Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

28 Sep 2012

SDA: Stanford Succumbs to Standard-Issue Chaos

by Matt Hinton

The last time we saw Stanford before Thursday night, the Cardinal were busy pushing USC around on both sides of the ball, looking for the world like bona fide, salt-of-the-earth contenders capable of mashing anyone in their path. The last we'd seen of Washington, the Huskies were getting pummeled and demoralized in a 41-3 beatdown at LSU. Which was only proof that nothing had really changed since the U-Dub defense was incinerated by Baylor in last December's Alamo Bowl.

On Thursday night? The usual abandonment of all precedent and logic.

Washington held the same Stanford offense that stunned USC out of the end zone entirely in an even more stunning 17-13 upset in Seattle, limiting the Cardinal to their worst game in terms of points (13), total yards (235), rushing yards (65) and yards per carry (2.3) since 2007, the first season of the monumental rebuilding job by Jim Harbaugh. On the road for the first time, Andrew Luck's successor, Josh Nunes, completed fewer than half of his passes (17-of-36) for an anemic 4.2 yards per attempt and zero touchdowns. The lack of downfield receiving threats became increasingly obvious as the play-action game became increasingly ineffective, as did the lack of athleticism in the secondary on Washington's two long touchdowns in the second half.

In other words, everything Stanford was to USC, Washington turned right back on Stanford, without warning. Just another helpful reminder when we think we're starting to discern some answers: Sometimes this game makes no sense.

No. 25 Baylor (+10) at No. 9 West Virginia (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, FX)


OVERALL When Baylor
Has the Ball ...
When West Virginia
Has the Ball ...
Category Baylor
(3-0)
West Virginia
(3-0)
Baylor
Off
West Virginia
Def
Baylor
Def
West Virginia
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 33 7
2012 FEI Rk 26 6
2012 S&P+ Rk 42 7 16 30 79 4
2012 FPA 10 29
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 25 7 88 14
2012 Passing S&P Rk 15 52 59 4
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 9 28 76 2
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
53.6% Run
(94)
42.1% Run
(119)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 10 79 97 28
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
33.9% Run
(61)
24.4% Run
(106)

Incredibly, Baylor is riding a nine-game winning streak dating back to last year, second-longest in the nation, which has been extended this year almost solely on the arm of senior quarterback Nick Florence. On paper, the Bears haven't missed a beat with the departure of program messiah RGIII, still averaging upwards of 500 yards and 50 points per game through a 3-0 start. But it will take every bit of that to keep pace with West Virginia's prolific spread attack in Morgantown, where the Mountaineers' love affair with the "Air Raid" has at least retained a tiny shred of defensive dignity where it concerns pressuring opposing quarterbacks and creating turnovers. The best guess is, if Baylor is coming anywhere near its season averages on the day, it's only by exploiting garbage time for all it's worth.

Arkansas (+14.5) at Texas A&M (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, SEC Network)


OVERALL When Arkansas
Has the Ball ...
When Texas A&M
Has the Ball ...
Category Arkansas
(1-3)
Texas A&M
(2-1)
Arkansas
Off
Texas A&M
Def
Arkansas
Def
Texas A&M
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 43 26
2012 FEI Rk 60 30
2012 S&P+ Rk 23 22 5 24 80 32
2012 FPA 90 44
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 59 79 29 38
2012 Passing S&P Rk 36 9 111 52
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 56 25 96 87
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
53.1% Run
(97)
56.8% Run
(80)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 66 16 84 4
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
20.5% Run
(116)
36.7% Run
(43)

Arkansas' penthouse-to-poorhouse plunge has been painful to watch. In successive weeks, the Razorbacks have served as upset fodder for Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers, on either side of a 52-0 massacre at the hands of Alabama, leaving the Hogs sitting dead last in the SEC in total defense, scoring defense and turnover margin. All of this unfolding at home, all as ad hoc head coach John L. Smith appears to be slowly losing his mind. Actually, at this point, go ahead and make that interim ad hoc head coach, as athletic director Jeff Long is barely concealing the fact that he plans to make a full-time hire when Smith's contract is up at the end of the year.

So yeah, if Texas A&M can't notch its first ess-ee-cee win over this fading outfit, in College Station, the Aggies may as well tuck their tails and slink back to the Big 12. A&M has made a habit lately of blowing sure things, and Arkansas still has enough firepower offensively to keep the final score within the two-touchdown spread. But the Razorbacks are rapidly approaching the point at which it seems infinitely crueler to keep giving the partisans hope.

