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02 Jan 2015

OFI: Ducks and Buckeyes Advance

by Chad Peltier

It's second-ranked Oregon and fourth-ranked Ohio State. The very first College Football Playoff Championship will feature the two titans of spread-to-run offense, the second- and third-ranked teams in the F/+.

The Ducks and Buckeyes are absolutely worthy: Oregon ran away from the Seminoles after four straight Florida State turnovers to win 59-20, while the Buckeyes dominated third downs and generated enough explosive plays on both sides of the ball to stem the Tide. The Ducks enter as early seven-point favorites, but the Buckeyes have beaten two of the three Heisman finalists, and now get to take on the Heisman winner himself, Marcus Mariota.

In the first Playoff game of the night, the turning point for the Ducks was clear: at the beginning of the second half, the Seminoles started with the ball and drove 49 yards down the field, only to fumble their way into the first of five second-half turnovers. Oregon would then score a ludicrous five touchdowns in a row, including 34 points off of turnovers.

The Ducks weren't the most explosive defense in the world before the Rose Bowl, ranking 41st overall in Havoc Rate, but they were one of the best teams in the country in forcing turnovers (with 30 overall, tenth in the country). The turnovers likely had more to do with the Seminoles, however, who ended their season -6 in turnover margin and second-worst in the country with 32 total turnovers. Sure, a healthy Thomas Tyner at running back was crucial for Oregon offensive efficiency (with three explosive runs and a 9.5 yards per carry average) and Mariota averaged 9.4 yards per pass, but the Oregon offense started four possessions on their own 40-yard line or better.

The turning point wasn't as decisive for the Buckeyes, as control of the Sugar Bowl changed hands throughout the game, only stopping with Tyvis Powell's interception of Blake Sims on the final play. The Buckeyes won with a combination of defensive explosiveness (including three interceptions, with a 41-yard pick-six by defensive end Steve Miller), offensive explosiveness, and third-down domination on both sides of the ball.

The Buckeyes entered the Sugar Bowl as the third-ranked team in Field Position Advantage compared to the Crimson Tide being just 87th, but Alabama completely reversed the season-long trends with some outstanding punting and first-half turnovers. Alabama's average starting field position was their own 31-yard line, while the Buckeyes average start came on their own 18 (and it would have been their own 16 if not for the late onside kickoff recovery). This was detrimental to the Buckeyes' possession efficiency (averaging just three points per possession and 12.8 yards per point, compared to the Tide at 11.6 yards per point), but the Buckeyes overcame this field position disadvantage with Ezekiel Elliott's two breakaway runs of 54 and 85 yards and Cardale Jones' long passes to Devin Smith and Jalin Marshall. Further, the Buckeyes simply dominated third downs on both sides of the ball, holding the Tide to a season-low 15 percent third-down conversion rate while converting 56 percent of their own third-down attempts -- all while averaging 2.1 more yards to go on third down!

Maybe it's more symbolic because the Buckeyes and Ducks inaugurated a new era of college football with first-ever Playoff semifinal wins, but those wins also signaled a potential upending of two prominent trends in college football: the SEC's dominance and the Seminoles' 29-game win streak.

The Big Ten wasn't favored in a single game this bowl season, but victories over ranked teams yesterday by Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State have demonstrated parity between the conferences that wasn't visible before. While it's true that we heard about the dominance of the SEC West all season, the meme that "the SEC's run is over" is not necessarily true. Yes, the top five F/+ SEC teams (Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn, and LSU) all lost this bowl season, but that is more indicative of the parity between conferences -- so there may be relative decline in the SEC, but not necessarily absolute decline. However, this will be the second year in a row where the SEC has failed to produce a national champion, and the first time since 2006 that no SEC team will play in the championship game.

The SEC West teams have performed much worse than their Eastern counterparts in bowl season, though they also had tougher matchups against the second, fifth, tenth, 17th, and 36th-ranked F/+ teams. The SEC West had previously gone 28-0 in non-conference play, but went just 2-5 in bowl games (Arkansas and Texas A&M were responsible for the sole victories). The SEC East's big win was Georgia over 16th-ranked Louisville in the Belk Bowl.

We'll get our first-ever Playoff Champion on January 12, but for now, revel in the myriad close games and extraordinary finishes of the first-ever New Year's Six Bowls.


