Week 5 College Football Odds, Picks: Collin Wilson’s Betting Card, Including Arkansas vs. Georgia & Auburn vs. LSU (Oct. 2)

Week 5 College Football Odds, Picks: Collin Wilson’s Betting Card, Including Arkansas vs. Georgia & Auburn vs. LSU (Oct. 2) article feature image
Credit:

Michael Chang/Getty Images. Pictured: Derick Hall (left) and Shaun Shivers (right).

  • Saturday is here, which means Collin Wilson is ready to bet some of the best games throughout the day.
  • He breaks down five games from Saturday's college football slate, including Arkansas vs. Georgia, Notre Dame vs. Cincinnati, and Auburn vs. LSU.
  • Check out all five of his betting picks and predictions below.

Week 5 of the college football season represents a slate full of intriguing options for those who wish to invest in some of the top teams in the country.

It is difficult to compare the day’s games with the games of Week 4. While last week didn’t pop in terms of top-tier matchups, Week 5 does.

I’ve already invested in some of the top games this week, including the Hogs of Arkansas vs. Georgia, Nick Saban’s Alabama vs. Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss, and the SEC West battle of Tigers.

But those aren’t the only games that have my attention.

Below, I break down five games I’m betting for Week 5’s action. Check out all of my picks using the table, and don’t forget to follow me in the Action Network app ahead of Saturday’s action.

My Week 5 College Football Betting Card

Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific game on my Week 5 college football betting card.

Game
Time (ET)
Pick
Noon
Under 48 | Arkansas +18
2:30 p.m.
Cincinnati ML -130
3:30 p.m.
Under 79 | Alabama -14
7 p.m.
UAB ML to -130
9 p.m.
Auburn +3.5

Specific bet recommendations come via the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.

No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 2 Georgia

Saturday, Oct. 2
Noon ET
ESPN
Under 48 | Arkansas +18

Another chapter will be written in the history of Sam Pittman and Kirby Smart.

Once upon a time, Pittman was the prized offensive line coach and lead recruiter for the University of Arkansas under Bret Bielema. Pittman was known not just for turning around trench play, but acting as a recruiting whisperer to hundreds of high school kids.

Pittman became an SEC focal point after a job offer from Alabama. To the public displeasure of Bielema, Pittman would later take the same role at Georgia under Smart.

Fast forward five years, and Pittman returns to Athens to take on a bevy of Bulldogs he helped recruit, including all five starters on the offensive line.

While plenty of SEC teams aim to hang their opponent out to dry, there is a heavy amount of respect between these two head coaches.

Smart mentioned that it’s a culture built within the program that gets the players to play as hard as possible, evidenced by Pittman’s 11-3 mark against the spread mark since arriving in Fayetteville.


Arkansas Razorbacks

Diet of Run, Run, Run, Explosive Pass

The success of Arkansas over the first month of play can be attributed to a rush-heavy offensive attack, with a bit of explosive passing from quarterback KJ Jefferson.

The Razorbacks have one of the top run-blocking trenches in FBS, with five players in the top 130 of all FBS offensive linemen. While the Hogs lack a big-time explosive option, a caravan of running backs consists mostly of freshmen.

Freshman Dominique Johnson leads all running backs with 4.3 yards after contact, but it’s Jefferson who has been the heartbeat of the Razorbacks winning streak.

Arkansas has an overall yards per play mark of 7.1 on offense, led by a Success Rate 9% higher than the national average on standard downs. When Kendal Briles’ offense falls off schedule, Jefferson has had plenty of success throwing the deep ball.

KJ JEFFERSON WITH THE DIME@razorbackFB is off and running 🔥 pic.twitter.com/gUWIIcTxom

— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 25, 2021

Georgia is the most athletic defense Arkansas will face the entire season, but leaving Treylon Burks in single coverage did Texas A&M no favors. Jefferson has four big-time throws on the season, all on passing over 20 yards.

The key to attacking Arkansas is generating pressure from a standard four-man rush, as Jefferson’s adjusted completion rate falls from 79% to 56% in a crowded pocket.


Tre Williams the Havoc-Maker

When Barry Odom stepped into the defensive coordinator position after being fired from Missouri, the changes to the Razorback scheme were clear. Arkansas would run nickel and dime schemes to allow yards but prevent explosive plays.

While Arkansas was gifted with a solid linebacking unit in 2020, it’s the infusion of transfers on the defensive line that led to victories over Texas and Texas A&M.

