-- Thursday, September 20 -- Vol. XXIV -- No. 4 --
--COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME SCOUT --
--A PUBLICATION OF THE SPORTS XCHANGE --
PENN STATE AT ILLINOIS
KICKOFF: Friday, 9 p.m. ET
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
SERIES: Penn State leads Illinois 18-5. The Nittany Lions won the last meeting, 39-0 in 2016.
RANKINGS: Penn State No. 10
KEYS TO THE GAME
Now that conference play is here, James Franklin knows his team won't likely get away with the mistakes it's made in three wins up to this point.
The No. 10 Nittany Lions' last outing -- a 63-10 beat down against Kent State -- featured too many errors for Franklin to recognize it as an ideal offensive showcase despite racking up 643 yards with eight players having a hand in at least one touchdown.
"There's a whole bunch of stuff that's on that tape that's ugly and smells bad and winning sometimes is like the deodorant that covers up the funk," Franklin said after the win. "It doesn't mean that you still can't correct the issues and the problems because they're there."
And Franklin has less time to do so with the Big Ten opener Friday night at Illinois. Thankfully, he said Penn State was able to pull most of its starters early enough in the third quarter to give them a bit of a rest before beginning a short week to prepare.
Franklin usually gives players Mondays off, but they found themselves in team meetings to start the week where they revisited their miscues from Saturday.
Those included two fumbles, a handful of dropped passes and nine penalties for 109 yards -- three of those washed out long touchdowns.
"That's something that's plagued us," Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said. "Penalties taking back big plays. But in the moment, if it's a hold or something up front, it's just talking to that guy, being like, 'Hey, move on to the next one' making sure they're not letting it affect them too much."
McSorley's dual-threat abilities have masked some of the underlying issues.
He ran for three touchdowns and passed for two more against the Golden Flashes while becoming the program leader in touchdowns by a quarterback and the second Penn State signal-caller to run for 1,000 career yards.
He'd have more yards through the air if his wideouts could hold onto the ball. Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk -- three of the team's top four wideouts -- have each dropped at least two passes.
The belief should be pretty high considering the fact that their rushing attack has produced 200-plus yards in six-straight games and who their opponents will be.
The Illini haven't beaten a Big Ten opponent since Nov. 5, 2016 and are allowing on average 480 yards per game. They were just roasted for 626 in a loss last weekend to South Florida.
Despite the numbers, the Illini got the start they wanted against the Bulls.
"After watching the video, I like a lot of things that we did in the game," Illinois coach Lovie Smith told reporters on Monday. "All phases, special teams, offense, defense. But you don't like the way we finished as a team."
South Florida scored the final 18 points in the fourth quarter after trailing 19-7 through three.
Playing the second half at the same level or better than the first will be the big challenge for Illinois. It seems more daunting considering the Nittany Lions haven't allowed a second-half score since Appalachian State poured 28 on them in the fourth quarter of the season opener.
"I feel like we're getting better and better every week," Penn State linebacker Cam Brown said. "It sounds cliche, but obviously guys are getting more chemistry and starting to mesh well together. We are starting to get everything so going into week four I feel like we will be even better."
Smith said he thinks that's the case for his defense, too. While gouged, the Illinois defense has limited opposing scoring by creating seven turnovers including two interceptions per game. Linebacker Del'Shawn Phillips and corner Jartavius Martin each have two picks.
"One more takeaway would have been the difference in that game (against USF)," Smith said. "We're not there yet, but hopefully we'll get there. We will keep harping on that to get that done."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--WR KJ Hamler has emerged as one of the most exciting players in the Big Ten. The speedy receiver has been a difference-maker on offense and kick return and got to return punts for the first time against Kent State.
--OL Will Fries, Ryan Bates, Connor McGovern, Michael Menet and Steven Gonzalez. This group has matured quickly and has developed a nice chemistry that's helped churn out more than 200 rush yards over the last six games. Illinois has been muscled around up front and will have a long, tough night if they can't get off blocks.
--DE Shareef Miller gave Penn State fans a scare last week when he left the game early after hitting his head awkwardly on the ground diving to make a stop behind the line of scrimmage. But the team's most experienced pass rusher returned to post a pair of second half sacks. Illinois QB AJ Bush missed last week with a hamstring injury. Even at 100 percent, it'll be hard for him to escape from Miller's rush if the Illini can't block him.
--QB M.J. Rivers took over starting duties last week as senior AJ Bush recovers from a hamstring injury he sustained in a 34-14 win over Western Illinois two weeks ago. Rivers has completed 29 of 45 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing 20 times for 24 yards. Illinois coach Lovie Smith did not indicate whether Rivers or Bush will be the starter Friday against Penn State, but said that Bush is "getting better."
--RB Mike Epstein was used sparingly through his first two games this season as a precaution to ease him back into his workload after suffering a season-ending injury foot injury in 2017 but carried the ball 19 times for 113 yards and a touchdown in last Saturday's 25-19 loss to South Florida. Epstein has 35 carries for 251 yards and two touchdowns this season and will likely continue his role as the primary ball carrier against Penn State.
--WR Ricky Smalling has been a reliable target, catching seven passes for 110 yards this season. As the Illini continue to develop their passing game, Smalling should play a pivotal role in doing so after leading the team in receiving yards as a freshman in 2017.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC AT CENTRAL FLORIDA
KICKOFF: Friday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
SERIES: UCF leads 1-0. UCF won 33-29 in 2003.
RANKINGS: UCF No. 16
KEYS TO THE GAME
UCF got an unexpected weekend off last week its game at North Carolina was cancelled because of Hurricane Florence. The No. 16 Knights will be back in action when they host Florida Atlantic (2-1) Friday night
Kickoff at Spectrum Stadium on UCF's Orlando campus is 7 p.m. ET. ESPN will be there for the telecast.
The Knights (2-0) have not played since a 38-0 shutout of South Carolina State at home the second weekend of the season.
Last week's cancellation marked the third consecutive season that the Knights have had a game moved or cancelled because of weather, but the last two years it was threats of hurricanes to their own campus, not their opponent's.
In 2017 the September outing with Georgia Tech was cancelled because of Hurricane Irma. Two years ago the Knights had to move the Tulane game a month when Hurricane Matthew threatened the East Coast in early October.
"It's tough because of when you find out the information," said first-year UCF coach Josh Heupel, who didn't learn of the North Carolina cancellation until after practice the Tuesday before the game. "You have to fast forward and move on to the next week's prep. It gave some of the guys that maybe have had a few nicks a few more days to get healthy.
"That's the biggest advantage is that guys get a couple more days to rebound and get ready for the following week."
But he rues the missed practices.
"You make a lot of strides early in the season," he said. "So we missed an opportunity to kind of grow right there."
This will be the second time already this season the Knights will be playing on national television on a weeknight. They opened their 2018 campaign with a 56-17 trouncing of American Athletic Conference foe Connecticut on a Thursday night.
"Any time you get to play on national television it's big," quarterback McKenzie Milton said. "But I don't think we look at it as different from any other game. It's just the way we approach our work.
"We're going to get FAU's best shot, but they're going to get ours as well."
Milton had a big game in the UConn win (346 yards passing, five touchdowns) but threw three interceptions against South Carolina State. That doesn't lessen FAU coach Lane Kiffin's opinion of the junior.
"This is obviously a tough guy to contain and a tough offense," Kiffin told the Palm Beach Post. "They obviously go extremely fast, and he's a really special player. They're really good all around."
Going into the season, this was looking like a possible match to see which of the Group of 5 teams would enhance its credentials as a potential contender for a New Year's Six Bowl spot. But FAU's big loss (63-17) in its opener at Oklahoma pretty much eliminated the Conference USA favorite from that speculation.
UCF, coming off a 13-0 season in 2017, has extended the nation's longest winning streak to 15 games.
"Height, weight, speed, the players, the size of the guys, it's like playing an SEC opponent," said Kiffin, the former offensive coordinator at Alabama.
Kiffin's Owls have recovered from the debacle against the Sooners to post wins over Air Force (33-27) and FCS foe Bethune-Cookman 49-28 at home. Running back Devin Singletary, a 1,000-yard rusher the last two seasons, is off to a slow start with 210 yards in the three games, but quarterback Chris Robison, a transfer from Oklahoma, has passed for over 266 yards a game.
"They've got guys that can make plays," Heupel said. "They've got good skill guys that have great speed and a quarterback that's played extremely well. So it's a big test for us there."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Chris Robison, a transfer from Oklahoma, has gotten off to a hot start. He has completed nearly 69 percent of his passes for 799 yards, a 266.3 average per game, with four touchdown passes. His No. 1 target, WR Jovon Durante, has 23 catches for 298 yards and two scores.
--RB Devin Singletary has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons but is going to have to pick up the pace to reach the mark for a third year. The junior has rushed for 210 yards so far this season, a 70.0 average that computes to 980 yards for a 14-game season if FAU makes the C-USA title game and a bowl.
--LB Azeez Al-Shaair earned C-USA Defensive Player of the Year honors for 2017 when he was in on a remarkable 147 tackles. That followed a sophomore year in 2016 when he had 113 stops. He is second on the team now with 17 tackles in the three games.
--LB Rashaad Smith teams with Al-Shaair to give the Owls a lethal tandem at linebacker. He leads the Owls in tackles with 28 and also has a pair of interceptions, the only picks for the Owls so far this season.
--QB McKenzie Milton will be looking to bounce back after throwing a pair of interceptions in the win over South Carolina State in his last outing. Milton has passed for 589 yards in just two games in completing 63.4 percent of his pass attempts. He also has rushed for 66 yards on 10 attempts and hasn't lost yardage on a rush yet.
--WR Gabriel Davis leads a threesome of receivers with 15 receptions for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He and WRs Dredrick Snelson and Tre Nixon have combined for 34 receptions for 440 yards and four touchdowns.
--LB Pat Jasinski led UCF in tackles with 105 stops last year and is off to a solid start again. He leads the Knights with 18 tackles and also has broken up a pass.
TEXAS AM AT ALABAMA
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
SERIES: Alabama leads 2-1. Alabama won 27-19 in 2017.
RANKINGS: Texas A&M No. 22, Alabama No. 1
KEYS TO THE GAME
No more "rat poison" this time.
After rolling to five big wins to start the season last year, Alabama nearly stumbled against Texas A&M before getting a 27-19 victory, leading Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban to blame "rat poison" -- his term for the praise that had been heaped upon his players -- for the struggle.
Saban has come up with a slightly different warning this time as the top-ranked Tide (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) prepares to take on No. 22 Texas A&M (2-1, 0-0 SEC) Saturday.
Kickoff on CBS is 3:39 p.m. ET at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
"It's like climbing a mountain," Saban said. "The higher you go, the more challenging it gets and the greater the focus needs to be and the more treacherous it can be. This is the best team we've played so far, so, hopefully, we'll be able to continue to improve and have the right focus.
"So, I guess in a different way, trying to be really diplomatic, I'm sort of saying the same thing."
Texas A&M is in its first season under coach Jimbo Fisher, brought from Florida State with the hope of bringing a national championship to the Aggies. But even considering the fight they gave to then-No. 2 Clemson in a 28-26 loss two weeks ago, the Aggies are in the infant stages of building a national contender.
"We're just trying to get better tomorrow," Fisher said. "That's what we need to focus on. We have to learn how to practice, learn how to prepare and get ready to play in the next game.
"It doesn't matter who you play, it's how you play. We've got to set our own standard and look in the mirror to the standards we want. If you do that, then you can worry about somebody else. Most of the time you quit worrying about them because you can take care of yourself."
This will be the first ranked foe for Alabama.
With lopsided wins against Northwestern State (59-7) and ULM (48-10), Texas A&M is fifth in the nation in total offense, averaging 596.3 yards per game..
"They've got really good players in a lot of positions on both sides of the ball and special teams," said Saban, who is looking to go 13-0 against his former assistants. "Obviously, that was pretty much the indication when they played Clemson. Probably had, arguably, a lot of opportunities to win the game and at the end it didn't really work out for them."
Aggies junior running back Trayveon Williams leads the SEC in rushing (133.0 per game) and sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond is averaging 274.0 yards a game passing with six touchdown passes.
"They've got great balance," Saban said.
The real match may be on the other side of the ball. The Aggies returned a lot of defensive starters but have a new defensive coordinator, Mike Elko, who was last at Notre Dame.
"They're really solid within their scheme, and they also have a lot of veteran guys, a lot of experience," Alabama junior left tackle Jonah Williams said. "I know they have a ton of returning starters on defense."
Linebackers Otaro Alaka (16 tackles) and Tyrel Dodson (15) and safety Donovan Wilson (15) lead the way.
"They have a bunch of different players who have a lot of experience across the board and being an SEC defense, they've played against plenty of good run offenses," Williams said. "So, I think they pose a good challenge for us. We like to take on challenges."
Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is second nationally in passer efficiency and hasn't even played a full game yet. Behind him junior quarterback Jalen Hurts also getting significant playing time.
Alabama's ability to sustain long drives may only be exceeded by the quick-strike ability of the receiving corps led by sophomore Jerry Jeudy, who has already scored six touchdowns, one more than first-round draft pick Calvin Ridley tallied for Alabama last year.
"They've opened it up more," Fisher said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Kellen Mond, a sophomore, has proven to be one of the best gunslingers in the SEC so far in 2018. Through three games, he has 824 yards passing on a 62.9 completion rate with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. "Every play matters," Mond said. "With their defense they try to force you to make mistakes. That's something we'll have to do -- minimize mistakes, minimize negative plays. I always feel confident in the offensive line, the running backs and receivers to make plays, so I feel like we're going to be fine going in there."
--RB Trayveon Williams, a junior, leads the SEC with 133 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 6 in the FBS. His 240 yards in Week 1 against Northwestern State were the second-most in school history. Williams is also the only active FBS player with 200-plus yard efforts in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
--TE Jace Sternberger is only fourth on the Aggies' roster in receiving yards with 146, has a team-high three touchdowns. He has had at least one 20-plus yard catch in each game so far. With Alabama's versatility in all facets on defense, Sternberger will be asked to be both a reliable pass-catcher as well as a stout run-blocker.
--DE Landis Durham leads Texas A&M with 3.5 tackles for a loss. His lone sack is also tied for a team-high. Getting negative plays against Bama will be a key for the Aggies, and Durham is arguably the most capable defender to break into the Alabama backfield to create those opportunities.
