Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Oct 2016

OFI: Survive and Advance Saturday

by Chad Peltier

Top teams around the country fell into three categories of performances this week. First, there were teams on a bye. Big Ten co-favorite Michigan, Penn State (who plays Ohio State next week), and SEC challenger Texas A&M are the big names here. The Aggies' bye is well timed ahead of their matchup with Alabama. This offseason, Bill Connelly found that a bye week gave a team around a 2.3-point bump.

The second group had the defining story for this week of games: just survive and advance. Clemson, Louisville, Ohio State, Houston, Nebraska, and Florida State all fell into this category, with some of their wins more impressive than others. In every case the more talented team according to the 247 Team Talent Composite rankings ended up winning.

Clemson went to overtime against N.C. State after a missed potentially game-winning field goal attempt. The Wolfpack's upset bid was derailed not only by the missed field goal, but also by extremely poor red zone offense (Clemson's defense is fifth in finishing drives, allowing just three points per scoring opportunity) where N.C. State averaged only 1.4 points per scoring opportunity despite generating seven total scoring opportunities (Clemson's offense had eight).

Florida State had its seemingly annual tough game against a stingy Wake Forest defense that held the Seminoles to 2.8 points per scoring opportunity. Houston needed a stop on the half-yard line to preserve a win over Tulsa as the Golden Hurricane put up 365 passing yards. Louisville let a Friday night game against Duke go down to the wire as Lamar Jackson was held in check more than he had been all season. And Ohio State needed a second-half surge from J.T. Barrett and overtime to take down Wisconsin in Madison. These teams managed to survive tough scares, but maybe only Ohio State looks better than they did a week ago -- all the other teams' struggles were somewhat unexpected.

The final group is a small one, and it's just Alabama. The Crimson Tide embarrassed Tennessee for the tenth straight year, putting a gap between themselves and almost everyone else through seven weeks.

TOEDRAGS

  • Of all the narrow wins in Week 7, none look better than Ohio State's overtime victory over Wisconsin at Camp Randall. The Badgers are now up to 13th in the S&P+ rankings after one-score losses to both Ohio State and Michigan, who are first and third in the S&P+ rankings.

    The Badgers defense slowed the Buckeyes' offense to a crawl, not allowing a 100-yard rusher to the country's second-ranked S&P+ rushing offense, but its offensive play was even more impressive. Against the seventh-ranked S&P+ defense, the Badgers had 11 explosive plays, which were 13 percent of their rushes and 18 percent of passes. So what turned around for Ohio State in the second half? The Badgers slowed the Buckeyes ground game, allowing just a 47 percent and 50 percent rushing success rate by half, but J.T. Barrett improved significantly, from a 36 percent passing success rate in the first half to a 60 percent success rate in the second. That was most noticeable in both creating and taking advantage of scoring opportunities, where Ohio State went from averaging 3.0 points per scoring opportunity to 4.8 in the second half, and generated scoring opportunities on every second-half drive after just one-third of drives in the first. The only second-half Buckeyes drive without a score was Barrett's red zone interception during the brief storm.

    But an overlooked factor in the Buckeyes' success was how the defense was incredibly effective in the red zone in the first half, limiting the deficit that the offense would need to make up in the second half. The Badgers had four scoring opportunities on six drives in the first half, but just two opportunities in the second and in overtime -- the Buckeyes went from bend-don't-break to just "don't bend."

    The hardest part of Wisconsin's schedule is over, with projected wins in every remaining game. Outside of Iowa and Nebraska over the next two weeks, it's hard to imagine the Badgers losing a game on their schedule. Three Badgers players deserve particular praise as well. First, linebacker Jack Cichy was responsible for most of the havoc for the Badgers, recording 3.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a sack. On offense, the combination of wide receiver Jazz Peavy and running back Corey Clement was responsible for the majority of explosive plays, with Peavy being used on six sweeps for 70 yards, and Clement looking like his 2014 self and averaging 9.5 highlight yards per opportunity.

