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    [2021] Big XII Network Week 4 Saturday Preview

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    Saturday Morning


    :kstate: Kansas State (1-1) at :unc: North Carolina (0-2)


    The Wildcats and the Tar Heels enter this game in need of a big bounceback. Kansas State's coming off of a bye after a shocking 44-25 loss at home to Akron, but North Carolina's been somewhere between dead and lifeless in their two games so far. LSU and Nebraska outscored them by a combined margin of 76-17, and virtually nothing's gone right for them. They average 25 yards per game on the ground. Quarterback Sebastian Norwood's thrown 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions on 57.3% passing. The defense made Elias Allen-Hollis work for it back in week 1, only for Sean Connell and Franklin Riggins to get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, however they wanted. For Kansas State, the key to replicating Nebraska's offensive success against North Carolina will be through the air. The Wildcats haven't really established a ground game yet, with Jaiden Givens coming off of 26 yards on 12 carries. Rahim Murrell has to be able to manage the game, plain and simple. So far this season, he's 40 of 68 through the air (58.8%) for 452 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. That's very much the same story as last year: he can put up big numbers, but it's going to come with turnovers attached. The turnover battle can be a turning point, but neither defense has forced them at a particularly high rate. Cornerback Nasir Greer has an interception for Carolina, linebacker Joshua Turner has one for Kansas State, and that's it. Carolina's going to try and put pressure on Murrell thanks to two NFL-quality defensive linemen (seniors Daniel Simpson and Mohamed Caldwell), and Kansas State's going to try and put Ricky Seau, Damani Askew, Jhonny Palacios, and company in a position to take advantage of a Tar Heel defense that's so-so in most spots. I think they'll be able to do that. Kansas State is going to be the more talented team on the field, they've shown some ability to fight even when they're down, and with a tight bowl picture they know that they need this game heading into conference play. They'll find a way to get it done.

    :kstate: Kansas State 31, :unc: North Carolina 17


    Saturday Afternoon


    :isu: Iowa State (0-2) at :baylor: #22 Baylor (2-0)*

    Who needs an experienced backfield anyway? The Cyclones and Bears have aimed to prove that it's overrated, though they've come up with varying results so far. True freshman Vaughn Sheppard and redshirt freshman Kofi McCullough have helmed the Iowa State offense, which performed surprisingly well against Wisconsin in their opener thanks to McCullough's 200 yards on the ground before the whole thing regressed to the mean in a loss to Iowa. The result is a pair of losses where they've showed signs of what the team needs to grow into: an offense that can be explosive at times and a defense that needs to be the team's greatest strength. Baylor, in the meantime, wasted no time getting their offense going. Redshirt freshmen Caleb Olmsted and Miles Street wasted no time getting started, and the offense has looked as strong as usual. They dropped 45 points on California in the opener, they followed it up with 30 points in a blowout of Minnesota in Kansas City, and they've earned themselves a ranking. And like Iowa State, the offense isn't even supposed to be the biggest strength of the team. The defense is flush with talent on all levels, and the strength of the Baylor linebackers--Zachary McHale, Thomas Morton, Garrett Powers, Maxim Hillman--is especially important against such a run-heavy team with such a good offensive line like Iowa State. The Bears did give up 110 yards on 22 carries to Zachary McFadden in the Cal game, but buckled down to 60 yards allowed on 15 carries to Minnesota. Bottom line: if Baylor stops the run, they're going to win this game. But on the other hand, Iowa State's got a talented defense of their own. Between Jalen Pittman, Kai Voss, and Mekhi Tolbert, their defensive line should be able to challenge Baylor's offensive line. Tolbert against Baylor left tackle Brian Chavez is a particularly juicy matchup. Baylor wide receiver Lamont Wilder against Iowa State corner David Tolliver should be just as interesting. Iowa State's defense is experienced and they're not simply going to let Baylor's offense walk all over them--and I'm not sure that it'll matter. I think Baylor can still win a low-scoring game because of their defense, and if it turns into a shootout then I flat-out expect the Bears to win.


    :baylor: #22 Baylor 24, :isu: Iowa State 20


    :fresno: Fresno State (0-2) at :ou: #23 Oklahoma (1-1)

    After falling on the road to Nebraska, Oklahoma's ground attack comes back home to face off against Ryan Harris and the flyin' Fresno air attack. The Bulldogs are off to a rough start this season, having suffered a 38-20 loss to Texas A&M and a 30-22 defeat to Louisville--both at home. Both games had the same overarching theme: Harris alone isn't enough to overcome a lot of other trouble spots on the team. Given the scorelines of those games, defense is obviously one of those trouble spots. They couldn't stop Texas A&M from throwing all over them, and they couldn't stop DeSean Dockery from running all over them. With the caveat that defensive tackle Omar Adcock will be playing on Sundays and defensive end Vince Walls has that potential as well, the rest of the front seven hasn't shown much. That's good news for a Sooner team that relies so heavily on the run. Maurice White is third in the Big XII with 135 rushing yards per game, and that's included three touchdown runs. Eric Pope and backup runningback Leon Finley have complemented with another 28.0 yards per game and one Pope touchdown run. The question for the Sooners isn't whether they'll be able to run the ball successfully so much as how successfully they'll be able to run it. On defense, they don't need to concern themselves with the run; Fresno State averages 24 yards on the ground per game. But Ryan Harris is going to sling the ball around. He spreads it out to a variety of receivers, but tight end Frank Moffett is his go-to target in the red zone with all three of the team's touchdown receptions. The Sooner linebackers and safeties will need to keep tabs on him, but the linebackers specialize in coverage. Meanwhile, their secondary is a strength. Elijah Williams and Jaiden Witherspoon are young but have found a rhythm in tandem with each other, and safeties Julian Foster and Andrew Reaves bring the experience. Harris is dangerous, but Oklahoma will make him have to win the game pretty much by himself. That alone will ensure that he can't.