No. 17 Clemson (-7) at Boston College (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)


OVERALL When Clemson
Has the Ball ...
When Boston College
Has the Ball ...
Category Clemson
(3-1)
Boston College
(1-2)
Clemson
Off
Boston College
Def
Clemson
Def
Boston College
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 29 58
2012 FEI Rk 27 47
2012 S&P+ Rk 33 71 10 40 78 98
2012 FPA 61 120
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 26 82 103 123
2012 Passing S&P Rk 25 32 100 50
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 53 58 73 108
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
55.7% Run
(86)
47.7% Run
(110)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 19 19 99 26
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
37.2% Run
(41)
28.8% Run
(82)

This line has plummeted toward Boston College with word that Clemson's spectacular sophomore receiver, Sammy Watkins, is unlikely to play with some sort of "abdominal virus," ostensibly casting doubt on the Tiger offense on the heels of last week's second-half implosion at Florida State. But this is the same Tiger offense that went for 528 yards against Auburn and 526 against Ball State in Watkins' absence in the first two games, and still features All-ACC-caliber playmakers in quarterback Tajh Boyd, tailback Andre Ellington and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. (Clemson also had 375 non-Watkins yards last week against a very nasty FSU defense, against which it scored 31 points in the first 35 minutes before the 'Noles flipped the switch.) Meanwhile, Boston College yielded 415 yards in a season-opening loss to Miami and a truly humbling 560 yards in last week's loss at Northwestern. You don't have to be blessed with the most dynamic playmaker in the country to drop a big number on this group.

Tennessee (+14) at No. 5 Georgia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)


OVERALL When Tennessee
Has the Ball ...
When Georgia
Has the Ball ...
Category Tennessee
(3-1)
Georgia
(4-0)
Tennessee
Off
Georgia
Def
Tennessee
Def
Georgia
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 41 9
2012 FEI Rk 56 13
2012 S&P+ Rk 24 8 15 35 44 3
2012 FPA 38 8
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 58 16 89 5
2012 Passing S&P Rk 13 48 30 8
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 11 32 47 6
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
59.9% Run
(63)
61.8% Run
(51)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 78 18 32 37
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
24.5% Run
(105)
46.6% Run
(14)

Tennessee has more of a reputation these days for explosive offense, thanks to the formidable bombs-away tendencies of quarterback Tyler Bray and proven deep threats Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. But it's actually Georgia that comes into the weekend with the SEC lead in both yards and points, due in part to a relative confectioner's row of defenses through the first four games and in part to the arrival of a few actual playmakers. Chief among them are a pair of true freshman tailbacks, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who (along with sophomore Ken Malcome) are averaging upwards of 200 yards per game on the ground. On the other side, Tennessee is near the bottom of the conference against the run after being gashed for 336 yards by Florida, in Knoxville.

Unlike Alabama (five consecutive losses) or Florida (seven straight), several members of Tennessee's current roster have been part of a victory over Georgia, in 2009, although that season –- the Vols' "Kiffin Year" –- seems like an awfully long time ago now, too. In the present, UT is staring at the beginning of a four-game slate against UGA, Mississippi State, Alabama, and South Carolina that will decide its season and possibly decide Derek Dooley's fate as head coach. Which is not the sort of circumstance that usually makes for very fun road trips, unless it ends in a win.

No. 14 Ohio State (+3) at No. 20 Michigan State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)


OVERALL When Ohio State
Has the Ball ...
When Michigan State
Has the Ball ...
Category Ohio State
(4-0)
Michigan State
(3-1)
Ohio State
Off
Michigan State
Def
Ohio State
Def
Michigan State
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 25 14
2012 FEI Rk 25 12
2012 S&P+ Rk 26 19 13 5 50 101
2012 FPA 65 71
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 13 5 90 82
2012 Passing S&P Rk 33 22 38 105
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 20 3 46 96
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
64.9% Run
(30)
59.5% Run
(66)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 35 24 36 106
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
46.1% Run
(16)
31.3% Run
(70)

By halftime of last week's game against Alabama-Birmingham, Urban Meyer's first month as Ohio State's head coach had begun to seem less like the grand procession of resurgent Buckeye army than a slow, roiling, battle of attrition. OSU marches into the Big Ten opener in East Lansing with its perfect record intact –- one of only three unbeaten teams in the conference, along with Minnesota and Northwestern –- but not without enduring too-close-for-comfort calls against Cal and UAB and bearing the scars of the worst total defense in the conference. If there is any opponent in college football content to reenact the Battle of Passchendaele on its own field, it's Michigan State, which reaffirmed its commitment to sending 245-pound tailback Le'Veon Bell hurtling into the breach as often as possible last week by feeding him 37 carries against overmatched Eastern Michigan. For the season, Bell is second nationally with just shy of 30 carries per game through the first four.

