Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
28 Sep 2010
by Bill Connelly
(Editor's Note: As mentioned on Friday, we are now going to break Varsity Numbers into two portions throughout the week -- a week-in-review column on Tuesdays and a weekend advance column on Fridays.)
A moment of silence, please, for the "Temple to Pasadena" dreams that died in the fourth quarter at Happy Valley Saturday afternoon. Temple actually led Penn State for a good portion of the game, and I saw a fun, running storyline unfolding in front of me. But then Penn State remembered that it doesn't lose to Temple, and that was that. The game stayed much closer than it should have, but that's the story of Penn State's season.
It was tough deciding which game deserved the VN Box Score of the Week treatment. Both LSU-WVU and Oregon-Arizona State were morbidly fascinating (LSU-WVU because of the stagnation; Oregon-ASU because of the penalties and Oregon's 25-point turnover advantage). In the end, we went with the game that started out entertaining, then fell apart midway through the second quarter. So many athletes, so few good offensive plays.
As Matt Hinton pointed out yesterday, no fan base in the country is more frustrated with its 4-0 team than LSU's. The Tigers once again combined moments of brilliance with drive after drive of frustration in a 20-14 win over West Virginia on Saturday night. The Tigers sprinted to a 17-0 lead, then fell into an epic funk and had to rely on a series of fourth-quarter stops to pull out the win. It could be worse, of course; it is hard to find too much sympathy when you're the fan of an undefeated, top 15 team. But the hoped-for improvement of the Bayou Bengals' offense has not even remotely come to fruition. Thank goodness for defense and special teams.
|Field Position %||42.9%||47.5%|
|Close Success Rate||28.6%||28.8%|
|Close Success Rate||25.9%||38.2%|
|Close Success Rate||31.0%||16.0%|
|SD/PD Sack Rate|
|Turnover Pts Margin||+0.7||-0.7|
|1st Down S&P||0.737||0.375|
|2nd Down S&P||0.249||0.499|
|3rd Down S&P||0.187||0.416|
|Projected Pt. Margin||+0.8|
|Actual Pt. Margin||-6|
For the third straight game, West Virginia looked like a Top 10 team for a quarter (this time it was the third). Surprisingly, it was almost enough to win.
Really, I blame myself. On the @FO_College Twitter account, I posted the following directly before Patrick Peterson unleashed a gorgeous punt return touchdown to put LSU up 17-0: "I know their O is still up-and-down, but ... it's official: LSU is fun to watch again." And then the LSU offense went down, down, down.
Here was LSU's offense Saturday night, with year of experience and Rivals.com star rating:
QB: Jordan Jefferson (Jr., 4 stars)
RB: Stevan Ridley (Jr., 4 stars)
FB: James Stampley (Jr., unknown)
WR: Terrence Toliver (Sr., 5 stars) -or- Rueben Randle (So., 5 stars)
WR: Russell Shepard (So., 5 stars)
TE: Chase Clement (So., 4 stars)
LT: Joseph Barksdale (Sr., 4 stars)
LG: Josh Dworaczyk (Jr., 4 stars)
C: P.J. Lonergan (So., 3 stars) -or- T-Bob Hebert (Jr., 4 stars)
RG: Josh Williford (RS Fr., 3 stars)
RT: Alex Hurst (So., 3 stars)
Judging from star ratings and experience, you would think that this offense would be unbelievable in the passing game, with good running and a potential (relative) weakness on the offensive line. That could not be further from the truth. The running game has been solid (Rushing S&P+ rank: 31st), and the line has done its job. But despite four-star Jefferson throwing to three five-star receivers and a four-star tight end, the LSU passing game is putrid. Yes, it is still early, but they rank 106th in Passing PPP+. They don't throw well on first downs, second downs, or passing downs. Their success rates are all right, but there is almost no big-play threat here whatsoever.
How is this possible? Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton has caught a good portion of the hell, and that is probably somewhat fair. However, standard downs (what I have taken to calling "play-calling downs") are not necessarily the problem. LSU currently ranks 35th in Standard Downs S&P+ and 98th in Passing Downs S&P+. The problem does not appear to lie in the play-calling -- it seems to come from pure development.