  • The LSU Tigers may have been upset on a last-second field goal, but they turned in their most explosive performance of the season, particularly by Leonard Fournette. The Tigers were 103rd in Offensive IsoPPP this season, but had six explosive plays against the 43rd-ranked IsoPPP defense. Fournette only had 11 carries, but that included an 89-yard run and a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Tigers may have only completed seven passes, but two young receivers made big plays, which might give Tigers fans some consolation: John Diarse recorded a 75-yard pass, and Travin Dural had four rushes for 61 yards.
  • For the victorious Fighting Irish, nothing epitomized the division between the two quarterbacks --Malik Zaire and Everett Golson -- like Zaire's block to spring Tarean Folston into the end zone with six minutes to go in the third quarter, compared to Golson's 29-yard completion on third-and-8 in the second quarter. Zaire only threw for 96 yards to Golson's 90, and neither quarterback threw an interception, but Golson's back-foot pass was exactly the kind of dangerous throw that Brian Kelly talked about when he decided to start Zaire.
  • The story of the Belk Bowl was certainly Nick Chubb's continuing dominance, but he wasn't the only reason the Bulldogs won by 23 points. While the Louisville defense was ranked fifth overall in Defensive F/+, they were ranked 98th in IsoPPP going in to bowl season. Georgia paid attention, using explosive plays to power its victory. Chubb obviously contributed, recording six explosive runs out of 33 total carries (including an 82-yard run), but fellow freshman running back Sony Michel had a kickoff return for a touchdown called back, and Chris Conley had a 44-yard receiving strike to start the scoring. Georgia was not a hurry-up team, ranking 101st in Adjusted Pace, but they employed the no-huddle for most of the Belk Bowl to great effect. On Chubb's 31-yard touchdown run, the Bulldogs ran hurry-up and snapped the ball before the Cardinals were even set; Louisville only had two down linemen when Chubb burst through the first two tackles. Georgia also dominated third downs, converting twelve of nineteen (63 percent) third-down attempts. That's despite averaging 5.9 yards to go on third down, beating their season average on third down (49.4 percent) and Louisville's average opponent third-down conversion percentage (31.8 percent).
  • TCU's defense surprised most nationally. Many expected Boykin and the Horned Frogs offense to steal the show, but they certainly lived up to their sixth-ranking in Rushing S&P+ defense by holding the Rebels to nine total rush yards (0.2 yards per carry). The Rebels averaged 9.33 yards to go on third down, making their 3-for-15 conversion rate completely understandable.
  • Nebraska-USC was an extremely even matchup. Both teams finished in the mid-20s of the F/+ rankings, produced within ten total yards of each other (525 to 515), averaged 2.30 and 2.65 yards per possession, and had a neutral turnover margin. However, USC's rush defense surprisingly made the difference for the Trojans in their last-second win. One of Nebraska's few projected statistical advantages was in Rushing S&P+ offense, where they ranked 21st to the Trojans' 57th-ranked rush defense. But Ameer Abdullah, previously ranked in the top 20 in both Opportunity Rate and Highlight Yards per Opportunity, was held to just 3.3 yards per carry. In fact, the Huskers averaged seven yards to go on third down.
  • New Year's Day was full of last-second wins (by Big Ten teams) and it's difficult to pick a winner for sheer drama, but Michigan State staged an incredible fourth-quarter comeback where the Spartans outscored the Bears 21-0 in the fourth quarter after being down by 20. A defense that allowed 603 total passing yards clamped down in the fourth quarter to force only three Baylor possessions for a total of 18 plays and only 53 total yards. Two last-possession Spartans sacks helped, but the turning point was the blocked field goal and 36-yard return that set up the Connor Cook-to-Keith Mumphery touchdown with 17 seconds remaining. Michigan State was 14th in Special Teams Efficiency this season. Lost in the fourth-quarter comeback was the fact that the Spartans, who ranked 14th in Rushing S&P+ defense, completely shut down the 23rd-ranked Baylor Rushing S&P+ offense. The Bears finished with -20 rushing yards on 22 attempts, with Shock Linwood averaging only 2.4 yards per carry. Linwood was only 49th in Opportunity Rate entering into the bowl game, but the Baylor offensive line was ranked 26th in Adjusted Line Yards. The win was Michigan State's only win over a top-25 F/+ team this season, but the Spartans' two losses were to the two championship contenders, Oregon and Ohio State.


