The most anticipated week in college football already opened with quality MACtion bringing us football each night of the week. Two plays are still pending from the Thursday-Friday slate with Temple getting us home on Thursday night football. Overall, on the season we sit at 31-25 (55.4%). Let's take a closer look at the games to point out why we lean a certain way for this weekend's action.
Why Alabama covers
LSU continues to be bet down throughout the week. This game opened with a touchdown spread but has been bet down to -5.5 currently. We continue to be higher on Alabama than most ranking systems, making them almost a full 100 ELO points better than LSU. Most of the discussion centers on the play of Joe Burrow, who has looked like the best quarterback in college football through 10 weeks. Alabama, however, has looked like the best overall offense through 10 weeks with the best receiving unit in college football. Alabama’s pass-catchers have an 89.9 receiving grade, averaging 0.5 EPA per pass attempt while picking up 9.4 yards after catch per reception. Conversely, LSU’s defense has been prone to big plays despite a 91.8 coverage grade. The Tigers have allowed a 59.8% completion percentage on pass attempts while allowing an average of -.04 EPA per pass attempt. The key piece that LSU needs to stop is those yards after the catch, which they haven’t been great at in 2019, allowing 6.03 yards after the catch per reception which ranks 88th in the FBS. If Alabama is going to cover, it will be on the basis of their receivers continuing to make chunk plays after the catch with the LSU secondary struggling to contain the quartet of receivers.
What could go wrong
In a rivalry matchup against two of the best teams in the nation, any number of things could happen. The key differentiator between Joe Burrow and the rest of the quarterbacks in the FBS has been his play on throws with receiver separation that is tight, closing or within a step of a defender. Burrow has 50% of his attempts on throws into this window, where he has a 91.8 passing grade with 16 big-time throws and only five turnover worthy plays. He has a ridiculous 73.9% adjusted completion percentage while maintaining 12.1 ADOT. If he can continue to beat the top defense in the nation on throws with little receiver separation, then the Tigers could run away with a victory in Tuscaloosa. This is a much more difficult task than Burrow has made it seem so far in 2019. Our money is on the Tide’s ability to slow Burrow enough for Tua and his receivers to peel off enough big plays to secure the cover which we see happening 53% of the time.
Why Iowa covers
This one could be slow, as it currently sits with the lowest total on this weekend slate. These two teams have the second (Iowa) and fourth (Wisconsin) best pass defenses from an EPA perspective in the FBS. Success throwing the football could be a thing of the past when these two teams meet. It sounds like blasphemy to say but with this game at Camp Randall, the real reason Iowa will cover is if they are successful containing Jonathan Taylor. The Badgers will look to establish the run, something that they have been mildly successful at in 2019. They still have an above average EPA per rush attempt with 46.9% of attempts successful. It helps when you force a missed tackle on 20% of attempts. The Hawkeyes' defense has an 85.6 run-defense grade while missing the 11th-fewest tackles in run defense in the FBS. With points definitely a premium in this matchup, if Iowa can contain Jonathan Taylor throughout, then they should be able to keep this Big Ten matchup within a touchdown when it's all said and done.
What could go wrong
We are currently relying on Nate Stanley and a Hawkeyes team to play sound run defense in order to get us a cover. What could go wrong? In one word, everything. It would feel better if we could confidently say that Stanley is the best quarterback in this matchup, but that would be a fabrication of the truth. It is tough to do, but the Hawkeyes' passing offense averages negative EPA per pass attempt with a current ranking of 86th in the FBS. As a receiving unit, they average 6.62 yards per route run which ranks 58th. The Badgers, on the other hand, have received better quarterback play from Jack Coan than what Stanley has graded like for Iowa. The Badgers are actually successful on a regular basis throwing the football while their receiving unit ranks 21st in overall receiving grade. This is a spot where we are backing the Hawkeyes but we definitely won’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about it at any point.
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