USC special teams coach John Baxter talked with Scout's Whitney Blaine about what makes his unit so…
Week Four Preview: The Best Games to Watch
The Florida State Seminoles (2-1) are dinged up. Wide receiver Kenny Shaw was taken off the field on a stretcher after getting sandwiched by two defenders in last Saturday's 23-13 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners. Wide receiver Willie Haulstead is still recovering from a concussion, wide receiver Jarred Haggins recently had surgery on his broken hand and wide receiver Bert Reed (ankle) saw limited action last week. Quarterback E.J. Manuel was diagnosed with an AC joint sprain (shoulder of non-throwing arm) and did not practice Monday. Clint Trickett played very well in place of Manuel in last week's loss to the Sooners, passing 7-15, 134 yards. The Seminoles' defense looks nasty, but they'll be pushed to the limits once again, this time on the road at Clemson.
The Tigers have flirted with preseason BCS Bowl hopes before but instead have been relegated to the Meineke Car Care and Music City Bowls. Almost everything looks good for Clemson right now—a BCS Orange Bowl berth is in the big picture and quarterback Tajh Boyd is currently averaging 303.7 passing yards a game. The Tigers are ranked ninth in total offense but the defense is a different story giving up an average 419 yards per game.
The Tigers have home field advantage and an effervescent head coach, but will they be hung over after snapping Auburn's 17-game winning streak last Saturday? Clemson may come out flat while the Seminoles may come out angry after dropping their game to the Sooners.
Big Ten (Michigan v San Diego State)
This isn't a conference game but this match-up between the 3-0 Aztecs and 3-0 Wolverines is very intriguing. San Diego State would love to give Brady Hoke one final farewell gift by beating their former coach at the Big House while Michigan would like to keep their momentum going after beating Western Michigan, Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan.
Both teams have superb quarterbacks. The Aztecs' Ryan Lindley—a classic pocket passer— finished as the seventh leading passer in the country last year and has thrown seven touchdowns and one interception this year. The Wolverines' Denard Robinson is a dual-threat quarterback and is currently the 15th leading rusher in FBS football. But this isn't just about quarterbacks—Ronnie Hillman is chasing Marshall Faulk's career rushing record at San Diego State and last week the speedster rushed for 191 yards against Washington State.
If the Aztecs can pressure Robinson to hurry his throws but not force him to take off and run, this game will be close. If Denard sees any green grass in front of him, this could get ugly for the Aztecs. The Aztecs' front seven will need serious gap discipline to keep Robinson contained.
Big 12 (Oklahoma State v Texas A&M)
This game will be fast and furious with a lot of points being put on the board. The Oklahoma State Cowboys are averaging over 52 points per game while the Texas A&M Aggies are averaging over 41 points. The match-ups are interesting— the nation's top passing team squares off against the Aggies' 51st ranked passing defense. Conversely, an 18th ranked passing offense will be throwing against the 84th ranked Cowboys' passing defense.
Oklahoma State's Brandon Wheeden is the nation's leading passer throwing eight touchdowns and averaging nearly 385 passing yards per game but he has also thrown six interceptions. The Aggies' Ryan Tannehill, on paper at least, appears more accurate than Wheeden, albeit against teams of lesser-caliber than those that Wheeden has faced. Tannehil has a 72.3 completion percentage and has only thrown one interception.
Ball control is key. A&M should give running back Cyrus Gray the ball and let him chew up the clock and keep the Cowboys' offense off the field. If the Cowboys can't stop the run, not only will they lose the battle in the trenches, they'll also lose the war.
Big East (West Virginia v LSU)
Les Miles vs Dana Holgorsen. Two coaches with iconic personalities colliding in Morgantown, West Virginia to prove well… what? Which fan base is more passionate about football? It's a push. Which team has the more potent offense? Edge to West Virginia. Which team has a better defense? Edge to LSU. Better coach? Hmmm.
West Virginia's defense is ranked No. 40 overall, but let's be honest here, those numbers are based on three games against Marshall, Norfolk State and Maryland. LSU's defense is ranked No. 6, surrendering an average of only 207.7 yards a game against Oregon, Northwestern State and Mississippi State.
On the flip side, West Virginia is averaging almost 435 yards in offense versus LSU's 344.7 yards but LSU has faced two teams with solid defenses while two of West Virginia's foes are hovering in the bottom 25 percent of total defense team rankings. This is going to be a game in which the defense—not the offense—is the star of the game.
LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard is eligible to play in this game after serving his suspension out. His possible return will give quarterback Jarrett Lee a much-needed spark to get the offense rolling but this game is really all about Holgorsen and Miles—the coach with the biggest onions wins.
Pac-12 (Arizona State v USC)
USC quarterback Matt Barkley told Los Angeles Times reporter Baxter Holmes, "He's [Vontaze Burfict] a dirty player. His switch is always on. And it's not a good switch."
Barkley calling a linebacker who probably eats nails for breakfast "dirty" has set the tone for this game, especially since ESPN's Mark Saxon reported that head coach Lane Kiffin instructed his scout team to get aggressive after the whistle is blown to mimic game conditions. According to Saxon, offensive lineman Matt Kalil said, "If I see him [Burfict] standing around, I'll drill him."
The Sun Devils have a terrific quarterback in Brock Osweiler whose numbers are almost identical to Matt Barkley's except for his touchdown-interception ratio; Barkley is 9-1 while Osweiler is 6-3. The Sun Devils' defense has been decimated by injuries and USC will try and exploit some of its inexperience, but USC's bend-but-don't-break defense looks suspect in one particular area—look for Osweiler to throw a lot of slants and stop routes in the middle of the field.
Both Arizona State and USC are among the most penalized teams in the country—USC averages over 66 penalty yards per game while ASU averages 80.3 yards. With all the smack flying around, this contest may see a record number of fouls and penalty yards.
Southeastern Conference (Arkansas v Alabama)
Alabama's win at Penn State seemed awfully impressive until the Nittany Lions struggled against the Temple Owls the following week. Still, Alabama has been battle-tested while Arkansas has played with the likes of Missouri State, New Mexico and Troy. So who has the edge here?
Arkansas has probably the most talented wide receiver corps in the country in Greg Childs, Cobi Hamilton, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams. Childs and Wright—listed as "probable" and "doubtful" respectively last week—should play but despite their lack and/or limited playing time, the Razorbacks are still averaging almost 347 passing yards per game. Alabama will probably present Arkansas with a much greater challenge than the Razorbacks' previous opponents have because the Crimson Tide's pass defense has passed the smell test. So far.
Alabama's game plan should be fairly obvious—march down the field in long sustained drives and move the sticks to keep Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson and his posse of receivers off the field. Arkansas, on the other hand, is going to try and run the ball against a Tide defense that is only allowing 55.33 rushing yards per game. Arkansas has a prolific offense but Alabama has a championship-worthy defense—which unit will come out on top?
Fun fact: Arkansas wide receiver Joe Adams has returned nine punts for 176 yards and is currently the only player to have two returned punts result in touchdowns.
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