Jordan Jefferson does not look better than he did as a true freshman in 2008. Quarterback-turned-receiver Russell Shepard is still learning his new position four games into his sophomore season. Rueben Randle, who played part-time quarterback in high school as well, is still a bit inconsistent. The recent star recruits have yet to truly light up the college football world. This begs two questions: 1) have LSU's biggest offensive signees been great athletes without true positions? 2) Have we just not waited long enough yet? To be sure, Jordan Jefferson has gotten quite a bit of time to figure things out. But he's still just one-third of the way through his third year on campus. Meanwhile, Randle and Shepard are true sophomores. Plus, LSU's Passing Game Coordinator, Billy Gonzales, is brand new. (And, it bears mentioning, the offense still ranks 38th in Offensive S&P+. No defense they have faced ranks outside of the top 40 in Defensive S&P+.)
There is talk of starting the embattled Jarrett Lee at quarterback this week against Tennessee. Maybe the LSU offense will get rolling to a higher degree, thereby proving that the biggest source of the problem was Jefferson himself. But the true problem seems to be a combination of youth, development, and, in the case of players like Randle and Shepard, square pegs in a round-hole offense. There is no doubting that, with as good as LSU's defense has looked lately (sans one quarter against North Carolina, they have looked fantastic), they probably will not need to score much to beat Tennessee. But they'll have to score something.
No. 1 Alabama 24, No. 10 Arkansas 20
EqPts: Alabama 24.3, Arkansas 19.5
T/O Pts: Alabama +5.4
Alabama > Arkansas +10.2
Unfortunately for Arkansas, all four quarters count, and the Hogs were only able to stay in control for three of them. Alabama came through in the fourth, but the struggle was enough to bump the Tide, at least temporarily, from the top spot in the S&P+ rankings. In the end, of course, clearing the hurdle is all that counts. And they've got another one coming up this weekend against Florida.
No. 2 Ohio State 73, Eastern Michigan 20
EqPts: Ohio State 52.6, Eastern Michigan 16.5
T/O Pts: Ohio State +1.0
Ohio State > Eastern Michigan +37.1
For years, Ohio State has trademarked the ability to put together the most dominant, humbling 31-3 win in the country. Now ... they're scoring 73 points? Does not compute. Terrelle Pryor haters might want to get used to the idea of him holding the Heisman, just in case.
No. 3 Boise State 37, No. 24 Oregon State 24
EqPts: Boise State 30.7, Oregon State 15.5
T/O Pts: Oregon State +5.0
Boise State > Oregon State +10.2
Was it enough?
No. 4 TCU 41, SMU 24
EqPts: TCU 25.8, SMU 20.6
T/O Pts: SMU +7.7
SMU > TCU +2.9
TCU somewhat deservedly fell a few spots in the S&P+ rankings this week after surviving what could have been a much more dangerous challenge from an SMU team that is solid ... but not that solid.
No. 5 Oregon 42, Arizona State 31
EqPts: Arizona State 29.2, Oregon 23.9
T/O Pts: Oregon +25.0
Oregon > Arizona State +19.7
The second half was hideous (penalties, penalties, penalties), but all in all, this ended up becoming a rather nice win for Oregon. Arizona State's S&P+ ranks 33rd this week -- they showed some salt against both Oregon and Wisconsin -- and Oregon ended up winning comfortably.
UCLA 34, No. 7 Texas 12
EqPts: UCLA 19.4, Texas 13.5
T/O Pts: UCLA +17.8
UCLA > Texas +23.7
Just a baffling result. UCLA had one of the worst passing efforts of the weekend and still won by 22, two time zones away, against a Top 10 team. We will see in future weeks how much of this game was a Texas team that might not be as good as we thought, and how much was a UCLA team that might be better.