Tre Williams absolutely BEASTING for this @RazorbackFB defense pic.twitter.com/nCuER3ImDr

— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) September 25, 2021

Eastern Illinois transfer John Ridgeway ranks 23rd of all FBS defensive interior linemen in stops, per PFF. Alongside Ridgeway is Missouri transfer Tre Williams, a former Odom recruit from half a decade ago.

From the edge position, Williams ranks as one of the highest individual contributors from a sacks and tackles for loss perspective.

The new-look three-man defensive front of Arkansas has allowed returning linebacker Bumper Pool and defensive back Jalen Catalon to fill the national leaderboard in tackles.

The effort of the Arkansas defense shows in the advanced numbers with a rank of second in Passing Downs Success Rate and 12th in Line Yards.

One of the biggest indicators of covering the spread is Finishing Drives, an area the Razorback defense ranks fifth in nationally.

Odom is well on his way to winning the Broyles Award with his defensive scheme of complex zone, eliminating explosiveness and terrorizing offensive lines in the trench.


Georgia Bulldogs

Attacking the Edge Position

Todd Monken’s offense has yet to produce the explosiveness that national contenders tend to field. The Bulldogs currently rank 30th in big-play rate but come in at an astounding 123rd in passing downs explosiveness.

While the Clemson offensive game plan was a low-risk balance of rush and short-yardage passing, the Tigers still managed an interception against JT Daniels.

Daniels has attempted only three passes over 20 yards thus far this season.

Maybe it all worked out like it was supposed to for J.T. Daniels 🤷🏽‍♂️ pic.twitter.com/sQZAA1BgdN

— Tommy Mo (@2on1FFB) September 19, 2021

Daniels has rehabbed from an oblique injury that kept him out of the UAB game, a factor into how many attempts Georgia has taken downfield. Now, the quarterback deals with a lat issue.

Monken threw everything on film for Arkansas to digest, from wide receivers and tight ends getting rush attempts at the edge to multiple screen and swing passes.

While the full health of Daniels is unknown, Monken attacked Vanderbilt’s edges in preparation for Arkansas or as a decoy for a vertical passing attack.


All-Time Standard Downs Defense

Georgia’s defensive numbers are almost unfathomable after a four-game set against Clemson, South Carolina, UAB and Vanderbilt.

An antagonist would call out those four offenses for ineptitude, but the Georgia defense ranks best in the nation in standard downs Success Rate and explosiveness.

Not only are the Bulldogs knocking teams off schedule, but they also own the top overall rank in Finishing Drives, coverage and tackling grades, per PFF.

Channing Tindall’s closing speed 🔥 pic.twitter.com/8jfsXgMKbJ

— ……✍🏾 (@AxDawg27) September 5, 2021

Through 231 defensive snaps, Georgia has just one player with more than two missed tackles. The depth of the defense is also a factor to behold, as 21 players have logged at least 50 defensive snaps through September.

The Bulldogs’ worst statistical category is Havoc with a national rank of 14th.

The biggest one-on-one matchup may be the return of Tykee Smith from injury to guard Burks in the slot. Smith ranked fifth among all slot coverage cornerbacks in 2020 at West Virginia before transferring to Georgia.

Smart said Smith was on a pitch count, and there is an expectation he will play, a boost against Burks, who lines up in the slot on 80% of Razorback snaps.


Arkansas vs. Georgia Betting Pick

There are a number of factors to consider when handicapping both the side and total.

This is Arkansas’ first true road game of the season, and it comes between the hedges in what could see more than 90,000 in attendance. This is also the earliest kickoff of the season for the Razorbacks, as Pittman ran a full week of morning practices to get the Razorbacks ready for an 11 a.m. CT kickoff.

Despite boasting an uptempo offense in 2020, the Hogs are now 73rd in plays per minute, which is faster than the Bulldogs’ rank of 107th.

Considering both teams’ slow tempo, commitment to the run and defensive excellence in preventing explosive plays, an under is certainly a valid investment. Keep in mind both defenses are top-five in the nation in Finishing Drives, a strong factor in a market that has a total trending down.

As for the side, the Action Network projection makes the game Georgia -16.5.

The relationship between Smart and Pittman suggests this game is prime for a backdoor cover from the underdog if the Razorbacks are not outright winning in the second half.

This will be smash-mouth football at its highest level when Arkansas has an offensive possession. Considering KJ Jefferson has efficiency drop-offs in passing downs and pressured pockets, Georgia’s top overall rank in defensive standard downs is paramount.

The big question is the health of Daniels and his ability to get the ball downfield when the 3-2-6 scheme allows. If the Monken game plan of stretching the field sideline to sideline is called upon, Arkansas has the talent on the edge and linebacker positions to keep up with Georgia’s skill players.

