Friday, 13 September 2013

The Saturday Slate: Week Three (Part Two)

#19 Washington (-10) at Illinois, neutral site game from Soldier Field in Chicago, IL, 3:00 PM on Big Ten Network

The last time we saw the Huskies, they were beating up a good Boise State team that was supposed to challenge them. Today, the Huskies resume their season after a week off with another quality opponent. The Huskies have come a long way already this season but now we will find out if Washington has improved perhaps its greatest shortcoming: playing on the road. Since Steve Sarkisian took over as head coach, Washignton is 7-18 in road and neutral site games.

It's hard to get a great read on this game considering both the venue and the opponent. The Huskies are not visiting Illinois' Memorial Stadium in Champaign and will instead be playing this game in Chicago at Soldier Field. Obviously, this is still a road game and it will be a pro-Illinois crowd but the stadium likely won't be full and won't have the atmosphere of a Chicago Bears game. Also, Washington received a fairly large ticket allotment for this game and reportedly sold most of it so this might turn out to be a neutral game after all.

As for the opponent, it's almost impossible to get a good read on the Fighting Illini. Illinois went 2-10 last year and was the laughing stock of the Big Ten. So far this year, They nearly blew an 18 point fourth quarter lead against FCS Southern Illinois and followed that by blowing out Cincinnati, a borderline top 25 team. Illinois is a team that prefers to play only one side of the ball. The Illini possess a very potent offense led by fifth year senior (and four year starter) Nathan Sheelhaase. Sheelhaase was hurt for most of last year and Illinois can attribute several of its 10 losses to that. So far this year, Sheelhaase is completing 74% of his throws for 728 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception. Sheelhaase is a very accurate passer who can throw to all quadrants of the field, spreads the ball around to all his receivers, and extend plays with his legs.

Sheelhaase and the Illinois offense will be a great test for the Huskies defense that dominated two weeks ago. As for the Illini defense, well they probably won't offer much resistance. Illinois is surrendering 6.12 yards per play this season and while opponents have struggled to be efficient against Illinois (59% opponent completions and 3.69 yards per rush), the Illini have surrendered a lot of big plays.

Washington has a big advantage in talent and team speed and I like the match up of Washington's hybrid 4-3 against the Illini offense. That being said, Washington on the road scares me and I'm not going to believe the Huskies can dominate away from Seattle until I actually see them do it. I think Illinois can move the ball and will keep this one close so I'll go ahead and take the points and say the Huskies win 38-33.

Southern Utah at Washington State (-21.5), 3:30 PM on Pac-12 Network

Washington State will look to build on a program defining win last week over USC with a match up against an over matched FCS opponent. There's not much to see in this game and Wazzou should win, nay better win big. The main thing to watch is Wazzou QB Connor Halliday and whether he can start making better decisions with the football and avoid committing turnovers. Halliday has already thrown five picks this season and frankly had another two or three interceptions that were dropped in the Auburn game. If he can't get it together and keep the offense moving against Southern Utah, then it should probably be time for Mike Leach to give someone else a shot with the first team offense.

I do happen to be a believer in Halliday's ability and I think he will play well today. Buoyed by another good defensive effort, I think Wazzou will cover and win this one going away, 38-10.

#4 Ohio State (-14.5) at California, 4:00 PM on Fox

Okay, before I talk about this game, I need to talk a little bit about the Buckeyes travel logistics. Ohio State produced over $140,000,000 in athletic department revenue last year so they can afford to rent a pretty nice hotel on the road. However, instead of staying in Berkeley or finding a hotel in a quiet neighborhood somewhere in the bay area, OSU is staying in freaking downtown Oakland. Last night gunshots were reportedly heard within a block of the team hotel. So, hopefully the buses Ohio State chartered to get to the stadium don't get caught in a drive-by shooting and this game will be able to go off without a hitch.

Once the Buckeyes do arrive at the stadium, Ohio State should win. The Buckeyes have have not lost in 14 games under head coach Urban Meyer and possess a major advantage in talent and especially in depth over the Bears. The health of star QB Braxton Miller is a concern as he left last week's game with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Miller is questionable for this game however backup QB Kenny Guiton is very capable and looked every bit as good as Miller in relief last week.

the Buckeyes struggled defensively at times last year but have a ton of talent on that unit led by All-Americans like corner Bradley Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier as well as rising young stars like defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. OSU hasn't really been challenged this year nor have they faced an offense like that of Cal. It will be interesting to see how the Buckeyes try to game plan against the Bear Raid. I also want to see if Ohio State can respond to adversity and keep its composure on the road if and when Cal is able to keep the game close.

