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25 Sep 2017

OFI: Upsets, Near-Upset, and Heartbreak

by Chad Peltier

Like Week 3, Week 4 didn't really look like an exciting slate of games because of the lack of notable ranked matchups. Outside of conference matchups such as TCU vs. Oklahoma State and Mississippi State vs. Georgia, we were left with just a bunch of ranked teams going on the road to take on unranked opponents. But the upside to that kind of schedule is a lot of upset potential. The S&P+ had five top-ten teams on the road and favored to win by at least 12 points, but the odds of all five winning weren't great.

And while none of those top-ten road teams ended up losing, we were lucky enough to get a weekend filled to the brim with other upsets and heartbreaking near-upsets. So in this week's Toedrags we'll rank fan heartbreak from Week 4:

TOEDRAGS

  • Florida 28, Kentucky 27 has to top the list despite the fact this was the 31st time in a row that the Wildcats have lost to the Gators. What made this one so painful was how long it looked like Kentucky was going to win, then the last-second penalty that doomed the final come-from-behind field goal attempt. With a little under six minutes left in the third quarter, Kentucky went up 24-14 thanks to a 42-yard field goal from Austin MacGinnis. On the Gators' next possession, Luke Del Rio threw an interception at midfield. This looked like a nearly insurmountable lead for a Gators offense that had punted on six of eight previous possessions. But then, with 43 seconds left in the game, Florida scored to go up 28-27 as the Gators found a semblance of a running game from Malik Davis. Davis' rushing success rate on the final two drives was 73 percent despite the Gators having a 33 percent rushing success rate (115th in the country) and ranking dead-last in rushing IsoPPP after facing Michigan and Tennessee this season.

    So after leading fairly comfortably for almost the entire game, the odds were long for Kentucky with under a minute left to play. However, a roughing the passer penalty on the first play, followed by a stellar 14-yard pass from Stephen Johnson to Charles Walker with 21 seconds left, put the Wildcats at the edge of field goal range. At this point Kentucky could have either attempted a field goal at the far end of MacGinnis' range or tried to get a little closer, risking a turnover or penalty. A Benny Snell 10-yard run would have put the Wildcats comfortably within range, but a devastating 10-yard holding penalty took the Wildcats back to the Florida 45. Even after a final 6-yard pass, the 57-yard field goal attempt was short, and the last-minute roller coaster abruptly stopped. Going into the game, Florida had a 67 percent S&P+ win probability over Kentucky, so it shouldn't have been too surprising that the streak didn't end, but nevertheless it was a crushing defeat for the Wildcats.

    The Gators' schedule doesn't ease up with Vanderbilt up next, followed by LSU, the chaos of Texas A&M, and an exciting matchup with Georgia.

  • Penn State 21, Iowa 19, the best game of the weekend, was just as devastating for Iowa. Penn State had a 79 percent S&P+ win probability, but their fifth-ranked S&P+ offense was held down for most of the night due to the Hawkeyes' interesting defensive strategy of dropping defenders and playing soft coverage to limit Trace McSorley and the explosive downfield passing game. Despite a truly incredible performance from new Heisman favorite Saquon Barkley, the Nittany Lions had managed just 15 points. McSorley averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt and threw 48 passes for a 48 percent passing success rate. He only had two passes over 20 yards, and linebacker Josey Jewell gained two McSorley turnovers as Iowa's 19th-ranked defense lived up to its ranking. That's not to take away from Barkley's 28 carries for 211 rushing yards, a career high, along with his team-leading 94 receiving yards on 12 catches -- those are superhuman numbers. But Iowa almost seemed more concerned about limiting the explosive plays over 20 yards and going with an extreme bend-don't-break game plan. Because even though Penn State had a 50 percent offensive success rate (Iowa's was just 27 percent) and created scoring opportunities eight times (on 14 drives, three more than Iowa), they were held in check in the red zone for just 2.5 points per scoring opportunity. In short, Iowa's defensive game plan was just about as perfectly executed as could be.

    And sure, a 27 percent offensive success rate is lower than you'd hope for from the Hawkeyes, but Penn State currently has the 11th-ranked S&P+ defense. So Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley's performance was all the more impressive, going 13-of-22 for 191 yards and no interceptions. Akrum Wadley really just had the single 35-yard, go-ahead touchdown run with under two minutes to play, but otherwise averaged 2.5 yards per carry. And that touchdown run, despite putting Iowa ahead for the first time since Penn State's field goal to open the second half, may have ultimately been what did the Hawkeyes in: the age-old problem of scoring too soon. One minute and 42 seconds is simply too much time for Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley to work. That was easily Iowa's most explosive drive of the night, with a pass interference call, an 8-yard pass, a 22-yard pass, and then Wadley's clutch 35-yard run showing a previously unknown level of offensive explosiveness.

    On Penn State's final drive, facing fourth-and-2, McSorley completed a 6-yard pass for a fourth down, starting a string of four straight first-down plays to get Penn State to first-and-goal from the ten. What was truly devastating was not just that Iowa scored the go-ahead touchdown too quickly and let Penn State drive to a first-and-goal -- it was that Iowa's defense stepped up in the red zone once again, letting it get down to fourth-and-goal from the seven with four seconds left. Penn State literally had just one chance left. But somehow McSorley managed to lob a pass over a jumping linebacker for Juwan Johnson's incredible touchdown.

  • North Carolina State 27, Florida State 21 is next because this is the first time that the Seminoles dropped to 0-2 and have fallen out of the AP rankings since 2011 -- pre-Jameis Winston! The loss to Alabama was understandable, even expected. But Deondre Francois' injury, North Carolina State's tough defense, and time off due to hurricanes were simply too much to overcome.