--QB Tua Tagovailoa has become a frontrunner for the Heisman following his hot start for No. 1 Alabama. He is second nationally with a passing ranking of 233.3, having completed 36-of-50 passes for 646 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He has directed 20 drives, with 14 of them ending in touchdowns and another resulting in a field goal. He is 13-of-13 for 298 yards and six touchdowns on third-down plays.
--WR Jerry Jeudy, a sophomore, leads the SEC with six receiving touchdowns. He had three catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns last week against Ole Miss.
--LB Christian Miller, a senior, was selected the SEC Defensive Player of the Week after his performance against Ole Miss, when he posted a career-high 2.5 sacks. He finished with five tackles overall. He and the Alabama defense held the Rebels -- who had been averaging 54.5 points -- to only seven points.
GEORGIA AT MISSOURI
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field, Columbia, Mo.
SERIES: Georgia leads 6-1. Georgia won 53-28 in 2017.
RANKINGS: Georgia No. 2
KEYS TO THE GAME
Georgia's defense has a clear task ahead, but it may not be an easy one.
Slowing Missouri quarterback Drew Lock could be a tall order when the No. 2 Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 SEC) go for a third consecutive win over the Tigers (3-0, 0-0 SEC).
Kickoff at Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field in Columbia is noon on ESPN.
A senior, Lock is arguably the top quarterback in the SEC. He has averaged 354 yards passing while throwing 11 touchdowns through three games, and figures to give a young Bulldogs secondary what could be its toughest test this year.
He certainly has the attention of Georgia coach Kirby Smart.
"He can make every throw. He threw the ball outside of the stadium last year on us. I think the biggest thing is his maturity level, his confidence," said Smart. "He's seen the coverages. He's seen the checks. He understands where he wants to go with the ball. He's got as fast of release as I've ever seen. He can get the ball out so quick, and he does such a good job of keying your defenders and knowing where to go with the ball.
"You can tell they really work hard on it, and I think he's just more mature."
Bulldogs senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter knows all about the challenge the Tigers present. Ledbetter has been part of Georgia's last two victories over the Tigers, including a 28-27 nail-biter during their last trip to Columbia in 2016.
"They have a great football team," Ledbetter said. "They have a great passing game and a great quarterback that is seasoned. He has been there for a while. We played him last year and the year before that.
"We've had close games with them and it is just going to come down to executing. We'll have to have a lot of communication like we did in the South Carolina game. We also have to just play smart and play in the ways that benefits the defense. We don't want anybody isolated in this game. We are going to try to play as a unit."
Missouri coach Barry Odom is impressed with what he has seen from the Bulldogs.
"You can't talk about the top teams in college football without Georgia coming up in the conversation," Odom said. "You always want to find mismatches ... there's not many out there."
Georgia's defense is "almost fun to watch when you're watching the tape," Lock said.
"I haven't found the fun part yet," he said.
Missouri's defense faces some challenges of its own.
The Bulldogs are averaging 45 points in their three wins and face a Tiger team that has allowed over 300 yards passing per game.
While Georgia will certainly look to take advantage of that aspect of Missouri's defense with quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Justin Fields, don't look for the Bulldogs to suddenly forgo their running game, which is averaging 272 yards rushing.
Junior Elijah Holyfield -- the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield -- has been responsible for much of that damage, rushing for a career-best 100 yards last week against Middle Tennessee.
"He practices tough, physical," Smart said. "Every day for him is physical. There is not a day he goes out there and says, 'I'm taking this day off' or 'I'm not going full speed today.' He's not a guy you have to motivate.
"He loves the game. He practices hard. I think he really likes competition because when he gets thudded by a guy, he always likes to come back and get that guy back.
"You kind of see that out there in his play. He likes contact, and he's a bowling ball. He's hard to bring down. He's really tough."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Jake Fromm continued his solid play, completing 10-of-12 passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns, one each to Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley and Jeremiah Holloman in last week's win over Middle Tennessee State. For the season, he is 37-of-46 (80.4 percent) for 479 yards with six touchdowns against one interception.
--RB Elijah Holyfield enjoyed the best statistical day of his career, rushing eight times for 100 yards for Georgia, which is averaging almost 260 yards on the ground through three games. His 200 yards (9.1 per-carry average) are tops among Georgia rushers.
--WR Mecole Hardman had another big day for the Bulldogs in the 49-7 win over the Blue Raiders. He scored a pair of touchdowns, one on a 5-yard reception and another on a 70-yard punt return. With 12 receptions overall, Hardman now has four touchdowns, tops on the team.
--CB Deandre Baker intercepted his second pass in as many weeks. It was one of just three passes Middle Tennessee's Brent Stockstill decided to throw against the senior, who continues to show why he is one of the best defensive backs in the SEC. It will be interesting to see how he fares against Missouri QB Drew Lock and his top receiver, Emanuel Hall (18 catches, 430 yards).
--QB Drew Lock needs only 243 passing yards to eclipse the 10,000-yard mark for his career, something only one other quarterback in school history -- all-time leader Chase Daniel -- has accomplished. He has completed 79 percent of his passes for 354 yards a game with 11 touchdowns. He has been intercepted once in 113 attempts.--WR Jalen Knox caught five passes for 59 yards in his first two games for the Tigers, but had a breakout performance against Purdue, catching five passes for a team-high 110 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown to give Missouri a 20-10 lead early in the second quarter.
--LB Terez Hall has been a consistent presence in the Tigers' linebacking corps. He has 14 tackles that include a sack and has forced a fumble through three games. He could be a key figure in getting pressure on Georgia QB Jake Fromm.
CLEMSON AT GEORGIA TECH
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.
SERIES: Georgia Tech leads 50-30-2. Clemson won the last meeting 24-10 in 2017.
RANKINGS: Clemson No. 3
KEYS TO THE GAME
Georgia Tech may be hoping for a little inspiration when it pays homage to the 1990 Yellow Jackets who earned a share of the 1990 college football title when No. 3 Clemson visits Saturday.
Kickoffon AB C is at 3:30 p.m. ET at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
The unranked Yellow Jackets (1-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) may need all the help they can get against the third-ranked Tigers (3-0, 0-0 ACC).
"They're a talented team," Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "They might be the most talented team we've played since I've been here."
That is saying something. Two years ago the Yellow Jackets played 2016 national champion Clemson and last year faced 2017 runner-up Georgia. Not surprisingly, the Tigers have been installed as 16.5-point favorites, making this Tech team the biggest underdog since Johnson arrived at the school 11 seasons ago.
Clemson has dominated the series in recent years, winning the last three meetings and five of the last six. But the schools apparently can't agree on the series record. Tech claims only a 50-30-2 lead. Clemson give Tech a 51-30-2 advantage.
What's for sure is that Tech's last win came in 2014 when Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson blew out his knee in the first half.
Clemson won 26-7 last season on a rainy day in Death Valley. The Yellow Jackets fumbled on their first series to set up a Tigers touchdown. After the Jackets got a field goal late in the first quarter, the Tigers scored 17 straight points and put the game away.
Clemson has had less trouble than most opponents when it comes to defending Georgia Tech's triple-option attack. Last year Georgia Tech rushed for only 198 yards against the Tigers, their second-lowest total of the year (they had 188 against Georgia).
And Tech will be without its most successful runner from last year, with B-back KirVonte Benson, out with a knee injury. He has 16 carries for 129 yards this season.
"We've played Clemson for a long time now," Johnson said. "They've got a pretty good idea of what we're going to do. They're a talented team."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he knew little about defending a triple-option team when he landed the job with the Tigers in the middle of the 2008 season.
"I'd never been around the triple option not a day in my life," Swinney said. "I grew up in the I Formation. I get the Clemson job on a Monday and ... oh, by the way, we're playing a triple-option team on Saturday. It's Paul Johnson's first year. Nobody knows anything about it."
Georgia Tech ran for 207 yards that day and beat Clemson 21-17. Swinney has been prepared for the triple option ever since.
"I learned real quick that if we're going to have a chance, we're going to have to make this a part of what we do," Swinney said. "If you don't, you're going to be behind the eight ball."
Clemson began to devote time to defending the triple option during the spring and fall. The Tigers set aside time to work against the offense in practice, even on weeks when they weren't playing Tech, taking the same approach by Georgia and Pittsburgh, which beat the Yellow Jackets last week in the ACC opener.
"Those little 5-, 10-minute periods going a long way in the grand scheme of things," defensive end Austin Bryant said. "So I'd definitely say that helped a lot."
It also helps that Clemson has some talented defensive players. Bryant, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell were all named preseason All-ACC.
"They've got three or four guys who could first-round draft picks," Johnson said.
Last week Clemson beat another triple option team, Georgia Southern 38-7, and allowed the Eagles to gain only 140 yards, 80 of that on the ground.
"At one time Georgia Southern had run 30 plays and had 39 yards," Johnson said. "They had one first down in the first half."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Trevor Lawrence is a Georgia native who starred at Cartersville High School about 45 minutes from Atlanta and will have plenty of friends and family on hand for his return to his home state. "It definitely adds some excitement," Lawrence said. "And I'm feeling more comfortable. They've done a good job of playing me in important situations, so I feel like I'm prepared."
--RB Travis Etienne finally received the lion's share of carries last week and responded with a career-high 162 yards and two touchdowns. He is averaging 7.7 yards per carry this season and will be looking to build on that early success against a Georgia Tech defense that has proven rather porous in losses to South Florida and Pittsburgh. "He just sneaks up on you," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Etienne. "He's a special talent. If he touches it enough, something good is going to happen."
--WR Justyn Ross may be a freshman, but he's playing like an elder statesman. Ross, who at 6-foot-4 provides a big target, scored his second touchdown of the season last week on a 57-yard catch-and-run and wound up with 103 receiving yards on only three receptions. The top receiver in Alabama as a high school senior, Ross already is flashing his big-play potential and reminds coaches of former star Mike Williams.
--LB Isaiah Simmons has moved into a starting role at the nickel position following the graduation of Dorian O'Daniel, who always had his best games against Georgia Tech. Simmons, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore, is equipped to pick up where O'Daniel left off. "He brings a lot of the same attributes as Dorian," Swinney said. "He's just longer, bigger and probably a better cover guy when it's all said and done. He's a very dynamic guy, he's physical. He can do whatever we need him to do."
--QB TaQuon Marshall continues to baffle with his inconsistencies. He dialed up a big second half against Pitt (75 of his 103 yards rushing came in the second half) but he continues to struggle to make the right decision to pitch or keep and his passing remains questionable. He is No. 4 in rushing in the ACC with 293 yards on 50 carries.
--FB Jordan Mason, now the full-time starter due to KirVonte Benson's season-ending injury, rushed for 94 yards on 10 carries. The redshirt sophomore has 34 attempts for 270 yards and one touchdown. Mason has shown the ability to hammer through the line, but doesn't have the speed to finish the long drive with the same skill as Benson.
--CB Tariq Carpenter bounced back from an early ejection against South Florida to share the team lead with five tackles against Pitt. Carpenter also had a tackle for loss. The redshirt sophomore has adjusted well to the team's new 3-4 defense. He is filling in well at the spot left vacated by the graduation of senior Corey Griffin.
TULANE AT OHIO STATE
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV: Big Ten Network
SERIES: First meeting
RANKINGS: Ohio State No. 4
KEYS TO THE GAME
Urban Meyer is back, but everything else will pretty much stay the same this week for Ohio State.
Meyer's banishment from the sideline on Saturdays ends when fourth-ranked Ohio State (3-0) plays host to Tulane (1-2) at Ohio Stadium (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN) in its final nonconference tune-up before heading to Penn State next week for a major showdown.
During the Big Ten teleconference on Tuesday, Meyer said Ryan Day, the co-offensive coordinator who took over as acting head coach during Meyer's suspension, will stay on the sideline this week to call plays.
Meyer plans to be more of a "game manager" as he transitions to being back on the field while letting Day and co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson run the offense.
"I help where I need to help," Meyer said.
The Buckeyes remained unbeaten last week with a 40-28 victory over then-No. 15 TCU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Getting past the Horned Frogs proved to be a bit of a challenge, but a 20-point scoring burst in the third quarter helped to seal the outcome.
The one noticeable difference in the Buckeyes this week will be the absence of All-American defensive end Nick Bosa. The extraordinary junior pass rusher left the game against TCU in the third quarter with a lower abdominal/groin injury.
Meyer said Bosa, who is "one of the best players" he has coached, will sit out against Tulane and that the medical staff will know more later in the week how long he might be sidelined.
Defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones helped offset Bosa's absence with a monster game against TCU that included an interception return for a touchdown, a sack, two tackles for loss and numerous quarterback pressures.
"(Heck) of a day," Meyer said.
If there's one position grouping where Ohio State could afford to lose a high-caliber player, it's the defensive line. In addition to Jones, defensive ends Chase Young and Jonathan Cooper, defensive tackle Robert Landers and nose tackle Davon Hamilton are formidable.
Meyer said that Landers has an undisclosed injury and is probable for Saturday. He also said backup running back Brian Snead will return after missing last week's game for disciplinary reasons.
At a 55-minute news conference on Monday, Meyer spent almost the entire time discussing the fallout from his handling of the ugly domestic situation involving former assistant Zach Smith and his ex-wife, Courtney. He did not address this week's game other than his reference to the Bosa injury.
Tulane, whose only win has come against FCS school Nicholls State, undoubtedly will be challenged to stop Ohio State's lethal offense led by rifle-armed sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins, a two-headed monster at running back with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, and an overflowing stable of wide receivers.
With the pass-first Haskins behind center, quarterback runs haven't been part of the plan, as usually is the case with Meyer offenses, particularly most of the previous four years with J.T. Barrett as the quarterback.
"It's a little different style of offense," Meyer said. "A lot of the same concepts."
But so far it's working. Ohio State ranks second nationally in scoring offense (56.3 points per game), third in total offense (608.7 yards per game) and ninth in passing (348.0 yards per game).
Tulane's visit comes on the heels of a 31-24 loss last week at UAB. Three turnovers and six sacks in that game and a penalty that nullified a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter doomed the Green Wave.
"We just have to get over it," Tulane wide receiver Darnell Mooney said. "We have a big game next week. We can change things next week."
As much as that loss stung, Tulane's players recognize that they must quickly move on to prepare for a juggernaut this week.
