Anonymous coaches break down this weekend's four biggest college football games

After a flurry of low-wattage weeks on the college football calendar, there are four games between Top 25 teams and four of the 11 highest-ranked teams in the country are playing each other this week.

These high-octane matchups collide with a point in the college football season where many teams have played half their games. That means at this juncture of the season, tendencies have been formed, weaknesses spotted and vulnerabilities exploited.

Here’s a look at the week’s four biggest games through the eyes of coaches, assistants and in-house analysts who’ve faced, studied and game-planned against the teams. (Some of these are blended observations from multiple coaches.)

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No. 11 Texas vs. No. 6 Oklahoma

Location: Dallas

Line: Oklahoma -10.5

TEXAS: “One thing they do incredibly well is they can go warp speed, and they can do it from exotic formations, which creates real problems. They’ll go super fast and then line in an unbalanced formation – they have five or six variations – or in a three-by-one formation. The quarterback [Sam Ehlinger] has really come a long way, as your defense can have everything set that it wants tactically and formationally and he’ll hold the cadence until he gets them in the right look, that’s something he couldn’t do a year ago. The way Ehlinger worked through progressions really impressed our defensive staff. The offensive line is better than they’ve had in a few years, and they work well together with Parker Braun dominating at guard. But it’s not elite like Oklahoma’s was last year. The key defensively is that they’re going to take six to 10 shots per game way downfield, and you have to stop those big receivers from catching them. In the secondary, Texas has incredible length. They could play red rover, red rover across the whole field. [Defensive coordinator] Todd Orlando does a good job bringing pressure at inopportune times to keep you off balance. Still, it’s going to be a tall task for that defense. What’s the over?”

OKLAHOMA: “What’s different about Jalen Hurts there compared to Kyler Murray is they’re not asking Jalen to make as many decisions. That’s not a knock on Jalen, just indicative of losing four NFL offensive linemen. Kyler had more time for downfield shots. Playing Oklahoma, you have to beat both Lincoln Riley and the quarterback. Sometimes, you can move the cheese – give different looks – and beat a quarterback. But not against OU. [Riley is] going to make the decisions, not the quarterback. Jalen has come a long way at OU because the system is just so much more quarterback-friendly. There’s still times, however, that Jalen doesn’t throw the ball to the right places. This game will come down to how he reads the Texas defense and how much they do to make sure it’s not a clean and easy picture. On defense, Kenneth Murray is always around the ball, but they don’t have any dominant pass rushers. Texas will see a lot more pre-snap movement under [defensive coordinator] Alex Grinch, but the weakness is in the back end. Grinch will have them playing like their hair is on fire, as you can’t practice the speed the defense is going to come at you on gameday.”

No. 7 Florida vs. No. 5 LSU

Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Line: LSU -13.5

FLORIDA: “The most interesting thing about Florida defensively is that instead of blitzing a lot, their defensive ends are sprinting at the quarterback almost every snap, like 80 percent of the time. They’re not traditional, gap sound and squeeze. They’re attacking the quarterback so they can disrupt you every snap, especially the transfer from Louisville [Jonathan Greenard]. It’ll be an interesting matchup to see Florida’s secondary against LSU, as Florida’s defensive backs are trained to get the ball back. They lead the country in interceptions (12) and you can see why. They are opportunistic and have the instinctual ability to pick the ball off — especially CJ Henderson, it’s easy to see why people think he’s a first-round pick. Todd Grantham has an interesting philosophy with this team. He seems to only want to win third down. He wants to survive first and second down and they get really exotic in third down, you can tell they practice that a lot. You better strap it up on third down, you won’t face a better package than that all year.”