    The two teams played nearly identical games. James Blackman, in his first start as a freshman, performed as well as could be expected, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt to Ryan Finley's 7.2. The Seminoles had a 34 percent offensive success rate to North Carolina State's 33 percent. They had one more scoring opportunity than North Carolina State, with six. And Florida State totaled just 17 more yards than North Carolina State as well. But ultimately turnovers, poorly timed sacks, and red zone offense doomed the Seminoles. Really, it all came down to Bradley Chubb. Chubb forced a James Blackman fumble at the North Carolina State 2-yard line following a 31-yard run. Two drives later Florida State was at the North Carolina State 11 when Chubb had a 9-yard sack that forced a field goal to close out the half down 10-17. Then at the end of the third quarter, Blackman again led the Seminoles to the North Carolina State red zone. Facing first-and-10 from the 11-yard line, Blackman took sacks from B.J. Hill and Chubb on subsequent plays, and the team was forced to settle for a field goal. Florida State would have won without those four big plays by Chubb and Hill in the North Carolina State red zone.

    The problem for the Seminoles moving forward is that the schedule really doesn't get easier. Wake Forest, with their defense, suddenly looks like they have a chance next week. Miami is after that. Then Louisville, Clemson, and Florida are also left on the schedule.

  • TCU 44, Oklahoma State 31. Oklahoma State was riding high after three weeks. The Cowboys had the second-best S&P+ offense, with Mason Rudolph, James Washington, Marcell Ateman, and Justice Hill forming a killer skill group. Through three games, the Cowboys were one of the top teams in terms of over-performing their preseason S&P+ rankings. But TCU's defense looks like it's also back to being vintage Gary Patterson. The Horned Frogs were aggressive, creating three turnovers (two interceptions and a Mason Rudolph fumble) to stall Oklahoma State drives despite the Cowboys leading in total yards (by 33), average yards per play (by 1.36), and success rate (by 5 percent). Despite a better overall offensive performance, those three turnovers meant that TCU was able to create two more scoring opportunities than Oklahoma State. It was mostly a team effort for TCU, but their single best player was probably running back Darius Anderson, whose 26 carries for 160 yards (6.2 yards per carry, 42 percent success rate with three explosive plays) kept TCU on schedule.

    This might not knock Oklahoma State out of the Big 12 and Playoff races, as the Cowboys could still beat the Sooners in Bedlam, then potentially again in the Big 12 Championship (or TCU in a rematch!).

  • Georgia 31, Mississippi State 3, is probably the least devastating of the five, but it was nevertheless a game that felt like a punch in the stomach. Georgia dominated this one from the very beginning. On the opening play, senior outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter stopped an Aeris Williams screen for a 6-yard loss, ultimately leading to a three-and-out -- one of Mississippi State's four. Then Georgia's first play of the game was a 59-yard flea-flicker to Terry Godwin. The tone was set for a Georgia runaway win. Georgia's defense was dominant, only allowing three scoring opportunities in 12 drives, and then just a single field goal in those three opportunities. Georgia's offense was explosive even though freshman quarterback Jake Fromm only threw 12 passes (his three incompletions included a throw-away and two receiver drops), with Terry Godwin and Issac Nauta both catching huge touchdown passes.

    Georgia certainly looks like the team to beat in the SEC East just a week after Mississippi State had a similarly dominant win over LSU, but Georgia still has some growth potential. Despite better protection from the offensive line and some explosive ability from their wide receivers, the Bulldogs still had just a 39 percent offensive success rate and managed only two more scoring opportunities (five). In short, it's too soon to say that the offense is fixed for Georgia.

  • Finally, there are four honorable mentions in the heartbreak rankings. First, Alabama wiped the floor with Vanderbilt 59-0 despite a rough consensus that Vanderbilt would at least cover the spread. Second, Oregon was looking solid and had rejoined the AP top 25, but 1-2 Arizona State nevertheless managed to get a 37-35 win. LSU comes next, as they followed up their Mississippi State beatdown with a lackluster 35-26 win over Syracuse. Finally, Oklahoma had way too close of a call with now 0-4 Baylor, winning just 49-41 as Baylor's Zack Smith threw for 463 yards.

HONOR ROLL

  • Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. Saquon Barkley, like mentioned above, had an insane 211 rushing yards and team-leading 94 receiving yards. He was, for the most part, Penn State's whole offense despite the Nittany Lions being stacked with offensive skill talent. Barkley had five explosive plays and a 61 percent rushing success rate.
  • Damien Harris, RB, Alabama. Damien Harris' performance might have gotten overshadowed in the defense's shutout or the other crazy games of the day, but he delivered the Crimson Tide's first 100-yard rushing performance of the season with 12 carries for 151 yards against a stout Vanderbilt defense. His performance included a 61-yard run and three touchdowns.

LOWSMAN WATCH

  • Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State.We've gone in-depth on Bradley Chubb's performance already, but he was absolutely game-changing in critical moments for North Carolina State. It's safe to say that the Wolfpack wouldn't have won without his forced fumble and two sacks (along with seven tackles).
  • Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa. Josey Jewell was out of his mind against Penn State, and like Chubb, showed the impact that a single dominant defender can have on a game. Jewell had three tackles for loss, an interception, a fumble recovery, and 16 total tackles. He was literally everywhere the ball was.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 25 Sep 2017

1 comment, Last at 26 Sep 2017, 12:54am by Will Allen

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/26/2017 - 12:54am

I think Barkley is a significantly better prospect than Elliott was.