The Green Wave have not beaten a ranked opponent since 1984 when they knocked off Vanderbilt.
"We have to take this game and learn from it," cornerback Donnie Lewis said of the loss to UAB. "We'll watch film, flush it and move on to the next opponent. We're going to stick to the script."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--WR Darnell Mooney, a junior, is Tulane's leader in receptions (18), receiving yards (308) and receiving touchdowns (three). He will be looking for his third consecutive 100-yard receiving game when he goes against the talented Ohio State defense.
CB Donnie Lewis Jr. has a team-best two interceptions this season, which means he has gotten to wear Tulane's new Takeaway Beads, which is a New Orleans variation on Miami's Turnover Chain. Lewis, a senior, has seven career interceptions.
--RB Corey Dauphine leads the team in rushing with 19 carries for 240 yards. Much of that is powered by his big game against Nicholls State, as he gained 152 yards on only six carries. He scored on runs of 38, 69 and 35 yards.
--QB Dwayne Haskins faced his first big challenge as a starting quarterback against TCU and handled it without any problems. The sophomore completed 24 of 38 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also scored on a 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to give Ohio State some breathing room. Haskins leads the Big Ten in passing yards, passing TDs and completion percentage after three games.
--WR K.J. Hill was one of five Ohio State wide receivers who caught two or more passes against TCU. Hill led the Buckeyes with six receptions for 95 yards. One of those catches was a 24-yard touchdown with 2:57 left in the third quarter that extended the Buckeyes' lead to 12 points. Hill leads the team after three games in catches with 17 for 202 yards. "Reliability," acting head coach Ryan Day said when asked to describe Hill's contribution. "A guy who is going to be where you expect him to be. He catches the ball. Runs really good routes. You know, he's a clutch player, too. When you need him, he's there. Hard worker and very talented."
ARMY AT OKLAHOMA
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Gaylord Family -- Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.
TV: FOX PPV
RANKINGS: Oklahoma No. 5
KEYS TO THE GAME
Way back in the spring, Oklahoma started preparing, a little at a time, for Army's triple-option offensive attack.
They did the same thing during preseason camp, before they started opponent-specific work for any other team they'll face this season.
The No. 5 Sooners (3-0) will put that preparation to the test Saturday against the Black Knights (2-1) when the teams meet in Norman, Okla.
"It's a challenge," OU coach Lincoln Riley said.
"It's one of those as a coach, you sit there and (think), all right, if we spend all this time preparing for them, then we're not preparing for the other however many games we play. And if we don't spend enough time, then they'll come in and beat you, and that's the reality of it.
"They're good enough to do it."
Army's triple-option attack is one that few college teams run, and one the Sooners haven't faced since 2010 when they played Air Force -- though Tulane used some option principles a year ago.
"Defending the triple-option is strictly assignment football," Oklahoma middle linebacker Kenneth Murray said. "If you don't do your assignment they can bust one for a touchdown. Everybody has to be honed in on their keys."
Murray's reads on the option -- especially against Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. and fullback Darnell Woolfolk -- will be important. The sophomore middle linebacker has 19 tackles over the last two games and has shown improvement from a year ago when he struggled at times, especially defending the run.
The Black Knights average just 140 yards per game through the air, among the lowest in FBS. Army has attempted an average of just 13 passes per game, but it is sixth nationally in rushing at 306.7 yards per game.
Hopkins, a 5-foot-10 junior, is in his first season as the starter, replacing standout Ahmad Bradshaw. Hopkins has a team-high 206 rushing yards and has completed 18 of 38 passes for 420 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
"He's gotten better every week he's played," said Army coach Jeff Monken, whose team beat Liberty and Hawaii after dropping its opener at Duke.
"That's encouraging. It's been fun to watch -- to see him lead and grow in his confidence. I think he is a confident young man, but to see his confidence in running this offense and being a leader of this team has been a lot of fun this week. And I hope he can continue to get better."
Oklahoma's new starting quarterback, Kyler Murray, has quickly established himself as a Heisman favorite as he steps into the shoes of 2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield.
Murray is a flurry of activity at 5-foot-10, last week passing for a career-high 348 yards and three touchdowns, also rushing for 77 yards in a 37-27 win at Iowa State.
He ranks fifth nationally in yards per pass attempt (11.8), sixth in yards per completion (17.6), sixth in passing efficiency (199.8) and 11th in total offense (344.0 yards per game). Wide receiver Marquise Brown, whose big plays this season include touchdown catches of 75, 65 and 58 yards, has the kind of speed that Army rarely sees.
"Oklahoma is an unbelievable football team," Monken said.
"They are talented, well coached and very difficult to beat. They're really good. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us. ... They've got several Parade All-Americans, and as (former Navy and current Georgia Tech coach) Paul Johnson used to say, we have several guys who have marched in a parade."
Oklahoma did lose running back Rodney Anderson to a season-ending knee injury, with sophomore Trey Sermon now the clear No. 1. Sermon rushed 13 times for 74 yards and a touchdown against Iowa State.
"I think a little bit is just seeing how he handles the whole deal, which he did a great job of in the first game against Iowa State," Riley said. "He's really close to breaking loose and making even a few more explosive plays as well. He's definitely one right now, but we're going to need more."
These teams haven't met since 1961, with Oklahoma holding a 2-1 edge in the series. Saturday's game marks the beginning of a home-and-home series, with the Sooners set to travel to West Point, N.Y., on Sept. 26, 2020.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr., in his first season as the starter, possesses more threat in the passing game than did his predecessor Ahmad Bradshaw. He connected on a pretty pass to Calen Holt down the left sideline last week for a 63-yard reception against Hawaii. Hopkins has made improvement through three games, including 110 yards rushing on 20 carries last week.
--FB Darnell Woolfolk earned his 70 yards on 19 carries against Hawaii, which plugged the middle to take away that fullback dive. But his hard-won yards helped the rest of the offense be effective, and Army won't back away from that. Woolfolk is second on the team with 188 yards and three touchdowns; he ran for 14 scores last season.
--LB Kenneth Brinson, a senior, has started a team-high 32 career games, including 29 in a row. He is a candidate for the Campbell Trophy, which is given by the National Football Foundation to recognize an individual that portrays the best football scholar-athlete in the nation. Brinson has 11 tackles and two sacks this season ... as well as a 3.9 grade point average as a chemical engineering major.
--WR Marquise Brown leads the nation with 10 receptions of at least 50 yards since the start of last season, and with seven touchdown catches of 50 or more yards. This season, Brown has four catches of 40 or more yards, including touchdown catches of 75, 65 and 58 yards. Brown's 1,507 yards are the most for an OU receiver through his first 16 games of his career. The second-place receiver on that list had 1,107 through 16 games.
--LB/DE Mark Jackson Jr. has come on strong recently after a slow start to the season. He's currently third on the team with 18 tackles. "That position has been a strength of our defense for a long time now. Mark's done a really nice job," Lincoln Riley said. "We've been pleased with the way he's played up to this point. He's been physical. He's held up in the run game. ... The fun thing is he can play a lot better."
LOUISIANA TECH AT LSU
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
SERIES: LSU leads 18-1. LSU won the last meeting 24-16 in 2009.
RANKINGS: LSU No. 6
KEYS TO THE GAME
Taking care of the football has been a priority for LSU this season.
The sixth-ranked Tigers (3-0) are the only FBS team without a turnover this season as they go into Saturday's non-conference matchup with Louisiana Tech, which has five takeaways in two outings.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge with ESPNU airing the action.
The Tigers are plus-7 in turnover margin after recording wins over then-No. 8 Miami in the season opener (33-17), Southeastern Louisiana (31-0) and then-No. 7 Auburn (22-21) last Saturday.
"It's something that we work on very hard," Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said. "It's all about the ball."
Said Tech coach Skip Holtz: "I think they have got a really solid offensive football team, and they don't beat themselves."
Defense and special teams have been pretty good as well. All three phases were in tune in last week's win over Auburn.
LSU's defense made two interceptions, one of which led to a touchdown, and held Auburn scoreless in the fourth quarter.
The offense took advantage of the opportunity presented by the defense as quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Derrick Dillon teamed on a game-changing, 71-yard touchdown pass to get the Tigers within two points midway through the fourth quarter. The Burrow drove the Tigers again during the final moments and kicker Cole Tracy came on to kick a 42-yard field goal as time expired for the win.
"They have got some guys stepping up and I think right now they are really playing well together as a team," Holtz said. "Their quarterback, who is a new addition, is taking care of the ball really well. They don't beat themselves."
That approach has vaulted the Tigers into an unexpected spot in the Top 10 of the latest rankings. They opened the season at No. 25.
"Going into Miami week, a lot of people were like, 'Uh, we're going to choose Miami,' " LSU linebacker Michael Divinity said. "And we just came out there with a chip on our shoulder. And we just showed everyone that this is LSU football, and we're going to fight."
Against Auburn, he said, "We actually showed what LSU can do through adversity. And at the end, can we fight all four quarters? And that's what we did."
Louisiana Tech comes in off an open date after recording wins over South Alabama and Southern, averaging 42 points and 500 yards per game.
But Holtz is not exactly appreciative of the early weekend off.
"I have never had an open date this early in the season," he said. "Typically an open date is a point of the season where you have an opportunity to evaluate where you are and what you need to do moving forward for the second half of the season.
"What has been unfortunate about this break happening so early is that you really don't have enough body of work to break down what you need to improve on. We still have so much of the season left -- 90 percent of the season is in front of us."
"That has just made it really hard."
But despite the layoff and the challenge of facing the nation's sixth-ranked team and an SEC contender, Holtz welcomes the opportunity.
"This weekend at LSU is a great opportunity for us as a program," he said. "In the past 120 years, we have played this game 19 times, and only three times since 1941. Now, with our record at 1-18 against LSU, we understand the uphill challenge that faces us.
"We really feel honored to have an opportunity to play in this game. With LSU being the Power 5 school and the flagship of Louisiana, it is a great opportunity for us to have a chance to play in this game. I know the team is really excited about it. We are really excited about it as coaches."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB J'Mar Smith is a returning starter from last year and could challenge the LSU defense with his accuracy. He has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for early 295 yards a game with four touchdowns. But he has been picked off three times.
--RB Jaqwis Dancy continues his comeback from four months of chemotherapy to treat stage 3 Hodgkin's lymphoma. Dancy played in eight games in 2017, his first year back after the treatments, and has assumed a bigger role this season. He leads the team in rushing with 211 yards on just 20 carries, a 10.6 average, with four rushing touchdowns.
--DE Jaylon Ferguson has started since his freshman year when he shared the team lead for sacks with six. The senior fought off nagging injuries to record a team-high seven sacks last season and has one among his nine tackles in 2018.
--DT Jordan Bradford is well on his way to topping his junior year production when he had 38 tackles (2 sacks) last season. He has been credited with a team-high 16 tackles and a sack in the two games.
--WR Justin Jefferson is quickly emerging as the Tigers' most productive receiver. LSU entered the season with a handful of receivers bunched together on the depth chart, but Jefferson has 11 catches for 183 yards, giving him more than double the number of catches of the No. 2 receiver (Dee Anderson, 5).
--WR Dee Anderson had what Orgeron called his best game against Auburn. He made a critical 8-yard catch that turned a 3rd-and-7 into a first down during the drive to the game-winning field goal. He finished with three catches for 41 yards.
--LB Andre Anthony has assumed a bigger role than anticipated because of injuries and he has handled the challenge very well. He stepped into the void created by K'Lavon Chaisson's season-ending knee injury in the opener and recovered a fumble a week later in a win against Southeastern Louisiana. He filled in for Ray Thornton after Thornton was injured on the opening kickoff against Auburn and made four tackles.
STANFORD AT OREGON
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
SITE: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
SERIES: Stanford leads 48-32-1. Last year's 49-7 loss was Oregon's worst defeat in the series.
RANKINGS: Stanford No. 7; Oregon No. 20
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Oregon Ducks are a team searching for an identity entering the fourth week of the college football season.
The Ducks are 3-0, ranked No. 20 in the nation, boast one of the country's best run defenses and have a sure-fire first-round draft pick at the quarterback position. But, a lot of those accolades come on the strength of Oregon's non-conference schedule, which is considered one of the weakest in college football.
Nobody knows how Oregon will react when faced with adversity. How will the Ducks react when they're punched first, or have to drive for a game-changing score late in the fourth quarter?
Come Saturday night, the Ducks may find out.
No. 7 Stanford (3-0) is one of the best teams in the nation and has been a thorn in the Ducks' side since its meteoric rise to stardom over the past decade. Not only will Oregon discover a lot about itself, the rest of the nation will as well since kickoff is at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
"I think you acknowledge it as one of the reasons you come to Oregon," Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. "To be on the biggest stage, on the national spotlight. Recognize the ultimate honor, but at the same it is still about playing the game. All the outside elements don't have anything to do with the result of the game or the results of our process."
There will be potential NFL talent aplenty on the field Saturday night, from Oregon's Justin Herbert and Jalen Jelks to Stanford's Bryce Love and Alijah Holder. Altogether, as many as eight of the top-100 prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft will be on the field this weekend.
"To me he's been the best corner in the Pac-12 for a long time and I hope people are starting to see that," Stanford senior cornerback Alameen Murphy said of Holder.
Love is Stanford's star, the runner-up to the Heisman Trophy last year. After sitting out last week's game against UC Davis with an undisclosed injury, Love is more than ready to take on a Ducks' defense among the best in the nation at stopping the run.
Oregon is ranked in the top-10 in rushing defense (ninth), rushing touchdowns (eighth) and yards per rush (fifth). Jelks and outside linebacker Justin Hollins might be the most dangerous outside duo in the Pac-12 while nose tackle Jordon Scott doesn't get enough credit for the job he does in the trenches.
Finally, NFL scouts will get to see if Herbert is worthy of all the hype he's been receiving. He possesses all of the physical traits he needs to be successful in the NFL but he's yet to get a signature win. He can kill two birds with one stone by beating Stanford, a top-10 team and one with multiple NFL prospects on the defensive side of the ball.
"It starts with their defensive front," Cristobal said. "They play what they play, and their scheme (is) sound, but they're also very disruptive. I think when they bring in their two outside linebackers and use them as edge rushers, they create a lot of problems."
Stanford isn't perfect, despite what its record says.