  • The Crimson Tide completely ran away with the rivalry game with Tennessee -- literally, as Alabama rushed for 438 yards and averaged 8.9 yards per carry. The S&P+ Five Factors box score is as ugly as can be: Alabama generated twice as many scoring opportunities on two fewer total drives, averaged almost two points more per scoring opportunity, and had a 96 percent higher offensive success rate than Tennessee. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin called just about whatever he wanted to, moving between under-center pro-style running and zone-read out of the shotgun, with quarterback Jalen Hurts leading the team with 132 rushing yards. The defense was as dominant as might have been expected, recording three sacks and ten other tackles for loss, and holding Josh Dobbs to 92 passing yards, minus-31 rushing yards (including sacks), and an interception.

    Their dominance on both sides of the ball made up for a little sloppiness that might have made a difference in a more evenly matched game: Alabama's starting field position was nearly 7 yards worse than Tennessee's, and they lost the turnover margin as well. But Alabama's only real weakness right now might just be its passing attack, which is 45th in passing S&P+. While Jalen Hurts was effective on the ground, he wasn't very efficient through the air, averaging just 5.5 yards per pass with an interception. Like you'd expect with an offensive line that had to replace a few key contributors and a dual-threat freshman quarterback, the offensive line has allowed its share of sacks, with the 65th-ranked adjusted sack rate.

  • Ole Miss and Arkansas played one of the most entertaining games of the year (again!) as Arkansas's steadiness outlasted the Rebels' fits and starts of explosiveness. In the end, Arkansas was simply more consistently efficient and created more scoring opportunities than Ole Miss. While the Rebels were more effective with their scoring opportunities, averaging nearly two points more per opportunity, the Razorbacks created three more opportunities total than the Rebels. Two things went in to that steadiness. First, Arkansas started with much better field position -- nearly 8 yards on average better. Second, they were more efficient on a per-play basis, with a 47 percent success rate compared to 39 percent for the Rebels. Most of their success was early on, however, as they declined in offensive success rate from 63 percent in the first quarter to 33 percent in the fourth. Quarterback Austin Allen didn't come close to his performance against Alabama, but averaged 5 yards per pass attempt more on standard downs than he did on passing downs, for a 51 percent overall passing success rate, while running back Rawleigh Williams III was explosive with 7.21 highlight yards per opportunity, including a 53-yard run.
  • Talk about an evenly matched game -- Nebraska beat Indiana by just five points as the Hoosiers look like the second-best 3-3 team in the country behind Ole Miss. Indiana and Nebraska ran the same number of plays, had the same number of drives, had an equal turnover margin, had just a 3-yard difference in starting field position, and were just 0.2 yards apart in average yards per play. But taking advantage of scoring opportunities ended up being the difference for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers averaged 5.0 points per opportunity to Indiana's 3.3 despite generating two fewer scoring opportunities overall. Neither offense was very efficient, however, as Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong threw two picks and went just 10-of-26 passing, while Indiana had only a 33 percent offensive success rate.

HONOR ROLL

  • J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State. J.T. Barrett started the game with the same passing struggles that he had against Indiana, but he was deadly effective in the second half and in overtime. Barrett passed Braxton Miller as the all-time Ohio State career touchdown leader and was 4-for-4 passing in overtime, including the touchdown play-action strike to Noah Brown.
  • Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma. There might not have been a better wide receiver in the country over the last three weeks than Oklahoma's Dede Westbrook. Including his nine receptions for 184 yards against Kansas State this week, he has gained 574 yards on 26 catches in the last three games alone. He averages nearly 17 yards per catch, but also has a 78 percent catch rate, which explains why Baker Mayfield targets him on nearly a third of his pass attempts.
  • Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State. Florida State's freshman quarterback Deondre Francois has found some rapport with Travis Rudolph, who had 13 receptions for 238 yards.

LOWSMAN WATCH

  • Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee. Just about the only bright spot for the Volunteers in their loss to Alabama was Derek Barnett, who had a sack, two tackles for loss, and an interception. He is tied for 11th in the country in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss.
  • Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt. Speaking of national tackle leaders, Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham deserves the game ball in the upset win over Georgia, recording the game-ending fourth-and-1 stop as well as 18 other tackles. He helped hold Georgia's run game to just 2.1 yards per carry.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 17 Oct 2016

1 comment, Last at 17 Oct 2016, 6:27pm by The Ancient Mariner

Comments

1
by The Ancient Mariner :: Mon, 10/17/2016 - 6:27pm

Penn State is a bigger name than the University of Washington? I wouldn't have thought that was the case this year.