After just one week of PAC-12 football, teams within the conference are already feeling the wrath of trying to play during a pandemic. Multiple games on the west coast are postponed along with several on the other side of the country. Whether it’s herd immunity or strict adherence to guidelines, it appears that only the healthiest of teams will be able to navigate through the craziness of the 2020 season unscathed.
For now, here are a couple of matchups that are likely to play. And hopefully a couple of edges that are sure to stuff your wallets.
Virginia Tech vs. Miami
This battle in Blacksburg features two of only 14 FBS offenses that have amassed over 3100 yards this season.
Miami has cracked the top-10 polls while D’Eriq King looks to be in prime form. The Hurricanes have scored less than 30 only twice this season. And both of those totals were under 20. One game was a win versus Virginia. The other contest was a blowout loss to the Trevor Lawrence-led Clemson Tigers.
King has been electric. The transfer quarterback has thrown for over 1800 yards and ran for 406. The former Houston Cougar is averaging 8.2 yards through the air and 5.0 on the ground per attempt.
King leads the team in rushing, which is both good news and bad.
After notching exactly 134 yards rushing in each of his first two games of 2020, junior Cam’Ron Harris has yet to accumulate more than 50 since. It has been all King keeping The U afloat as Manny Diaz has tried to tighten up the defense. While that side of the ball has given up 34 points or more in 3 contests, they have also allowed less than 20 in the four other games. I think this is a spot where Diaz gets his bread and butter churning.
The Hokies are reeling after a stunning loss to Liberty. The offense, led by quarterback Hendon Hooker, is averaging 465 yards per game at a rate of seven per play. While this could be a perfect bounce-back spot for Tech, they may be at a major disadvantage.
Senior running back Khalil Herndon left last week’s contest against Liberty with a hamstring injury. If he is unable to go, the Hokie offense won’t look the same. Herndon leads the nation among qualified players with 8.3 yards per rush attempt. Despite not tallying a single carry versus the Flames, the senior has still managed 804 yards on 97 attempts.
What Will Happen?
There is worry that Herndon won’t be 100 percent. There is also the reality that Tech’s bell cow may not even play against the ‘Canes. If the Hokies are going to win this game, it has to keep the ball out of King’s hands. To do that, they will have to continue to pound the rock.
Tech can’t rely on Hooker to flip the script and mirror King. Virginia Tech is only averaging 22 pass attempts per game. While Hooker is efficient, it’s his legs along with Herndon’s ability that gets Justin Fuente’s machine going.
While it’s tempting to take Miami and the points, we will catch the inflated under as we anticipate hearing news of Herndon’s status. The total on this game has moved nearly a touchdown since the open. With or without their star running back, the Hokies will have to chew clock and avoid a shootout. On the other side, Manny Diaz gets a solid response from the defense on the road.
Arizona vs. USC
3:30 PM, EST
The Trojans are off to a 1-0 start after escaping a narrow 28-27 victory against Arizona State. Meanwhile, Arizona will experience their first game action of 2020. The Wildcats’ original first game against Utah was postponed due to COVID-19 positives and contact tracing tied to the Utes’ program.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin will try to find a replacement for dual-threat quarterback Khalil Tate and patching other holes on the Arizona defense. The ‘Cats lost two premier linebackers and safety to the transfer portal back in the summer. Colin Schooler, a senior, was one of them. Schooler tallied 312 tackles and nine sacks during his Wildcat career. Arizona is left with only five scholarship players at the position.
What was supposed to be a position of strength is now a sizeable hole for new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. The former Iowa State defensive coordinator will be transforming his Wildcat unit into a 3-4 operation. That does not bode well for a defense with limited experience at the linebacker position. To make matters worse, Rhoads and company will be trying to stop a potent Trojan offense.
There will be no Trojan Horse needed for USC to tame Arizona. Former gunslinger, Graham Harrell, will administer an offense that ranked sixth in passing yards among FBS teams last season. He will have incumbent starter Kedon Slovis yet again to led the attack. As a freshman, Slovis threw for over 3500 yards while connecting on 30 touchdowns. In his first game of 2020, the sophomore completed 72 percent of his 55 attempts en route to a come-from-behind win against the Sun Devils.
What Will Happen
The combination of Harrell and Slovis is deadly for just about anyone. They started slow last week, but that won’t happen again, especially against a defense that will be learning a new system on the fly. Look for the Trojans to score early and often. Clay Helton will be looking to keep things rolling in Pasadena, CA, as the program tries to avoid a letdown, ala 2018. The ‘Cats are way out-matched here. Sumlin has way too many talent gaps on both sides of the ball. It’s a big number, but USC cruises against Arizona Saturday afternoon.