The Cardinal's 17-3 victory over USC two weeks ago appeared to be a marquee one but then the Trojans got dismantled by Texas. Most recently, the Cardinal beat FCS-team UC Davis 30-10, a closer score than expected.
"It wasn't perfect, but we played well. I told the team we're not going to act like we lost because we didn't win by as much as we wanted to," Stanford head coach David Shaw said after the UC Davis win. "We are still growing -- we have flashes of being really good and some flashes of not being really good."
This game has so many future implications in it despite being so early in the season. The winner will be the front-runner for the Pac-12 championship and announce its presence as a college football playoff contender. It's the national stage and regardless of what happens, clarity will be had once the clock strikes zero.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--RB Bryce Love hasn't delivered a statistical surge to begin the season like many thought he might. Love was bottled up against San Diego State, which put an absurd amount of players in the box, and had a triple-digit game against USC before missing UC Davis with an injury. Love is yet to surpass 200 rushing yards in 2018 but is still in the mix to become Stanford's all-time leading rusher (Love has 3,288 career yards and 25 touchdowns).
--CB Alameen Murphy nabbed an interception against UC Davis and returned it 32 yards. If Murphy can become a consistent complement to Alijah Holder and the rest of the Cardinal secondary (even as a reserve), that would be huge. Safety Malik Antoine had two interceptions against USC the week before.
--WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside continues to be a go-to target when the Cardinal needs a big play. While TE Kaden Smith had a team-high six catches for 68 yards, Arcega-Whiteside had both receiving touchdowns. Arcega-Whiteside has 13 catches for 324 yards and five touchdowns in his senior campaign.
--QB Justin Herbert has yet to win a signature game in his 20 chances as a starting quarterback. He'll have that opportunity on Saturday night when he faces a Stanford defense that has been one of the best in the country. To win, Herbert must continue spreading the ball around to all of his receivers and limit the turnovers.
--RB Tony Brooks-James must show up and keep Oregon's running game a threat. A lot of the offensive success will come on the arm of Justin Herbert, but it's Brooks-James who must keep Stanford from dropping seven into coverage every time. He does so by staying patient and picking up 4 to 5 yards per carry, continuously pressuring the Cardinal until they break.
NOTRE DAME AT WAKE FOREST
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C.
SERIES: Notre Dame leads 4-0 and won 48-37 in 2017.
RANKINGS: Notre Dame No. 8
KEYS TO THE GAME
After three solid wins at home, No. 8 Notre Dame take to the road for the first time Saturday at Wake Forest in the first of five matchups with ACC teams this season.
Kickoff at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, N.C., is noon ET. ABC has the telecast.
"We have a challenge on the road," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "We know we have to play at a high level to win on Saturday."
It's important, Kelly said, for his players to understand that momentum likely will be working against them. But, he said, "Those things don't generally decide the game. It's still about your execution and your preparation."
Kelly's Fighting Irish (3-0) have won their first three games in a season for the fourth time in seven years and are one of nine teams nationally with unbeaten records with a schedule exclusively against Football Bowl Subdivision competition.
This could be a chance for the Irish to get their offense cranked up given Wake Forest's mishaps in pass coverages. The Demon Deacons (2-1) gave up five passing touchdowns in a loss to Boston College last week.
"Defensively, right now, we're not playing well in the secondary," Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. "It's just all explosives."
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush blistered Wake Forest with 280 passing yards and 110 rushing yards in last year's 48-37 win in South Bend, Ind. Yet Wimbush has been mistake-prone at times this season, with four interceptions compared to one touchdown toss in three games.
Part of Wimbush's issues might come from a youthful receiving corps.
"Growing pains. We're still growing," Kelly said. "We're all trying to look for that consistency in performance."
Wake Forest linebacker Justin Strnad said the defense has been hindered by biting on play-action fakes, leaving the secondary vulnerable.
On top of Wake Forest's woes in giving up big plays, Notre Dame has scored in the first four minutes of games in eight different games covering a two-season span. Last Saturday's game against Vanderbilt was the fifth straight victory for Notre Dame in which it held the opposing team to fewer than 20 points.
The biggest clash could come when Wake Forest's rushing attack meets Notre Dame's defensive front. Wake Forest has gained 264 yards per game on the ground, while Notre Dame has allowed 107 rushing yards per outing.
The Irish defense that hasn't given up a rushing play of 20 or more yards this season but could be tested by Wake Forest. Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Harman has passed for an average of 278 yards a game.
"A prolific offense," Kelly said. "They're starting a true freshman quarterback in Hartman, but he's really comfortable in the offense. He's supported with a really good offensive line."
Wake Forest running back Cade Carney has reached the 100-yard mark the past two games, but Matt Colburn was the team's leading rusher in the Boston College loss with 117 yards (compared to Carney's 116).
Notre Dame didn't have to deal with dynamic receiver/punt returner Greg Dortch last year because the Wake Forest standout was injured. he has 170 yards on 10 returns this season.
"He can take over a football game, an electric player," Kelly said. "He's someone we have to keep an eye on as it relates to special teams."
Wake Forest's offense had done plenty to get Kelly's attention. For the first time in school history, the Demon Deacons have racked up 500 or more yards of total offense in four consecutive games.
Yet the Demon Deacons often slumped in the red zone with only 10 touchdowns on 20 trips inside their opponent's 20-yard line.
"We continue to have red-zone struggles," Clawson said. "We end up kicking field goals. Anytime you don't score a touchdown down there, they're just points you're leaving off the board."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--RB Tony Jones Jr. enters the week with momentum after rushing for 118 yards on 17 carries in his first start of the season last Saturday against Vanderbilt. Jones has 224 rushing yards this season, which leads the team.
--CB Julian Love has 31 pass breakups in two-plus seasons and could set the program record against Wake Forest. He needs only two more pass breakups to pass all-time record holder Clarence Ellis, who went on to become a first-round NFL draft pick in 1972.
--LB Drue Tranquill has been a tackling machine in the first three games, and he will look to maintain his frenetic pace against the Demon Deacons. Tranquill is averaging seven tackles per game, which is fourth in the nation.
--P Tyler Newsome is coming off a record-setting performance in which he averaged 59.6 yards per punt in a 22-17 win over Vanderbilt. That is the second-highest average by a punter with at least five punts in a game since 1996.
--QB Sam Hartman didn't look poised at times against Boston College in the ACC opener, and the stakes will be big again with No. 8 Notre Dame arriving. Plus, veteran QB Kendall Hinton is eligible after a three-game suspension, so the Demon Deacons have other options.
--RB Cade Carney eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in the past two games, but the rushing lanes could be congested against Notre Dame's defense. The junior has four career games with 100 or more yards rushing, but none came in 2017.
--WR Greg Dortch was rather quiet for segments of the Boston College game after coming off a three-touchdown game when he scored twice on punt returns and another time on a reception against Towson. Still, he managed 93 receiving yards on nine catches. The Demon Deacons will look for him to help spread out the Notre Dame defense.
ARKANSAS AT AUBURN
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
TV: SEC Network
SERIES: Auburn leads 15-11-1. Auburn won the last meeting 52-20 in 2017.
RANKINGS: Auburn No. 9
KEYS TO THE GAME
Auburn may be looking to rebound from the gut-punch that LSU delivered last week with a field goal as time ran out for a 22-21 victory, but Arkansas has many more issues to get over when the two clash Saturday.
The No. 9 Tigers (2-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) and struggling Razorbacks (1-2, 0-0 SEC) will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET in Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium. The SEC Network has the telecast.
The Hogs obviously have plenty of room for improvement across the lineup after losses at Colorado State 34-27 and at home to North Texas 44-17, but right at the forefront is the quarterback situation.
Three Arkansas quarterbacks threw a combined six interceptions in last week's debacle against North Texas -- four by sophomore starter Cole Kelley and one each by true freshman Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones.
Junior Ty Storey didn't take a snap against the Mean Green, but first-year Arkansas coach Chad Morris said Storey will start at Auburn.
"Ty Storey will start for us as we take this thing forward," Morris said.
Morris said Storey was healthy and available for the North Texas game, but Morris felt it would be unfair to put him on the field in what had turned into a rout. The Mean Green led 34-10 at halftime.
"We came into the game last week with the intent to settle with Cole being there, and that's why we went with him in the second half. I wanted to see if we could work through some things," Morris said.
"We got to a point in the second half, especially after the last interception, and they go down and kick a field goal that put them up 37-10. I just felt like Ty in that situation there would have been -- I've been saying all along, I wanted to get the freshmen some reps, and that was an opportunity for us to do that. I just thought that it's time to go with Ty and give him an even slate as he starts the game.
"Regardless of the practice, regardless of the way things go, I wanted him to know straight up from yesterday that, 'Look, we're going to go with you, and let's respond. Now instead of putting you in to where you're in a tough situation with the momentum not in our favor, how would you respond?' "
Storey had a strong performance in a season-opening victory over Eastern Illinois, coming off the bench to complete 12 of 17 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. But he struggled as Arkansas' starter the following week, completing 5 of 13 passes for 36 yards with two interceptions in a loss to Colorado State.
Auburn is very settled at quarterback with Jarrett Stidham, who has completed 64 percent of his passes, but coach Gus Malzahn is still working on getting the more out of his running game. The Tigers rushed for only 130 yards in the loss to LSU.
Junior Kam Martin has started at running back, but has produced only 124 yards in three games and is getting a heavy push from freshman Ja'Tarvious "Boobee" Whitlow, Shaun Shivers, and Asa Martin.
"Those freshman running backs, every snap they are getting better," Malzahn said. "They are understanding the blocking scheme, whether it's a gap or zone scheme. You even started to see Boobee start to slow down a little bit. We've been trying to get him to slow down some and read it.
"We are still in the early stages of our run game, and it's kind of what I said with our offensive line. With the running backs, I'm confident we are going to get better just with the more experience that group has."
Malzahn expects to get a better game out of Arkansas than what the Hogs have delivered so far.
"We expect them to improve," he said. "I think back in 2013 when I first took over here. It took three or four games to kind of really get in a rhythm, so we expect to get their best."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--RB Devwah Whaley has been inconsistent in Arkansas' first three games. He bounced back from a 28-yard performance in the season opener to post a career-high 165 yards on 26 carries the next week, but had just 12 yards on nine carries against North Texas.
--WR Mike Woods, a freshman, was Arkansas' leading receiver in the loss to North Texas. Woods had four receptions for 61 yards. He was suspended from the season opener after an offseason arrest and did not catch a pass the following week.
--DT Armon Watts has been a consistent performer with sacks in each of Arkansas' first three games. He also has forced two fumbles that led to Arkansas touchdowns.
--QB Jarrett Stidham was up and down in the loss to LSU, throwing an interception on his first pass attempt that led to an early LSU touchdown, passing for a touchdown and 21-10 lead in the third quarter, and following that with a second interception. It was only the third time in his collegiate career he has thrown more than one pick in a game. He should have a chance to work out some kinks against an Arkansas pass defense that ranks 12th out of 14 SEC teams.
--RB Ja'Tarvious Whitlow has taken over the team rushing lead after gaining 104 yards in the loss to LSU. The redshirt freshman is averaging 5.8 yards per carry for 254 yards in the three games. Arkansas has held opponents to just 87 yards a game, so this could be a pretty good test.
ARIZONA STATE AT WASHINGTON
KICKOFF: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Husky Stadium, Seattle
SERIES: Arizona State leads 20-15
RANKINGS: Washington No. 10
KEYS TO THE GAME
Arizona State knocked Washington out of contention for the College Football Playoff last season, winning 13-7 in mid-October.
The teams meet again Saturday, this time in Seattle rather than Tempe, Ariz., with the Huskies having no margin of error in the national race.
No. 10 Washington (2-1, 1-0 Pac-12) lost its opener in Atlanta against Auburn but bounced back to rout North Dakota and post a stifling defensive effort in a 21-7 victory at Utah last week.
Arizona State (2-1) followed up a rousing home win over No. 23 Michigan State with a 28-21 loss at San Diego State, allowing 311 rushing yards last Saturday night.
"You've got to stop the run," Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said.
"It's a hard pill to swallow when people are running the ball on you because there's hardly anything you can do. Unless you can cause a fumble, it becomes a short game and a long afternoon for you defensively while your offense sits over there and watches the clock being bled down."
Arizona State, thanks to its work against UTSA and Michigan State, had led the nation in rushing defense through two games.
Washington coach Chris Petersen had a potentially potent ground attack, led by senior running back Myles Gaskin and sophomore Salvon Ahmed, an explosive change-of-pace runner sidelined for much of last week's game. Petersen said Monday there are "no concerns" about his health this week.
Gaskin delivered his first breakout performance of the season at Utah, gaining 143 yards on 30 carries and scoring on a 38-yard rush.
"If we're going to give him the ball enough and our offensive line keeps guys relatively covered, he's going to make his plays," Petersen said.
"He's slippery, he's strong, he's fast; he's all those things. We've just got to give him a chance to get things started and he's going to find creases."
Washington senior quarterback Jake Browning threw an interception for a third consecutive game at Utah, and his up-and-down play in 2018 has contributed to Washington's low red-zone conversion rate (73.3 percent, No. 111 in the nation).
The aim for Washington's offense against Arizona State coordinator Danny Gonzales' 3-3-5 odd-stack defense is to build on the positives from the Utah win. The Huskies managed 5.0 yards per play and rushed for 172 yards against a stout Utes' defense.
Arizona State, meanwhile, will be looking for its running game. The Sun Devils, after rolling off 266 yards rushing in the season opener, totaled 44 and 36 yards on the ground in the following two games.
The ineffective run game has made the Sun Devils somewhat one-dimensional, evident in quarterback Manny Wilkins attempting 48 and 46 passes.
Wilkins will be testing a Washington secondary that might be the best in the country and is led by safety Taylor Rapp and cornerback Byron Murphy, who has produced a team-best seven pass break-ups through three games.
"Their defense, it's outstanding, one of the better defenses in college football in my opinion," Edwards said. "What they do schematically, how they built it, they do a nice job with their secondary. They're very talented."
ASU counters with, among others, junior N'Keal Harry, one of the top receivers in the country. He finished with nine receptions against San Diego State, moving into fifth place in school history in career catches (161).
"Big and strong and tough and I think he has really deceptive speed too," Petersen said. "He's such a big guy you don't think he's going to run like that but then he'll break the tackle and outrun everybody."