No. 8 Oklahoma 31, Cincinnati 29
EqPts: Oklahoma 27.6, Cincinnati 21.6
T/O Pts: Oklahoma +13.3
Oklahoma > Cincinnati +19.3
A curious effort from Oklahoma. Statistically, they should have won this game handedly, but they were still an onside kick away from falling to 3-1. The kick went the same way -- it should have been easy to handle, but they almost gave it away because the first two Sooners on the ball had no idea what to do. Were both Texas and Oklahoma perhaps looking ahead to their showdown in Dallas? Is this just an off-year for both teams?
No. 17 Auburn 35, No. 12 South Carolina 27
EqPts: Auburn 31.4, South Carolina 22.8
T/O Pts: Auburn +10.8
Auburn > South Carolina +19.4
This game came down to Cameron Newton vs. Stephen Garcia. Newton soared (literally), and Garcia fumbled twice in the fourth quarter. Garcia had put together such a gutty performance, but with the running game sputtering, he tried to do too much with the ball, and it cost him and his team. It was the third high-anxiety win for Auburn in a row. For their fans' sake, the Tigers better not have any trouble with Louisiana-Monroe this weekend.
No. 14 Arizona 10, California 9
EqPts: Arizona 13.0, California 10.9
T/O Pts: California +5.9
California > Arizona +3.8
This was a forgivable letdown from Arizona after the huge win over Iowa last week. It was easy to see this coming, but thanks to a semi-desperate heave from Nick Foles to Juron Criner (which set up the game-winning, three-yard Foles-to-Criner pass) and a crazy interception (Joseph Perkins picked off Kevin Riley, then fumbled, but Arizona recovered), the Wildcats remained undefeated.
No. 16 Stanford 37, Notre Dame 14
EqPts: Stanford 22.3, Notre Dame 15.0
T/O Pts: Notre Dame +0.4
Stanford > Notre Dame +6.9
Notre Dame has now faced two S&P+ top five offenses (Stanford and Michigan) and a Top 25 offense (Michigan State) in its first four games. Now they get to go up against Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Western Michigan. A dropoff, to say the least.
Let's take a look at the best and worst performances of the week according to S&P.
Best Offensive S&P of the Week (FBS vs FBS games only)
1. Missouri (vs. Miami of Ohio): 1.731
2. San Diego State (vs. Utah State): 1.489
3. Ohio State (vs. Eastern Michigan): 1.350
4. Utah (vs. San Jose State): 1.344
5. USC (vs. Washington State): 1.334
Missouri's near-perfect offensive performance (their success rate: 82.4 percent), combined with very good play from San Diego State, a recent by-the-skin-of-their-teeth victim, led to the Tigers making quite a jump in this week's S&P+ rankings. Miami (Ohio) had allowed just 166 rushing yards all season, and the Tigers rushed for 236 while throwing for 233.
Worst Offensive S&P of the Week
1. Eastern Michigan (vs. Ohio State): 0.027
2. Ball State (vs. Iowa): 0.191
3. Wake Forest (vs. Florida State): 0.251
4. San Jose State (vs. Utah): 0.322
5. Western Kentucky (vs. South Florida): 0.356
Only one major-conference victim on this list: Wake Forest. Florida State completely stymied the not-as-confusing-as-they-used-to-be Demon Deacons.
Best Rushing S&P of the Week
1. Missouri (vs. Miami of Ohio): 2.004
2. Utah (vs. San Jose State): 1.424
3. Kansas (vs. New Mexico State): 1.324
4. Ohio State (vs. Eastern Michigan): 1.312
5. USC (vs Washington State): 1.226
Want further proof why Virginia lingers in the Top 25? They held USC's offense to fewer than 20 points. Meanwhile, the Trojans have obliterated every other defense they have faced. Their Rushing S&P and Passing S&P ranked among the week's best.
Worst Rushing S&P of the Week
1. Eastern Michigan (vs. Ohio State): -0.103
2. Ball State (vs. Iowa): 0.165
3. San Jose State (vs. Utah): 0.279
4. West Virginia (vs LSU): 0.309
5. Louisiana Tech (vs. Southern Miss): 0.359
I don't care if Noel Devine was injured. If he had been armless and legless, Holy Grail-style, holding West Virginia to an almost negative rushing S&P is damn impressive.
