10 things you need to know for Week 8 of college football
Three top-25 matchups, several rivalries with big conference title implications and a real chance for the No. 1 team in the nation to get upset. What else could you ask for in a weekend of college football?
Week 8 promises to be as entertaining as ever, so get yourself ready for the action with 10 things to know about this weekend’s slate of games:
1. Arkansas passing attack proving to be team’s strength
The Arkansas Razorbacks are traditionally known for their massive offensive lines and clock-churning ground attacks, and while that is still a vital part of their offense, Arkansas’ passing game has been possibly their strongest unit this season. Quarterback Austin Allen ranks third among all Power-5 signal-callers with his 78.0 passing grade, and the Razorbacks boast three of the top five SEC wide receivers when it comes to receiving grade in Jared Cornelius (80.6), Drew Morgan (76.4) and Keon Hatcher (75.7). Arkansas faces a talented Auburn secondary this weekend led by Carlton Davis (83.2) and his SEC-leading six pass breakups, but expect the Razorback air attack to have another productive outing.
2. West Virginia continues its climb
The Mountaineers jumped eight spots in the rankings after their dismantling of Texas Tech over the weekend, doing their best to keep the Big 12 relevant in the Playoff discussion. It was an impressive performance by West Virginia, holding the usually potent Texas Tech offense to just 17 points and putting up a solid 48 points of their own. This week they play host to TCU and will be looking to further establish themselves as the class of the conference. West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard has been a threat as both a runner and passer this season and ranks ninth among QBs with his 80.4 overall grade. Howard has done most of his damage on routes traveling 10-plus yards downfield, but the TCU secondary will be looking to put an end to that on Saturday. Safeties Nick Orr (72.1) and Niko Small (76.6) have been among the best playmaking safeties in the country, ranking third with a combined 10 interceptions and pass breakups on the season.
3. Aggies defense will need to play clean game against Bama
In this weekend’s biggest contest, undefeated Texas A&M heads to Tuscaloosa to try and knock off top-ranked Alabama. The Crimson Tide have looked untouchable so far this season, hence the unusually large spread for a top-10 matchup. The Aggies have been impressive as well this year, but have narrowly escaped with victories on a few occasions and will need to play their cleanest game yet to pull off the upset. One area that Texas A&M must improve on in this game is their tackling. As pointed out earlier this week, the Aggie defense has missed 90 tackles this season, 31 of which came in their win over Tennessee. Even prior to that staggering total versus the Vols, A&M was whiffing on 11.8 tackles per game, a number that has likely caused some sleepless nights for defensive coordinator John Chavis.
Alabama has several players that will make you pay for not wrapping up, namely quarterback Jalen Hurts (79.2) and running back Joshua Jacobs (73.6). Hurts has been a weapon on the ground this year, totaling 375 yards on 46 designed QB runs while Jacobs has forced 18 missed tackles on just 49 touches, good for the second best elusive rating in the country. In a game where points may be hard to come by for the Aggies, they’ll need sure tackling out of their defense to prevent any big plays and easy scores for Alabama (as well as some disruptive play from star edge rusher Myles Garrett).
4. NC State has a chance to play spoiler again
NC State was one missed 33-yard field goal away from pulling off the upset over No. 3 Clemson last weekend, a reality that likely is still haunting them. As fate would have it, the Wolfpack get yet another chance this weekend to play spoiler against a top-10 team as they go on the road to face Louisville and Lamar Jackson. Clearly NC State has the talent to hang with the bigger programs, knocking off Notre Dame two weeks ago before Saturday’s overtime loss to Clemson. Quarterback Ryan Finley (74.1) and wide receiver Stephen Louis (74.3) have been the leaders of the offense while linebacker Airius Moore (84.7) and cornerback Jack Tocho (86.3) headline the Wolfpack defense. Their matchup with Louisville may be coming at the right time as well, as star quarterback Lamar Jackson looked almost human last week, held to a paltry two touchdowns against Duke. If NC State’s 15th-highest-graded run defense can contain Jackson and force him to make mistakes through the air, the Wolfpack could walk away with that signature win they were so close to grabbing last weekend.