Ohio State has some question marks in the defensive backfield outside of Roby so I think Cal can move the ball simply by throwing away from him. Roby might be able to shut down Bryce Treggs but Cal should find favorable match ups with Chris Harper, Darius Powe Jr., and Richard Rodgers. Cal's defense on the other hand is in for a tough day. The Bears have struggled to get stops in both games this year and will be without their best linebacker Nick Forbes and starting defensive end Brennan Scarlett. Chris McCain, Cal's best pass rusher is questionable.

With or without Miller, I expect OSU to move the ball consistently although I think Jared Goff and the Bear Raid can keep this one reasonably close. 14.5 seems like a lot for a banged up team playing its first road game against a quality opponent so I'll go ahead and take the points and predict a 38-24 Ohio State victory.

Oregon State at Utah (-3), 7:00 PM on Fox Sports 1

I'm sure you'll spend most of the evening watching the Wisconsin-ASU game but feel free to flip over to this one during commercials and get drunk on passing yards. OSU's Sean Mannion and Utah's Travis Wilson will try to go throw for throw in what could be a classic Pac-12 shootout. Oregon State has had well documented struggles defensively through two games while Utah was consistently gashed by Chuckie Keaton and Utah State in week one. I have no doubt both teams will move the ball and score (although I am still waiting to see if Utah can establish its run game) so this game will come down to who can rise up defensively.

I think Oregon State has some very good players defensively who have struggled to maintain focus and discipline in both games this year. OSU has often been a good road team under Mike Riley and I do think going on the road will help this defense rise to the occasion and start playing better. On the other hand, I just think Utah's offense is really good and they'll be able to manufacture some big passing plays. Oregon State should get yards as well but their offensive line is really banged up right now (star center Isaac Seumalo who has missed time this year himself is expected to play as many as three positions tonight). This is a poor time for OSU to start suffering on the O-line against a strong and tenacious Utah defensive front. Oregon State is famous for starting slow and getting one big win to put the team in gear before reeling off a big win streak. I am fully prepared to feel like an idiot while I watch tonight be that game for the Beavers but I simply think Utah is a better team and will be able to win this one at home, 35-31.

Texas-San Antonio at Arizona (-24.5), 7:30 PM on Pac-12 Network

Yawn, another week and another cupcake opponent for the Wildcats. It's week three and we still don't know anything definitive about Arizona. UTSA might be a slight step up from Northern Arizona and UNLV but it's not much. UTSA did have a good game offensively last week scoring 35 points against an Oklahoma State team that held Mississippi State to three points in week one. Arizona might finally show some holes on defense but the offense should run wild on the Roadrunners. The only thing to watch closely is still QB B.J. Denker. Denker has looked good in Arizona's zone read game this season but has been very poor from the pocket. At least he has taken care of the ball and hasn't thrown an interception but he has really struggled with his accuracy. Denker possesses below average arm strength so we knew the Wildcats deep game would be non-existent but if Denker can't complete those short passes, Zona might be in trouble.

Even if Denker struggles to throw once again, Ka'Deem Carey should run wild and that alone might be enough to cover the spread. I'll take Arizona to win big again, 48-21.

#20 Wisconsin at Arizona State (-4.5), 7:30 PM on ESPN

The final night cap is a big one as two Rose Bowl dark horses collide in Tempe. Neither team has allowed a single point this season but that will change as both teams have great offenses led by electrifying run games. Between Wisconsin's James White and Melvin Gordon and ASU's Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, there are four future NFL tailbacks in this game and all four might eventually be starters at the next level. Obviously, the defensive numbers aren't all they're cracked up to be as the three opponents faced by these two teams so far are a pair of FCS teams and UMass, arguably the single worst team at the FBS level.

Keep a very close eye on the game within the game being played by Wisconsin's offensive line and ASU's defensive line. Wisconsin has earned the nickname of "O-line U" by sending multiple blockers to the NFL every year while ASU has built one of the nation's most vaunted D-line's led by All-American Will Sutton. If ASU can win up front and halt the Badgers power run game they will come out with a win. If Wisconsin can push ASU back then everything will fall on Grice, Foster, and QB Taylor Kelly to win a shootout. I do like the matchup of ASU's great athletes on offense against the Wisconsin's defense. Despite two impressive performances this year, Wisconsin has long been accosted for having a lack of speed on defense and I don't think that will change overnight. Wisconsin's size and physicality will give ASU occasional problems but I do like ASU to break the 500 yard mark and score some points. I expect a good night from the Sun Devil offense but I also expect a lot of production from Wisconsin's vaunted run game. We should see a lot of offense at Sun Devil Stadium and the general rule is to take the points in a shootout so I will do just that and call a 34-31 Sun Devil victory.

Last Week Against the Spread: 7-2

Last Week Straight Up: 8-1
This Season Against the Spread: 12-7

This Season Straight Up: 15-4

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