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Notre Dame’s Passing Attack, Florida State’s Secondary, and Other Things to Watch For in Week 8

It’s Friday, which means it’s time to provide a list of things to watch for this weekend.

  • While I try not to comment on off-the-field issues, I feel compelled to make this statement: I’m disappointed in all of the “the referees cost us the game” segments that dominated sports talk radio this week. Whether we like it or not – and I don’t – officials are going to miss a call from time to time. However, it’s up to the players and coaches to make sure that they’re not in a position to where a call (or no-call) would cost them the game. Had BYU’s defense come up with a way to stop UCF quarterback Justin Holman or if TCU had chewed more clock with a three-score lead, the refs wouldn’t have been a factor at all.

  • If you read all of the stories about Notre Dame and Florida State this week, you’d never know that this was a matchup of two top-five teams. It’s a shame that most of the media wants to dwell on things that won’t play out for awhile rather than a contest that has College Football Playoff implications.

  • Usually in a game of such magnitude, you’d assume that a team needs to run the ball well in order to win. That’s not the case with Florida State, which won the last two contests with Notre Dame despite rushing for an average of 2.1 yards per carry.

  • Similarly, the Irish are 3-1 in their last four contests when averaging less than three yards per rush attempt, including a victory over Michigan State last fall.

  • The winner of the battle between Everett Golson and the Notre Dame passing game versus the Florida State secondary will walk away with a “W.” It’ll be interesting to see if Golson – who already has eclipsed the 300-yard barrier twice this season – can take advantage of the talented ‘Nole defensive backs, which struggled at times against Clemson and N.C. State.

  • Conversely, the flip side of that matchup is equally entertaining, pitting Jameis Winston (70% completions, 321 yards per game) against the Irish defense, which has ten picks in the first six games (8th best in the nation).

  • Make no mistake about it: the loser of this contest is not eliminated from the national championship. Even if the Seminoles lose, they can still wrap up a bid to the College Football Playoff by winning the ACC title. By the same token, Notre Dame can earn its way back in by winning at Arizona State and USC at the end of the year.

  • Don’t believe the “Alabama’s dynasty is dead” talk that’s proliferated over the past two weeks. The Crimson Tide are still one of the top squads in the country, averaging 500 yards per game and ranking third nationally in total defense. That hardly sounds like a team that’s out of contention for a crystal football.

  • Of course, the last time a visiting first-year starter went to Tuscaloosa, the Aggies walked away with a victory. With Kenny Hill putting up Manziel-like numbers (2,511 yards, 23 TDs), it’s not a stretch to think it could happen again.

  • The key to victory for the Aggies is to stay in front of the chains. The Crimson Tide simply doesn’t give up big plays in the passing game, surrendering just 15 plays of longer than 20 yards. However, Alabama has allowed 55 pass plays longer than 10 yards, ranking 70th in the nation.

  • I expect to see both of Arizona State’s quarterbacks play against Stanford this weekend. Todd Graham will have to take advantage of Mike Bercovici’s passing (998 yards in two starts) and Taylor Kelly’s explosiveness (8.8 yards per carry, 9.2 yards per pass attempt) to have any chance against the Cardinal defense, which ranks ninth nationally against the run and fourth against the pass.

  • On the other side of the ball, look for David Shaw’s team to keep the ball on the ground against the Sun Devils. While the Cardinal’s numbers don’t really jump out at you, it’s worth noting that it’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry in conference play. That’s not exactly welcomed news for an ASU front seven that’s struggled against the run this fall (207.2 yards per game, 104th nationally).

  • Quarterback play will determine whether Oklahoma remains in the national championship picture. After all, no one – even Gus Malzahn’s vaunted attack – has had success toting the rock against Kansas State’s run defense, which allows just 81.4 yards per game. While the Sooners won’t completely abandon the run, it only makes sense to turn to Trevor Knight, who has three 300-yard passing games in his career.

  • By the same token, look for K-State to lean more on Jake Waters. Sure, the Wildcats are a run-first team, but they’re second in the Big 12 in yards per attempt (8.6). They’ll air it out a little bit more this week to take advantage of an Oklahoma secondary that’s giving up 343 yards per game in confernce play.

  • Why isn’t anyone talking about Oklahoma State as a darkhorse candidate for the College Football Playoff? Yes, the ‘Pokes lost to Florida State in the season opener, but they gave the defending national champions all they could handle. More importantly, the Cowboys are undefeated in conference play, which means they control their own destiny. Should OSU run the table, it’s tough to see the Selection Committee leaving it out of the field.

  • In order to do that, Mike Gundy’s team must defeat TCU this weekend. That won’t be an easy task, as the Horned Frogs come into the game ranked third nationally in scoring offense (45.8 ppg) and 15th in total offense (515 ypg).

  • It’s time for people to start talking about Trevone Boykin as a Heisman Trophy candidate. After all, he’s averaging 353 yards per game – roughly 12 more than current front runner Dak Prescott. With a strong performance against the Cowboys, who picked off Jameis Winston twice, Boykin should start moving up on people’s ballots.

  • However, finding the end zone against Oklahoma State isn’t easy. Yes, the stats say that the ‘Pokes have allowed their opponents to score on 18 of 21 (85%) trips inside the red zone this year. However, 10 of the scores were field goals, making the Cowboys’ defense the ninth best in the country in red zone TD percentage.

About Terry P. Johnson

Terry Johnson is the Associate Editor for The Student Section. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.