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Defenses have taken a wide variety of responses to the rise of 11 personnel. Is any one system better than another? And how has the rise of the "moneybacker" changed defensive philosophy?

12 Oct 2015

OFI: First-Year Coaches Winning Big

by Chad Peltier

Coming in to the season we expected this to be the year of the graduate transfer quarterback. Michigan had Iowa's Jake Rudock. Alabama started Jake Coker. Georgia decided on Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert. Oregon took the explosive Vernon Adams. And Ole Miss decided Chad Kelly was the best option. Across the country, colleges were turning to first-year starters for their teams who already had experience elsewhere.

But the story through the first half of the season has been new coaches rather than new quarterbacks. Florida's Jim McElwain has the Gators 6-0 and fifth in the S&P+ rankings, atop the SEC East. Michigan's chosen one, Jim Harbaugh (is this really just about coaches named Jim?), has Michigan 5-1, but third overall in the S&P+ and with three straight shutout wins.

The other story early in the season is the return of the elite defense (well, outside the Big 12), as Utah befuddled Oregon and Clemson (the current top F/+ team) is sixth in the defensive S&P+ rankings after ending as the top defensive team last season. Clemson shuts down opposing run games (first in rushing S&P+) while Utah is opportunistic and forces an incredible number of turnovers. The Utes are tied for second overall in total turnovers gained with 17, after forcing five Jared Goff interceptions in last weekend's GameDay matchup.

Who knows what the second half of the season will bring? Will Ohio State follow Florida State's path from 2014, entering the Playoff as an unimpressive undefeated team; will they lose to upstart Michigan or Michigan State; or will they start to dominate as expected? Will Alabama recover yet again from an early-season loss to win the SEC? Can Michigan and Florida continue their rise out of mediocrity? And will the Pac-12 and Big-12 continue to cannibalize their chances for a playoff spot?


  • Who is the best running back in the country through six weeks? Is the answer obviously Leonard Fournette, your current Heisman front runner? Even going by regular box score stats, it's not really clear. Fournette had three consecutive games with 200-plus yards rushing and was the first player to reach a thousand yards this season despite missing his first game. He averages better than 200 yards per game and 8.6 yards per carry. But other contenders from Power 5 conferences have put up some good averages too. Let's compare Fournett's numbers, both basic and advanced, to those of some of his peers:

    Select NCAA Running Backs, 2015
    Running Back Team Yds/Carry Opp. Rate Highlight
    Opp. Rate *
    Highlight Yds/Carry
    Dalvin Cook Florida St. 9.0 43.2% 13.7 5.9
    Leonard Fournette LSU 8.6 51.7% 9.3 4.8
    Shock Linwood Baylor 9.6 64.0% 7.4 4.7
    Nick Chubb* Georgia 8.1 47.3% 8.7 4.1
    Ezekiel Elliott Ohio St. 6.9 43.0% 7.9 3.4
    * Sadly, Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee.

    Comparing just those five backs, Linwood appears to be the most consistent with Fournette second, and Cook the most explosive, with Fournette again second. Simply multiplying the opportunity rate and highlight yards per opportunity rate together, Cook is far and away the top (thanks to that ridiculous 13.7 average highlight yards per carry total), with Fournette second and Linwood close behind. Dalvin Cook hasn't been getting the hype Fournette has, partly due to Florida State's schedule relative to LSU's, and partly due to the way Fournette runs, but maybe it's time to start comparing the two more closely.