Best Passing S&P of the Week
1. San Diego State (vs. Utah State): 1.985
2. Army (vs. Duke): 1.663
3. Ole Miss (vs. Fresno State): 1.639
4. USC (vs. Washington State): 1.437
5. Boise State (vs. Oregon State): 1.401
San Diego State had a running back go for 225+ yards against Missouri last week, then they posted the best Passing S&P of the week against Utah State. They've got some weapons. It is hard to gauge their ceiling just yet, but it might be much higher than we expected.
Worst Passing S&P of the Week
1. Georgia Tech (vs. N.C. State): -0.019
2. Duke (vs. Army): -0.013
3. Temple (vs. Penn State): 0.025
4. Wake Forest (vs. Florida State): 0.039
5. UCLA (vs. Texas): 0.122
Congratulations to Georgia Tech and Duke -- they both scored more than 20 points despite a negative Passing S&P. Of course, they both lost as home favorites. I wonder why.
Week 4 rankings have been updated.
Here are the biggest moves in this week's still-volatile S&P+ rankings.
Hawaii (25 spots, from 92nd to 67th). They hung tough with USC, they beat Army in the longest road-trip in college football history, they led Colorado at halftime, and they humiliated Charleston Southern. I'm not saying Hawaii is Top 25-caliber, but they at least won't harm Boise State's strength of schedule too much.
Boise State (21 spots, from 36th to 15th). Call this a correction more than a move. Boise State's strength of schedule improved with Oregon State's trip to the blue field, and their overall strong performance helped them that much more.
Notre Dame (17 spots, from 45th to 28th). Thank you, strength of schedule. With the schedule getting weaker, however, Notre Dame will want to try actually winning games if they want to stay in the top 30.
Colorado (17 spots, from 73rd to 56th). If you were looking proof that these rankings are still volatile four weeks into the season, take note that Colorado moved up 17 spots ... on a bye week. They sure beat the hell out of Bye, however. Never trailed for a second.
Missouri (14 spots, from 24th to 10th). As mentioned, their strength of schedule got a boost at the same time that they put together their second near-perfect performance of the season (the first: McNeese State, if that counts). Colorado comes to Columbia after a bye week, and then they're off on their toughest stretch of the season: at Texas A&M, Oklahoma, at Nebraska, at Texas Tech. Go 2-2 in that stretch, and Missouri could be in position for their third 10-win season in the last four years. That is quite a bit to ask of a team with few big-play threats, however.
Other Jumps: Toledo (93rd to 72nd), East Carolina (80th to 62nd), Marshall (82nd to 66th), San Diego State (58th to 45th), Illinois (59th to 46th), Maryland (83rd to 70th).
Boston College (22 spots, from 33rd to 55th). I don't care how good your linebackers are. At some point you have to score points.
Purdue (21 spots, from 69th to 90th). What was sadder: That Purdue has now lost its best quarterback, running back and wide receiver to ACL injuries this year (after losing star basketball player Robbie Hummel to the same injury last winter)? Or that not a person in the country was surprised that the Boilermakers lost to Toledo by double digits at home?
Texas (20 spots, from 16th to 36th). At some point, somebody from the stable of four-star running backs will actually play more than one good game in a row (along with this thing called "run blocking"). Until then, they indeed might not actually be a top 20 team.
Duke (18 spots, from 67th to 85th). Really, though, losing to Navy by 14 points at home really isn't that embarrassing. Navy is a good program. Wait ... it was Army?
Indiana (17 spots, from 60th to 77th). Let's just say that Towson, Western Kentucky and Akron are not doing the strength of schedule any favors.
Other Tumbles: Utah State (75th to 98th), Idaho (71st to 92nd), Fresno State (51st to 71st), Air Force (48th to 65th), Houston (22nd to 38th).
12 comments, Last at 29 Sep 2010, 12:50pm by Eddo