A look at fourth-down decision making in 2014 highlights Sean Payton, Marc Trestman, and... wait, this can't be right... Jim Caldwell? Plus: Chip Kelly may be less aggressive than you think he is.
05 Nov 2012
by Matt Hinton
Writing about Oregon football means dealing with a lot of numbers, usually big ones, and they don't come much bigger than the 62-point, 720-yard bomb the Ducks just dropped on USC. The calculators were humming from the opening kickoff, and never stopped. Oregon's first touchdown drive of the night covered 75 yards in 65 seconds. The Ducks had 156 yards and 14 points before they faced a third down. Sixty-two points was the most ever against a USC defense. Seven hundred-twenty yards was a school record; tailback Kenjon Barner set another one with 325 yards rushing, and (by the way) scored five touchdowns. Forced to actually play a full four quarters for the first time in his career -– on the road, against a ranked opponent –- redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota was 20-of-23 passing for 304 yards, four touchdowns and an efficiency rating of 255.4. USC set multiple records of its own, including most points (51) in a loss.
But the number looming over the rest of the weekend is the one preceded by a decimal point: .9166. That's the Ducks' score in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings, which is nearly unchanged from their score in last week's standings, .9136, which came as a surprise to most BCS watchers. The slight bump was enough to move Oregon up a spot, from No. 4 to No. 3, at the expense of Notre Dame. But it wasn't enough to bypass Kansas State into the all-important No. 2 slot, and the apathetic reaction of the BCS computers challenged the assumption that a Ducks takeover is inevitable.
Before the new numbers were released on Sunday night, the prevailing wisdom held that the increased degree of difficulty on Oregon's schedule down the stretch –- beginning with the Trojans –- would be enough to bring the computers in line with the human polls, where the Ducks are a solid No. 2 behind the immovable object at the top, Alabama, and will almost certainly remain there as long as they keep winning. For all their firepower on the biggest stage of the season, though, the algorithms remained unmoved: out of six computer polls, Oregon moved up a spot in one, down a spot in another and held fast in the rest, resulting in the exact same score (.850) and average (5th) across all six computers as the week before. Where it counted, trashing the preseason favorite to win the national championship made almost no difference in the pursuit of K-State.
From here, the Ducks have four games left to make up that gap, beginning this weekend at 3-6 Cal, which does not figure to help much; after that, though, they're set for back-to-back dates with Stanford and Oregon State, both of which are currently ranked in the top 15 in all major polls -– human and computer alike -– and if everything goes as expected, the Pac-12 Championship Game against the winner of the Pac-12 South. Given that surprising Oregon State (7-1) has picked up some of the slack from USC's descent into mediocrity, that's as solid a closing stretch as the computers or anyone else has any right to ask for. But if Alabama and Kansas State keep winning, too, it is no longer certain that it will be enough to shake up the status quo.
1. Alabama (9-0). Bama looked mortal on the defense for the first time in years, and still managed to survive against the only team that can match them blue chip for blue chip.
2. Kansas State (9-0). Wildcats cruised to 9-0 against Oklahoma State, but 10-0 may depend on the short-term health of Collin Klein.
3. Oregon (9-0). Faces change, Ducks' prolific M.O. stays the same.
4. Notre Dame (9-0). Either the Irish are the proverbial "team of destiny," or they're setting themselves up for a painful reality check in a BCS game.
5. Florida (8-1). Gators still deserve to be rewarded for their unmatched triptych of wins over LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina, but the offense has been running on fumes for a month.
6. Georgia (8-1). Barring a catastrophe at Auburn -– or a miracle, depending on your perspective –- the Bulldogs are bound for another SEC Championship Game. Without having to play Alabama, LSU, or Texas A&M to get there.
7. Ohio State (10-0). Buckeyes get a much-needed bye week ahead of their biggest games of the year, against Wisconsin and Michigan.
8. LSU (7-2). Tigers may have earned more respect in a loss than in any of their wins.
9. Oregon State (7-1). Beavers put their first loss of the year behind them in a convincing win over Arizona State.
10. Florida State (8-1). Seminoles took the weekend off, which for once is not just a snarky euphemism for playing in the ACC.
