Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Sep 2014

OFI: Letdown Saturday

by Chad Peltier

This year's editions of Georgia and South Carolina could play each other a hundred times and each team would win 50 games. While Georgia appeared to be the superior team statistically, Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks exploited the few weaknesses he knew for sure that the Dawgs had: the pass defense, both on the perimeter and in the middle of the field, and the lack of a downfield passing threat. As Dawgsonline said on Twitter, "Really can't say this was Georgia unable to handle success. Shortcomings we all knew were there were exploited." And Spurrier knew about those shortcomings too.

So the game turned in to a series of critical moments, mostly in the fourth quarter. A holding call that brought back a breakaway Todd Gurley touchdown run. An interception returned to the South Carolina 4-yard line. A baffling, overly-cute decision to call a play-action pass that ended in a somewhat-debatable intentional grounding call. A missed field-goal attempt from a player who had earlier set the record for consecutive field goals in the SEC. A half of a millimeter past the marker on fourth down.

Those are the chaotic moments that make college football great, but the entire game was full of smaller weird moments. The 2013 S&P+ and FEI comparisons were spot on for when South Carolina had the ball. Even though Connor Shaw is gone, the Gamecocks had the advantage through the air while the Dawgs kept Mike Davis in check for most of the night. True to the early 2014 Offensive S&P+ scores, both teams managed to move the ball at will for most of the night, with Georgia ending with 408 yards and South Carolina with 447. But South Carolina had eight more first downs with almost equal total yardage. There were seven penalties per team, and many of them had big impacts on the game. Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo had the obviously questionable call on first down from the Gamecocks' 4-yard line, but you also have to wonder why freshmen Isaiah McKenzie and Sony Michel were removed from the passing game after the Dawgs' Aggies-like first possession. In fact, the comparisons with the Aggies' game plan start and end there -- the Georgia offense's average time per snap was 28.55 seconds, which isn't the kind of tempo necessary to exploit a Gamecocks secondary that was frequently out of position in its first two games. Finally, Georgia had the overall F/+ advantage and was plus-2 in turnover margin, but still lost.

There was a great deal of chaos in the South Carolina-Georgia game, but there were several other close calls and upsets on a college football weekend that was supposed to be fairly boring. The hangover effect hit Virginia Tech and Southern California as both teams came off of upsets of their own last weekend. Kentucky took Florida to the wire (but that wasn't so surprising based on F/+ comparisons) and Virginia shut down Louisville.

TOEDRAGS

  • BYU cracks my top 25 this week after pummeling Texas and getting by Houston, but what is this team's ceiling? BYU would have been an early potential BCS-buster last year, and the Cougars have the chance to be a playoff-buster in 2014. Looking at their remaining schedule, it's difficult to pick out any losses, but would an undefeated BYU knock out an 11-1 SEC team or even an 11-1 Big 12 team? Regardless, quarterback Taysom Hill has the Cougars running over all of their opponents. As the F/+ comparisons projected, BYU was able to completely shut down a Houston rushing game that was 44th in Rushing S&P+ last season. Houston was held to just 10 rushing yards. On offense, the eleventh-ranked 2013 Rushing S&P+ squad was paced by two 100-yard rushers, each of whom had more than 26 carries. The name of the game for Cougars is efficiency, both on a drive-by-drive and per-play basis. No Cougar had a run over 24 yards or averaged over 6.2 yards per carry, but BYU managed to create successful plays -- and successful drives -- all night long. Though only totaling 0.36 points per possession, the Cougars never had a three-and-out and Hill finished with an 82 percent success rate rushing.
  • Speaking of playoff busters, how about East Carolina? 59th on the second F/+ rankings of the year, the Pirates have now taken South Carolina to the wire and beaten Virginia Tech. In typical air raid fashion, East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden passed for 427 yards against Bud Foster's stout defense while averaging 9.1 yards per attempt and not throwing any picks. The Pirates weren't the most efficient offense despite racking up yards through the air -- they averaged just 1.75 points per possession and had four three-and-outs (the Hokies equaled that number).
  • I'd imagine most people are hesitant with their early-season playoff projections after the Dawgs' loss, but it's hard not to notice the Sooners' run lately. With two victories over SEC teams in his last four games, Trevor Knight is positioning both his team for the playoffs and himself for the Heisman race. The F/+ comparisons were spot on for the Sooners defense as well, which held Tennessee's talented skill players to just ten points and 0.13 points per play. Even though Volunteers quarterback Justin Worley threw for 201 yards, he averaged just 4.6 yards per pass and threw a hundred yard pick-six to Julian Wilson. The Sooners need to work on their rushing defense and offense, as their fate lies too much on Trevor Knight's continued efficiency, but the November 9 matchup with Baylor is increasingly looking like a playoff-elimination game.

