Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Nov 2017

OFI: Blowouts Shake Up Playoff Race, Again

by Chad Peltier

Another week, more chaos for the leading playoff contenders. This week was packed with ranked-on-ranked matchups, with some huge results, including:

  • Stanford starting things off by knocking off Washington and their then-top-ranked S&P+ defense, likely removing the Pac-12 from the playoff.
  • Auburn completely dominating Georgia, making 40-17 look generous to the Bulldogs.
  • Alabama needing a last-minute drive to top Mississippi State 31-24 after trailing in the fourth quarter, setting up an Iron Bowl that could favor the Tigers for a playoff spot.
  • Miami blasting third-ranked Notre Dame 41-8, the second of three ranked blowout wins this weekend. Mark Richt's Hurricanes look like they're for real, and a valid contender against Clemson in the ACC.
  • The third ranked blowout game, Ohio State running all over the Spartans 48-3. Michigan State's defense was ranked ninth in the S&P+ and sixth in rushing S&P+.
  • Oklahoma's offense is just unstoppable, and they rolled over TCU and their third-ranked S&P+ defense 38-20, though a rematch in a few weeks is a strong possibility.
  • Iowa blew out Big Ten East favorite Ohio State last week but couldn't repeat against the Big Ten West champion Wisconsin, losing 38-14.
  • Iowa State was one pass away from tying Oklahoma State at the end, but an end zone interception dropped the Cyclones to 6-4. Like everyone expected at the beginning of the season, Iowa State would have losses to average teams in Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia, but wins over the top two teams in the conference, TCU and Oklahoma. Thanks for bringing the chaos this year, Cyclones.

The college football race is a mess of undefeated, one-loss, and now two-loss teams that all have some shot at the playoff. There's at least one spot reserved for the SEC, as Alabama, Georgia, and now Auburn all almost assuredly control their own destiny. The Iron Bowl looks completely up in the air at this point, with Alabama looking mortal and Auburn looking like it could beat just about anyone in the country.

There's another spot that's almost a lock for the ACC, with Miami and Clemson both looking like real contenders. A third spot will most likely go to Oklahoma if they win the Big 12. Then Wisconsin would (likely) be in with a win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, but the Buckeyes would have a case if they win out, despite being a two-loss team. Notre Dame and Washington are likely out of the picture now.

There's a real scenario where two two-loss teams (Auburn and Ohio State) get in to the playoff this year, as there's little separation between the top 11 or so teams, and a whole lot of week-to-week volatility (I'm looking at you, Buckeyes).

First of all, Auburn dominated Georgia on both lines, forcing the Bulldogs to pass (which they couldn't do consistently) and controlling the Georgia defense just enough. Auburn held Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to a combined 20 carries for 48 yards, meaning that Jake Fromm would have to shoulder the load. And while he connected on a few big plays, the lack of balance from the run game and constant harassment from the Auburn defensive front (four sacks, but six more quarterback hurries) meant that the Georgia passing was inconsistent at best, going 13-of-28. Georgia only created four scoring opportunities in 12 drives, with five three-and-out drives. Auburn's offense also managed a 47 percent success rate against Georgia's top-ten defense. Even though they allowed eight total tackles for loss, Jarrett Stidham and backup Malik Willis had four 30-plus-yard passes and Stidham averaged 9.3 yards per attempt. That contrasts with the Crimson Tide, who needed consecutive 25-plus-yard passes to get ahead of Mississippi State with 25 seconds left. The Iron Bowl looks like it should be one of the best games all year -- as it should be!

Miami's strategy against Notre Dame was similar to Auburn's vs. Georgia: force their quarterback to throw. And like Georgia's Jake Fromm, Notre Dame's Brandon Wimbush wasn't consistent enough to keep the Fighting Irish in the game. The most surprising thing was that Miami was able to stop star running back Josh Adams, who had 16 carries for just 40 yards. Meanwhile, Miami's Travis Homer, who stepped up in place of injured Mark Walton, needed just 18 carries to get 146 yards. The Hurricanes had nine tackles for loss and went +4 in the turnover margin. The Hurricanes' aggressive defense is the real star, because the Hurricanes offense wasn't exactly dominant: while Notre Dame was held to just a 35 percent offensive success rate, Miami's was just 37 percent. Miami had a +23-yard average field position advantage. Short fields gave the Hurricanes far more scoring opportunities (eight).

