Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

10 Nov 2014

OFI: Meeting Expectations

by Chad Peltier

November 8 lived up to its billing as a top day for conference matchups. There were upsets (Texas A&M over Auburn), big playoff moves (Arizona State, Ohio State, and TCU), overtime wins (Alabama over LSU), and crazy plays (like Utah's Kaelin Clay's best imitation of DeSean Jackson). But, if anything, the weekend has made the Playoff Selection Committee's job that much more difficult.

The playoff field has become a little more defined with losses from Auburn, Notre Dame, and Kansas State, with a fairly clear top eight heading in to Week 12. That group includes the two unbeatens as well as the one-loss teams with signature wins. The Buckeyes, Sun Devils, and Horned Frogs had the three most impressive victories of the weekend, and the F/+ read all but the Big Ten showdown correctly, even though the Buckeyes were higher ranked in the F/+. Conference hierarchies are beginning to settle into place ahead of looming championship games in December: TCU and Baylor are at the top of the Big 12; Ohio State will fight either Nebraska or Wisconsin for the Big Ten crown; Duke and Florida State are likely in the ACC title game; and Oregon and Arizona State will almost certainly play for the Pac-12 championship. The SEC needs a few more weeks of football for things to sort themselves out.

TOEDRAGS

  • The Buckeyes needed to do two big things right to beat the favored Spartans: win short-yardage situations, where they had been consistently lackluster, and generate some explosive offensive plays. It's fairly surprising, but the seventh-ranked Spartans defense actually is 124th in the country in Defensive IsoPPP, and the Buckeyes were able to exploit that weakness with eight explosive plays, including three passes of 43 yards or more. The Spartans' defensive scheme is excellent per-play (leading in Success Rate), but it stresses the cornerbacks, who often have little support if they lose a one-on-one battle with a receiver. The Buckeyes used receivers Devin Smith and rising star Michael Thomas to great effect, as these rangy speedsters beat the Spartans on play action. Of course, for play action to be effective, the Buckeyes had to have some level of baseline offensive efficiency, and running back Ezekiel Elliott ran for 6.7 yards per carry and 61 percent efficiency, while the player of the game, J.T. Barrett, had 14 carries with 92 percent efficiency. The Buckeyes were able to consistently beat the Spartans defense to the edge for solid gains. Related, the Buckeyes have struggled on third-and-short this season without Carlos Hyde (with a 60th-ranked Power Success Rating and converting just one-of-five against Illinois), but the Buckeyes managed to convert seven-of-eight short-yardage third downs.

  • The popular perception of Auburn was that the offense was where it needed to be, but the defense had become a liability despite its top-ten Defensive F/+ ranking (spotting the Rebels 31 points and the Gamecocks 35 will do that to you). However, at least against the Aggies, it was the Auburn offense that was the liability. The Aggies, with their wildly inconsistent offense, took advantage of a +2 turnover margin (on three Auburn fumbles), field position, and two explosive plays for scores. With three lost fumbles it's hard to predict that the Aggies would win consistently if the two teams played ten times, but they deserve some credit for capitalizing on the Tigers' mistakes.
  • Georgia fell off the national radar for this week after the loss to Florida and a matchup with Kentucky, but the Bulldawgs offense wasn't bothered. Instead, Nick Chubb and the Dawgs had one of the most efficient offensive performances of the season against the 49th-ranked Wildcats defense. The Bulldawgs had ten total possessions and scored touchdowns on eight -- the other two were to end each half of play. That equates to 1.05 points per play, including an incredible 8-for-8 third-down efficiency. The Dawgs averaged a little more than 5 yards to go on third down, but considering they had three touchdown drives without seeing a third down at all, their standard down efficiency was still great.
  • Baylor controlled almost every facet of their game against Oklahoma, but the Bears did most of their damage through the air with Bryce Petty and receivers Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley. The Sooners entered the game with the 23rd Passing S&P+ defense, but the Bears were able to do just about whatever they wanted through the air after the first three possessions. While there were certainly some explosive passing plays on the day (like Coleman's first 33-yard touchdown reception), what's interesting is that Baylor moved methodically down the field with four scoring drives of more than ten plays (and three more of at least six plays) and 31 total first downs. Baylor only had five explosive plays on the day, and three of them were passes to Coleman. The Bears were decent but not spectacular on standard downs, with an average of 4.2 yards to go on third down, but were an impressive 4-of-4 on fourth-down attempts. Part of the problem for Oklahoma was that the Sooners only managed two sacks and five tackles for loss -- without many negative plays, the Bears were able to string longer drives together despite fairly modest gains (averaging 5.73 yards per play). The Bears only averaged 2.8 yards per carry as a team, but leading rusher Shock Linwood still managed a solid 57 percent success rate.
  • After Saturday's win over Virginia, Florida State's Jameis Winston said that "I'm hurting this team, I really am" with his interceptions. The Cavaliers scored 14 points off of two interceptions, and Winston now has 11 interceptions on the season (he had ten all of last year). That moved the Seminoles down to 73rd in turnover margin (-1) and 114th in interceptions lost (13), with neighbors like Wake Forest, Syracuse, and Fresno State. We've said before that currently the Seminoles' statistics aren't championship-caliber, and this has to be one of the most glaring statistical deficiencies. However, Florida State does just keep winning, and that can't be disregarded.