Arizona State has won 11 of the past 12 meetings against Washington, with the Huskies winning 44-18 in Seattle in 2016.
Washington, trying to at least stay on the fringes of playoff possibility, can't afford another loss to ASU, like the one suffered last season. Petersen said that game or any revenge angle won't play a part Saturday.
"I think it's completely different. That's the mindset every week," he said. "It's not about referencing a game ... it's just like, you've got to play. You've got to play your best or you're going to get beat. I just really believe that."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Manny Wilkins notched his 52nd career touchdown accounted for (39 passing and 13 rushing) in the San Diego State game. Wilkins' 13 rushing touchdowns move him into a tie among ASU quarterbacks for third in school history with Taylor Kelly. Mark Malone has the record with 32 and Danny White is next at 14.
--WR N'Keal Harry, a junior, finished with nine receptions against San Diego State, moving into fifth place in school history in career receptions (161). He also has 17 career touchdown receptions, moving him to 10th on ASU's career list.
--WR Frank Darby caught four passes for 111 yards in the first half against the Aztecs, tying his previous career-high for yardage in the process. He finished with career high for receptions (five) and receiving yards (127). Darby's 51-yard reception in the second quarter was the longest passing play for the Sun Devils this season.
--S Jalen Harvey, a redshirt senior who hadn't played a down of defense for the Sun Devils until this season, logged a career-best 13 tackles against San Diego State, 12 of which came solo. He played wide receiver previously in his career.
--RB Myles Gaskin paces the Washington rushing attack against an Arizona State defense that led the nation against the run through two games. However, San Diego State's Juwan Washington and Chase Jasmin both eclipsed 100 yards against the Sun Devils. Gaskin will set the pace from a similar two-man approach with Salvon Ahmed, an explosive change-of-pace sidelined for much of Week 3.
--CB Byron Murphy has been excellent in coverage for the Huskies, producing a team-best seven pass break-ups through three games. One of the best receivers Murphy and the Washington secondary will face in 2018 is Arizona State's N'Keal Harry, whose nine catches against the Huskies a season ago tied his second-highest output of the campaign.
KANSAS STATE AT WEST VIRGINIA
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, W.Va.
SERIES: Kansas State leads 5-3. West Virginia won 28-23 in 2017.
RANKINGS: West Virginia No. 12
KEYS TO THE GAME
A perceived difference of styles will be on display on Saturday when No. 12 West Virginia travels to always-tough Kansas State for the two teams' Big 12 Conference-opening clash at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
West Virginia is thought to be a team that thrives in its high-powered passing attack as directed by Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback Will Grier. And Kansas State is viewed as a squad that will shorten a game with ball-control offense handled by dual-threat quarterbacks and control an opponent with its stifling defense.
The fact is the two teams are a lot more alike than people think.
"I don't think there's a whole lot of difference, honestly," Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday. "Everybody wants to compare the new-school, old-school way of this game with Kansas State and West Virginia.
"There's a lot of similarities that I see. They've been on the forefront of a lot of scheme things offensively, defensively, and especially special teams-wise. I've copied a lot of their stuff."
The off-week created by the cancellation of West Virginia's game against North Carolina State last week in advance of safety concerns from Hurricane Florence actually allowed AP poll voters to reconsider the Mountaineers' first two games and elevate them to 12th from 14th in the most recent rankings.
West Virginia (2-0) comes off the impromptu week off and a 52-17 win over Youngstown State on Sept. 9. Grier completed 21 of 26 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns in the Mountaineers' victory, connecting with seven different receivers. He threw touchdown passes of 11, 24, 33 and 40 yards, with three of the scoring tosses to Gary Jennings.
Grier will have to be more patient against the Wildcats (2-1) than he has been the first two games.
"They can do different things to you," Holgorsen said of the Kansas State defense. "They're blitzing more and pressuring more and playing man coverage more than what I've seen. So, there's going to be opportunities for big plays."
Following a dominating, bounce-back 41-17 win over Texas-San Antonio last week, K-State will hit the road for the first time in 2018. Uncharacteristically, the Wildcats have had trouble hanging on to the ball in their first three games.
In a narrow season-opening win against South Dakota, Kansas State threw two interceptions and fumbled multiple times, losing two. The Wildcats threw just one interception the following week against Mississippi State before putting the ball on the ground four times against UTSA, losing two of those.
"We've had nine fumbles, four in first game, one in second, thought we had it corrected but then it jumped up and got us again," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "We were careless with the football, and we are working on the capacity to focus and maintain self-discipline."
Wildcats starting strong safety Denzel Goolsby did not play against the Roadrunners while backup cornerback Kevion McGee was also out against UTSA. Snyder said he is not sure of their status for the game against the Mountaineers.
"(West Virginia) is probably one of the worst teams you can be short-handed against," Snyder said. "They have developed a great deal of balance, and have the ability to run it and throw it. This is not something that you want, but it's no different than anyone else. You have to have someone that is prepared to play as well as the next one."
This marks the ninth meeting between West Virginia and Kansas State, with the Wildcats holding a 5-3 overall lead. The teams have split the four games played in Morgantown.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--WR/PR Isaiah Zuber established himself during nonconference play as Kansas State's most dangerous threat to bust a big play. He added seven receptions for 144 yards in the Sept. 15 romp over UTSA and also had a 39-yard punt return. Zuber has quickly become the return man opponents will look to kick away from, though he could influence field position by causing a shanked punt.
--WR Dalton Schoen scored on a 42-yard reception against UTSA. His five career touchdowns have averaged 45.8 yards in length and four of the five exceeded 20 yards. Although he does not possess great speed, Schoen possesses deceptive moves that make him escape defenders for big gains with a tendency to lull those defenders into biting on the run. His career average per reception is 20.7 yards.
--PK Blake Lynch connected from 33 and 42 yards and continues to impress as a 5-foot-4 walk-on who won the kicking job during fall camp. Lynch's seven field goals are the most during a three-game stretch to begin a Kansas State season since 2015. Lynch is 7-of-8 on field goals. His longest was from 44 yards and he missed his only attempt from 50-plus yards.
--QB Will Grier completed 21 of 26 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 52-17 win over Youngstown State on Sept. 9. He found seven different receivers in notching the 10th 300-yard passing game in 13 starts. Grier threw touchdown passes of 11, 24, 33 and 40 yards, finished with five plays of 20 yards or more, three of 30 yards or more and a long of 40 yards in the win. He has thrown five touchdown passes a school-record four times.
--RB Kennedy McKoy saw his role increase in the win over Youngstown State, carrying the ball 11 times for 76 yards and a TD and catching a pass for 11 yards. McCoy has had his share of carries over his first two years, and now has 15 totes for 94 yards and a touchdown, and two catches for 25 more and a TD over West Virginia's first two games. McKoy has enough speed to break off long runs, and his physicality on contact is unmatched. He's not afraid to pass protect either, an absolute necessity for a running back who plays for coach Dana Holgorsen.
VIRGINIA TECH AT OLD DOMINION
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Ballard Stadium, Norfolk, Va.
TV: CBS Sports Network.
SERIES: Virginia Tech leads 1-0. Tech won the only meeting 38-0 in 2017.
RANKINGS: Virginia Tech No. 13
KEYS TO THE GAME
Hurricane Florence impacted both Virginia Tech and Old Dominion last week. The two schools clash Saturday at Ballard Stadium in Norfolk with kickoff at 3:30 pm. on the CBS Sports Network.
The 13th-ranked Hokies (2-0) take a two-game winning streak into the contest. The Monarchs (0-3) have lost four in a row dating back to last season.
Virginia Tech's game with East Carolina last week was canceled, giving the Hokies an extra week of practice. The Monarchs' game against Charlotte was moved up from Saturday to Thursday, but a week later both schools are still dealing with the aftermath of Mother Nature's wrath.
"Still praying for those people in North/South Carolina," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. "We still have some kids right now that are trying to make their way back from this. We feel very fortunate to be standing here before you today knowing that were in a good situation in this region."
Said Tech's Justin Fuente: "Obviously, we still have thoughts and prayers for those who were affected by Hurricane Florence, the players' families and people in the area."
The Hokies last played on Sept. 8 when they demolished William & Mary 62-17. This will be their first venture into the Norfolk area and could -- emphasis on "could" -- have some recruiting benefits for the Hokies, whose campus is about 300 miles to the west.
"It certainly doesn't hurt," Fuente said. "I don't know that I've ever sat in front of a kid and he said I'm coming there because you have one game scheduled three years from now in my backyard.
"I don't know that that has ever been the straw that put one kid over the top, but I do think it's good."
This marks the first time the Monarchs have faced an AP Top 25 opponent. Despite ODU's winless record, the Hokies are not taking the Monarchs lightly. They squandered a 17-point lead against Florida International and lost by three to Charlotte after having an extra point blocked and missing on two 2-point conversions.
"We've got a tremendous amount of respect for the ODU program and the job Bobby has done, literally building it from scratch," Fuente said. "You can see on film that they are well-coached. They play incredibly hard, and we'll need to have a great week of preparation this week."
Wilder took over the program in 2007 when it was an FCS Independent and within 10 years, the Monarchs had won a bowl game in just their third year in the FBS.
This year, though, the program has taken a step backward, starting 0-3 for the first time since Wilder took over. Losing to a Charlotte team that went 1-11 last season, especially stung.
The Monarchs, who return 18 starters including quarterback Steven Williams Jr., are averaging only 18.3 points per game and only 3.7 yards per rush.
Wilder understands, this week is going to be one of the biggest challenges of his tenure in Norfolk.
"Virginia Tech has a passionate fan base," Wilder said. "They'll have a lot of people here. We've got a passionate fan base that's rallied behind us and been supportive since the day we started. I think there's a lot to this game no matter where either team is at this point."
Wilder hopes that being at home gives his players an advantage.
"This week we've got a top 10 team coming to town, Virginia Tech; very deserving of their ranking; they are outstanding in all three phases of what they do," Wilder said. "Day to day we've got to work to get better, that's the only way we're going to fix this is to get better each day."
With an Atlantic Coast Conference game against Duke and a visit from Notre Dame coming, Fuente wants his Hokies to keep their focus.
"The thought of just focusing on the next task is mot foreign," Fuentes said. "We do it in everything we do."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Josh Jackson has completed 28 of 42 passes for 424 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, in two games. Jackson passed for 2,991 yards as redshirt freshman last season but had to hold off competition in the offseason to win back the job. Coaches liked his more-aggressive approach.
--WR Damon Hazelton, a transfer from Ball State, has made a good impression at Virginia Tech after sitting out last season. He has six catches for a team-high 129 yards and two touchdowns. He has nice size at 6-foot-2, 222 pounds.
--OL Kyle Chung, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility in the offseason, is part of a veteran line that will try to establish dominance against Old Dominion. Chung, who moved from right tackle to left guard for this season, is the son of Eugene Chung, a 1991 All-American at Virginia Tech and a first-round pick of the New England Patriots.
--CB Caleb Farley, a redshirt freshman who missed last season due to a knee injury, began this season with a splash when he was selected the ACC Defensive Back of the Week after the opener against Florida State. He intercepted two passes and had a sack among his two tackles. Farley suffered a torn ACL on the first day of 2017 fall camp, when he was playing receiver. He moved to defense in spring ball.
--QB Steven Williams Jr. is in his second year as a starter after being thrown into the role as a freshman in 2017. He is struggling with accuracy issues, having completed only 51.2 percent of his passes, but he has only two interceptions in 80 attempts.
--WR Jonathan Duhart has had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games after catching seven passes for 127 yards and a touchdown in last week's loss to Charlotte. He has 17 receptions for 360 yards and three touchdowns for the season.
--DE Oshane Ximines has to be reckoned with as a pass rusher. He has three sacks this season after posting 8.5 in 2017. He also has been credited with three quarterback hurries and has 15 tackles overall.
MISSISSIPPI STATE AT KENTUCKY
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Kroger Field, Lexington, Ky.
SERIES: Mississippi State leads 23-22. The Bulldogs won 45-7 in 2017.
RANKINGS: Mississippi State No. 14
KEYS TO THE GAME
Kentucky running back Benny Snell may have given Mississippi State some "bulletin board material" with his comments after the Wildcats' rout of Murray State last week.
The No. 14 Bulldogs (3-0, 0-0 SEC) and unranked Wildcats (3-0, 1-0 SEC) meet Saturday with kickoff at 7 p.m. ET at Kroger Field in Lexington. ESPN2 will handle the telecast.
Snell expressed confidence in his team's offense after the Wildcats rushed for 245 yards against the FCS foe.
"I'm going to run on any team," Snell said. "You could be an NFL team, it don't matter. This offense don't fear nobody. I know they're good, but this offense is good, too."
Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead, who has his Bulldogs off to an unbeaten start in his debut season, agrees with the notion that Snell, who has rushed for 2,779 yards in less than three seasons, is the real deal.
"His talent and production kind of speaks for itself," Moorhead said. "He's an All-SEC player that's 5-11, 225-pounds and is in a lot of ways similar to our guys. He can run between the tackles, can break it out in the open and is a good receiver out of the backfield."
But Moorhead and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop no doubt have taken a long look at game film from last year's Bulldogs' victory over the Wildcats. The Bulldogs held Snell to just 18 yards on seven rushes in pasting the Wildcats 45-7.
"Coach Shoop and his staff do a real good job exhausting all of the possible scenarios and ways to bottle up a guy like that," Moorhead said. "He's a guy that you're not necessarily going to stop. You're just looking for ways to contain him because he is talented."
State's defense is only allowing 85 yards per game on the ground this season and must remain vigilant against Snell.
"With any great back, you have to make sure you have great gap integrity," Moorhead said. "You've got to make sure you do a great job of gang tackling and getting a bunch of hats to the ball. With this guy and how physical he is, he can bounce off tackles and you can't arm-tackle him because he's going to run through it."
The Bulldogs are coming into the game off a 56-10 rout of Louisiana that followed a 31-10 win at Kansas State and 63-6 rout of Stephen F. Austin. This will be Moorhead's first SEC outing. He's looking forward to it.
"I'm excited to get into SEC play, the first one on the road," he said. "It's going to be a great challenge, and we will be ready for it."
Kentucky already has one SEC win to its credit, ending a three decades-long losing streak to Florida with a 27-16 victory over the Gators, who had won 31 consecutive games in the series.
