Wednesday - Friday Football Preview
Wednesday marks the end of September and with that comes the fact that college football fans will have to get used to watching games on "interesting" nights. Kicking things off is Hawaii (2-1) heading to Ruston to take on Louisiana Tech (1-2) in the WAC opener (8 PM on ESPN2) for both. Derek Dooley's Bulldogs were thought by many to be a challenger to prohibitive favorite Boise State but things didn't go well in either of their two losses, averaging just 13.5 ppg against Auburn and Navy. Looking for a place to start in dissecting Louisiana Tech's issues? Look no further than the running game on both sides of the football.
Louisiana Tech ranks 103rd in rushing offense with an average of ninety-three yards per game. Defensively they've been even worse, ranking 118th (out of 120 FBS teams) in rushing defense (allowing 251.7 yards per game). Now it can be argued that the rushing defense number is a bit skewed given the fact that Navy has led the nation in rushing four straight years. But Navy going for 290 yards on the ground isn't the most that Louisiana Tech has allowed this season; Auburn finished with 301 yards in the season opener. Luckily for Tech the Warriors won't look to run the ball much, but they do have one of the best quarterbacks few people talk about.
Senior QB Greg Alexander, who also happens to lead Greg McMackin's team in rushing, leads the FBS in pass efficiency (178.76 rating) and total offense (446.0 yards per game). The senior has increased his passing yards in each game this season, most recently throwing for 477 yards in Hawaii's tough 34-33 loss at UNLV, so who knows what could happen if the Bulldogs can't get to him. Alexander, who right now could be the biggest obstacle between Boise State QB Kellen Moore and the WAC Offensive Player of the Year award (Nevada's Colin Kaepernick had a slow start), also rushed for 100 yards in Hawaii's season-opening win over Central Arkansas so he can make some things happen with his feet.
Louisiana Tech does lead the WAC in pass defense but that's likely due to the fact that teams have had such an easy time moving the ball on the ground. Hawaii's defense on the other hand has struggled against the pass, ranking 97th against the pass (251 yards allowed per game). Neither has performed extremely well on defense and that should lead to a high-scoring affair. The nation's leading receiver will also be on display in Hawaii's Greg Salas, and he'll go a long way in helping the Warriors extend their win streak in the series to four games.
Thursday: Colorado (1-2) @ West Virginia (2-1) 7:30 PM on ESPN
Last season's meeting was thought to be a watershed moment for the Dan Hawkins regime in Boulder. However, since the 17-14 overtime win over the Mountaineers the Buffaloes are 3-9 and the heat is on the head coach in some circles. Colorado has also had to deal with its fair share of injuries with Darrell Scott (questionable with a bruised knee) and Rodney Stewart both missing at least one game this season. Stewart, who was the catalyst in last season's meeting, returned from a one-game absence to rush for 127 yards in the Buffs' 24-0 win over Wyoming on the 19th. But if QB Cody Hawkins isn't kept upright by an offensive line that struggled in both losses it could be a long night in Morgantown for the visitors.
West Virginia had over a week to stew over their loss at Auburn, where turnovers finally got the best of the Mountaineers. In their last two games WVU racked up ten turnovers, including six on The Plains. Take care of the football and Bill Stewart's team is undefeated and likely ranked; they moved the ball with relative ease on the Auburn defense. QB Jarrett Brown and RB Noel Devine are just two of the many weapons that West Virginia can throw at Colorado and given what happened to CU in Toledo a few weeks ago those weapons could be unleashed on Thursday night.
If the Mountaineer defense welcomes back stalwarts DE Scooter Berry (shoulder) and LB Reed Williams (foot) they should have more than enough to neutralize the Colorado offense. And even if they struggle some the Buffaloes (103rd in rushing defense and 101st in total defense) won't have enough firepower to slow them down on the other side of the football. Mountaineers return the favor at home.
Friday: Pittsburgh (2-1) @ Louisville (1-2) 8 PM on ESPN2
The point of discussion in Pittsburgh has been a defense that has struggled with areas that involved fundamentals (tackling) and discipline (penalties). Point blank you can't win a conference title if those issues remain all season long, and the Panthers went to work on those areas in a short week following a tough loss at NC State. The Cardinals are also coming off of a loss, theirs being of the expected variety at Utah on Saturday. However despite the 1-2 start some things have changed in the Derby City.
Remember that defense that was among the nation's worst the past few seasons? Louisville now ranks 28th (3rd in the Big East) in total defense and 14th in pass defense. However the rushing defense still leaves something to be desired, and that's a bad thing with the nation's fifth-best rusher coming to town. Freshman Dion Lewis has done a good job thus far filling the role of the departed LeSean McCoy, rushing for 493 yards and seven touchdowns in four games. QB Bill Stull is among the nation's leaders in pass efficiency but the hope is that this week the wide receivers can become more involved in the offense.
Jonathan Baldwin did finish the NC State game with ninety-eight yards receiving...on just two catches. Add to him tight ends Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson and you've got a trio that can give the Cardinals trouble on Friday night. The Cardinals had won seven straight in this series before Pittsburgh won at Heinz Field last season; Pitt makes it two straight in the Big East opener for both.
Utah State (1-2) @ #20 BYU (3-1) 9 PM on The Mtn.
The Aggies have been competitive in both of their losses (Utah and Texas A&M), but they need a win over either the Utes or BYU at some point to make the program legitimate within the state of Utah. But you can't ignore what Gary Andersen has done to the program in just three games despite the unimpressive record. Utah State can no longer be looked at as a mere speed bump; they actually need to be accounted for properly. The Aggies rank ninth nationally in total offense and junior QB Diondre Borel ranks fourteenth in total offense. RB Robert Turbin is fourth in the country in rushing with an average of just over 124 yards per game, so BYU will have its defense tested.
However Max Hall and company have some areas they can exploit as well. Utah State is among the worst defensive teams in the nation, ranking 117th in total defense and outside of sacks (73rd) and pass efficiency defense (79th) the Aggies rank in triple digits in the major defensive categories. BYU hasn't been a great defensive team by any stretch of the imagination but they're better equipped to make some stops. And with Hall at the controls on offense look for Bronco Mendenhall's team to defend their home field.