No running back on the Georgia roster has averaged four yards after contact or gone for more than two rushing gains over 15 yards. The elusiveness and breakaway speed have not been there for Zamir White, Kendall Milton or James Cook.

Without the explosive targets downfield and a questionable status for Daniels’ oblique injury, Georgia’s game plan may be to go sideline to sideline. If so, covering a spread of this size can be challenging with one of the slowest tempos in college football.

Pick: Under 48 or better | Arkansas +18 or better


No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 9 Notre Dame

Saturday, Oct. 2
2:30 p.m. ET
NBC
Cincinnati ML -130

Notre Dame is undefeated, but the postgame win expectancy dictates there may be a bit of fool’s gold behind the win-loss record.

The Irish’s postgame win percentage includes 45% against Florida State, a fourth-quarter comeback against Toledo and -1.1 overall yards per play against Wisconsin.

Notre Dame ranks fourth in the nation in turnovers gained. Brian Kelly’s team has seen some good fortune, as it ranks top-30 in average offensive starting field position.

Before coming to South Bend, Kelly was the head coach at Cincinnati. Those ties still run deep, as the Bearcats lost defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to the Irish this past offseason.

That means there’s plenty of familiarity between these two teams.

The Bearcats won and covered the spread against Indiana with a postgame win expectancy of 57%.

Head coach Luke Fickell still needs to sweep AAC play, but Indiana and Notre Dame represent the two biggest bullet points for the College Football Playoff committee if it was to select the first-ever Group of Five program.

Led by dual-threat quarterback Desmond Ridder, the Bearcats have a balanced offensive attack backed by one of the best defenses despite the loss of Freeman at coordinator.


Cincinnati Bearcats

Can Ridder Stay on Schedule?

Cincinnati continues to pile victories with losses to only Georgia, Memphis and Ohio State since Thanksgiving 2018.

The key to success on the offensive side of the ball is a top-tier rank in Standard Downs Success Rate. The Bearcats’ ability to find success in standard downs has forced the team into the second-lowest number of third downs in all of FBS.

Ridder gets a boost in the ground game from Jerome Ford, who has put up four explosive runs and an average of 4.3 yards after contact.

Jerome Ford gives Cincy their first 6️⃣ pic.twitter.com/Ev1IU1BMPj

— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 18, 2021

The Bearcats rank ninth in the country in points per possession past the 40-yard line, averaging 4.7 points per attempt. In 14 red-zone attempts, Ridder has led his team to 12 touchdowns through three games.

While there is a lack of explosiveness in passing downs, the Bearcats have recorded only 57 attempts versus 129 in standard downs.

Freeman’s biggest to-do when coaching the Irish defense in this game is to knock the Bearcats off schedule.


Sack the Irish Quarterback

Brian Kelly announced there is no quarterback controversy after freshman Drew Pyne filled in for Jack Coan in the victory over Wisconsin.

No matter the quarterback, the Irish offense ranks 123rd in Havoc Allowed and is second-to-last in FBS in tackles for loss allowed.

The Cincinnati defense will look to expose the Notre Dame offense, as the Bearcats defense sits 35th in coverage and are the best team in the nation in pass rush grading, per PFF.

Michael Penix Jr gets picked off by Arquon Bush!! #Cincinnati #Indiana

https://t.co/v3N65FfUQC

— Sideline CFB (@SidelineCFB) September 18, 2021

Led by Arquon Bush and a handful of names that will be on NFL rosters, the Cincinnati defense ranks fifth in the nation in pass breakups per game.

This is a heavy ask for a Notre Dame offense that has a Success Rate outside the top 100, ranks 128th in Line Yards and struggles to put points on the board in scoring position.


Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Speeding up the Ridder’s Release

The key to any success Coan has had as a passer is directly correlated to the speed of which the quarterback is able to detect pressure and hit the hot route.

The Wisconsin transfer has his highest NFL rating to the slot position, with an NFL rating over 100 when the ball is released within 1.5 to 1.75 seconds.

The passing game efficiency takes a dive when Coan holds on to the ball longer than 2.5 seconds.

Considering the pass rush coming from Cincinnati, Tommy Rees’ game plan may include short routes to the slot if Notre Dame keeps the average third-down distance within seven yards per attempt.


Winning in Standard Downs

The biggest battle on the field is Cincinnati’s offensive possession on standard downs. The Irish defense fields a rank of 11th in Success Rate and second in limiting explosiveness.

As mentioned above, the bread and butter of Ridder is moving the Cincinnati offense on schedule and avoiding passing downs.