The Wildcats then dominated Murray State to get off to a 3-0 start for a second consecutive season. They haven't won four to start a season since 2008, when they opened with wins over Louisville, Norfolk State, Middle Tennessee, and Western Kentucky before losing 17-14 to Alabama. They finished that year at 7-6.
Mississippi State's physicality concerns Stoops. The Wildcats have a bruising quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald (6-5 230) to lead an offense that has averaged 558 yards in total offense.
"They're as physical as anybody you're going to play in this league, if not more," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. " So you have to match them. It starts there. But again, there's a lot of other things that are going to go into it. But that's a big piece of it."
Fitzgerald, who was suspended for the opener, has passed for 397 yards and rushed for 266 in two outings.
His counterpart at Kentucky, Terry Wilson, has passed for 392 yards and rushed for 233 in his three starts.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Nick Fitzgerald accounted for six touchdowns last weekend and has rushed for over 100 yards in both of his starts this season. Fitzgerald drastically improved upon his completion percentage last week, hitting on 14 of 21 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 107 yards and four more scores.
--DE Chauncey Rivers is much more on MSU's defensive line than just a former featured athlete on the Netflix documentary series "Last Chance U." After sitting out last season, Rivers gives the Bulldogs some quality depth on their second wave of D-linemen and usually finds a way to flash when he's on the field.
--S Marcus Murphy flies down the field like a missile on kickoff coverage and has gotten quite a workout this season due to State averaging 50 points per game. Murphy was an offensive star in high school but has made a seamless transition to defense and doesn't shy away from contact.
--PK Scott Goodman has been impressive through the first three games with 11 of his 25 kickoffs being downed in the end zone for touchbacks. The walk-on true freshman was brought in as a kickoff specialist and has excelled in that role.
--RB Benny Snell is the real deal for the Wildcats. He has rushed for 375 yards in the three games, which is second to the 399 of Texas A&M's Trayveon Williams in the SEC. He will be up against a Mississippi State defense that has held opponents to just 85 yards a game.
--WR Lynn Bowden was considered Kentucky's prize recruit in 2017 and is beginning to show why. After catching 17 passes in transitioning from quarterback last year, he has already matched that total in just three games. His 17 catches have been good for 185 yards and a touchdown. Eight of the catches for 89 yards came last week against Murray State. "He's playing better with every opportunity," coach Mark Stoops said.
--LB Jeff Allen is Kentucky's defensive leader. He made the play that secured the win over Florida by forcing a fumble on the Gators' final play and has been credited with two sacks to lead the Wildcats in that category. He also has broken up a pass.
TEXAS TECH AT OKLAHOMA STATE
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.
SERIES: Tied, 21-21-3.
RANKINGS: Oklahoma State No. 15
KEYS TO THE GAME
Some things are simple.
Oklahoma State has won nine straight games against Texas Tech and finished ahead of the Red Raiders in the Big 12 standings every time.
Before that, the Red Raiders had a big advantage in the all-time series between the two schools, leading 21-12-3. Texas Tech was 9-4 against the Cowboys through the first 13 seasons of the Big 12 Conference. But starting in 2009, the final year of the Mike Leach era at Texas Tech, Mike Gundy's Cowboys pulled ahead of the Red Raiders.
Preseason prognosticators definitely expected that to continue this season, as do Las Vegas oddsmakers this week. Oklahoma State, which hosts Texas Tech on Saturday night, opened as a double-digit favorite.
The Cowboys (3-0) moved up nine spots to the No. 15 national ranking this week on the strength of their 44-21 victory over Boise State on Saturday.
Oklahoma State began this season facing the task of replacing three-year starter Mason Rudolph, who passed for more than 13,000 yards. But Cowboys senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius has made it a smooth transition.
Cornelius has passed for 971 yards with seven TDs and three interceptions. He threw for one touchdown and 243 yards in the win over Boise State.
"A month ago I said (Cornelius) was on the tee box or the driving range, and we didn't know what he would do on the tee box on No. 1," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said during his Monday press conference. "But he's done pretty well on the first two or three holes. He's getting into a different part of the course now, and hopefully he'll continue to play well. I think he's developing into being a pretty good college quarterback."
The Cowboys will also try to get junior running back Justice Hill going. Hill, who has two 100-yard rushing games already this season, has been a problem for the Red Raiders in the past. Hill piled up 290 rushing yards and a TD in two career games versus Texas Tech.
"(Hill is) as good as anybody in the country, I think, as far as a total back," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "(He) can catch the ball, finishes runs. Very, very fast. He just has gotten better and better as we've seen him. He's going to be as good a back as we'll play all year."
Texas Tech (2-1) had a rough start to the season in a 47-27 loss to Mississippi at NRG Stadium in Houston. Red Raiders starting quarterback McLane Carter left the game with a sprained ankle, opening the door for freshman Alan Bowman to make his debut.
Bowman has passed for 1,160 yards in nine quarters of action (he played the final three quarters versus Ole Miss, then went for just the first half in a blowout of Lamar).
"This league will be disappointed to see him for the next three or four years, or however long it'll be," Gundy said. "He seems to understand their system and looks like he gets it. They're moving the ball and scoring lots of points."
Bowman graduated from Grapevine (Texas) High School last December and enrolled at Texas Tech in time to go through spring practice. That was vital, Kingsbury said, to his fast start.
"He wouldn't have a chance to play at the level he's played the last couple of weeks without having that semester to learn the offense, grow through some growing pains, get around his teammates, prove to the coaching staff what he can do," Kingsbury said. "If you just come in in the summer, you don't get those reps that he was able to get. So he took advantage of them and he works really hard at his craft."
Although Oklahoma State has a nine-game winning streak in the series, the matchup has produced some quality shootouts recently. The Cowboys edged Texas Tech 45-44 in Stillwater in 2016 and escaped Lubbock with a 41-34 victory a year ago.
The Red Raiders have to like the trend of close games after losing to Oklahoma State by an average of 38 points during the Tommy Tuberville era at Texas Tech.
"Last year we had our chances, so we feel like we've closed the gap some compared to when we first got here," Kingsbury said. "They've had it rolling now for a while. You've got to take your hat off to Coach Gundy for the job he's done."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Alan Bowman enjoyed a breakout game in Texas Tech's win over Houston. He passed for 605 yards and five TDs and showed the kind of poise reminiscent of a long line of Red Raider quarterbacks.
--WR Antoine Wesley has emerged as the Red Raiders' go-to play-maker. His 261 receiving yards were a school record. Considering some of the WRs that have come through Texas Tech, that's a big deal.
--S Vaughnte Dorsey had four total tackles, including a sack for a loss of 13 yards against Houston. That brings him up to 13 tackles for the season despite missing almost three quarters due to a targeting ejection in the season-opener.
--LB/DE Tony Jones had a sack for the third straight game, making him Texas Tech's top pass rusher this season. He now has three sacks and five TFLs among his 17 tackles this season.
--DE Jordan Brailford defused the Boise State passing attack with his fierce pass rush, recording three sacks and forcing two fumbles. One hit caused a fumble Boise State recovered inside its own 10, only to lose the ball to a blocked punt. Brailford was used in various ways and even lined up in a standing position at middle linebacker in some formations. Oklahoma State registered seven sacks.
--RB Justice Hill drew concern after rushing just eight times for 31 yards in a rout of South Alabama on Sept. 8 but was much more engaged in the Boise State win. The All-Big 12 junior rushed for 123 yards, his 16th 100-yard performance in 29 games for the Cowboys. He carried 15 times, including a 53-yard burst in the fourth quarter he looked to have broken for a TD, only to step out at the 19-yard line.
TEXAS CHRISTIAN AT TEXAS
KICKOFF: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas
SERIES: Texas leads 62-25-1, but TCU has won four in a row.
RANKINGS: TCU No. 17
KEYS TO THE GAME
Yes, Texas' victory over Southern California last week was scintillating and a long time coming as an assumed first step toward the Longhorns regaining some of their clout in college football.
But everyone associated with the program wants more, and standing in the way of that happening is this week's battle with No. 17 TCU.
Texas coach Tom Herman and his staff and team have already put the win over USC in the rearview mirror and turned their attention to the large truck driving directly toward them.
The Horned Frogs (2-1) head to Austin, Texas, for Saturday afternoon's Big 12 season-opening dust-up at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium after a 40-28 loss to No. 4 Ohio State last week at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
TCU will be looking to continue its recent success against Texas.
Herman said the focus now is to make sure the Longhorns aren't strutting too much or reveling in the back-slaps and acclaim of the Texas fan base in lieu of properly preparing for TCU.
"We told our guys that the only peoples' opinions who should matter when it comes to the game of football are the people in our room -- your teammates and your coaches," Herman said. "(We were) basically pleading with them, pleading with the leaders to school the young guys up.
"In this family you can be bombarded with outside messages that have no impact on our preparation for TCU. So, it was a big point of the emphasis throughout the day yesterday, making sure that the opinions of the people in that locker room and in those coaches' offices are the only ones that we worry about."
Texas has lost to TCU the past four seasons by an average of 30 points and had not scored more than 10 points in any of those games. Since Mack Brown left as Texas coach after the 2013 season, the Longhorns have beaten every Big 12 team at least once ... except the Horned Frogs.
Three big plays separated TCU from beating Ohio State last week, but the Horned Frogs don't have time to lament about what could have been. Like Texas, they have turned the page and are deep in preparations for the resurgent Longhorns (2-1).
TCU went toe-to-toe with Ohio State, but two turnovers, both of which resulted in touchdowns for the Buckeyes, and having a TD called back because of a forward lateral doomed the Horned Frogs' chances.
Quarterback Shawn Robinson posted career highs in completions (24), attempts (40), passing yards (308) and total offense (315) in the loss to Ohio State.
TCU coach Gary Patterson helped salve the wound from the loss by saying if he had to choose one game to win -- Ohio State or Texas -- he'd take beating the Longhorns.
"If you gave me a choice of who you need to beat, it's conference play," Patterson said Monday. "You'd want to win the Texas game. Whether that permeated with them, we'll find out. But that's the thing you have to understand -- to get to the playoffs you've got to win your conference, or get to be one of those final two teams (in the Big 12 title game). It starts this week."
TCU, which dropped from 15th to 17th in this week's AP polls after the loss to Ohio State, has taken five of the past six games from Texas.
Patterson said there's a natural rivalry between TCU and Texas because of recruiting battles and the fact that the Horned Frogs' players grow up watching Longhorns' games.
"Outside of that, it's the next ballgame," Patterson said. "I don't know if I can explain it except that I worry more about what I can do to make sure TCU is good, not worry about Texas or Iowa State or Oklahoma or Oklahoma State or whoever else we're playing. The biggest thing is just making sure I can control TCU."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--RB Darius Anderson, with 154 yards on 12 carries vs. Ohio State, had his fourth career 100-plus-yard rushing game. It was the second-best rushing game of his career, surpassed only by his 160 yards in last season's 44-31 win at No. 6 Oklahoma State. His game against Ohio State featured a 93-yard TD run that was the longest rushing play in TCU history. He now has 263 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries for the season.
--QB Shawn Robinson posted career highs in completions (24), attempts (40), passing yards (308) and total offense (315) in last week's loss to Ohio State. Robinson did not have an interception in his first 70 pass attempts at TCU, the longest streak by a quarterback to begin his career under coach Gary Patterson.
--DE Ben Banogu, a senior, made a huge splash in his first season with TCU. After transferring from Louisiana-Monroe and sitting out the 2016 season, he became one of the nation's top defensive ends. Banogu was first in the Big 12 with 16.5 tackles for loss and was second with 8.5 sacks. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder has five stops this season, a forced fumble that led to a TD return and two quarterback hurries.
--QB Sam Ehlinger, a sophomore, has taken every snap at the position this year after he and junior Shane Buechele split the starting position last season. He finished 15 of 33 for 223 yards with two touchdowns and ran for 35 yards and another score in the win over USC. Ehlinger played well overall, taking a handful of chances downfield against the Trojan defense that produced big plays while running 17 times when the defense bailed out in coverage.
--WR Collin Johnson, a junior, led the team with six catches for 79 yards against USC but has not yet had the big game Texas fans have been looking for. Johnson is the huge, fast, downfield target that the Longhorns need to help open up the offense and is due for a breakout season. The 6-foot-6 receiver has 13 catches for 175 yards in the first three games.
WISCONSIN AT IOWA
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa
SERIES: Wisconsin leads 46-43-2. The Badgers beat Iowa 38-14 last season.
RANKINGS: Wisconsin No. 18
KEYS TO THE GAME
Wisconsin quickly went from having championship aspirations to recovery mode.
The Badgers entered the season with experience, perhaps the best offensive line in the country, a Heisman Trophy candidate in sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor and plenty of talent in the front seven on defense.
That put Wisconsin in the early discussion for the College Football Playoff, but along came BYU last week, beating the Badgers 24-21 in Madison as Rafael Gaglianone missed a 42-yard field goal that would have forced overtime.
That dropped Wisconsin from No. 6 to No. 18 in the AP poll.
The Badgers have no time to dwell on that. Now comes what looks like the key game in the Big Ten West, with Wisconsin headed to play at Iowa for the Heartland Trophy on Saturday. It is the conference opener for both teams.
"You don't ever want to rely on losing as a source to go win," Wisconsin offensive lineman Michael Deiter said. "That's never going to end well. But if you do have hiccups ... it should be a feeling that you never want to feel again."
Iowa is 3-0, with wins over Northern Illinois, Iowa State and Northern Iowa. The Hawkeyes held Iowa State standout running back David Montgomery to 44 yards, and they rank tied for second in the country in rushing defense, allowing 42.0 yards per game.
That sets up a big-time matchup against Taylor, a sophomore who has rushed for 100-plus yards in all three games this season and ranks second in the country in rushing with 171.7 yards per game.
"We just played an outstanding running back two weeks ago. I mentioned he might be the best in the country. If he's not, it might be the one we're playing this week," said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
"This guy is just a tremendous football player, too. It's unusual when you play two guys of this caliber within a two-week span. That's what we're facing. They're not the same exact runner, but I can't imagine many guys in the country better than either of these guys. We witnessed this, how good Taylor was firsthand last year. He is really a great player."
Taylor rushed for 157 yards in last season's 38-14 victory over Iowa in Madison.
