Three Games to Watch: Week Three

Vanderbilt wide receiver Caleb Scott reels in a catch for a big gain as the Commodores defeated Tennessee 45-34 at Vanderbilt Stadium November 26, 2016.

With week two in the books, it’s safe to say that this season has already been historic; Vanderbilt is undefeated for the first time since 2011, back when James Franklin was at the helm. Baker Mayfield got sweet revenge on Ohio State by planting the Oklahoma flag on Ohio Stadium’s 50-yard line, and Lincoln Riley showed a level of leadership and poise that few expected from the youngest head coach in college football. Although there aren’t any top ten matchups this week, SEC matchups headline the three games to watch this week.

Tennessee (23) at Florida (24)

Tennessee is taking the battle down to Florida this week, facing a beleaguered Gators’ team that has endured both Hurricane Irma and the Michigan Wolverines the past two weeks. The reigning SEC East champion and runner-up are both trying to spark their seasons, following a double overtime win over Georgia Tech and a 33-17 loss to Michigan that wasn’t nearly as close as the score suggests.

Florida opened the season against the Wolverines, and head coach Jim McElwain’s offensive nightmares looked to be far from over. The Gators put up 192 yards of total offense and had as many points as lost fumbles. Their game with Northern Colorado got cancelled, and it remains to be seen whether that will hurt or help their preparedness this week. They’ll need to have answers against Tennessee, since 14 points off interceptions isn’t something to count on each week to scrape out a victory.

Tennessee blocked a game-winning field goal and stopped Georgia Tech’s two-point conversion in the second overtime, managing to sneak out of Bobby Dodd stadium with their record unscathed. Quarterback Quinten Dormady has passed for over 400 yards and four touchdowns this year, and receiver Marquez Callaway has developed into a lethal red zone threat. Finally, running back John Kelly has averaged over 100 yards per game, showing off his best Alvin Kamara impression.

The good news for the Gators is that their leading rusher, Jordan Scarlett, and receiver, Antonio Callaway, will be coming back from suspensions that caused them to sit out the Michigan game. The bad news is that the quarterback play in week one was simply poor, with neither Malik Zaire nor Feleipe Franks exceeding a QBR of 25. The betting line is currently eight points in favor of Florida, but if the offense doesn’t pick of the slack, it could doom them again. Look for Tennessee to cover the line, and possibly steal the game this Saturday.

Clemson (3) at Louisville (14)

Facing a ranked opponent for the second straight week, the Clemson Tigers will travel to Louisville to challenge the red-hot Cardinals. This College GameDay matchup features has the reigning Heisman winner matching up with the reigning National Champions.

Lamar Jackson embarrassed North Carolina’s defense last week, putting up an absurd 525 total yards and six touchdowns. He unseated Sam Darnold for the top spot in Vegas’ Heisman betting, and Louisville climbed from 17th to 14th in the AP poll. That’s in part thanks to a pair of lethal receivers in Dez Fitzpatrick and Jaylen Smith, and the tandem combined for three touchdowns and over 250 yards receiving. Seasoned halfback Jeremy Smith went down in practice before the game, and is likely to miss the rest of the season, but the Cardinals showed no signs of struggle, rush for over 300 yards in Saturday’s victory.

Clemson is coming in fresh off a win over ranked Auburn, but the narrative from that game is much different than Louisville’s. Clemson’s stifling defensive line totaled 11 sacks, allowed 117 total yards, and just six points, as Auburn never reached the end zone. However, Kelly Bryant didn’t throw a single passing touchdown, Clemson fumbled twice, and many people walked away unimpressed by the offensive performance.

The most important matchup, the one that might just determine this game, is Clemson’s D-Line – one of the best in the nation – against the dual-threat that is Lamar Jackson. If the Tigers want to win this game, they need to be able to sack him, corral him, and most importantly, keep him from extending plays with his feet. His ability to turn any broken play into a five, ten, or twenty-yard gain on the ground is incredibly demoralizing to a tired defense.  It often provides the spark his team needs and alleviates pressure on his receivers to play superb football. Clemson’s offense may not be good enough to keep pace with Jackson, as Kelly Bryant hasn’t shown star power yet.

LSU (12) at Mississippi State

In the first SEC West matchup of the year, Mississippi State will test out an LSU team that has now gone 7-2 under newly promoted Head Coach Ed Orgeron. Both teams have had easy schedules so far this season, and will give the conference a flash of its true colors this week.

LSU running back Darrel Williams has emerged as a lethal compliment to Derrius Guice, who recently surpassed 2,000 career yards. The defense didn’t BYU to cross midfield in week one, and followed up that outstanding performance by holding Chattanooga to ten points.  Quarterback play has also been stellar, with Danny Etling posting a 189.5 rating so far.

Mississippi State has had a smooth start to their season as well. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has scored eight touchdowns, totaled over 500 yards, and the team has averaged 54 points so far this season. Most impressively, the defense turned a second and goal into a third and 93 last week in the most bizarre and entertaining play of the season so far.

LSU has won sixteen of the past seventeen matchups between these two teams, and the Tigers are heavily favored to improve upon that impressive record. However, the last time Mississippi State upset LSU, tremendous quarterback play from Dak Prescott turned the tide in the Bulldogs’ favor. If Nick Fitzgerald runs the ball well and continues to improve, LSU might be sent packing.

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