwestern @ (8) Wisconsin
Wisconsin rose 5 places in the AP Poll and broke the top ten last week after beating 11th ranked Michigan 35-14 in Madison in the second of a 5 straight home game stretch. The Badgers host 1-2 Northwestern on Saturday and are huge, 24 point favourites in what will be the 101st contest between the two colleges (Wisconsin holds a 59-36-5 advantage all time).
Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor is a legitimate Heisman trophy candidate this season and Northwestern will likely struggle to keep him quiet. He’s averaging 7.6 yards per carry and has 440 yards and 7 touchdowns on just 58 carries. The Wildcats offense only managed 7 points against Stanford and 10 against Michigan State, and they’ll need to get better quickly if they’re to worry Wisconsin. There’s some hope of a fast start through the air though, as Badgers safeties Eric Burrell and Reggie Pearson will be out for the first half after both being ejected for targeting last week. Whether Wildcats quarterback Hunter Johnson, who has just one touchdown and 4 picks on the year, can take advantage, remains to be seen.
Northwestern usually play Wisconsin well and this game has some Badgers fans worried but I can’t see anything other than a comfortable Badgers victory.
Prediction: Northwestern 10-45 Wisconsin
Ole Miss @ (2) Alabama
The talk of the town in Alabama is, for once, not the defense. The Dolphins are tanking for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is currently 9/5 for the Heisman trophy and still the favourite to be the first overall pick in next year’s NFL draft. The Hawaiian born quarterback has thrown for 1300 yards and 17 touchdowns in 4 games for the Crimson Tide this season, leading Bama to victories over Duke, New Mexico State, South Carolina and Southern Miss. He has an embarrassment of riches at his offensive disposal including wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, who’ve combined for 10 touchdowns and 954 yards.
It’s a rivalry that has been as one sided as any in college football over the years, with Ole Miss winning just 10 of the 63 contests. They come into Tuscaloosa at 2-2 and off the back of a controversial 28-20 loss to Cal. Quarterback Matt Corrall has been okay but is day-to-day with bruised ribs. Freshman John Plumlee came into the game against Cal and played well enough, rushing for 53 yards and going 7 for 7 for 82 through the air. Bama have won by an average of 39 points this season and are 36 point favourites. Your guess is as good as mine whether Ole Miss covers, but they damn sure aren’t winning the game.
Prediction: Ole Miss 17-44 Alabama
(1) Clemson @ North Carolina
A sucker for a good story, I was all in on this Mack Brown North Carolina team before back to back losses against Wake Forest (24-18) and Appalachian State (34-31) dashed my dreams. The fairy-tale was over before it really started and now the Tar Heels host the nation’s number one team in Chapel Hill as a 26.5 point underdog at 2-2.
Clemson are 4-0 as expected and have been running riot against lowly opposition, with an average winning margin of 32. Trevor Lawrence has been steady but it’s the defense which has been most impressive – the Tigers are yet to give up more than 14 points. UNC freshman quarterback Sam Howell is athletic and mistake adverse (2 picks this season on 75 attempts) but Clemson defensive co-ordinator Brent Venables could probably field a team of 2nd string players and compete, the Tigers are just that deep.
It’s national championship or bust for the Tigers and there’s no reason to believe they start to struggle this week. Mack and Swinney might be good friends but don’t expect the Clemson head coach to take his foot off the pedal.
Prediction: Clemson 50-20 North Carolina
(5) Ohio State @ Nebraska
College Gameday heads to Lincoln Nebraska for a Big 10 clash between unbeaten, 5th ranked Ohio State and a 3-1 Nebraska team who will hope to win enough games to face the Buckeyes again, in the Big 10 championship game, later in the year.