Iowa doesn't have a running back with Taylor's cache, but its pass offense started to click in last week's 38-14 win over Northern Iowa after average performances by quarterback Nate Stanley in the two first games. Though the Hawkeyes were playing an FCS team, Stanley threw with accuracy, completing 23 of 28 passes for 309 yards and one touchdown.
In the two previous games, he completed only 52.9 percent of his throws.
Last year against Wisconsin, Stanley was 8-of-24 passing for 41 yards and one interception.
"In this series, we kind of know who they are, I think they know who we are," Ferentz said of a typically strong Wisconsin defense that is 11th nationally in total defense (275.7 yards allowed per game).
"In the case of Wisconsin, they've got DNA that has been pretty consistent. At least from a preparation standpoint, when we look at film, we can say, 'OK, this is probably what we can expect.' Now the challenge is how do you crack the safe? It's hard because these guys are really good at what they do."
One of Stanley's favorite targets is junior Noah Fant, whose 14 career touchdown catches are the most in school history for a tight end. He has nine touchdowns in his past 10 games at Kinnick Stadium.
The Wisconsin defense is led by 2017 All-American linebacker T.J. Edwards, safety D'Cota Dixon and nose tackle Olive Sagapolu. Iowa's defensive crew is led up front by end Anthony Nelson and A.J. Espenesa, who is tied for first in the Big Ten with four sacks.
Given the strength of both defenses, this could be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair, unless Stanley or Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook (43 of 68 for 595 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions) can find some magic through the air in this battle for early supremacy in the Big Ten West.
"We're going to approach this week of practice with a new mindset," Taylor said. "We know that we're going to have to work harder for everything we want."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--RB Jonathan Taylor is the headliner in the matchup against Iowa. How Taylor and the offensive line responds to last week's upset loss to BYU might be the key to the season. Sure, Taylor had a respectable game with 117 yards rushing, but the O-line was manhandled and whistled for several key penalties.
--WR Danny Davis had a respectable showing in his first action, but he also missed some critical blocks and showed some rust. His ability to make plays on third downs is a big plus for the Badgers.
--K Rafael Gaglianone saw his streak of 13 straight made field goals end with a missed 42-yarder at the end of the BYU loss. Don't be surprised if the senior kicker finds himself in another critical end-of-the-game situation at Iowa.
--LB T.J. Edwards is one of the main leaders on defense. Edwards, a preseason All-American, ranks fifth on the team with 14 tackles, including 2.5 stops for a loss.
--QB Nate Stanley was on his game last Saturday in the 38-14 win over Northern Iowa after a slow start in Iowa's first two games. The second-year starter connected on 23 of 28 passes (82.1 percent) against the Panthers for 309 yards. In the two previous games, he completed just 52.9 percent of his throws. Stanley's most accurate passing games the past two years have resulted in big wins over Iowa State, Ohio State and Nebraska.
--RB Toren Young will be facing his home-state team on Saturday when Iowa plays Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium. Young, a Madison, Wis., native, has started the past two games for Iowa after opening-game starter Ivory Kelly-Martin went down with an ankle injury. The sophomore leads the Hawkeyes with 234 yards on 42 carries. Kelly-Martin may be ready to return this week, but Young should be motivated to have a big day against the Badgers. Young has shared time in the backfield with Mekhi Sargent, who ran for a career-best 72 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries last week against Northern Iowa.
--WR Nick Easley was quiet in Iowa's first two games this season before setting career highs last week in the win over Northern Iowa with 10 receptions for 103 yards, becoming the first Hawkeyes player since 2011 with 10 or more catches in a game.
NEBRASKA AT MICHIGAN
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
SERIES: Tied 4-4-1. Nebraska won the last meeting, 17-13 in Ann Arbor in 2013.
RANKINGS: Michigan No. 19
KEYS TO THE GAME
No. 19 Michigan and Nebraska seem to have a lot of similarities going into their Big 10 opener Saturday.
Both are storied programs with passionate fan bases. Both have coaches who played quarterback during their college days at their school and were widely considered as "grand slam" head coaching hires, and both want badly to avoid an 0-1 start in conference play.
However, as the teams prepare for a noon clash at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, the direction each is going seems to be the big difference between the Cornhuskers and Wolverines.
Following a season-opening loss at Notre Dame, Michigan enters with renewed confidence with blowout home wins over Western Michigan and SMU the past couple weeks.
Skeptics will point out that those improved performances came against, well, Western Michigan and SMU, but Michigan hopes some positive developments the past two weeks will continue against better competition.
Quarterback Shea Patterson, a much-hyped transfer from Ole Miss, completed 26 of 35 passes the past two weeks and might have found a favorite receiving target in sophomore Donovan Peoples-Jones, a five-star recruit who might be starting to live up to his promise after catching three touchdown passes against SMU.
"I think overall, Shea has been seeing the field really well and making accurate throws on time," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He's getting good protection for the most part and receivers across the board have been catching the football and getting open."
Built to win now with 10 starters back on a defensive unit that has multiple NFL prospects, Michigan hopes the offense can continue to make strides and complement its fierce defense.
On the other side, Nebraska isn't built to win now.
After leading Central Florida to an unbeaten season last year and taking the coaching job at Nebraska, the place he starred as quarterback in the 1990s, Scott Frost knew instant success wouldn't happen this year at Nebraska as he tried to instill his principles and foundation.
But Frost or few at Nebraska expected the team to get off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 1957, which is what the Cornhuskers did following an embarrassing 24-19 home loss to Troy last week.
The biggest question for Nebraska will be the health of starting quarterback Adrian Martinez, who was given the starter's job before the season as a freshman.
Martinez had an impressive debut in a season-opening 33-28 loss to Colorado but suffered a right leg injury late in that game and didn't play in the loss to Troy.
Backup quarterback Andrew Bunch started in place of Martinez.
Frost said Martinez practiced Monday but is questionable to play Saturday.
Frost said that whether or not Martinez plays, his offense needs to be a lot crisper against Michigan's formidable defense.
"If you are going to move the ball consistently on offense, you have to have 11 guys execute well better than 90 percent of the time," Frost said. "We're not there. We're at the point where we are doing it 70 or 80 percent of the time and the other 30 to 20 percent is biting us and costing us drive."
There is also a history of animosity between Frost and Michigan fans dating back to the 1997 season.
Michigan was named the national champion in the AP poll that year, but Nebraska was named champion in the coaches poll after Frost made an impassioned plea to voters that Nebraska deserved at least a share of the title that season following a lopsided Orange Bowl win over Tennessee.
Michigan fans feel that politicking cost the Wolverines what at the time would have been their first outright national title since 1948.
Frost further got under the skin of Michigan fans two years ago when Central Florida played at Michigan in what was Frost's first year as coach at Central Florida.
Despite seeing his team suffer a 51-14 loss, Frost after the game said Central Florida "outhit" Michigan that day.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--CB Lamar Jackson recorded his first career interception last week against Troy, a play that was especially notable because it marked the Huskers' first interception by a cornerback in 21 games, dating to Chris Jones' interception return for a touchdown at Indiana in 2016. He'll have his hands full with Michigan QB Shea Patterson this week.
--WR JD Spielman, a sophomore, teams with WR Stanley Morgan Jr. to form one of the best wideout combinations in the country. Spielman last week caught a game-high six passes for 45 yards, which gave him 942 receiving yards in 13 career games. He should -- perhaps this week -- reach 1,000 receiving yards faster than anybody in school history, bettering Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers, who reached that yardage plateau in 16 career games. He had a 57-yard TD reception against Colorado.
--RB Maurice Washington, a freshman, earned rave reviews at times during camp from coaches for his ability to make big and spectacular plays. He showed some of that skill against Troy, carrying 14 times for a team-high 92 yards. Washington rushed for 34 yards on eight carries in the opener.
--QB Shea Patterson was 14-of-18 for 237 yards with three touchdowns against SMU, giving him six TD passes this season. The junior is completing 70.8 percent of his throws.
--RB Tru Wilson took advantage of injuries to Chris Evans and Karan Higdon to get a career-high 11 carries for 53 yards and a TD against SMU. The junior, a former walk-on, could see even more action against Nebraska.
--WR Donovan Peoples-Jones had three TD catches against SMU, the first Michigan player to do that since Jehu Chesson had four against Indiana in November 2015. The sophomore leads the Wolverines in receptions (14), receiving yards (159) and receiving scores (four).
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL AT MIAMI (FL)
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
SERIES: Miami leads 2-0. Miami won the last meeting 23-9 in 2007.
RANKINGS: Miami No. 21
KEYS TO THE GAME
Miami coach Mark Richt said he expects an intense, emotional game when his 21st-ranked Hurricanes (2-1) host Florida International (2-1) Saturday, but he doesn't expect a repeat of the kind of brawling that marked the first meeting between the two programs whose campuses are about nine miles apart.
Kickoff is 3:30 p.m. ET at Hard Rock Stadium. ESPN2 will be there to telecast the action.
"There will be guys getting their blood pumping, which should happen in the game of football," Richt said. "It's a game of adrenalin and a game of guys physically getting after each other.
"But everybody knows you do something stupid then you don't get to play. That's the way football is and the way it ought to be. I don't really anticipate anything foolish."
"Foolish" is one way, and a mild one at that, to describe what occurred the first time these two teams got together. That was in 2006, and the intenseness was evident from the start.
But it turned from the usual chippiness into a huge, ugly brawl early in the third quarter that was punctuated not only by fist fights but also players swinging helmets at each other andkicking and stomping on fallen rivals as well.
The bench clearing melee resulted in the immediate ejections of 13 players -- 8 for FIU, 5 for Miami -- and eventual suspensions of 31 from the two teams. You could even link the firing of the two coaches -- Larry Coker at Miami, Don Strock at FIU -- after the season to the brawl, though that wasn't the only factors in their dismissals.
Richt said he doesn't expect any repeat. After all, that incident was 12 years ago before the current players were in grade school.
"I've not mentioned one thing to our guys about it," Richt said. "I remember watching it on TV, but that was a long time ago."
FIU coach Butch Davis also recognizes the extra excitement around the meeting, especially for his underdog Panthers.
"I think the last time they played, it was obviously embarrassing for both programs," David told the Miami Herald. "But you know, these kids, a lot of them know each other, they played against each other, maybe even played with each other and I'm sure there will be a lot of competition.
"It's not too different when Miami plays Florida or Florida State. Any time you play people in your own backyard, there's some added excitement about it.."
Davis should know the Miami-Florida and Miami-Florida State rivalries quite well. He spent five years as the Hurricanes' boss in the late 1990s before venturing off to the Cleveland Browns, building the foundation for the Miami team that would win the 2001 national championship and come within an interference penalty of capturing the 2002 title.
"He certainly did a great job here at Miami while he was here," Richt said. "He had a great record. The last season he was here, I think they were 11-1, and probably accumulated the most talent in the history of the school.
"That team, the next couple of years, was one of the most talented ever in college football. He's doing a great job at FIU."
Davis' Panthers are coming off a record-setting 63-14 rout of Massachusetts., which was their second win after a loss to Indiana in their opener. The Hurricanes also have won their last two games after losing their opener to LSU.
Last season Davis got the Panthers into their first bowl in six years. They started off 2018 with a 38-28 loss to Indiana in their opener but have beaten Old Dominion 28-20 and routed UMass since.
""They're fast," Rich said of the Panthers. "There's no doubt they're fast. When you're recruiting south Florida, you're going to get fast guys. They absolutely have great team speed. They'll match up well."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB James Morgan has started all three games for FIU and completed 62.9 percent of his passes for just under 183 yards a game. He has six touchdown tosses against and three interceptions and is coming off a 16-of-23 performance in the rout of UMass last week.
--RB Shawndarrius Phillips has stepped in as the starter at running back, succeeding last year's leading rusher Alex Gardner. Phillips has 249 yards in averaging 5.5 per rush. He has scored four touchdowns and needs to produce enough to take the pressure off the passing game.
--LB Sage Lewis moved from an outside spot to the middle and has thrived from the move. He has 36 tackles, more than twice any other defender, and has broken up four passes. He needs to have a big game to keep Miami's running game in check.
--LB Fermin Silva sat out last week's game after tweaking his ankle the previous week. He was a leader on the defense last year playing mostly defensive and has started two games at an outside linebacker spot in his two appearances.
--QB Malik Rosier is coming off a huge game in the 49-24 victory at Toledo. The senior was only 13-of-23 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns but also rushed for 80 yards and three scores to account for five of Miami's seven touchdowns. He has scored five rushing touchdowns and passed for five more in the three games.
--WR Jeff Thomas has become "Mr. Excitement" for Miami. The sophomore speedster had five receptions for 105 yards at Toledo with plays of 41 and 38 yards, the latter for a touchdown. He has 11 receptions for 304 yards for the season with two touchdowns, has averaged nearly 25 yard on five kickoff returns, and has punt returns of 48 and 42 yards. Oh, yeah. He also gained 19 yards on an reverse.
--DT Gerald Willis was expected to have a key role for Miami's defensive front, and he certainly has delivered. He leads the ACC and is fourth nationally in tackles for loss with seven, which accounts for half of his 14 tackles. He and DE Jonathan Garvin have combined for 13 tackles for loss in just three games.
BOSTON COLLEGE AT PURDUE
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
SERIES: First meeting
RANKINGS: Boston College No. 23
KEYS TO THE GAME
One team appears on the rise. The other is struggling.
That looks to be the situation when No. 23 Boston College visits Purdue Saturday.
Kickoff at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., is noon ET on ESPN2.
The Eagles (4-0) are ranked for the first time since 2008 and are seeking their first 4-0 start since 2007 -- with a home game against Temple waiting the following week.
On the flip side, the Boilermakers are 0-3 for the first time since 1996 and could sink to 0-4 for the first time since 1987.
BC coach Steve Addazio is taking nothing for granted, however.
"They're a team that's very explosive," Addazio said. "Obviously, their quarterback broke the school's single (game) passing record, which is quite a statement. Speaks to their ability to throw the ball down the field. Very talented."
That explosiveness was evident even in last week's loss to Missouri when backup quarterback David Blough threw for a school-record 572 yards and set a Big Ten single-game record with 590 yards in total offense. A fellow by the name of Drew Brees held the former school record.
"They remind me of us a year ago," Addazio said. "It's a developing football team that is scary. Their coach is a tough guy, a talented guy and that's a tough place to go play."
Playing for the injured Elijah Sindelar, injured during the week, Blough was 39 of 55 for three touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 18 yards on six carries and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.