Crazy finish in the Bahamas Bowl:

Baylor lineman touchdown:

Ezekiel Elliott breaks an 85-yard run:


  • Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia. Nick Chubb powered Georgia's win over the 23rd-ranked Rushing S&P+ Louisville defense, rushing for 267 yards (54 percent of the team's total offense). Those 267 yards contributed to the fourth-best season for a Georgia running back ever (1,547 total yards, only behind Herschel Walker's three seasons with the Bulldogs), and was the second-highest rushing total in a game for Georgia overall. Chubb also averaged 7.1 yards per carry this season, the highest in Georgia history. And Chubb is a true freshman who only started the final eight games after Todd Gurley's suspension, rushing for more than 113 yards in each of those games.
  • Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Fournette wasn't to be outdone by fellow SEC running back Nick Chubb, recording 143 rushing yards on just 11 carries, including a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Fournette's season wasn't quite the immediate Heisman-caliber season that many expected from his recruitment. Fournette finished strong, rushing for 7.7 and 13 yards per carry against Texas A&M and Notre Dame (even if those two rushing defenses were just 110th and 48th in Rushing S&P+) and will look to challenge Chubb for the top-returning running back in the SEC.
  • Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State. Hackenberg had a lackluster sophomore campaign overall after a stellar debut under former head coach Bill O'Brien. Many thought James Franklin's offense wasn't suited to Hackenberg and his pro-style acumen, but maybe all Hackenberg needed was a little extra bowl practice. Against the 41st-ranked Passing S&P+ defense, Hackenberg completed 68 percent of his passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. And that was without much help from the rushing game (the team gained just 82 total yards and 2.8 yards per carry).
  • Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor. Speaking of quarterbacks without any help from their run game, Bryce Petty's Bears totaled -20 rushing yards, but Petty passed for 550 yards. Petty was literally almost the entire offense, to the point that Petty passed on 64 percent of Baylor's plays. The Baylor offense was ranked 23rd in Rushing S&P+ entering the game, but the Spartans were 14th in Rushing S&P+ defense.
  • Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. Apart from his first-quarter fumble, Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott was near-perfect, recording three explosive runs and a 55 percent Success Rate. Elliott is now up to 1,632 rushing yards (ninth overall) this season on 6.89 yards per carry.


  • Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State. Lee, a former high school quarterback, was the explosive playmaker Ohio State needed at linebacker this season. He tallied three tackles for loss and two sacks in the Sugar Bowl, creating negative plays against an offensive line ranked sixth in Adjusted Line Yards and fourth in Adjusted Sack Rate.
  • Shilique Calhoun, DL, Michigan State. It was ultimately a defense-wide effort for the Spartans, with Tony Lippett going both ways and six players registering at least half a sack, but Calhoun takes the cake for his 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and one forced fumble on a day when the Spartans struggled to contain Bryce Petty and the Baylor offense. It wasn't pretty, but Calhoun deserves a nod for leading the Spartans in big plays.
  • The entire TCU defense. This time I can't pick a single individual, as the entire unit registered 11 tackles for loss, three interceptions, and five sacks to completely dismantle the Rebels offense. That offense was 21st in Offensive F/+ entering the bowl season, but TCU's fourth-ranked Havoc Rate was legitimized with that performance.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 02 Jan 2015

15 comments, Last at 06 Jan 2015, 7:17am by MC2


by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/02/2015 - 4:41pm

I don't think either Mariota or Winston are worthy of a top 10 pick in the draft, to say nothing of a number one or two overall selection, and nothing I saw yesterday changed my opinion. That isn't to say that that neither will succeed, but there are sufficient issues that taking either that high is very, very, risky. OB talent sufficient for playoff success in the NFL being what it is, however, they'll likely be gone with the first two picks.

by jonnyblazin :: Fri, 01/02/2015 - 6:46pm

Mariotta is tough to evaluate, but I'd be all over Winston if I was a QB needy team drafting in the top 5, even at 1.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/02/2015 - 7:46pm

Winston is a high risk guy, and while he is obviously talented, not so much that it obviously outweighs the risk. He might be great. he also might be a train wreck. Who knows? Mariota just has spent way too much time throwing to wide open receivers to assess his skill set, but what I have seen so far is not indicative of a first rate NFL throwing talent. That's not to say he can't get there, but you'd like more in a top 5, or even top 10 pick.

Actually, the guy that fascinates me is the Buckeyes 3rd stringer. Ever since I saw him play 3 weeks ago, I've been wondering how the hell Urban Meyer was able to stuff such an obvious physical talent way down on his depth chart; how did the guy not end up at a good program where he's obviously be a starter early on? Then I heard he was 30 pounds overweight coming out of high school, and that he has really transformed himself physically and mentally since arriving in Columbus, which makes a lot more sense. What I love about him is that for such a huge guy, he doesn't have the Jamarcus-like big wind up; when he pulls the trigger it is out of his hand very quickly. On top of that, he really hangs in the pocket, when things start to break down, very well, from the small sample I've seen. I don't now how the hell Meyer is going to manage his depth dilemma at qb going forward, but I want to see all three guys play.

by gomer_rs :: Fri, 01/02/2015 - 8:58pm

Winston on the field is the most pro-ready QB since Luck, off the field ....
Mariota needs to stop Brett Farving wide open receivers


and like you I'd be concerned at how open his WRs get by offensive design, he's definitely got the arm strength and size though, he is somewhere between a more talented Colin Kaepernick and a more talented Russel Wilson

I'd be worried about any of the OSU QBs because if OSU has enough talent that they're replaceable...