5. WSU QB Luke Falk should have a field day against Sun Devils secondary
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk has been one of the more productive passers in the nation this season, earning a 92.12 PFF QB rating and ranking third in the nation with his 79.7 adjusted completion percentage. It’s safe to expect a gaudy stat line out of Falk most weeks, but that is especially true this weekend as the Cougars face a struggling Arizona State secondary. Of all the Sun Devil defensive backs to have played at least 200 snaps this season, only safety Laiu Moeakiola (79.6) has allowed a passer rating of less than 100.0 into his coverage. Through seven weeks, the Sun Devil defense ranks dead last among Power-5 programs in coverage grade, something that surely has Falk anxious for Saturday to arrive.
6. Ole Miss in danger of dropping second in a row
Ole Miss remains in the top 25 despite losing its third game of the season last weekend. That number could easily rise to four after Saturday as the Rebels go on the road to play a surging LSU team. The Tigers have looked rejuvenated under interim coach Ed Orgeron, appearing to have finally found an offensive identity. Rumor has it that star running back Leonard Fournette will be returning from injury this week as well, only adding to the already potent LSU ground game. Backup Derrius Guice performed extremely well in Fournette’s absence, ranking third among the nation’s running backs with his 64.9 breakaway percentage over the last three weeks. Considering the struggles Ole Miss had in stopping Arkansas’ rushing attack last week, it could be another long night for the Rebels against LSU on Saturday, unless QB Chad Kelly bounces back with a big game.
7. Virginia Tech must bounce back this week
Losing to Syracuse last weekend has caused a slight detour in Virginia Tech’s path to the ACC Coastal title. The Hokies’ loss coupled with North Carolina’s win means the division is now up for grabs and the Hokies face a crucial game against Miami this Thursday night. The Hurricanes have underwhelmed on offense the last two weeks and now face a Hokies defense that is PFF’s seventh-highest-graded unit this season. That being said, Miami is still a highly talented team capable of shaking things up in this ACC race. Virginia Tech will need to forget last week ever happened and regain their early season form so that this game, and their quest for a conference title, doesn’t slip away from them.
8. BYU’s Jamal Williams to be tested against Boise State defense
Jamal Williams is the best running back you’ve probably never heard of. The senior back for BYU is our fifth-highest-graded running back this season, earning an 81.0 overall grade through seven games. Williams’ 37 forced missed tackles rank third nationally and he has gained 43.2 percent of his rushing yards on runs of 15 yards or longer — 14th-best at his position. This week he faces one of the best teams in the country in Boise State and will go up against several stout run defenders on the Broncos defense including defensive lineman Sam McCaskill (80.0) and linebacker Tanner Vallejo (70.8). McCaskill has an impressive 11.9 run-stop percentage, while Vallejo has collected a stop on 12.7 percent of his run defense snaps, the best rate of any player at his position this season.
9. Dede Westbrook is playing like the best receiver in the country
Oklahoma receiver Dede Westbrook had a pretty pedestrian start to his season, totaling just 154 yards and failing to catch a single touchdown over his first three games. Something clearly changed during the Sooners’ bye week though, as Westbrook (83.9) has been on a complete tear ever since. Over the last three weeks he’s racked up 574 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, grading out as the best receiver in the country during that span. Westbrook’s emergence has been a huge reason why we’ve seen a renewed Oklahoma offense the last few weeks. This weekend’s contest should end in a similar fashion, as the Sooners travel to take on a porous Texas Tech defense. Look for Westbrook to have another dominant outing Saturday night and continue to establish himself among the nation’s best wideouts.
10. Marcus Williams injury a big loss for Utah
Utah received some unfortunate news this week as safety Marcus Williams will be out for an undisclosed amount of time due to injury. Williams (88.3) has not only been the best player on Utah’s defense, but he has graded out as the best safety in the nation over the first seven weeks of play. He’s shown an ability to impact a game in several facets, grading extremely well in both run defense and coverage. His 25.0 run-stop percentage is the second-best of any safety in the nation, and he ranks third in both yards allowed per cover snap (0.10) and cover snaps per reception (75.7). To top it all off, Williams is just one of 11 qualifying safeties yet to miss a tackle this season. The timing of the injury is not ideal, as the Utes travel to face UCLA and one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country in Josh Rosen (72.3). If Rosen and the UCLA offense are able to play up to their potential this week, Utah could easily find themselves with their second loss of the season after Saturday.