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Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Harris deep ball could key Canes upset

By Ben Lerner

It's a big weekend in college football. Let's take a look at some of the key storylines in the biggest matchups via Next Level previews:

12 MIAMI at 2 OHIO STATE (3:30 ET ON ESPN)

CANES RELY ON HARRIS' ARM

• Miami finished 2009 with a 9-4 record, and Jacory Harris' success throwing downfield was a good barometer for the Canes' success. Harris connected on 7-of-9 passes thrown at least 10 yards down the field against Florida A&M to start 2010, and the Ohio State defense must be ready to contain Harris' downfield throwing ability. Since the start of the 2009 season, Harris has completed 58.3 percent of his throws of 10+ yards in wins, compared to 39.4 percent in losses.

• Harris got off to an incredibly fast start last season, and helped Miami out to a 5-1 record through an incredibly tough early schedule. Much of this was due to his accuracy on passes of 20+ yards. But as injuries piled up and the toll of the season's 34 sacks wore on him, Harris faded in the season's final seven games as Miami lost three of its final seven.

PRYOR MAKES PLAYS ON 3RD DOWN

Terrelle Pryor is dangerous on third down because of his ability to tuck the football and run with it. Pryor finished with 366 rushing yards on third down in 2009, second most in the FBS, and had 16 rushes of 10+ yards, which was the highest total in the FBS on third down. Pryor has picked up yardage when called upon to run, but has also shown the ability to improvise: 14 of his 49 third-down runs over the last two seasons were on scrambles. He averaged over 14 yards per carry on those runs, compared to 6.1 on called run plays.

PRYOR WORKS DOWN THE MIDDLE

• Pryor has had recent success throwing downfield when he targets a receiver in the middle of the field. Since the start of 2009, Prior has completed 57.7 percent of his throws of at least 15 yards to the middle of the field. Conversely, he's completed just 37.9 percent of such passes to the right or left side of the field.

POSEY IS PRYOR'S BEST BET DEEP

• Since 2009 Terrelle Pryor has completed as many deep throws of 20+ yards to receiver DeVier Posey as all other Buckeye targets combined, but against Marshall, Pryor's only deep connections came with Dane Sanzenbacher. Six of Pryor's eight pass TD on throws of 20+ yards since 2009 have gone to Posey. If both Posey and Sanzenbacher prove to be viable options down the field, Ohio State opponents could be in for some trouble.

18 PENN STATE at 1 ALABAMA (7 ET on ESPN)

BAMA LOOKS TO SHAKE RED ZONE WOES

• Alabama won the National Championship last season, but it was a struggle for the Tide when the offense reached the red zone. Alabama scored a touchdown on just 47.5 percent of its red zone trips, ranking the team 108th out of 120 FBS teams. Quarterback Greg McElroy finished 2009 with a 35.0 percent red zone completion rate, the third-worst completion percentage among FBS quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts. McElroy can improve this season if he can find a way to get the ball to star receiver Julio Jones when deep in opponent territory. Jones' only red zone reception last season came against FCS opponent Chattanooga.

PLAY-ACTION MAKES PLAYS FOR McELROY

• Greg McElroy has had far more success throwing down the field when he uses the threat of the run to set up his passes. 68 percent of his completions on downfield throws (15+ yards) have come after a play-action fake since 2009 began. He's completed 47.5 percent of such attempts off of play-action, compared to just 29.0 percent with no play-action.

RICHARDSON PREFERS THE PISTOL

• Alabama running back Trent Richardson may have to carry the load Saturday if Mark Ingram is unable to go. Richardson averaged over 6 yards per carry against San Jose State, and found most of his success when lined up in the pistol formation rather than a traditional I-formation with a fullback. In the pistol offense, the quarterback is not under center, but also closer to the center than a traditional shotgun snap. The running back then lines up behind the quarterback.

CAN RICHARDSON RUN INSIDE?

• While Richardson is a tremendous talent, he was not able to match Mark Ingram's production between the tackles last season against SEC competition. Ingram averaged 6.2 yards per carry between the tackles, while Richardson averaged 3.3. Ingram took 17 of his 117 carries for 10+ yards, while Richardson did so with just 3 of his 48.

17 FLORIDA STATE at 10 OKLAHOMA (3:30 ET on ABC/ESPN2)

JONES COULD USE A SECOND DEEP THREAT

Landry Jones struggled last season to complete downfield passes, connecting on just 29.8 percent of his passes thrown 15 or more yards, but did have success when targeting star receiver Ryan Broyles. Oklahoma's offense would get a huge boost this season if another receiver can emerge as a downfield threat.

PONDER'S MOBILITY ON DISPLAY

• Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder was very solid when outside the pocket in the Seminoles' first game of the season against Samford. In fact, he was a perfect 5-for-5 on throws from outside the pocket (with 1 TD pass), while he was 7-for-9 from inside the pocket. Ponder used a play-action fake on 71.4 percent of his passes against Samford, completing nine of his 10 attempts with 4 touchdowns after faking the run.

MICHIGAN at NOTRE DAME (3:30 ET)

DENARD ROBINSON'S SECOND ACT

• Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson had a coming out party against Connecticut, and looks like one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the country. Robinson hurt Connecticut in a variety of ways with his legs last Saturday.

ROBINSON NOW A POCKET PASSER

• Robinson worked hard to boost his passing game in the off-season, and his performance against Connecticut was an indication that his ability to drop back and throw a pass in the pocket is much improved. He was 8-for-18 passing from inside the pocket in 2009, but was 14-for-14 from inside the pocket against UConn. He was also 2-for-2 on throws of 15+ yards after going just 1-for-11 on such throws vs FBS opponents last season.