More importantly, the Spartans are far more capable of bottling up spectacular quarterback Braxton Miller as a runner than any defense Ohio State has faced to date, which directly accounts for about 25 percent of Ohio State's total offense and plays a role in a much larger share due to the defense's concern with preventing Miller from breaking one. Miller is vastly improved as a passer over his freshman incarnation in 2011, but he has not been asked to win a game with his arm, on the road, against the top-ranked defense in the Big Ten in every significant category. The more often Miller is forced to throw on Michigan State's terms –- i.e. second- and third-and-long –- the less dangerous he'll be in any capacity.

Cincinnati (+6.5) at Virginia Tech (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)


OVERALL When Cincinnati
Has the Ball ...
When Virginia Tech
Has the Ball ...
Category Cincinnati
(2-0)
Virginia Tech
(3-1)
Cincinnati
Off
Virginia Tech
Def
Cincinnati
Def
Virginia Tech
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 19 24
2012 FEI Rk 11 24
2012 S&P+ Rk 28 27 55 15 18 66
2012 FPA 79 51
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 7 24 34 67
2012 Passing S&P Rk 85 29 4 48
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 26 19 22 55
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
63.9% Run
(36)
59.2% Run
(69)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 65 35 40 73
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
39.5% Run
(30)
30.5% Run
(77)

Basic middle school tells us that if A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then Cincinnati should be a lock here: the Bearcats easily dispatched Pittsburgh, 34-10, just one week before the very same Pittsburgh stunned Virginia Tech, 35-17, in the latest death blow to Tech's claim as an elite program. Therefore, according to the transitive property, the Bearcats should win in Blacksburg by approximately 42 points.

Alas, simple logic also requires us to acknowledge Virginia Tech's proven track record of recovering from uninspiring turns in September (see 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, all eventual ten-win seasons that threatened to go off the rails following an early non-conference loss), and the extreme unlikelihood of the Hokies dropping two games in three weeks to a middle-class interloper from the Big East. Touted quarterback Logan Thomas, goat of the loss at Pitt thanks to three interceptions, can begin to work his way back into the scouts' good graces. (They want to make you a first-rounder so badly, Logan, why do you mock them?)

Arizona State (-1) at California (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET, FX)


OVERALL When Arizona State
Has the Ball ...
When California
Has the Ball ...
Category Arizona State
(3-1)
California
(1-3)
Arizona State
Off
California
Def
Arizona State
Def
California
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 21 62
2012 FEI Rk 31 61
2012 S&P+ Rk 15 55 12 48 26 57
2012 FPA 34 26
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 45 91 22 66
2012 Passing S&P Rk 2 84 8 97
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 16 99 18 68
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
65.7% Run
(26)
52.8% Run
(100)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 21 81 11 87
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
34.8% Run
(58)
34.3% Run
(59)

September should be too early for desperation, but the frustration in Berkeley has been building for a lot longer than a month: six years removed from its last finish in the top 25, Cal is 1-3, and the redwoods are beginning to close in on coach Jeff Tedford. (Quarterback Zach Maynard may be feeling the same way, albeit in a different context after absorbing 15 sacks in back-to-back losses at USC and Ohio State.) The way the rest of the Golden Bears' schedule shakes out, there is no realistic route to .500 or a bowl game that doesn't include a win over Arizona State in Berkeley, where the Sun Devils haven't won since 1997. Once the postseason is out of the picture, it may be time to circle the Priuses.

