Originally Published: October 4, 2012

Action intensifies in October

By Rece Davis

One week from Sunday, the initial BCS standings will be released. The first standings rarely reflect what we'll see in January, but frankly, I don't care about January right now.

[+] Enlarge
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesTexas will have seen plenty of Geno Smith's favorite targets, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, when watching film of the Mountaineers this week.

October is starting in beast mode. Five games this weekend match ranked opponents. A couple of others are headline-worthy, and their results will be reflected in those BCS standings when they're released on Oct. 14.

No. 8 West Virginia's visit to No. 11 Texas is probably the highest-profile game, especially after QB Geno Smith and his band of lightning-bolt receivers dropped an effortless-looking 70 points on Baylor. The Bears' defensive plan was, apparently, to hope Smith's arm got tired or WR Stedman Bailey got cramps from eating too many pregame Yann Dogs, a Morgantown delicacy.

The Longhorns will try for a different strategy. In theory, Texas can get pressure up front with Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor without leaving its secondary exposed.

In theory, cornerback Quandre Diggs can take away one West Virginia receiver by himself.

In theory, safety Kenny Vaccaro will be a disruptive force in the secondary.

In practice, however, despite Bevo's bevy of talent, the Longhorns' defense has been gashed by the big play.

Texas ranks 100th in the nation in allowing 6.2 yards per play. The Longhorns have allowed seven plays of 40 yards or longer and have given up three plays longer than 60 yards. Those are ominous numbers against West Virginia, which is among the nation's best at ripping off long plays. Geno Smith is providing a positive connotation to the agonizing sports phrase, "he hit the post." He hits the post route routinely.

[+] Enlarge
Mark D. Smith/US PresswireAlex Okafor and the Longhorns will need to find ways to pressure Smith.

Texas will have to be buckled up in the middle of the field. The Horns have dealt with some injuries -- most notably to linebacker Jordan Hicks -- but, mostly, they've injured themselves with missed tackles and ill-timed busts. Can they plug enough leaks to slow down Geno & Co.?

While it appeared to me that Baylor's defense signed a nonaggression pact with West Virginia's offense, Smith told me Saturday that the offensive explosion was beneficial for reasons other than padding stats. The Mountaineers needed all 10 touchdowns to beat Baylor, and they knew an unproductive drive could cost them the game. It forced a focus and attention to detail that they needed in their 70-63 victory.

Which brings us to the Mountaineers' defense. Safety Darwin Cook said it best after the Baylor game: "I felt like Clemson's defense," an obvious reference to last season's Orange Bowl, which West Virginia won 70-33.

Texas is a balanced offense. David Ash is second only to Smith in passing efficiency and has several options at his disposal. The Mountaineers' defense will have to step up and try to make the Horns one-dimensional. That won't be easy, but Texas will be without running back Malcolm Brown, who was injured early in the win over Oklahoma State. That just means more carries for Joe Bergeron and freshman Johnathan Gray, who looked dynamic against the Cowboys.

This is a crucial test for West Virginia. I want to see that offense execute against a legitimate defense. Don't misread the previous sentence. I'm not implying that the Mountaineers can't or won't execute, but while Texas' defense is by no means playing to its capabilities or its expectations, it has the athletes to throw some kinks in coach Dana Holgorsen's high-wire flying circus.

Of course, Smith's Mountain-air raid attack could leave the Horns butchered and ready for the meat locker. The winner will earn some serious BCS cred.

No. 5 Georgia at No. 6 South Carolina: Marcus Lattimore has run roughshod over Georgia when he's faced the Bulldogs. In two games, he's run for 182 and 176 yards and dominated the fourth quarter in both games.

[+] Enlarge
Jeff Blake/US PresswireSome of Marcus Lattimore's best performances have come against Georgia.

The question I have is whether Lattimore is ready to dominate a game like this less than a year after knee surgery. He hasn't looked quite the same to me. Maybe that's because South Carolina's offensive line has been inconsistent. The Gamecocks have allowed 13 sacks, second-most in the SEC, numbers that will surely make Georgia's Jarvis "Sac-Man" Jones salivate.

South Carolina QB Connor Shaw is 10th in the nation in passing efficiency, but this is not the rebirth of coach Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense. Despite gaudy completion percentage numbers, Shaw has thrown for more than 150 yards just once this season. He is a running threat but also makes plenty of big plays throwing on the move. That's when the Dawgs believe he is most dangerous.

South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney is a great pass-rusher, but the Gamecocks' vulnerability is in their back seven. Georgia QB Aaron Murray will have a chance to exploit that, but the loss of WR Michael Bennett to a season-ending ACL injury will be felt. Bennett was Murray's third-down security blanket.

As for the Dawgs' explosive freshmen running back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, or "Gurshall," they haven't seen a rush defense like South Carolina's. The Gamecocks allow just 77 yards per game on the ground and just 2.2 yards per carry. Murray will need to have a big day.

No. 4 LSU at No. 10 Florida: The other SEC headliner is in the Swamp, where LSU will face a resurgent Florida team. Reports of the Tigers' demise have been greatly exaggerated. While they've slipped in the polls, and made everyone wonder what's wrong, I interrupt the panic to remind you that we've seen this Hat dance before.

It might not be by design, but coach Les Miles' teams periodically post lethargic efforts against lesser teams. OK, perhaps not at the level of the near-comatose display against Towson, but consistent performances haven't always been the norm against lighter weights.

Remember when the Tigers led Western Kentucky 14-7 in the third quarter last season? Or when they led McNeese State by just six points halfway through the third quarter the season before that? That's just how the Tigers roll. But when the lights shine brightest, the freaks come out ready to ball.

That's the LSU team I expect to see Saturday. The Tigers will see a much different Florida team than the one they slapped around last year. The Gators' offensive line has become a strength. QB Jeff Driskel is taking care of the ball. Mike Gillislee is a relentless hammer running the ball. The Gators have dominated the second half of games this season, displaying a superior mental toughness.

LSU can convince pollsters they've overreacted to the last two weeks.

Florida can convince them they've underreacted to its quick start.

No. 23 Washington at No. 2 Oregon: I don't know how coach Steve Sarkisian's young patchwork offensive line will keep QB Keith Price upright long enough to threaten the Ducks. Washington's defense put forth a valiant effort against Stanford, but the Huskies have faded late in games the past couple of years against Oregon.

GameDay Twitter Kickoff

Editor's note: Rece Davis and ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach traded thoughts about Week 6 over Twitter on Wednesday. The following is their exchange:


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?