LSU: “I have no doubt in my mind if things go their way they can win it all. They’re much better than I thought. That is a much more well-rounded and disciplined and solid football team, that happens to have a bunch of elite athletes. It’s not just a bunch of freaks that they typically have running around undisciplined. They were completely sound, especially defensively. I had heard that [star safety] Grant Delpit started making business decisions after his freshman year and that he was playing predicated on not getting hurt. I didn’t see that at all in our game. He looks like a guy who had the light switch go on and he realizes there’s a small window where he needs to play lights out the next half of the season. It’s going to be a tough game for Florida because [LSU is] going to put the onus on them to score. On offense, it felt like at any point in time they can pull the ball and throw it to those receivers, and that’s a tough deal. They have a really good model as a full team.”

No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 17 Iowa

Location: Iowa City, Iowa

Line: Penn State -3.5

IOWA: “Their defense is tough to play against, but they’re not super-athletic. They are a classic bend-but-don’t-break scheme that keeps everything in front of them. They were tough, but they didn’t play to smash you in the mouth. We felt like we could go after either of their corners. They were playing a lot of zone and their corners did an alright job, but their linebackers were the ones making the open-field tackles. I saw more missed tackles on film than I expected. They’re really long up front on defense, but they didn’t strike us as overly physical. They were only dominant when they got the first punch and used their reach against our line. A.J. Epenesa is quick getting off the ball, but he’s more of a straight-line guy. He can set the edge, but you can put him in situations where he has to make decisions and move side to side. The most impressive thing about him is his physical appearance. We really liked their quarterback, he’s got a live arm and the ball really flies off his hand. Their wide receivers ran good routes and their back ran hard.”

PENN STATE: “Iowa may have a chance to run the ball on them and be physical with them up front. A lot of teams have been able to run the ball on them this year, and it fits with what Iowa likes to do. Their corners are OK, but we felt like we could run by them and we did at times. We really liked Garrett Taylor at safety, but we felt like Lamont Wade was still feeling his way around. Going into the game, we really felt like what separated them from other Big Ten teams is their linebackers. They were long and athletic, especially Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa. They only blitz about 30 percent of the time in normal down and distance on first and second down. On third-and-medium, they blitz a lot. KJ Hamler is just electric, and the gameplan was to do everything possible to not let him touch the ball on special teams. He can light you up. The quarterback is solid and has managed games well.”

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 24 Texas A&M

Location: College Station, Texas

Line: Alabama -17

Texas A&M: “The defense plays like it’s still the 1970s, not the current RPO world. If a guard pulls, those linebackers are flying and trying to hit you in the mouth. In the RPO era, they’re usually more patient and trying to play both. They are really well coached on defense, but they fly around so well that they’re susceptible to the reverse. [Texas A&M coordinator Mike Elko] and his whole coaching tree love to blitz the free safety, more than anyone in the country. They’ll send the boundary safety and the Will linebacker. They have an old-school mindset, but still play a soft Cover 3 on defense to make sure the ball doesn’t get thrown over their head. This is a bad matchup for A&M for a bunch of reasons. Alabama on offense will be able to get those guys out in space. Bama is a space team now, and A&M won’t be able to cover those guys. On offense, A&M doesn’t have the personnel at tight end or at tailback to be balanced enough to hold up against Alabama’s defense.”

Alabama: “The linebackers are all new, of course, and we thought we could take advantage of them. But they have a check for everything. We felt we could manipulate their inexperience with curl routes and option routes and put them in predicaments with formations and motions that they hadn’t seen. We were trying to mess with them personnel-wise, but they never got rattled. Shane Lee and Christian Harris are freshman, but we felt like we could pick on Lee. To be honest, we really couldn’t as much as we hoped. The secondary there is stocked. Patrick Surtain II, man is that joker special. And with Trevon Diggs, those are two corners as good as I’ve seen on one team. The defense plays in such a way, where you can’t do anything easy. There’s no screens or quick game, which was frustrating. I look at their secondary as basketball on grass, like a matchup zone. It’s a zone coverage with man principles. They don’t pressure the quarterback a lot, unless it’s third-and-long.”

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