TOP 25

1. Oregon
2. Florida State
3. Alabama
4. Oklahoma
5. Texas A&M
6. LSU
7. Stanford
8. Baylor
9. Auburn
10. Notre Dame
11. UGA
12. Michigan State
13. South Carolina
14. Ole Miss
15. Arizona State
16. Missouri
17. Clemson
18. Wisconsin
19. Ohio State
20. UCLA
21. USC
22. Oklahoma State
23. BYU
24. Virginia Tech
25. Kansas State

Louisville and Mississippi State fall out and Virginia Tech, USC, and Georgia all fall in the rankings this week after losses. Unlike the AP poll, I have only four SEC West teams in the top ten because Ole Miss needs to beat a top opponent first. They'll have their chance when Alabama comes to town in two weeks. While BYU had a relatively tight game with Houston, their win over Texas was more dominating than UCLA's. In addition to Ole Miss and Mississippi State, Pitt and TCU are close to being ranked. Unlike the AP poll, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Duke still have a little to prove before being ranked.

HONOR ROLL

  • J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State. Sure there are 85 teams in between Ohio State and Kent State in the F/+ rankings, but J.T. Barrett directed a Buckeyes offense -- one which looked fairly lost in his second career start last week -- to 63 points, while throwing for 312 yards and six touchdowns (tying a school record). What's amazing is that the last Buckeye to throw for more than 300 yards was Troy Smith…in 2006.
  • Shaun Wilson, RB, Duke. The Kansas run defense won't be mistaken for Alabama's or Florida State's, but freshman Shaun Wilson's 245 rushing yards would be impressive against anyone. With three explosive plays of over 45 yards (a third of his carries overall were explosive against Kansas), Wilson is now in the top twenty in rushing yards despite only having 21 total carries on the season. His rushing average of 15.9 yards per carry is 2.9 yards more than the second-ranked rusher in this statistic.
  • James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh. James Conner now has 544 rushing yards, which is second in the country overall. While his 177 yards and three touchdowns against FIU were impressive, his consistency this season is even more striking. No matter the situation stat -- third down, fourth quarter, opponent red zone, etc -- Conner maintains a 5-plus-yards per carry average.
  • Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. Gurley's numbers against a fairly stout South Carolina rushing defense (20 carries for 131 yards and another 54-yard run that was called back) were impressive, but it was the way he ran and when he pulled out big gains that likely merit his permanent inclusion on this list. On third-and-16 in the fourth quarter, Gurley took the ball left and was met by a wall of defenders, so he reversed back right to get 17 yards and extend the Bulldawgs' drive.

DEMERITS

  • Doing anything but giving the ball to Gurley. Mike Bobo had a fairly effective game plan for attacking the Gamecocks defense considering his personnel at wide receiver and South Carolina's focus on stopping Gurley. But with likely the best tailback in the game and four downs to travel 4 yards, it's hard to rationalize the play-action pass in the rain. Mark Richt agreed after the game, saying "If I had to do it again I would've hammered it."
  • The Big Ten. The Big Ten's season of misery continues, with the conference losing to West Virginia, Bowling Green, Iowa State, TCU, Washington, and Notre Dame out of conference. The conference hopes rest on Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Penn State, but even those five teams have obvious flaws.
  • The hangover effect. Both Virginia Tech and USC won big upsets in week two and then lost to less talented teams in week three. The Hokies and Trojans both had whispers of being back to their former glories, but those dreams were grounded by Boston College and East Carolina. East Carolina has an extremely quality football team, but the losses are a sign of the players and coaches buying in to their own momentum. "I'm not going to make that excuse [about it being a letdown game]," said Hokies coach Frank Beamer. "I thought we were ready to play."

LOWSMAN WATCH

  • Josh Augusta, NT, Missouri. The young nose tackle made an athletic interception of Central Florida's Justin Holman to go along with his two tackles. The 330-plus-pound "Big Bear" deflected then caught the tipped ball on the way to the ground.
  • Julian Wilson, CB, Oklahoma. The senior corner hauled in a goal-line pick of Tennessee's Justin Worley and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown to go along with his six tackles on the day.
  • Josh Keyes, LB, Boston College. Keyes led the surprisingly stout Boston College defense by recording a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss against Southern Cal.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 15 Sep 2014

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