  • What Michigan is doing this year is pretty incredible. After starting out the season looking exactly how most thought they would look in a loss to Utah -- that is, with a decent defense and extremely poor quarterback play -- Michigan has recorded three straight shutouts to move to 5-1 on the season. After allowing 24 points to Utah, the Wolverines have allowed a total of 14 points in five games, with performances all above 92 percent. The defense is now tops in the country in defensive S&P+ and the Wolverines are third in the overall F/+ rankings. If Jake Rudock remains mistake-free -- he completed 17-of-23 passes without an interception against Northwestern -- then this team will continue to roll. Michigan's run game looks efficient if not terribly explosive, but a single touchdown has been the only score the offense has needed in the last three games anyway. Another thing that has made the Wolverines so effective has been their possession efficiency -- they didn't have a single three-and-out against the Wildcats, and they are in the top ten in both offensive and defensive average starting field position. This is incredibly impressive production considering the Wolverines are 81st in adjusted line yards, the starting running back averages less than 5.0 highlight yards per opportunity, and the receiving corps consists of three primary players with more than eleven targets -- Amara Darboh, tight end Jake Butt, and Jehu Chesson -- and none average better than a 63 percent catch rate. That is to say, none of the individual offensive players nor the offensive linemen are really stars, but they still operate with impressive overall efficiency.
  • Where does Georgia go from here? Greyson Lambert completed less than 50 percent of his passes against the Volunteers as the Bulldogs were listless in the second half. After running 14 times for 124 yards in the first half, Sony Michel was held to eight carries for 21 yards in the second half. Nick Chubb was injured on Georgia's very first offensive play, and without the threat of an explosive running back in the second half, the Volunteers frustrated Lambert, who was explosive but inefficient. Chubb, as the team's leading rusher, was both efficient and explosive, while Michel was more explosive than Chubb, but significantly less efficient (averaging 12.0 highlight yards per opportunity, but just a 29.7 percent opportunity rate). As the primary ballcarrier against Tennessee, Michel had just a 27 percent rushing success rate against a Tennessee defense that was 42nd in rushing S&P+. Unless Michel and the offensive line can elevate Georgia's rushing efficiency to the level it was at with Chubb at the helm, it's fair to expect Greyson Lambert and the passing game to decline as well. The upcoming Florida game, already looking more and more difficult as the season goes on, looks to heavily favor the Gators at this point.
  • One of the best stories of the week (unless you're a Sooner) was Texas' and Charlie Strong's victory in the Red River Rivalry. There were a couple of noteworthy things from this game. First, what happened to the Oklahoma run game? Samaje Perine was held to 3.6 yards per carry, and fellow blue chip running back Joe Mixon was at just 4.0 yards per carry. They combined for just 16 overall attempts. Is this a result of scheme with the addition of Lincoln Riley as offensive coordinator? Baker Mayfield only had 28 passes as the Longhorns racked up six sacks as well. Second, Texas managed to run for 313 yards on 58 (!) attempts, with both Jerrod Heard and sophomore running back D'Onta Foreman crossing the century mark. Foreman looks to be in line for a bigger workload, as he averages a 43.4 percent opportunity rate and 6.8 highlight yards per carry compared to senior Jonathan Gray' 29.3 percent opportunity rate and 3.6 highlight yards per opportunity. The line is 18th in overall opportunity rate but just 74th in adjusted line yards, suggesting that Texas should be running for more yards given their level of competition (Foreman has gained more carries as the season has gone on) and that the run game is less explosive than efficient. But finally, the Texas passing game still needs work. Heard still averaged just 4.8 yards per attempt, but didn't turn the ball over, either. Tyrone Swoopes came in as a goal-line specialist, but Heard's numbers haven't differed significantly from Swoopes for much of the season. The good news? Texas' schedule for the next few weeks doesn't really feature very many star quarterbacks until Texas Tech comes to town in late November. The Longhorns can win close, defensive struggles and potentially still become bowl eligible.
  • What has happened to the Pac-12 favorites USC and Oregon? Cody Kessler threw for just 156 yards and two interceptions while Oregon seemingly doesn't have a quarterback on the roster if Vernon Adams is injured. Jeff Lockie threw for 123 yards on 5.6 yards per attempt as the Ducks try to rebuild in the post-Mariota era. Meanwhile, the defense allowed Washington State quarterback Luke Falk to throw for 505 yards on an astounding 74 attempts. With USC's head coach Steve Sarkisian taking a leave of absence and center Max Tuerk injured for the season, this could get worse for the Trojans before it gets better, despite their dogged hold of the seventh spot in the overall F/+ rankings.


  • Devontae Booker, RB, Utah: Devontae Booker was always the workhorse back who somewhat underwhelmed. Hardly any back in the nation has carried the ball more than Booker (he's tied for second overall with 140 carries, and leads the country in attempts per game with 28!), but his advanced numbers (33.6 percent opportunity rate, 4.3 highlight yards per carry) are underwhelming. But he exploded against Cal for 222 rushing yards and 45 receiving yards, with a 50.0 percent success rate.
  • Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor: Baylor's Coleman is now one touchdown reception shy of the school record for scoring catches in a season after just five games, following his seven catches for 108 yards against hapless Kansas.
  • Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: Poor Freeman ran for 246 yards on 27 carries but still lost -- to Washington State. It seems like a running back has exploded for 200-plus yards every week this season, and now it's Freeman.


  • Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas: The middle linebacker racked up two tackles for loss and two sacks, limiting Baker Mayfield to pedestrian numbers and forcing 18 rushing attempts for -5 yards.
  • LaQuan McGowan, TE, Baylor: Coleman isn't the only Baylor receiver to make the list this week. McGowan, the 400-plus-pound tight end, recorded an 18-yard touchdown catch after he lined up in the backfield.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 12 Oct 2015