Interestingly, as of early this week, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm wasn't committed to a starter for this week's first matchup between the programs.
"You guys saw the game. I think we feel very confident in the progress David made," Brohm said. "He played a very good game. He hung in there and made throws and sometimes he hung in there longer than he has in the past and made throws, which was huge progress. That was great to see."
Sindelar, who threw four touchdown passes and amassed 396 passing yards in a bowl win over Arizona despite a torn ACL, still wasn't throwing and there was no word on his status.
Addazio had no such decision to make.
After cruising through local opponents Massachusetts and FCS school Holy Cross, the Eagles went down to Winston-Salem and avenged last year's home loss to Wake Forest. Quarterback Anthony Brown threw five touchdown passes, AJ Dillon ran for 185 yards and three TDs, and Wyatt Ray set a school record of four sacks.
All three were honored by the ACC and Ray was named the national Walter Camp defensive player of the week. He leads the nation with 1.67 sacks per game.
Both Brown and Dillon, a preseason All-American, played fewer than three quarters in the two opening wins, and Dillon was named ACC running back of the week the previous week after just six carries (149 yards) in less than a quarter. Despite his lack of playing time in the first two games, the sophomore is fifth in the country with 144 yards per game.
BC is 10-2 since Dillon joined the starting lineup during his freshman season.
Brohm knows what he's facing in the Eagles.
"They are going to try to run the football first and they have a great rushing attack and that's what they are going to feed off, so that's what we have to stop," he said.
Addazio said he will deal with his players' mental state and make sure there's no complacency with the program being back in the top 25.
"I think our guys are wired pretty good," the coach said. "They know that's like Kool-Aid, don't drink that now. Just go about your business. They've been through the meat grinder, this team, right? They know where they started last year."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Anthony Brown threw five touchdown passes in the win at Wake Forest, joining Doug Flutie (1984) as the only Eagle with at least five touchdown passes (Flutie had six) and no interceptions in a game. It was BC's first five-TD passing game since Matt Ryan did it in 2007.
--RB AJ Dillon, a preseason All-American, carried the ball only six times in less than a quarter against FCS Holy Cross on Sept. 8, but gained 149 yards and was named ACC Running Back of the Week. Then, five days later against Wake Forest, he ran for 185 yards on 33 carries, scored a touchdown and was again lauded with the honor. He has reached 100 yards before halftime in two straight games.
--DE Wyatt Ray, who happens to be Nat King Cole's grandson and Natalie Cole's nephew, had a career game at Wake Forest. He set a BC record with four sacks and had eight total tackles and a quarterback hurry. His performance earned him the Walter Camp defensive player of the week award and ACC top defensive linemen honors. He leads the nation with 1.67 sacks per game.
--S Lukas Denis joined Dillon in preseason national accolades, claiming a second team All-American spot. He had seven interceptions in leading the BC defense last year. He had 22 passes defended over the last two seasons and picked off a UMass pass on the final play of the first half in Game 1, returning it 59 yards for a touchdown. He had nine tackles, seven of them solo, in Week 3.
--QB David Blough had a career game against Missouri, but the Boilermakers don't need him to match those numbers against Boston College (though it would be appreciated). They need the poise he showed in helping his team rally from an early 27-10 deficit, and his ability to find his second or third option when the first (i.e. freshman Rondale Moore) is covered.
--DT Lorenzo Neal forced a fumble, but also had a key 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty in the fourth quarter and was credited with just two tackles. It's a testament to how much he is needed that he sat out only one play following the penalty, but it's his second such flag through three games. He will need to do a better job of playing under control, and if he's not at his best, the defensive line will struggle to stop the Boston College rushing attack.
--LB Markus Bailey has been unexpectedly quiet this season, and it's no coincidence that this has been accompanied by the defense struggling. He will need to be at his best for this team to slow down the Eagles.
MICHIGAN STATE AT INDIANA
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.
TV: Big Ten Network
SERIES: Michigan State leads Indiana 46-16-2, including a 24-10-1 record in Bloomington.
RANKINGS: Michigan State No. 24
KEYS TO THE GAME
Although in just his second full season, Indiana University coach Tom Allen knows the program history.
The Hoosiers are seeking a 4-0 start for just the eighth time in the school history when it hosts No. 24 Michigan State (1-1) in the Big Ten opener for both teams at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
"We are going to be absolutely focused on Michigan State and everything we have to do to win this game," Allen said. "To me that's the next step. You take them one at a time. We try to train a team to think that way, allow them to play their very, very best. We know we play in a great league with a lot of great teams. This is a great opportunity for us to take the next step in our season, which is to be 1-0 at the end of the week."
Last season, the Hoosiers led 9-3 early in the fourth quarter at East Lansing and Michigan State scored two unanswered touchdowns for a 17-9 season.
"We didn't finish last season," Allen said. "We had opportunities to hopefully score touchdowns in the red zone. To their credit defensively, that didn't happen for us. They were really good on defense."
The Spartans are strong defensively again.
"Haven't given up hardly any rushing yards at all, stingy down in the red zone," Allen said. "Coach (Mark) Dantonio always has a great defense, big, strong guys that are very well-coached. The expectation is we got to score touchdowns when we get down there. You don't beat a team like this kicking field goals. That's the objective there, the expectation."
On the other side of the football, Allen said his team has to play great defense.
"We're still developing and growing," he said. "They have big old backs, big receivers, really good quarterback, big old offensive line. They're a bona fide, legit Big Ten football team that's contending for the Big Ten championship. We are going to have to play our best game of the season, have our best week of preparation, execute at the highest level in all three phases."
Although Dantonio is 8-1 against the Hoosiers, he said they always play well against his team.
"They expect to play us very well again," Dantonio said. "It's always been a close football game, you know, really, throughout time, really, even when there's been a couple of occasions where we've sort of distanced ourselves, it's been at the end of the game."
The Spartans are coming off a bye week after losing 16-13 at Arizona State on Sept. 8.
"Nobody likes to lose and when you lose, you want to get back on the other end -- the other side of things," Dantonio said. "I think our players have had an opportunity to sit on this and dwell on this a little bit and they have also had time to step away from football for a day or so; we gave them that opportunity, as well. You know, I'm looking forward to watching our players play on Saturday night."
Spartans junior 6-foot-3 quarterback Brian Lewerke has completed 50 of 72 passes for 601 yards and three touchdowns. Allen is impressed with his accuracy.
"They got big receivers that can be matchup problems," Allen said. "He's (Lewerke) athletic enough to beat you with his legs. He's tough enough to run over you. That's kind of always a big challenge with a big quarterback like that because the rules are such to protect him. He comes barreling at you, runs you over, instead of sliding sometimes. I think he's a tough old guy that loves to play the game. I have a lot of respect for him, how hard and tough he plays."
LJ Scott leads the Spartans with 130 rushing yards, most coming in the first game.
"LJ Scott is a tremendously talented running back with a big old load, has great feet, good speed," Allen said. "They're really a complete team. They don't have a weakness. They're very, very solid in all phases, special teams included. Their defense is maybe the strength of their team."
Dantonio said he anticipates IU redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey providing a challenge for his defense.
"I think he's done a tremendous job there, throwing the ball for I think 72-plus or 74 percent completion rate but high, very high," Dantonio said.
IU running back Stevie Scott has Dantonio's attention as well. Scott has rushed for 388 yards in the three games, being named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the past two weeks.
"He's (Coach Allen) got them playing hard on defense, as always, it seems. Give you a lot of different looks, a lot of different pressures," Dantonio said.
The Old Brass Spittoon has been awarded to the IU-MSU winner since its inception in 1950.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Brian Lewerke continues to throw the ball well, completing 70 percent of his passes through the first two games. However, he's been intercepted in each of the first two weeks, the second coming in the end zone at Arizona State. It hasn't helped that he's been under more pressure than he was last season, his first as Michigan State's starter. But pressure or not, it appears the junior will need to carry the Spartans' offense until the running game can find its footing.
--WR Cody White is just one part of Michigan State's three-headed attack in the passing game. The sophomore had a career-high nine receptions against Arizona State for 113 yards and a touchdown. He's got big-play ability and with the way Lewerke spreads the ball around to White, Felton Davis and Darrell Stewart, any one of them can have a big game. Through two weeks, however, it's been White that has led the way with 14 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
--LB Joe Bachie continues to be the heart of the defense with 21 tackles through the first two games. While Michigan State's defense has given up big chunks of yardage in the passing game, it continues to be impossible to run against. The Spartans have allowed only 34.5 yards a game on the ground, good for first in the nation. Much of that is thanks to Bachie, though, until the Spartans can slow opponents' passing attacks, teams will likely shy away from running the ball at all.
--QB Peyton Ramsey, redshirt sophomore, has completed 56 of 76 passes for 479 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
--WR J-Shun Haerris II, who suffered his third ACL injury in the eighth game of last season, collected his third Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honor after the Ball State win. Harris matched Tim Wilbur's program mark with his third career punt return touchdown, an 86-yarder. Since the start of 2017, Harris is second nationally in punt return TDs (3) and sixth in punt return yardage (377)
--RB Stevie Scott, who became the quickest true freshman back to register 100-yard games, earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for the second consecutive week. He leads the team with 388 yards on 69 carries with three TDs.
MCNEESE STATE AT BRIGHAM YOUNG
KICKOFF: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
SITE: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah
SERIES: First meeting
RANKINGS: BYU No. 25
KEYS TO THE GAME
A new culture has taken hold in the BYU football program.
The No. 25 Cougars are playing with toughness and a positive attitude. They are using smash-mouth physical football to go toe-to-toe with Power 5 opponents. There's no better evidence of the effectiveness of this approach than road wins over Arizona and Wisconsin.
Now BYU is in position hardly anyone anticipated before the season. The Cougars are back in the AP Top 25 heading into Saturday's game against McNeese State one year removed from a disastrous 4-9 campaign.
"The culture of the team is taking form and the players believe," BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. "We talked about developing a strong belief in what we're doing and how we play the game and we're really pleased with the way the guys are doing it."
Signs of that cultural evolution were all over the place in BYU's 24-21 victory over Wisconsin. The Cougars outgained the Badgers in yards per play, averaging 6.1 yards while limiting Wisconsin to 5.5 yards. BYU (2-1) achieved that feat while running only 51 plays compared to 71 plays for the Badgers.
It isn't a fluke either. Arizona managed 4.7 yards per play on 69 plays while BYU averaged 5.5 yards. Even California, in its win over the Cougars, managed only 5.5 yards.
BYU's dominance has been most pronounced in the third quarter. The Cougars have outscored opponents 35-7 in that quarter through three games.
"The biggest thing is how tough we can be," defensive end Corbin Kaufusi said. "Everyone is tough, football is a tough sport, but it's coming back from last season and translating that into your work ethic."
McNeese State can appreciate the desire to play a tough brand of football. The Cowboys have imposed their defensive will in racing out to a perfect start through their first three games.
Among FCS teams, McNeese State ranks fourth with nine turnovers gained and sixth with five fumble recoveries. An ability to pressure the quarterback has made those takeaways possible. The Cowboys (3-0) rank fifth in the FCS with 14 total sacks.
B.J. Blunt is a leader in setting a disruptive tone for McNeese State. In his team's 20-10 victory over Nicholls State last Saturday, Blunt totaled nine tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, and a fumble recovery. His fumble recovery on the opening kickoff led to a 16-yard touchdown catch by Lawayne Ross only 10 seconds later.
"He just keeps getting better and better," McNeese State coach Lance Guidry said. "He's the pulse of our entire team. I know he is of the defense. He rubs off on everybody with the way he practices and the way he carries himself."
The Cowboys have a reputation for giving FBS teams fits in years past and could be a problem for BYU if the Cougars get caught looking ahead to a clash with Washington in two weeks.
McNeese State has won two of its last three games against FBS opponents. The Cowboys beat Middle Tennessee 27-21 in 2012 and then routed South Florida 53-21 in 2013. Their win over USF set a record for points scored and margin of victory for an FCS team over a BCS team at the time. A third win nearly happened in 2014 when Nebraska needed a final minute touchdown to edge McNeese State 31-24.
BYU is 11-0 against FCS teams over the past 30 seasons. Even with that success, the Cougars are taking the Cowboys seriously.
"We took the target off Wisconsin and now the target is on us," Kaufusi said. "We believe that McNeese is going to be coming full speed after us. We have to be on top of our game this week."
This is the first meeting between the schools in football.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--LB B.J. Blunt was the Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Week -- he also picked up some national weekly honors for the FCS -- for his performance against Nicholls. He had nine tackles, including four for loss and a fumble recovery. Blunt has 20 tackles, including five sacks, through the team's 3-0 start. "He loves to play," said coach Lance Guidry. "He's one of those kids that momma let him out of the house to go play in the yard until the street lights turn on, that's B.J. He's going to stay out there as long as he can. It's hard to get him off the field."
--QB James Tabary has completed 54 of 74 passes for 694 yards, with six touchdowns and one interception. The senior, in his third season as the starter, has 50 career touchdown passes. He's 17 short of matching the school record of 67 held by his QB coach, Kerry Joseph.
--DE Keivonnis Davis, who arrived as a transfer from Florida late in fall camp, made his McNeese debut last week, making two tackles. Davis played for the Gators in 2015 and 2016 (including six starts) but was suspended for the 2017 season and suffered serious injuries in a moped accident. He was finally cleared to play following rehab for a hip injury.
--QB Tanner Mangum, a redshirt senior, is a smart veteran quarterback who has started 24 games in his career. Mangum, who suffered an Achilles injury last season, has come back to complete 52 of 91 passes for 494 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Those aren't eye-popping numbers, but he deftly handles a BYU offense that wants to play with power and not make mistakes while playing in a "traditional" slower tempo.
--RB Squally Canada, a senior, ran for 118 yards and two touchdownson just 11 carries against Wisconsin. He has 265 yards in three games and posted a career-high three touchdowns in the season-opener at Arizona. He led the team in rushing last season with 710 yards and scores, and he is on his way to that honor again.
--LB Sione Takitaki has seemingly been all over the field, making plays, this season. In the victory at Wisconsin, he recorded a career-high 13 tackles and tied his career high in solo stops with eight. The senior captain also posted two tackles for loss, including his first sack of the season. He's made a successful conversion to linebacker after playing defensive end last season.