How to you see LSU and Georgia heading into this week's matchup?
LSU made some improvements last week versus Mississippi State, but MSU is not a good barometer. Georgia has not played well offensively. Their lack of a running game has to do with injuries to their running backs, but more to do with sub-par offensive line play. Youth at tight end and having to keep extra help in on pass protection has limited their short passing game with both the tight ends and running backs. LSU's defense is slowly improving and Georgia quarterback David Greene will have to handle the blitz pressure better than he did last year. If LSU can get solid quarterback play, it has a good chance.
How can Georgia beat LSU's blitz?
LSU has had some trouble covering running backs down the seam. Although Georgia was pretty much swallowed whole last year in the SEC championship game, they had a great opportunity early in the game that could be exploited again this year. In the Tigers four-man rush and man coverage across the board against the three-wide receiver, two-back shotgun package, LSU's linebackers were in a cross-key situation and lost Kregg Lumpkin, who ran unabated down the seam. They had similar problems against Florida last year and versus Oregon State's tight end this season.
Against a four-wide, ace shotgun package, LSU's linebacker Lionel Turner is on the ace back. If that RB blocks, Turner runs a delayed blitz, which is what he did to sack Jason White on the last offensive play of the Sugar Bowl last season. If the back runs a route, Turner has the running back, who, in essence, has a five-yard running start. In most situations, Georgia doesn't want to see the Tigers in an all-out blitz but the middle of the road can be wide open if Greene can get it off.
Another important aspect of this defense is the cutback running game. With the Tigers as aggressive as any defense in the SEC, the Georgia running backs must be able to find the cutback lanes behind the fast pursuing defense. LSU utilizes some slant action up front to get penetration against the Georgia zone running game. In both games last year, the Dawgs got very little output from that portion of their offense. LSU is extremely disciplined at the linebacker position on the backside in order to not allow cutback runs, but with Danny Ware returning, he's capable of exploiting any defensive over-pursuit. Facing four intensely quick linemen, the Georgia offensive line has no chance of being able to get cross-face on the Tigers, but they can maintain good leverage and ride the Tigers right past the designated hole leaving nice, big cutback lanes for their backs.
What are the keys in the Auburn vs. Tennessee game?
Pass protection will be crucial for freshman quarterback Erik Ainge. Keep an eye on Auburn DE Stanley McClover and Bret Eddins against Tennessee tackles Michael Munoz and Arron Sears. Both Tennessee tackles are beatable off of the edge. Tennessee likes to use a three wide receiver look in the I formation,essentially leaving those tackles all alone. Against Florida, the coaching staff used quick three step drops to help out those tackles. They also used some roll-out action and flooded the playside with lead blockers and receivers.
But, when the Vols did go to five-stop drops, the Gators did get pressure on Ainge. McClover and Eddins are relentless pass rushers and have the quickness to beat the tackles one-on-one. However, the Vols will use their running backs to help out Munoz and Sears to give Ainge more time to throw. When Brent Schaeffer is at the helm, the quickness of the Tiger DE duo can be used against them, which is why Schaeffer has to get more snaps than he got in the second half against Florida. The simplest thing that Tennessee Offensive Coordinator Randy Sanders can do is to attack physically in the run game on the edge. However, the Vols love to run from B gap to B gap, so opposing defensive ends don't take enough shots to really wear them down. Florida focused on the weak Tennessee secondary but Auburn does not have Chris Leak playing quarterback.
The Tennessee front four cannot protect their linebackers the way LSU did for theirs, thus, the middle of that Tennessee defense must be tested with a heavy dose of Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams. This will force a safety to come up into the box, essentially using two guys to replace the departed Kevin Simon. Brown and Williams have displayed the power running that makes tackling them so difficult, and the Vols are not the best tackling team in the land. Thus, they should find ample running room in the ‘voided' middle. Once the Vols make an adjustment, there will be easy opportunities in the passing game.
Florida found a lot of room in the deeper intermediate areas on crosses and out-routes. But, the best option for Auburn may be the under-utilized tight end Cooper Wallace on those same routes, especially if the Vols underestimate his athletic ability. Auburn's use of the play-action can get Wallace wide open as he crosses the field against a deep conscious secondary. Especially in third-and-long situations, the Tennessee defensive ends - Parys Haralson in particular - will want to get a hard line sprint to the quarterback, so Wallace can come off the line without getting chipped and get to an open zone for first downs.
Can Notre Dame beat Purdue?
Sure, they can. They have improved greatly the last couple of weeks and Purdue's defense must play better than they did against Illinois. One of the more intriguing match ups that will go a long way in determining who has the upper hand is between Purdue OT David Owen and Notre Dame's underrated DE Justin Tuck. Michigan had all kinds of problems stopping Tuck, who took a hard upfield rush much of the game. Even if Tuck didn't get the sack, he either forced a bad throw from Chad Henne or an intentional throw out of bounds. Michigan's OT's couldn't handle his quickness and burst off the snap.
Two things can really help Owen on Tuck. One is help from a back to ‘chip' or even double team Tuck. Doing this, however, takes one receiving option out of the picture and could free up OLB Derek Curry to either blitz the quarterback unabated or drop into coverage, eyeing up any slant routes or bubble screens. The second option is to utilize more three-step drops and cut Tuck to get his hands down. Purdue likes to use the three step game, so this is the more desirable option, but Orton had better not hold the ball longer than a two count because Tuck is a good athlete and can still get off the ground and pressure Orton if he holds the ball. Running right at Tuck will wear him down in run defense. By wearing him down just the slightest bit, it slows him down on the all-out pass rush for a split second, and just a split second of hesitation is all it takes for a quick-releasing Orton to get the ball out of his hands.