Notre Dame has a steep fall-off in passing downs, ranking 60th in Success Rate and 105th against explosiveness. The Irish are 35th in tackles for loss per game but will need a maximum effort to limit the Cincinnati offense.

JD Bertrand and the Notre Dame defense devour Jordan Travis pic.twitter.com/O0n3ui3zzI

— Justin Groc (@justgroc) September 6, 2021

Notre Dame has been the poster child of turnover luck through the first quarter of the season, a stat that could rear its head against Cincinnati. The Bearcats have committed three interceptions and coughed up four fumbles through three games.

The Irish have been opportunistic against offenses that make mistakes, so Cincinnati will depend on Ridder to play a clean game.


Cincinnati vs. Notre Dame Betting Pick

Mother Nature may have a big say in this game with rain and double-digit winds in the forecast. While the artificial turf at Notre Dame Stadium will weather any precipitation better than natural grass, this is a game that may be dictated on the ground.

There is a massive difference in Line Yards between the two offenses, with Cincinnati at 25th and Notre Dame at 128th.

Kyle Hamilton is the best safety in college football, which should eliminate ground explosiveness by Ridder and Ford. If there’s precipitation, that would favor the team that controls the trench and the ground game — and that points heavily to Cincinnati.

The Bearcats also have the exclusive advantage in Finishing Drives on both sides of the ball, as well as the knowledge of a Freeman-called defense. New Bearcats defensive coordinator Mike Tressel comes in to replace Freeman, but Fickell is the architect of the 3-3-5 defense that sends blitz at a 32% rate.

The Action Network projects this game as a pick’em with a total of 51.5.

While there is no value in the total, there are too many advantages for Cincinnati on both sides of the ball that have factored into the market moving to the Bearcats -2.

There will be a steady flow of money backing Notre Dame at home in this spot, but the trench belongs to Cincinnati and its quest for a College Football Playoff appearance.

Pick: Cincinnati ML -130 or Better


No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 1 Alabama

Saturday, Oct. 2
3:30 p.m. ET
CBS
Under 79 | Alabama -14

The ultimate chess match gets a second round after last year’s 63-48 Crimson Tide victory over the Rebels on a wet track in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Although the score indicates a comfortable win, Ole Miss covered the 23.5-point spread easily after no team had larger than a touchdown lead until late in the fourth quarter.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban was surprised to see Ole Miss rush three and drop into coverage, a scheme that was required against one of the best offensive campaigns in college football history. That scheme has changed, as Saban noted there is more of an Iowa State look.

Saban is now 23-0 against former assistants, something that Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin praised of his former boss. While Kiffin has had to deal with media personalities calling him a “clown,” he has maintained his closeness with Saban and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

While this column will break down the on-field strategies, remember that both of these coaches know what the point spread is and every second on the clock is a chance to cover.


Ole Miss Rebels

Heisman Showcase for Matt Corral

For quarterback Matt Corral to have any shot at the Heisman Trophy, this will be the biggest weekend of the season.

Kiffin mentioned in his weekly press conference that despite the sentiment that Ole Miss is a pure passing team, the Rebels are not opposed to running the ball.

Last season, Ole Miss ran exclusively out of the 11 formations with a 52% pass call. Kiffin called for 10 personnel on just five plays the entire season, but in 2021, the formation has been called 58 times. While the 11 has moved from a 48% rush formation to 56%, the 10 formation is where Ole Miss calls 64% pass.

Matt Corral🎯 pic.twitter.com/6GgeZNxEJe

— College Cutups (@CutupsCollege) September 29, 2021

The 10 formations roll without a tight end and give Corral the chance to flash a zone-read rush attempt before looking downfield in a hybrid play-action pass fashion. This formation also allows Corral to take off on designed quarterback runs, with his highest number of ground attempts coming against Tulane.

The subtle changes in run-pass philosophy are intentional leading up to Alabama, as the Crimson Tide primary weakness has been the interior of the defensive line.

Corral has been most successful on passing plays between the hash marks from 0-20 yards, going 35-of-48 with a heavy amount of play-action passing.

When Jerrion Ealy is not creating missed tackles in the run game, expect the running back and slot wide receiver Dontario Drummond to continue their average of seven yards or less on depth of target to attack the most vulnerable area on the field for the Tide.


Breaking News: OIe Miss Has a Defense

The most surprising aspect of the 2021 season for Kiffin is a revamped defense that ranked outside the top 100 in almost every statistical category last season.

