10 things you need to know for Week 9 of college football season

Washington-Utah will come down to a battle of the trenches, plus nine more PFF facts you need to know for Week 9 of college football season.

| 8 months ago
during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 15, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona.

during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 15, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona.

10 things you need to know for Week 9 of college football season

Believe it or not, we’ve just about closed the book on October and are approaching the last few weeks of college football’s regular season. Plenty of action and drama still await us, and anything can happen on any given week that could redefine the College Football Playoff picture. Just ask Ohio State.

With a few conference rivalry games on the docket this weekend and our recent reminder that any game can end in an upset, this weekend should provide loads of excitement.

Here are your 10 things to know for Week 9 of the college football season:

1. Baylor’s passing attack should thrive against Longhorns

After picking up their fourth loss of the season last week at Kansas State and possibly sealing the fate of head coach Charlie Strong, the Texas Longhorns head home for what will likely be another difficult matchup against the Baylor Bears. The Longhorns have had their fair share of struggles on defense this year and will be tasked with slowing down the always-potent Baylor offense.

One of the more balanced attacks in the nation, Baylor currently ranks 14th in passing and 19th in rushing according to our PFF grades, but it’s through the air where they’ll find the most success this weekend. Texas cornerback Davante Davis (52.8 PFF grade, on a 0-100 scale) currently ranks last in the nation with an average of 2.73 yards surrendered per cover snap, while teammate Sherold Evans (49.7) isn’t far behind with a 1.86 average. As a unit, the Longhorns have the 114th-worst coverage unit in the nation. With Baylor QB Seth Russell’s (83.5) ability to throw it downfield (108.2 rating on deep pass attempts) and receivers KD Cannon (76.1) and Ishmael Zamora (75.8) on the outside, it could be another long day for the Texas defense.

2. Ole Miss’ run defense could give up a lot of rushing yards to Auburn

The Ole Miss defense got the chance to welcome LSU star running back Leonard Fournette (70.1) back to the world of college football last weekend, but they may have been a little too welcoming. They surrendered a staggering 284 yards and three touchdowns to Fournette, and things don’t get much easier this week as the Rebels face another difficult matchup against Kerryon Johnson (79.5), Kamryn Pettway (51.5) and the Auburn rushing attack. Johnson has put together an impressive year and currently ranks as the top-graded runner in the SEC with his 77.7 run grade. Pettway has been solid as well, totaling 719 yards on the ground and averaging 3.6 yards after contact per attempt. With the struggling Ole Miss defense and the talented Auburn backfield, don’t be surprised if the Rebels give up another big day on the ground this week.

3. West Virginia looks to continue its defensive dominance

While Texas Tech and Oklahoma were off redefining the known limits of the passing game last weekend, West Virginia was quietly putting together another dominant defensive performance in its 34-10 victory over TCU and further distancing itself from the “defense-optional” Big 12 stereotype. The Mountaineers have already shut down several strong passing attacks this year and will be looking to do the same this weekend as they travel to take on quarterback Mason Rudolph (78.6) and the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Rudolph has had a solid year and has several talented receivers to throw to in James Washington (78.2) and Jalen McCleskey (76.6), but the fourth-ranked West Virginia coverage unit may prove to be too much this weekend.  Cornerbacks Antonio Crawford (86.9), Rasul Douglas (84.9) and Maurice Fleming (80.1) have all had impressive seasons and each rank in the top-five in coverage grades among Big-12 corners this season. Throw in safeties Kyzir White (83.9) and Jeremy Tyler (81.1), the first- and third-highest-graded safeties in the conference, and there’s no wonder why opposing passing attacks have struggled against the Mountaineers this season.

4. There’s a battle in the trenches in store for Washington and Utah

during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 15, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona.

The Utah offensive line has been one of the best run-blocking units in the country this season, currently ranking second in our PFF rankings. They’re led by a pair of talented tackles in Garrett Bolles (82.8) and Sam Tevi (76.7), with Bolles leading the nation in run-block grades and Tevi just a few spots below him at 17th overall. Left guard Isaac Asiata (79.4) has also been impressive when opening lanes on the ground and has an 81.0 run-block grade on the season.

This weekend’s matchup with Washington will be the toughest of the season for the Utes offensive line, as the Huskies boast the third-highest-graded run defense in the nation through eight weeks. Defensive tackle Greg Gaines (85.9) leads the team with his 88.0 run-defense grade and currently ranks 11th at his position with an 11.9 run-stop percentage. Fellow defensive linemen Elijah Qualls (83.2) and Vita Vea (84.3) have been tough to run on as well, each ranking among the top 26 players at their position in run-stop percentage. Be sure to keep an eye on the trenches when Utah has the ball this weekend, as two of the nation’s best units will be squaring off.