    :ou: #23 Oklahoma 38, :fresno: Fresno State 14


    :ttu: Texas Tech (0-2) at :boise: Boise State (1-1)


    Continuing with the theme of running the ball, Texas Tech will look to do just that against a Boise State team they've become very familiar with over the years. This is the third straight year that these two programs will have met, and the previous two were defense-first affairs. The Red Raiders won 25-6 in Boise two years ago, then came home to Lubbock last year and took a 17-3 decision. So far this year, though, Boise State's offense looks improved enough to perhaps find the endzone. They opened with a 41-14 win over Kent State, then scored 28 points in the first half against Miami before collapsing in the second half of a 33-31 loss. Roman Green has completed exactly 19 of 27 passes (70.3%) in both games so far, averaging 222.5 yards per game through the air. He's thrown for three scores, rushed for another, and like every other Boise State player this season he has not turned the ball over. Devon Cannon's also been surprisingly effective on the ground, averaging 117.5 yards and a touchdown on 23.0 carries per game. Texas Tech's defense has had inconclusive results so far this season. They slowed down a balanced Arizona attack and held them to 17 points, only to be taken apart by the Felix Luck-led Horned Frogs of TCU. Their offense has been less of a mystery: they're going to run the ball. A team that can slow down the run can jam up the works entirely, but it's really hard to stop the run. Arizona could, TCU couldn't, and I don't really expect Boise State to do so. There's a lot of inexperience up front for them, and that's particularly true on the perimeter. McLaughlin likes to go between the tackles, but if he can get to the outside then he's going to be gone. I think Texas Tech is going to get their first win today.


    :ttu: Texas Tech 31, :boise: Boise State 17


    Saturday Evening


    :texas: #13 Texas (2-0) at :vt: Virginia Tech (2-0)


    Nothing's been able to slow down the dynamic duo of Kyler Tackett and Simeon Wells so far. The pair of juniors have each taken a huge stride forward, and the jolt that they can put into the Texas offense has carried them through their first two games so far. Combine that with a defense that is as good as they come on paper, and there's a good reason that Texas is a top-15 team so far. That said, Virginia Tech hasn't been messing around for their own part. They're 2-0 with road wins over Oklahoma State (via huge second-half rally) and Florida State; for the first time this season, they'll enjoy home-field advantage. Hokie quarterback Beckett Morrison's been on his game to start the season, completing 42 of 63 passes for 576 yards, 5 touchdowns, and no interceptions in two games. He's capable of running the ball, too, but he loves to find Isiah Rainey (13 for 186 yards, 3 TD) running deep as well. Julius Whitaker's a threat on the ground and has hit exactly 100 yards twice, but Morrison is their main playmaker. The Hokies also have a pretty solid offensive line, particularly on the left side. But Texas's defensive line is strong all across, and that's going to leave emerging star left end Tristan Priest matched up against redshirt freshman right tackle Max Elmore. Get Elmore on his heels, and the Texas defense has a path to success. And if Virginia Tech's path to success goes through Morrison's arm (which it has so far), then they'll have to contend with a strong Texas secondary. Damani Jeffries and Devon Braxton are in their third year starting together, and they've only gotten better and better with time. Virginia Tech won't beat them one-on-one consistently, and they don't go all that deep either. But if they can get the ball moving on the ground, take some of the pressure off the passing game, and keep Texas honest, then they can put up points like Houston did. Texas's defense is 1-for-2 so far, but their offense is batting 1.000, averaging 39.5 points per game this season. Tacket is completing 79.2% of his passes with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions and a passer rating exceeding 200; Wells is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and 166.0 yards per game. He's scored 5 times on the ground in just 2 games. Look for Wells to get a lot of action, because Virginia Tech is built to stop the pass much more than they're built to stop the run. They've been able to limit both so far, but Texas's offense can strain those limits. Lucas Freeman and Trevor McKinney are dangerous corners, and the Longhorn receivers aren't going to blow by them one-on-one. But I think Texas has more options on offense (see: Wells, Simeon) and they'll parlay that into an advantage on Saturday evening. I think the Longhorns will be tested thoroughly, but pass the test.


    :texas: #13 Texas 27, :vt: Virginia Tech 24


    Byes: :wvu: West Virginia (1-2), :okst: Oklahoma State (2-1), :tcu: #4 TCU (3-0)

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