No. 12 Texas (-2.5) at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 7:50 p.m. ET, Fox)


OVERALL When Texas
Has the Ball ...
When Oklahoma State
Has the Ball ...
Category Texas
(3-0)
Oklahoma State
(2-1)
Texas
Off
Oklahoma State
Def
Texas
Def
Oklahoma State
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 5 15
2012 FEI Rk 5 21
2012 S&P+ Rk 5 12 8 66 13 1
2012 FPA 4 105
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 3 53 38 2
2012 Passing S&P Rk 9 60 25 18
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 12 31 50 4
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
69.3% Run
(16)
53.6% Run
(95)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 3 62 12 11
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
31.3% Run
(70)
36.2% Run
(48)

Oklahoma State actually opened the week as a slight favorite in the point spreads, before the line shifted in response to the sudden gravitational pull of the Longhorns and their sophomore quarterback, David Ash. As a freshman in 2011, Ash was too turnover-prone to hold down the starting job, including three giveaways in Oklahoma State's 38-26 win in Austin. As a sophomore, he's yet to throw an interception, and after posting career highs for yards (326), touchdowns (four), and efficiency (259.1) in a 66-31 rout over Ole Miss, his stat line is beginning to resemble ... well, the stat line of a quarterback for Oklahoma State.

As far as Saturday is concerned, it probably makes no difference to that line whether the quarterback is true freshman Wes Lunt, the ostensible starter, or redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh, who appears likely to start if Lunt can't go on a bad knee. So far, the numbers have not significantly changed in the absence of the Cowboys' above-the-fold headliners, first-round draft picks Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, except in one key area: turnovers. In the Week 2 loss at Arizona, OSU gave the ball away four times without taking it from the Wildcats once, a stark contrast for a team that led the nation in both takeaways and overall turnover margin last year en route to the best season in school history. The barrage of mistakes obscured the fact that the Cowboy offense hung 636 yards on the 'Zona defense in a losing effort, a subtle hint at how good this team can still be if it climbs back into the black in the giveaway/takeaway game. (In case there was still any question, they added a not-so-subtle hint the following week with a school-record 742 yards of total offense against overmatched Louisiana-Lafayette.) Here's guessing the point is not lost on Texas or its emerging quarterback in Stillwater, where Oklahoma State is riding an eight-game winning streak.

Wisconsin (+11.5) at No. 22 Nebraska (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC)


OVERALL When Wisconsin
Has the Ball ...
When Nebraska
Has the Ball ...
Category Wisconsin
(3-1)
Nebraska
(3-1)
Wisconsin
Off
Nebraska
Def
Wisconsin
Def
Nebraska
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 31 18
2012 FEI Rk 33 14
2012 S&P+ Rk 31 21 54 57 25 6
2012 FPA 28 116
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 86 55 17 4
2012 Passing S&P Rk 78 39 45 7
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 81 56 20 5
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
68.3% Run
(20)
72.6% Run
(11)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 109 3 89 33
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
31.7% Run
(69)
30.5% Run
(76)

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was miserable last year in Madison, serving up three interceptions that led to three Wisconsin touchdowns in a 48-17 blowout, and the Badgers haven't forgotten: defensive end David Gilbert made the headlines Thursday (and will subsequently start the game on the bench) for saying Martinez "still looks like he's skipping rocks out there." The numbers don't quite back that up. Through four games, Martinez is leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9-to-1, and is on pace to achieve his stated goal of completing 70 percent of his passes. That's not an insignificant leap for a guy who didn't even hit 60 percent in either of his first two years as a starter. Then again, it's not insignificant that the nine touchdowns have come at the expense of Southern Miss, Arkansas State and Idaho State, and the lone interception at the hands of UCLA in the Cornhuskers' only loss, either.

Still, Gilbert's words were bold ones from a man whose own team ranks dead last in the conference in total offense after facing Northern Iowa, Oregon State, Utah State, and UTEP. Especially concerning an opponent that ranks first in the same category. Though both teams are 3-1 with three wins against overmatched underdogs and a road loss on the west coast, at the moment Nebraska's offense is outpacing Wisconsin's by 229 yards and 27 points per game. If the jury is still out on Martinez, the early verdict on the Badgers is just damning.