Sam Williams has improved on the defensive line, providing four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Both edge rusher Cedric Johnson and transfer linebacker Chance Campbell have combined for 16 quarterback hurries, an amazing transformation after Johnson, who had just three hurries in 99 pass-rush snaps last season.

The defense has taken on a new look along with increased efficiency. Co-coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge have tweaked the defensive scheme to with plays split between a 3-2-6 and 2-3-6 and a minimal amount of blitz. The results have shown an increase in defending explosiveness.

Through games against offenses that have big-play elements — Tulane and Louisville — the Rebels are 12th in defensive passing expected points. The biggest change with the new scheme is a rank of sixth in Passing Downs Explosiveness, a key component against quarterback Bryce Young, who is 5-of-18 in passing attempts over 20 yards.

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Alabama Crimson Tide

From Sarkisian to O’Brien

The expectation in the handoff of the offensive coordinator position from Steve Sarkisian to Bill O’Brien would be no schematic changes.

Whether that has changed due to personnel or coaching philosophy, Alabama is running a much lower rate of two-tight end sets. A 50-50 split in 2020 has moved to 70% on in 11 formations, making the Alabama offense a bit more predictable. The Crimson Tide are passing the ball 63% of snaps in 11 and running the ball 63% of snaps in 12.

Offensive variations are a calculation of scheme and pre-snap motion along with tracking of play-action and screens. Alabama averages 22 variations per game this season, a large downward trend from 29 under Sarkisian in 2020.

BRYCE TO BILLINGSLEY.
Touchdown Bama. pic.twitter.com/cMfuzdJDia

— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 18, 2021

Florida dominated the trench in Gainesville, but tight end play has provided plenty of big plays for Alabama. Jahleel Billingsley should have more targets after early off-field troubles, while Cameron Latu has been the most successful third-down target, moving the chains on five of six passing plays.

Saban specified that Young distributes the ball based on trust, and that could lead to more looks to each of the tight ends.

The biggest question is the passing game struggles downfield. As with any freshman, Young has been most comfortable throwing behind the line of scrimmage with a perfect 33-of-33 on the season.

John Metchie III, Slade Bolden and JoJo Earle have an average depth of target at 6.5 yards, but it’s no surprise that Alabama fields three of the top 100 players in yards after reception.


Full Speed for Henry To’o To’o

Henry To’o To’o has been electric as advertised, leading the team with 19 tackles. The Tennessee transfer came down with an illness for the trip to Gainesville, but he has been consistently praised by Saban for his knowledge of the scheme and calling out alignment pre-snap.

At middle linebacker, To’o To’o will have the primary responsibility of playing spy on Corral.

Great play by Henry To’o To’o. Rushes outside to avoid block. Slow plays Jones to make him hesitate and then makes the tackle on the pitch pic.twitter.com/qN99cPLhmV

— Joe Broback (@joebroback) September 28, 2021

Alabama plays the majority of their defensive snaps in 2-4-5, allowing To’o To’o to roam between the tackles as edge rusher Will Anderson plays a one-man wrecking crew. The sophomore is second in the nation in tackles for loss per game and has generated 15 defensive pressures this season.

While the two anchor the run defense, Alabama continues to lead the nation in key categories with a rank of 16th in Havoc and sixth in tackling, according to Pro Football Focus.


Ole Miss vs. Alabama Betting Pick

With a final score that exceeded 110 points last season, Saban may not have the best interest in keeping this game at the speed of a boat race.

Alabama is loaded on offense, but there are significant differences between this roster and an all-time national champion from 2020.

Alabama is content to have its quarterback generate plays from behind the line of scrimmage. Brian Robinson is healthy and averaging 4.1 yards after contact, giving O’Brien the option of using the running game to eat clock.

The Ole Miss defense is prepared to sell out to stop the explosive play, but Alabama has no issues sustaining drives and leaning its national No. 7 ranking in finishing drives. At a pace of 100th in plays per minute, the Crimson Tide will do everything to keep the Ole Miss offense off the field.

The Action Network projection for the total is 74, making a play on the under a clear investment. If Alabama is successful in slowing the clock, a tactic used against Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff semifinal last season, live bettors may not have a chance for a post kickoff under.

While the Ole Miss defense excels in limiting explosiveness on passing downs, the offense is as fast and as explosive as advertised. The Rebels rank in the top 10 in plenty of categories from Rushing Success Rate, big play percentage, Havoc Allowed and Line Yards.

Most importantly, this is the top offense in the nation in Standard Downs Explosiveness. Expect quick changes to the Crimson Tide defense if first-and-10 or second-and-7 turn into chunk yardage for the Rebels.