TOP 25

1. Mississippi State
2. Florida State
3. Oregon
4. Alabama
5. TCU
6. Ohio State
7. Baylor
8. Arizona State
9. Auburn
10. Ole Miss
11. Michigan State
12. LSU
13. Clemson
14. Georgia
15. Kansas State
16. Nebraska
17. Notre Dame
18. UCLA
19. Oklahoma
20. Marshall
21. Utah
22. Miami
23. USC
24. Duke
25. Georgia Tech

Auburn didn't last long at the top of my ballot. All of the losses by top-25 teams this week meant that I had to do a little reshuffling, ultimately giving Alabama the nod for the fourth spot, with TCU, Ohio State, Baylor, and Arizona State as the clear next tier of potential playoff teams. Those four have plenty of time to build their resumes and move up. A Mississippi State win next week over Alabama would be a good start to that. After that group is another set of teams through Oklahoma at 19 or so -- this group can knock off any of the above teams, but not consistently enough to justify a higher ranking. I also considered West Virginia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Texas A&M this week.

HONOR ROLL

  • Luke Falk, QB, Washington State. The Falk era began in Pullman after former record-setter Connor Halliday's career ended with an injury against USC. The offense didn't miss any momentum, though, as Falk went 44-of-61 for 471 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Not a bad way to begin your Air Raiding career.
  • J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State. Count me among the doubters who thought J.T. would struggle against the third top-ten Defensive F/+ defense the redshirt freshman has seen this season. Barrett proved me wrong with a huge game against the Spartans, throwing for exactly 300 yards and rushing for 86 more. What's insane is that in addition to a 55-yard explosive run on a counter trey, Barrett rushed for 92 percent efficiency in his other 11 carries. Barrett isn't Braxton Miller in his running style, but his efficiency and ability to distribute the ball more than make up for that.
  • Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. It's almost taken for granted at this point that Gordon will put up insane numbers each week. This week it was 25 carries for 205 yards, marking the third time he's put up more than 200 rushing yards this season. Gordon, and Wisconsin more broadly, will finally be in the national spotlight this week when they take on Nebraska for the Big Ten West lead.
  • Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State. Sometimes it feels like giving an Honor Roll nomination to a Big 12 wide receiver is like giving one to a Big Ten running back -- 200 yards per game just is kind of the standard these days (and on that note, let's give an Honorable Mention to Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman and his 225 receiving yards this weekend). But let's not overlook the fact that Lockett's 11 receptions for 196 yards against TCU allowed him to surpass his dad, Kevin Lockett, in total career receiving yards at Kansas State, with 3,073. Nice work to beat your old man, Tyler.

DEMERITS

  • Early celebrations. As mentioned above, Utah's Kaelin Clay was set to score on a 78-yard pass, but dropped the ball on the 1-yard line in a DeSean Jackson-like early touchdown celebration. Oregon linebacker Joe Walker then jogged the ball all the way into the other end zone for a play that totaled 177 net yards. To Clay's credit, the receiver accepted full responsibility for the error and the team's loss after the game on Twitter.

LOWSMAN WATCH

  • Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State. The junior Seminoles lineman looked like the former five-star recruit he is with a high school-like stat line of nine tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, and one forced fumble against the Cavaliers. Edwards now ranks 51st in the country with ten tackles for loss this season.
  • Gerod Holliman, DB, Louisville. The nation's leader in interceptions has four more than his closest competitor (Ole Miss star Senquez Golson), thanks in part to his three more picks in the win over Boston College. Holliman alone is a huge part of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham looking so good in his first year at Louisville.
  • Cedric Reed, DE, Texas. Holy defensive stat lines, Batman. Reed led a surging Texas defense that stopped the 31st-ranked Mountaineers offense with twelve tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble and a quarterback hurry to top it off.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 10 Nov 2014

1 comment, Last at 10 Nov 2014, 6:41pm by gmoney_714

Comments

1
by gmoney_714 :: Mon, 11/10/2014 - 6:41pm

Edwards is a beast! If FSU could start better linebackers their D would be a little more stingy.