No. 18 Oregon State (+2.5) at Arizona (Saturday, 10:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12)


OVERALL When Oregon State
Has the Ball ...
When Arizona
Has the Ball ...
Category Oregon State
(2-0)
Arizona
(3-1)
Oregon State
Off
Arizona
Def
Oregon State
Def
Arizona
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 39 36
2012 FEI Rk 32 41
2012 S&P+ Rk 46 32 89 29 27 42
2012 FPA 87 24
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 119 58 13 50
2012 Passing S&P Rk 63 43 46 56
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 113 49 59 40
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
53.3% Run
(96)
54.9% Run
(90)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 56 60 4 43
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
22.9% Run
(111)
25.8% Run
(99)

Oregon State is a tantalizing upset pick in Tucson, mainly for the way the Beavers have held up against the run: after finishing dead last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense in 2011, en route to a 3-9 finish, they've opened 2012 by turning back credible ground attacks from Wisconsin and UCLA in back-to-back upsets. Where they ranked 101st nationally against the run last year, they currently rank second. Both the Badgers and Bruins, however, had the courtesy to run right at OSU in conventional power sets, a luxury the Beavers won't have against Arizona's speed-based, misdirection-heavy zone read scheme. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is a match for the Wildcats' Matt Scott as a passer; if the defense holds its ground against the "Spread 'n Shred" as effectively as it has against the straight-ahead stuff, on the road, a big year in Corvallis is officially in order.

Picks

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Matt F/+
Baylor +10 W. Virginia WVU* WVU
Arkansas +14.5 Texas A&M Arkansas Arkansas
Clemson -7 Boston Coll. Clemson B.C.
Tennessee +14 Georgia Tennessee Tennessee
Ohio St. +3 Michigan St. Mich. St. Mich. St.
Cincinnati +6.5 Va. Tech Va. Tech Cincy*
Arizona St. -1 California California Arizona St.
Texas -2.5 Oklahoma St. OSU OSU
Wisconsin +11.5 Nebraska Wisconsin Wisconsin
Oregon St. +2.5 Arizona Arizona Arizona
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Last Week
Season Total
F/+: 6-4 (0-1) 26-14 (2-1)
Matt: 2-8 (0-1) 14-26 (1-2)

Posted by: Matt Hinton on 28 Sep 2012

10 comments, Last at 30 Sep 2012, 10:36pm by Brian Fremeau

Comments

1
by cfn_ms :: Fri, 09/28/2012 - 6:21pm

and I have no clue on the others. Kind of lean Arky getting more than 2 TD's, but not a strong feeling AT ALL. Even my Dooley auto-fade button hesitates at 14 points against a Georgia team looking ahead to SC and whose blowout win at Mizzou was probably deceptive.

PS if Dooley somehow actually pulls the stunner it may be time to bet the mortgage in 2 weeks on Miss St -2.5 or so.

2
by Kal :: Fri, 09/28/2012 - 7:03pm

Wow, F/+ is kind of kicking ass this year. That's especially surprising given that you'd think it would be less predictive early and better later.

6
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 09/28/2012 - 9:45pm

Actually, I think it's by no means atypical for statistical models that incorporate a preseason prediction element to do their best work against the spread early in the year.

3
by sundown (not verified) :: Fri, 09/28/2012 - 7:10pm

Wisconsin looks like a team that could really hit the skids now that conference play is under way. Their offense has been so anemic and everybody they've played has been able to hang with them for long periods of time.

Thus far, their offensive changes have been a disaster. And who fires the offensive line coach a couple games into the season and replaces him with somebody who's never had a full-time coaching job before? Lots of disarray for a team that hasn't really had anything major go wrong. They seem intent on fixing things that weren't broken.

4
by herpderp (not verified) :: Fri, 09/28/2012 - 8:01pm

That Tennessee schedule is delightfully wicked. The current AP #5, #21, #1, and #6, in five weeks. At least they get a bye after UGA.

5
by mm (old) (not verified) :: Fri, 09/28/2012 - 8:55pm

I thought everyone had learned last year from Oregon & West Virginia that getting dominated by LSU doesn't mean you can't go out and compete in your conference.

7
by Sid :: Sat, 09/29/2012 - 1:32pm

"The best guess is, if Baylor is coming anywhere near its season averages on the day, it's only by exploiting garbage time for all it's worth."

Baylor having no trouble thus far. 254 passing yards and 28 points and we're not even at the half.

8
by Alexander :: Sat, 09/29/2012 - 6:39pm

Hypo: Ohio State Scores a Touchdown to go up 7. Should they kick the extra point to go up 8, or go for 2 to go up 9 (while risking being up only 7)?

9
by Sid :: Sat, 09/29/2012 - 10:48pm

how does F/+ differ from the bcftoys projections? Are they different formulas? bcftoys (aka FEI forecasts) projected Texas by 7.

10
by Brian Fremeau :: Sun, 09/30/2012 - 10:36pm

F/+ is a combination of FEI ratings and S&P+ ratings.