The market responded with max-limit bets on the Ole Miss opener, driving a +20 down to the current number of +14.5. Considering the Rebels have yet to play a true road game in a hostile environment, this may be the best buy-low point on an Alabama team that lacks the 2020 offensive explosiveness.

That still does not negate an offense that is more than doubling the national average in explosive drives or a defense that is top 10 with six-plus three-and-outs per game.

The Action Network projects the game at -14 in favor of Alabama. The Crimson Tide are the pregame buy, and there is a possibility Ole Miss throws haymakers to start the game, providing a better Crimson Tide live number.

Ultimately, the strength of the Alabama defense is a solid coverage unit in the back seven with Anderson and To’o To’o being two of the best players at their position in all of college football.

Pick: Under 79 or better | Alabama -14 (-120 or better)


Liberty vs. UAB

Saturday, Oct. 2
7 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
UAB ML to -130

The shine has come off the Liberty program that looked to stay undefeated until the titanic Hugh Freeze return to Ole Miss.

The Syracuse defense forced the Flames to five punts and a missed field goal through the first seven possessions. A late fourth-quarter fumble by Malik Willis gave the Orange an opportunity to get into field-goal range and secure the win.

Freeze relayed to the press that his team has not prepared as well as the 2020 campaign, specifying numerous incidents of receivers running incorrect routes.

UAB continues its domination of the Group of Five, with only a blemish to Georgia on the schedule. This follows a long history during the Bill Clark tenure of losing all five games against Power Five teams and a 37-12 mark against all others since the program was resurrected in 2017.

Despite a beatdown from Georgia, the Blazers have impressive marks in allowing just 2.7 points per opponent drive past the 40-yard line and a positive 1.1 overall yards per play differential.

This will be the first game in UAB’s new Protective Stadium after 25 years in the Old Gray Lady.


Liberty Flames

Can Malik Willis be Stopped?

Liberty fields one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in college football in Willis.

The potential first-round NFL Draft signal-caller has generated 356 yards on the ground through 24 rushing attempts. Willis averages 6.1 yards after contact, creating 20 missed tackles — good enough to rank top-five among all rushers at the FBS level.

Freeze uses Willis in different formations, with 16 scrambles, 11 zone reads and six designed runs.

MALIK WILLIS IS INSANE

pic.twitter.com/cfCaofz82t

— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 25, 2021

The biggest handicap in game planning for Willis is a solid rank in tackling and setting the edge outside the offensive tackles. It isn’t enough to just knock the Flames off schedule, as Liberty ranks top-35 in both Passing Downs Success Rate and explosiveness.

Freeze fields one of the best offenses in passing downs with a 7.2 yards per play mark.


Liberty’s Problematic Pass Defense

The Liberty defense has national average Success Rate in standard and passing downs but has fallen below the mark in passing plays.

The Flames run exclusively out of the 4-2-5 scheme and blitz at a low rate of just 12% of snaps. Liberty owns a Defensive Havoc rate of 30th, a number that is not supported by pass breakups.

The Flames rank 74th in passes defended per game with efficiency decreasing in passing downs. Not only is the defense 71st in defense of passing downs explosiveness, but the Flames also allow 3.9 points to opponents per trip past the 40-yard line.

With a coverage rank of 61st and 93rd in Defensive Finishing Drives, capable offenses can keep up with the firepower of Willis.


UAB Blazers

UAB Establishes the Run

Whether UAB lines up in 11 or 12 formations, the goal is to establish the run on 68% of snaps.

Bill Clark’s offense has generated a Success Rate over the national average in running plays but has been stuffed on 55-of-163 attempts. Only three rushing attempts have gone over 20 yards, keeping the explosiveness rank on the ground outside the top 100.

Thankfully, UAB has been fantastic passing in limited attempts with starter Tyler Johnston III and the hot hand of Dylan Hopkins.

Dylan Hopkins to Trea Shropshire for 38 yards and a touchdown for @UAB_FB! pic.twitter.com/1hjPXjU1sZ

— Stadium (@Stadium) September 19, 2021

Hopkins has neared perfection on passes over 20 yards, logging four touchdowns and no turnover-worthy plays. The Success Rate for UAB shines more in passing downs than any other area, a much-needed factor considering the above national average mark of Stuff Rate in rushing attempts.

While Hopkins has taken snaps away from Johnston over the past two games, both quarterbacks can bail out an offense that stalls when trying to establish the run.


Blazers Big Against Explosiveness

UAB excels in limiting explosive plays, running a 2-4-5 scheme and daring opposing offenses to look downfield. The Blazers defense is top-20 against explosive plays on both the ground and through the air.