Ohio State once again have one of the country’s top quarterbacks in Justin Fields. The Georgia transfer has thrown for 880 yards, 13 scores and no picks in leading the Buckeyes to perfect 4-0 start to the season, and he has already broken plenty of Dwayne Haskins 2018 records. This is Fields first true test – a Saturday night game in the Memorial Stadium is never an easy task. Nebraska have won 3 games but they’ve not particularly impressed in doing so. They struggled against Illinois, leading for only 9 minutes of that game, but dual threat quarterback Adrian Martinez played well at least, throwing for 327 yards and running for 118. Wide receiver JD Spielman is leading the Cornhuskers in receiving and poses a threat to any defense.
I’m really looking forward to this one. It’ll be raucous and even if they’ve not been particularly good for a while, Nebraska are true blue blood college football royalty and it’s great that they’ve got a primetime slot against the Buckeyes. I like Ohio State to pull off a second half comeback and sneak away with the win.
Prediction: Ohio State 30-27 Nebraska
Mississippi State @ (7) Auburn
Auburn are rolling at 4-0 behind true freshman quarterback Bo Nix. Their 28-20 win over Texas A&M last weekend pushed them one spot higher on the AP Poll to 7th and the Tigers will be confident of going 5-0 at home to Mississippi State on Saturday. The Bulldogs are 3-1 after wins against Louisiana, Southern Miss and Kentucky and a loss against Kansas State, but are yet to face a ranked team this season.
Running back Kylin Hill has been fantastic for Mississippi State so far, going over 100 yards in every game and, against Kentucky last week, rushing for 120 yards and 3 scores. But on Saturday he’s up against a different beast, facing an Auburn defensive front led by Derrick Brown which allowed only 2.7 yards per carry and had 7 tackles for a loss against Texas A&M. Bulldogs head coach Joe Moorhead won’t be able to rely on Hill and the ground game against Auburn which makes deciding whether or not to play Tommy Stevens (who missed their last game with a shoulder injury) an interesting choice. Rushing Stevens back would be inadvisable but backup Garrett Shrader was only just about serviceable against Kentucky.
It probably doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for Mississippi State. Auburn are 11 point favourites and justifiably so in my opinion. They beat a tough Aggies team on the road last week and back on home soil they can let loose again offensively ala their week 3 performance against Kent State. I like them to run away with it.
Prediction: Mississippi State 24-44 Auburn
UCLA @ Arizona
Last week I gave 0-3 UCLA absolutely no chance at upsetting Washington State in my preview and boy do I have egg on my face. A ludicrous game of college football saw the Bruins come from over 30 points behind to defeat the Cougars 67-63. Half way through the third quarter UCLA were dead and buried but the one thing you can’t rule out with a Chip Kelly offense are quick-fire scores. If you haven’t watched the highlight package, do it now – one of the most remarkable games I’ve seen since covering college football. Now, onto this week…
UCLA travel to Arizona having finally seen something of promise to cling on to from Chip Kelly’s offensive unit, but it’s a tough test even if for a team riding so high on that wave of emotion. Arizona are 2-1 after upsetting Texas Tech last week and have only played 3 games thus far in 2019.
Khalil Tate is one of the best running quarterbacks in the country and there is no reason to suggest that the Bruins have any chance of stopping him on the ground. Last week Tate, on a 3rd and 7 from his own 16 yard line, kept the ball and rushed 84 yards for a score. Tate might be struggling through the air (4 picks this year already), but UCLA will need to account for his rushing ability if they are to stand a chance in Tuscon. Kevin Sumlin has some former Bruins coaches on his staff (including Noel Mazzone, notorious for his interminable use of the bubble screen) and will hope to get some insight into how to stop them offensively. He’ll need it – Arizona’s defense continues to be porous, allowing 493.5 yards on average this year.
In spite of that, Arizona are 7.5 point favourites in the Pac-12 opener and that feels a little generous towards UCLA, who are a hot mess defensively. I refuse to be sold that last week’s miracle comeback was the sign of anything more consistent to come and I like Arizona to send the Bruins crashing back down to earth.
Prediction: UCLA 24-44 Arizona
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.