Maurice Stovall, Rhema McKnight, and particularly Matt Shelton have really developed at wide receiver. Against Michigan, he snared a 46 yard TD from Brady Quinn over Markus Curry to start the Irish comeback that may have saved their season. Against Michigan State, he had a 35 yarder for six, and duplicated the feat twice against Washington at 27 and 24 yards. He's the perfect complement to McKnight, who is the physical, intermediate receiver and against a secondary that has truly not been tested. Shelton has to continue to make the big play. Purdue corner Antwaun Rogers returned to the starting lineup last week, so his presence will help the Boilermaker secondary against Shelton and McKnight. However, the Notre Dame offensive staff has shown that they aren't afraid of challenging secondaries deep with Shelton.
What do you think of the development of Florida quarterback Chris Leak and how do you see this week's matchup vs. Arkansas?
Everyone knew how good Chris Leak was as a true freshman starter in 2003, but he's taken his game to another level in a short amount of time in 2004. Other than a rather ordinary performance against Kentucky, he has looked very good thus far this season. One of the aspects of his game that has really taken him to a new level is his increased ball handling and play action.
It's not unusual to see young quarterbacks improve little things after they have had a full year of film-watching, spring football work and summer workouts, but his use of play action will be only as good as the Gators' running game.
The Razorbacks have been torched by Ray Hudson of Alabama and Cedric Benson of Texas, who both went at least for 170 yards against the Hogs. That should put a huge smile on Ciatrick Fason's face. Fason went for 210 against Kentucky, so the combination of a struggling run defense and the SEC's newest RB star should keep play-action passing lanes open up all night long for Leak. Against Tennessee, Leak hit deep out-routes, deep crossing routes and anything else he wanted against the Vols. The Hogs secondary has not been immune either, as Vince Young burned them on straight drop-back, a seam route to his tight end for the first score of that UT-UA game, so it'll be interesting how they adapt to the Gators' use of play-action. Either way, the Hogs will have their hands full trying to stop the Gators' running game and even more trouble stopping Leak in the play-action game.
How good is West Virginia's quarterback Rasheed Marshall and how do you see him doing this week in Blacksburg vs. Virginia Tech?
Marshall is one of the nation's most dangerous dual-threats at the quarterback position. He has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 684 yards with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also has rushed for 155 yards. Marshall continues to improve his efficiency as a passer, but he still fails to see the entire field at times.
VT Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is lining up free safety Vincent Fuller all over the field and taking advantage of his excellent size and speed. If Marshall doesn't do a great job of locating him, the Mountaineers' could struggle to get out of Blacksburg undefeated. Fuller has shuffled between safety and cornerback throughout his career. This season, he has made the full-time move to free safety and has responded by becoming one of Virginia Tech's biggest playmakers. After four games, Fuller ranks third on the team in tackles and leads the Hokies with two interceptions.
What's wrong with Kansas State's offense and what do they need to do to be successful versus Texas A&M?
Kansas State has been unable to find a passing game to go with Darren Sproles. The passing game is registering a little over 123 yards per game. They must spread the field and force the Aggies to make a choice – Sproles or cover. If the Aggies spread with them, Sproles can run all day long. If they keep the box full, throw a quick screen or hit a slant route; the room is now there to do some work in the passing game. Two, swing Sproles out of the backfield as a decoy. This will cause A&M to leave the curl/dig area real fast. They should run Sproles to the flat on the snap. If they give the QBs the swing to Sproles, take it and let him work his magic. But, if they do indeed jump Sproles as you would expect, the curl route should be wide open. Look for them to come out in the I, two tight ends maybe, and a flanker as the only receiver. Fake the handoff to Sproles on the isolation and throw it deep. This will cause Aggie coordinator Carl Torbush to back off a bit and give some underneath route options to the Cats.
With their domination of Iowa, is Michigan back to being the team to beat in the Big 10?
They made a lot of progress by opening up their offense. Their strength offensively is their receivers and the challenge will be to get them involved in more big play opportunities, yet stay within their ball-control philosophy. Ohio State will likely be there until the end and even though they did not look good versus Illinois, Purdue has the only veteran quarterback in the conference. Minnesota has a strong running game and Wisconsin a strong defense, and they hope they have an offensive spark with the return of Anthony Davis.
I know it's early but who is the best team in the country right now?
What team are you favoring right now in the ACC?
Miami has a lot of talent and a real good defense but I am leaning a little towards Virginia. However, the loss of defensive end Chris Canty may just be enough to push the edge back towards the ‘Canes.
Can you briefly touch on some of the basic principles of identifying the West Coast offense?
There are many versions of the west coast offense and offenses with west coast principles. This offense has a lot of 3 man patterns to one side, lots of 6 man protections to go along with a quick-releasing short, ball-control passing game. There are not many sight adjustments from the receivers and there is always a hot receiver.
Chris Landry is a veteran NFL scout, having served with the Cleveland Browns, Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and formerly ran the Indianapolis Scouting Combine. He now runs his own Scouting Consulting business where he scouts NFL and College personnel for NFL teams and help Universities and NFL teams in their Coaching evaluations and Searches. He can be heard nationally on FOX Sports Radio as their college football and NFL analyst.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL Q&A – 9/29
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