The blitz scheme is quite the opposite of Liberty, as Clark sends blitz on 29% of defensive snaps, sending up to six defenders after the quarterback.

UAB is not only 24th in tackling but also ranks third overall in coverage grading, per PFF.

Swoopes gets the INT on the first defensive play for @UAB_FB then McBride takes it in to put the Blazers on top early!

🖥 > https://t.co/PJM5f4Vduh pic.twitter.com/DD40oLGKuR

— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) September 18, 2021

A staple of UAB under Clark is the defense’s ability to limit opponents in scoring position. Despite a romp from the Georgia offense, the Blazers have held opponents to just 2.7 points per trip past the 40-yard line.


Liberty vs. UAB Betting Pick

There are a number of areas that will dictate the winner of this game, starting with the Blazers’ ability to tackle Willis in space.

UAB got a taste of one of the best rushing attacks in the nation against Georgia in Week 2. UAB limited running backs Kendall Milton, Daijun Edwards and Zamir White to very few yards after contact and just seven missed tackles in 22 combined attempts. UAB has earned its rank as one of the best tackling teams in the nation.

As for the combination of Johnston and Hopkins, the Flames defense ranks outside the top 50 against pass explosiveness. Right cornerback Chris Megginson has posted fantastic coverage grades, but a trio of safeties and linebacker Storey Jackson have been targeted with success through Liberty’s first four games.

Hopkins has been tremendous in passing between the hash marks, going 12-of-13 from zero to nine yards and perfect on three attempts over 20 yards.

The Action Network projection sets this game at UAB -1 with a total of 48.

These are two of the slowest teams in the nation, both bottom-10 in terms of plays per minute. The Blazers have the advantage in Finishing Drives on both sides of the ball, but explosiveness in passing downs targeting the Flames safeties can send this game over the total.

UAB opens a brand new stadium and fields the better team in tackling, coverage and explosiveness grades.

Look for Clark to send heavy blitz on Willis with assurance that any busted plays will be covered by a secondary that is excellent in limiting yards after contact.

Pick: UAB ML (Play to -130)


No. 22 Auburn vs. LSU

Saturday, Oct. 2
9 p.m. ET
ESPN
Auburn +3.5

Two SEC West teams in Auburn and LSU meet looking for a statement win, but more importantly, to give alumni, boosters and fans a positive note to start October.

Auburn is fresh off struggles against Georgia State, trailing 24-12 at halftime before opting to bench quarterback Bo Nix for LSU transfer TJ Finley.

The Panthers failed to score in the second half as Finley tallied a 50% Success Rate on 9-of-16 passing. What may be more shocking is that the Tigers’ offensive line allowed 14-of-33 rushing attempts to be stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

Head coach Bryan Harsin responded by firing first-year wide receiver coach Cornelius Williams and being noncommittal in who would be under center for kickoff in Baton Route.

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is also deflecting sentiment of the coaching hot seat after a loss to UCLA in Week 1.

A revenge victory over Mississippi State was a positive turn, as quarterback Max Johnson is now tied with Alabama’s Bryce Young for most touchdown passes in the SEC.

Despite missing cornerback Derek Stingley, LSU allowed no explosive drives and minimal missed tackles against the Bulldogs’ Air Raid offense.

Issues remain in the trench, as the offensive line had 40% of runs stuffed, while the defensive line generated just a single sack and two tackles for loss.

Both Orgeron and Harsin desperately need a crucial SEC West victory in Week 5.


Auburn Tigers

Auburn Looking for Wide Receiver Consistency

Harsin’s dismissal of Williams is a deflection of bigger issues on the offense.

The new head coach was critical of the wide receiver group after the Penn State loss, citing drops and presnap misalignment.

Shedrick Jackson, Kobe Hudson and Demetris Robertson have combined for 62 targets and just five drops on the season.

Nix has not thrown a touchdown pass in the previous two games while taking on a combined 21 pressure attempts. A clean pocket is crucial for Nix, who has an adjustment completion percentage that falls 40% with pressure.

Finley also dealt with pressure against Georgia State on half of his dropbacks but with a much different result.

Fourth down. Game on the line.

What a play by Auburn backup QB TJ Finley! #SCtop10 pic.twitter.com/FpDvnUPit9

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 25, 2021

Finley compiled two big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays in the comeback against the Panthers, but the starting quarterback for the LSU game remains undetermined.

Auburn’s advanced statistics do not tell an accurate story of the offense with games against Akron and Alabama State.

But the formula of running Tank Bigsby on the ground and keeping a clean pocket for passing attempts remains key against an LSU defense that leads the SEC in sacks.