Both Winston and Mariota are worth top-5 picks, I'd want to sit Mariota if he's not going to playing in an offense tailored to his existing skills.

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/02/2015 - 9:09pm

From what I see, adjusting for wide open receivers, I don't think Mariota has the accuracy that Wilson displayed in college.

I don't how to confidently predict a guy is worthy of a top 5 pick, if I have a legitimate fear, based on past observable behavior, that a guy is too dumb or undisciplined to keep himself on the field, due to idiotic off field behavior.

by gomer_rs :: Sat, 01/03/2015 - 1:05pm

Mariota makes the correct decisions but when his adrenaline gets up he over throws the ball while playing in an offense that doesn't emphasize consistent footwork and mechanics. I'd say that almost any NFL coach will be happy with a QB that makes the right choices and believe that they can fix any mechanical issues.

The over throwing? Brett Farve overthrew receivers until his last day in the NFL, that might be a big concern.

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 01/03/2015 - 4:48pm

Well, even with the decision making, picking the right guy, when the right guy doesn't have any defender within 10 or 15 yards, is just in an entirely different plane of existence, compared to what characterizes throwing against NFL defenses, where you need to anticipate the one guy who is going to have a large enough window to throw to in 1.5 seconds. I don't think Mariota has shown enough to be worthy of a top 5 pick, but given the dearth of qbs who can actually do the aforementioned task, somebody will likely take the plunge.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Sat, 01/03/2015 - 5:50pm

Is there any evidence Mariotta is any better than any of the other recent Oregon QBs?

Is he markedly better than Darron Thomas, Dennis Dixon, Or Joey f'ing Harrington?


He's basically a better version of Masoli, and perhaps a better version of Dixon. Remember, Dixon was a Heisman front runner until he got hurt in the Cal game that year.

Statistically, and style-wise, Mariotta is Johnny Football. All three OSU QBs have stats that look just like his.

by gomer_rs :: Sat, 01/03/2015 - 6:36pm

Joey Harrington played in a completely different offense that was both pro-style and very complex and produced Jay Feely (Harrington's Backup), Kellen Clemmons, Harrington, Kyle Boller, and Aaron Rodgers. If Mariota, with his arm strength, was coming out with Harrington's resume he'd be #1 overall pick in any year without an Andrew Luck/Peyton Manning type prospect.

Darron Thomas clearly didn't have NFL arm strength or size or even speed. Masoli was more a Tebow-esque QB, could have been a TE or FB in the NFL. Dixon would be the best comparable. Mariotta is bigger, taller, and faster than Dixon, has better arm strength. The QBs that Mariotta is comparable experience, talent, skill set, offense, competition are Cam Newton (more experience than, less run oriented offense, smaller than, faster than), Dennis Dixon (bigger than, better arm than, without the injury history), Colin Kaepernick (less run oriented offense, better competition), and RG3 (bigger than, without the injury history, slower than).

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

by Pat :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:13pm

Really? Even after the Rose Bowl? I can't see how anyone would think that (although they'll both get picked high, I think). I just don't think he has enough experience making good, quick decisions under pressure. The Rose Bowl just showed me that his college success is primarily due to being a great athlete on a great team - which is a recipe for a great college career and a poor NFL one.

by Perfundle :: Sat, 01/03/2015 - 12:17am

Considering the relative lack of successful QBs out of college recently and that their college flaws seem to be borne out at the professional level, what were some of the areas of weakness in college of the current good QBs like Romo, Roethlisberger, Brees and Ryan?

by Will Allen :: Sat, 01/03/2015 - 3:28am

Well, Romo was undrafted, so his perceived weaknesses were many. Brees was thought to be too short, with a borderline arm. The only reason Roethisberger wasn't taken higher than his already high place of selection was that he didn't play against major conference competition. Everybody liked him a lot. Ryan I can't remember.

by Mr Shush :: Sun, 01/04/2015 - 4:41pm

Ryan was seen as a safe bet with a low ceiling, from what I remember - unremarkable physical tools. I think he may also have been dinged a bit for playing behind very, very good offensive lines, to the point where it was argued there was no real way of telling how he'd handle regular pressure.

by MC2 :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 7:17am

One of the knocks on Ryan was a low completion percentage (around 60%), which was also why the LCF was not too high on him, IIRC.

by andrew :: Fri, 01/02/2015 - 10:48pm

Thought Maxx Williams deserved some mention for top plays. Would be interested in seeing a futures piece on him.