Ohio State is probably football's most volatile team, looking like the best team in the country some weeks and maybe the third-best Big Ten team in other weeks. But they completely dominated Michigan State, a series which has been close since Urban Meyer got to Columbus. Ohio State had more than a 5.25 yards per play advantage, a +25 percent success rate advantage, and five more scoring opportunities than the Spartans. The Buckeyes ran the ball ruthlessly, with a 70 percent rushing success rate before the game went into garbage time at halftime. Mike Weber had 162 rushing yards while J.K. Dobbins had 124. Dobbins had 18 carries, the most since his 29 on opening week against Indiana. The Buckeyes defied the numbers this week. Not only did Michigan State have a top-ten run defense, which Ohio State disregarded, but the Spartans also had the third-ranked S&P+ passing offense and Brian Lewerke was off back-to-back 400-plus-yard passing performances against an Ohio State defense weakest against the pass -- and was still held to 3.6 yards per pass with two interceptions.

Finally, Oklahoma cemented itself as the Big 12 favorite with a big win over TCU. Baker Mayfield essentially wrapped up the Heisman race, going 18-of-27 for 333 passing yards, and adding 50 yards on the ground too. While Oklahoma's defense allowed plenty of big plays through the air, it managed to slow the TCU rushing attack (the Horned Frogs averaged 4.8 yards per carry) and tighten up in the red zone, holding TCU to just 3.5 points apiece on six scoring opportunities. Kenny Hill was explosive, with four throws of 40-plus-yards, but completed less than 50 percent of his passes.

TOEDRAGS

  • Iowa's offense was totally dominated by the Wisconsin defense. The Hawkeyes had 66 total offensive yards, averaged 1.32 yards per play, and had just a 22 percent success rate. They didn't manage a single scoring opportunity, either -- their 14 points came on two Joshua Jackson pick-sixes. But it's not like the Wisconsin offense really tried to win the game either, as Alex Hornibrook had three interceptions, and the Badgers had three fumbles, losing one.
  • Between the big ranked-on-ranked matchups, Georgia Tech's upset win over Virginia Tech has the potential to get lost in the shuffle. But the Yellow Jackets held the Hokies to 2.9 yards per carry on the ground and Georgia Tech averaged 70 yards per completion -- on two completions. The Yellow Jackets were also remarkably lucky from a turnover perspective, recovering all three of their fumbles in the 28-22 win. Georgia Tech has a real shot at upsetting Georgia in two weeks.

HONOR ROLL

  • Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State. Mike Weber doesn't get a whole lot of love, even from the Ohio State fanbase. Last year he became just the third Ohio State freshman running back to hit 1,000 rushing yards, but Weber has since been surpassed by explosive true freshman J.K. Dobbins. Against a Michigan State defense that was sixth in rushing S&P+ coming in to the game, however, it was Weber who brought the explosive plays, including 82- and 47-yard touchdown runs. Weber finished with 162 yards on just nine carries.
  • Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma. Oklahoma has three sophomore or freshman running backs who share carries, and they seem to trade who is going to have a big week. This time it was Rodney Anderson, the current team rushing leader, who had 23 carries for 151 yards. That's great, but he also led the team in receiving with five catches for 139 yards. Anderson was one of three receivers to average more than 25 yards per catch for Oklahoma.
  • Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. The Heisman doesn't usually go to the player who is actually the most essential to his team's success, but Calvin Ridley might be the favorite if it did. Ridley had five catches for 171 yards, and is essential to the Tide's fourth-ranked passing S&P+ offense. Ridley has 33 percent of the team's targets, and about four times as many receiving yards as the second-place receiver, freshman Jerry Jeudy. He has as many receiving yards as the next five most-targeted Crimson Tide receivers combined.

LOWSMAN TROPHY

  • Joshua Jackson, DB, Iowa. Joshua Jackson scored all of Iowa's points on Saturday against Wisconsin. For the season, Jackson should be the clear favorite for the Jim Thorpe Award -- he leads the country with both 23 passes defended and seven interceptions, getting five the past two weeks against Ohio State and Wisconsin.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 13 Nov 2017

1 comment, Last at 14 Nov 2017, 5:10pm by horn

Comments

1
by horn :: Tue, 11/14/2017 - 5:10pm

Miami only 'looks like they're for real?' They're a lot more real than ridin-on-rep Bama so far this season. 'A contender' v Clemson? Clemson lost to a crappy Syracuse team and they were losing when their QB exited the game so it's not like the backup came in and blew a big lead. At least Bama hasn't lost to any 4+ loss teams like Iowa St or Cuse.