Week 6 of the 2021 college football season gave us a slate of games that very few will forget in a hurry. It began with a 103-point nail-biter between Arkansas and Ole Miss that ended in a touchdown with no time left and a failed two-point conversion. Oklahoma and Texas then met in the Red River Showdown, where the Spencer Rattler‘s benching somehow resulted in a 21-point comeback for the Sooners. Iowa saw off Penn State soon after, while Alabama, the No. 1 team in the country, lost to unranked Texas A&M in a shocker.
My picks went 6-1 amid all this chaos, bringing my 2021 record to 24-21 for +4.87 units.
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These two Big Ten programs have been on completely different trajectories since the beginning of the season — the Hoosiers have slipped to 2-3 after entering the 2021 campaign with a projected win total of 7.5, while Michigan State has already surpassed its 4.5-win total and sits at a perfect 6-0.
Granted, Indiana’s three losses have come against the current No. 2, No. 3 and No. 7 teams in the country, but there is still something noticeably off about the offense. Through six weeks, the Hoosiers' 70.6 team offense grade ranks 83rd among 130 FBS programs, while their -0.111 expected points added (EPA) per play ranks 104th. In all, they have managed a putrid 4.8 yards per play, the 16th-worst figure in the FBS.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is week-to-week with a shoulder injury, but it's not as if his absence will send shockwaves through this team. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound junior's current 67.8 PFF passing grade would be a career-low mark by more than five grading points, and he's thrown an uncatchable inaccurate pass on a staggering 25.6% of his pass attempts so far, a rate that ranks 85th among 105 qualifying FBS passers.
Backup Jack Tuttle will be the next man up if Penix can't go, but the redshirt junior has earned just a 50.5 PFF passing grade over his three-year career and managed a grade of 52.8 against Penn State in Week 5 — neither of which inspire confidence.
|Passer rating when clean||125.8||80.9|
|Passer rating under pressure||94.3||16.8|
|Big-time throw %||7.61%||4.46%|
|Turnover-worthy play %||1.09%||4.46%|
The player to watch in this contest is none other than Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III, who leads the country with a ridiculous 912 rushing yards through six weeks. No back is even close to his 673 yards after contact — 132 more yards than the next-best rusher — and he leads the country with 26 explosive runs of 10 or more yards, including a 94-yard run against Rutgers.
Walker will almost certainly be looking to add to that total against a defense that ranks 99th in the FBS in rushing yards allowed before first contact (2.1).
Meanwhile, the Spartans' three wide receivers, Jayden Reed, Jalen Nailor and Tre Mosley, all have at least 20 receptions and at least 310 receiving yards, with the team as a whole putting up the sixth-best receiving grade (80.8) and the ninth-most EPA per pass play (0.322) in the FBS through six games.
The QB-WR connection between Payton Thorne and Nailor was magical against Rutgers last week, as they connected for five catches from nine targets for 221 receiving yards and three touchdowns of 63, 63 and 65 yards. And this matchup against the Hoosiers coverage unit presents yet another massive opportunity, as the Hoosiers defense has been weakest when defending throws to wide receivers and tight ends.
Hoosiers defense: PFF team coverage grade by target position