11. Oklahoma (6-2). Sooners' hot-and-cold offense was back on track at Iowa State, but for how long?
12. Texas A&M (7-2). Aggies' eye-opening, 38-13 rout at Mississippi State was a warning shot to their next next target, Alabama.
13. South Carolina (7-2). Gamecocks are effectively out of the running in the SEC East, but not for a possible BCS bowl.
14. Stanford (7-2). If any defense in the Pac-12 can slow down Oregon, it's Stanford's, but the Cardinal are still struggling to score.
15. Louisville (9-0). Another week, another forgettable Big East also-ran bites the dust.
16. Clemson (8-1). Not that blowing out Duke is anything to write home about, but the Blue Devils are the Tigers' only victims currently boasting a winning record.
17. UCLA (7-2). Bruins obliterated Arizona, 66-10, and made themselves the new frontrunners to win the Pac-12 South in the process.
18. Nebraska (7-2). Clear sailing to the B1G title game if the Cornhuskers can get by Penn State on Saturday.
19. Texas (7-2). Longhorn fans have never been more relieved by a win over Texas Tech.
20. Texas Tech (6-3). Red Raiders are beginning to fade, but should clinch a winning season Saturday against Kansas.
21. Oklahoma State (6-3). Youth and uncertainty at quarterback caught up to the Cowboys again at K-State, and that may be the only reason they're not back in the Big 12 title hunt with a vastly improved defense.
22. TCU (6-3). Horned Frogs fought through multiple opportunities to pack it in at West Virginia, eventually winning on a do-or-die two-point conversion in double overtime.
23. West Virginia (6-3). Yes, I did just use five consecutive slots on half the membership of the Big 12. If you watched this conference on a weekly basis, you'd understand.
24. Toledo (8-1). Rockets have taken eight straight since taking Arizona to overtime in the season opener.
25. Penn State (6-3). Nittany Lions aren't playing for anything, in particular, due to NCAA sanctions, but still have to be seething over the 0-2 start against Ohio and Virginia, middling teams they would beat comfortably right now.
1. Allen Chapman, CB, Kansas State. In 2011, Chapman took his first career interception back for a touchdown against Oklahoma State. Saturday, he bit the Cowboys again with another pick-six that extended K-State's lead to 31-17 just before the half –- then proceeded to pick off two more passes as the Wildcats cruised to a double-digit win over the defending Big-12 champs. With five takeaways for the night, and zero giveaways from the offense, K-State now owns the best turnover margin in the nation at plus-21 for the season.
2. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon. In front of every record-breaking running back, there's a huge man calling out blocking assignments for his linemates, and Grasu got almost all of them right en route to another prolific night at USC. Earlier this year, coach Chip Kelly paid his sophomore center the highest compliment possible for an interior lineman, when he admitted he never has to think about Grasu anymore.
3. Matt Elam, S, Florida. The Gators' resident head hunter returns to the Lowsman Watch for the third time this year after racking up six tackles (two for loss) and an interception against Missouri, which he returned 42 yards to set up what turned out to be the decisive touchdown in a 14-7 Florida win. Offensively, the Gators have been held below 300 total yards three weeks in a row, but managed to win two of those games and nearly won the third thanks to 11 takeaways in the same span by the defense.
4. Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA. Going into last weekend, Arizona led the Pac-12 in total offense and boasted at least 35 points in four consecutive games, including 39 points in a major upset over USC. In the Rose Bowl, though, Zona ran into a wall, managing just 10 points on 257 yards of total offense -– nearly 30 points and 300 yards below its season averages –- and giving the ball away three times in a 66-10 debacle. No Bruin defender had more to do with that than Kendricks, who led the way with 13 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.
5. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia. Ogletree turned in a team-high 11 tackles (two for loss) with an interception in the Bulldogs' 37-10 cruise over Ole Miss, who managed just 46 yards rushing with a long gain of eleven. In two weeks since being called out as "soft" by safety Shawn Wiliams, the UGA defense has forced nine turnovers while allowing a single touchdown.
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