Auburn Eliminates Opponent Success on Passing Downs

The Auburn defense has been one of the best in the nation in passing downs, topping the FBS in defending explosiveness. Opponent Success Rate in passing downs hovers around the national average with a low yards per play mark of 5.0 through 94 snaps.

This has been a great combination against teams that look to establish the run, as opponents have been stuffed on 44% of attempts and generated only four runs over 20 yards.

Coordinator Derek Mason presents a multiple front, switching between a 2-4-5 and 4-2-5 depending on down and distance.

The LSU offensive line can expect blitz on at least 20% of snaps, with a large chunk coming on second down after an unsuccessful first down.

Auburn ranks third in Defensive Havoc and 23rd in coverage grading, per PFF. Teams that are unable to stay in standard downs will have persistent issues against the Auburn defense.


LSU Tigers

The Max Johnson to Kayshon Boutte Connection

The failure of the offensive line and disappointing production from the backfield has led to LSU passing on 43% of snaps.

Quarterback Max Johnson has targeted Kayshon Boutte 34 times this season, twice as much as any other offensive player.

The Tigers’ schedule has included two teams outside the top 75 in Defensive Passing Success Rate with Central Michigan and UCLA, along with a Mississippi State defense that is 120th in defending pass explosiveness.

If there is an emerging target for Johnson, freshman Jack Bech has as many third-down targets as Boutte.

OH MY, JACK BECH! A beautiful one-handed catch in the end zone for LSU. Tigers lead CMU 35-7. pic.twitter.com/KbArTpaCKE

— Jonathan Deutsch (@JonathanD_TV) September 19, 2021

LSU ranks 118th in Rushing Success Rate, as Tyrion Davis-Price averages 2.5 yards after contact. Corey Kiner has shown the ability to create separation in the run game but recorded only four rushing attempts and had missed assignments in pass blocking against Mississippi State.

LSU has been fantastic at converting points in scoring position, but a reliance on the passing game makes the Tigers offense one-dimensional.


Can Tigers Defend the Big Play?

Nix and Finley have combined for 22 pass attempts over 20 yards, as Auburn is expected to flex a passing game despite troubles with the wide receivers.

LSU may be down its best defensive weapon heading into Saturday night, as Orgeron noted there is no firm update on Stingley.

Cordale Flott has posted one of the best coverage grades on the team at the slot corner position, as sophomore Eli Ricks’ efficiency has taken a dip from his 2020 numbers.

The LSU defense is loaded with talent in the pipeline, but there is a large gap in value from Stingley to reserve corners Darren Evans, Pig Cage and Dwight McGlothern.

While coordinator Daronte Jones has fielded a defense that eliminates rush explosiveness and ranks 22nd in Havoc, the biggest issue is a rank of 128th in passing downs explosiveness.

Tackling was a concern for LSU through the first half of the 2019 National Championship run, and the Tigers now face a similar issue with a rank of 62nd, per PFF. Stingley, linebacker Damone Clark and safety Cameron Lewis have been the biggest offenders through the first quarter of the season.


Auburn vs. LSU Betting Pick

LSU continues to be one-dimensional on offense with a Line Yards rank of 123rd for the offensive line and no running back creating missed tackles.

Johnson has the third-most passing attempts of all SEC quarterbacks, allowing the Auburn defense to key on Boutte and Bech. Auburn cornerback Roger McCreary is ranked as the fifth-best coverage defender in FBS alongside safety Smoke Monday, who also sits in the top 100.

Johnson has fielded 51 pressure attempts in 134 pass attempts, but it’s the Auburn secondary that presents the biggest challenge to the sophomore.

There are plenty of questions on offense for Auburn, namely who will be the starting quarterback.

The inaccuracy of Nix has been blamed on the wide receiver unit, but a lack of dropped passes dictates otherwise. Finley had an emotional separation from LSU in the offseason but proved against Georgia State that he can have success as an SEC quarterback.

Not only has Finley practiced against key members of the LSU secondary, but the 4-2-5 scheme is also sending blitz on just 9% of snaps.

The Action Network projection makes the game a pick’em with a total of 56.5.

Tempo is not a feature for either team, but both offenses have the advantage when it comes to Finishing Drives.

The LSU front seven should have success in slowing Bigsby down, but the real issue for the Bayou Bengals is giving up explosive plays in Passing Downs.

Combined with an excellent Auburn secondary against a pass-heavy LSU offense, expect Auburn to cover and possibly steal an SEC road win.

Pick: Auburn +3.5 or Better


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