5. Florida State ground game will be key to upsetting Clemson

If the Seminoles are going to knock off Clemson this weekend, a strong performance out of their rushing attack will be key. Behind Dalvin Cook (83.9) and QB Deondre Francois, Florida State currently holds the eighth-highest-graded ground game in the nation, but they’ll face a difficult test this weekend against Clemson’s 19th-ranked run defense. Cook is one of the most dynamic backs in the country and leads all runners with his 46 forced missed tackles this season, while Francois (82.5 run grade) has been a threat on the ground as well, picking up 193 yards on 24 designed quarterback runs and another 127 yards on 17 scrambles.

Running up the middle against this Clemson team will prove difficult, as freshman Dexter Lawrence (87.0) holds the 10th-best run-defense grade among defensive tackles and defensive end Christian Wilkins (80.6) ranks second in run-stop percentage at his position.

6. Baker Mayfield is the nation’s best passer under pressure

NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 15: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners throws a pass against the Kansas State Wildcats at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Norman, Oklahoma. (Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Baker Mayfield

Mayfield (92.6) has been virtually unstoppable since his Week 1 loss to Houston, currently holding the second-highest grade of any QB in the nation. He’s excelled in several areas, but one place that Mayfield has really shined is when throwing with pressure in his face. Nothing seems to faze him, and Mayfield leads the nation in both accuracy percentage (74.1) and NFL QB Rating (127.1) on plays under duress.

This week’s opponent, the Kansas Jayhawks, will be looking to put those numbers to the test with their pass-rushing unit that currently ranks fourth in the nation according to PFF grades. Defensive linemen Dorance Armstrong Jr. (83.8) and Daniel Wise (88.3) have been the most productive pass-rushers for the Jayhawks, with Armstrong ranking fifth among all players at his position in both total pressures (35) and pass rushing productivity rating (14.4).

7. Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. will be put to the test versus Wisconsin

The Nebraska Cornhuskers remain undefeated after eight weeks and currently sit atop the Big Ten West standings. That being said, with the quality of wins on their resume, there still remain questions as to whether or not this team is for real. With a road trip to Wisconsin on the schedule for this weekend, we should have an answer to those questions very soon. The Badgers defense has been one of the better run-stopping units in the country this year and will be looking to shut down the Cornhuskers’ ground game and force quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (62.8) to win with his arm. Armstrong Jr. has had an up-and-down year, and while he’s been effective as a runner he’s struggled through the air, ranking 112th with a 63.7 percent adjusted completion rate this season. The Cornhuskers will need to establish the run early and avoid obvious passing situations in order to secure the road victory.

8. Nick Bosa is picking up where his brother left off at Ohio State

MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 15: at Camp Randall Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

When your older brother was the star player at your school the year before and is currently tearing it up at the next level, it would be understandable if you felt a bit of pressure to live up to expectations. Well, Nick Bosa, the younger brother of current San Diego Charger Joey Bosa, seems to be doing just fine in that regard. Through eight weeks, the younger Bosa (84.1) has established himself as a star in his own right and currently leads all 4-3 defensive ends with a 19.6 pass-rushing productivity rating.

Bosa has produced 24 total pressures on just 97 pass-rushing snaps this season and has made a real impact on a talented Buckeyes defense. He’s no slouch in the run game either, ranking fourth at his position with a 10.8 run stop percentage. He’ll have a chance to add to his stats this weekend, as Northwestern comes to town with an offensive line ranking just 188th in the nation with their 74.9 pass-blocking efficiency rating.

9. Georgia has a chance to play spoiler

Yes, the Georgia Bulldogs were handed their third loss of the season two weeks ago by Vanderbilt. But does that mean they have no chance of upsetting 14th-ranked Florida this weekend? Absolutely not. That’s the beauty of college football, and especially rivalry games – anything can happen. Florida does have a very strong defense, led by lineman Caleb Brantley (84.4), linebacker Jarrad Davis (85.6) and one of the nation’s top cover corners in Quincy Wilson (78.5).

And while that sort of talent can make life difficult for an offense, Georgia has plenty of playmakers of their own and a nothing-to-lose mentality. Quarterback Jacob Eason (66.8) is still raw but has flashed his ability this season and has shown a propensity for taking chances downfield, going deep on 19.6 percent of his attempts. His favorite target Isaiah McKenzie (78.9) has been impressive as well this year and ranks 19th among receivers with his 3.07 yards per route run. Add in running back Nick Chubb (71.4) and the young but talented Georgia defense, and the Bulldogs may have what it takes to throw a wrench in Florida’s plans this weekend.

10. Dede Westbrook can’t be stopped

Oklahoma wide receiver DeDe Westbrook (89.3) has been on a tear his last few games, putting up nine catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over Texas Tech alone. Over the last four games Westbrook has hauled in 35 passes for 776 yards and a staggering 10 touchdowns. He’s been the highest-graded receiver in the nation over that span and now ranks among the top three in wide receiver rating (151.9), deep pass yardage (480) and yard per route run (4.12). Westbrook has shown no signs of slowing down yet and should have another favorable matchup this weekend as the Sooners play host to Kansas.

Vinnie joined PFF as an analyst in 2015. College football will be his primary focus throughout the season.

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