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09 Nov 2015

OFI: November Starts with a Bang

by Chad Peltier

Alabama, Clemson, and Oklahoma State all separated themselves from the pack in this wild weekend of college football. In each case, the star players, or units, performed as expected: Lane Kiffin let Derrick Henry run all over LSU in a vintage Alabama performance; Clemson's Deshaun Watson passed for nearly 300 yards and led the team in rushing; and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph averaged almost 15 yards per pass while exploiting the TCU defense. What these players all had in common was extreme efficiency and reliability. Watson had a 43 percent passing success rate and a 69 percent rushing success rate against a Seminoles defense that was 20th in passing success rate allowed. Derrick Henry carried the ball 38 times with an incredible 66 percent rushing success rate.

Just as shocking were the performances by the star players for the losing schools. Leonard Fournette was the biggest surprise, as the Heisman frontrunner coming into last weekend was held to 31 total yards on 19 carries. And if you take out a late 18-yard gain in the fourth quarter, he was held to 0.7 yards per carry. Alabama, second in the S&P+ ratings and first in overall rushing S&P+ defense heading in to the night, proved that those rankings weren't a fluke. When Alabama made one of the best players in college football a non-factor, LSU was completely unable to respond, and Brandon Harris completed fewer than a third of his passes with an interception. No other team can likely shut down Fournette like Alabama did, so it might not be an issue in the future for LSU.

Trevone Boykin, likely second in the Heisman race behind Fournette coming into the weekend, tossed four interceptions to an aggressive Oklahoma State defense. Ranked 41st in defensive havoc rate coming in to the week, the Cowboys outplayed that ranking by consistently pressuring Boykin. After leading receiver Josh Doctson exited the game with a hand injury, Boykin's rhythm and timing were thrown off.

These two players were likely the leading Heisman candidates entering the week, but with clunker performances in their biggest matchups to date, their gaudy statistics alone might not be enough for the award. So who is left that could top the Heisman straw polls after this weekend? Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott has a case, with incredible game-to-game consistency (rushing for at least a hundred yards in every game this season) if only one jaw-dropping performance (a 274-yard effort against Indiana). Baylor receiver Corey Coleman has another argument, leading the country in receiving yards per game and total touchdowns. And now both Deshaun Watson and Derrick Henry might have done enough to be viable candidates in what has turned out to be a surprisingly contentious race.


  • Clemson, Alabama, and Oklahoma State had the big wins, but a number of other top teams escaped near-upsets, while three other ranked teams were upset outright. First, the close wins. Baylor didn't seem to miss Seth Russell too much as Jarrett Stidham threw for more than 400 yards without a pick, but the defense struggled with Kansas State quarterback Joe Hubener running the ball. Not only did Hubener carry the ball 28 times, but he ran with a 64 percent success rate, suggesting that Baylor might have an issue defending running quarterbacks. Second, Florida had its hands full in a 9-7 snoozer against Vanderbilt. While Vanderbilt's defense is ranked 11th in S&P+, Florida is just a week removed from a 27-3 demolition of rival Georgia. The Gators allowed a 74-yard touchdown run to Ralph Webb, who provided the only offense for Vanderbilt, as Commodores quarterback Johnny McCrary went 3-for-14 passing. Gators running back Kelvin Taylor wasn't much more effective, with just a 35 percent rushing success rate. The two teams combined for eight three-and-outs. Third, Northwestern scraped by Penn State thanks to an excellent performance by running back Justin Jackson. Finally, Houston remained undefeated despite allowing Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel to throw for 523 yards. The Cougars had two backs cross the century mark on the ground as Tom Herman's squad prepare for a Saturday showdown with Memphis.
  • Those were the near-upsets, but four ranked teams were also upset this week as Toledo, Michigan State, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M all fell to lesser opponents. While the Michigan State finish was controversial -- was Brandon Reilly forced out of bounds on his 30-yard go-ahead touchdown catch or did he step out voluntarily? -- it's surprising the score was even that close as the Spartans fell to a 4-6 Nebraska squad. But five of the Huskers' six losses have been by five points or less -- the Cornhuskers are 13 points away from an 8-1 record. (The lone loss in that scenario would be last week's shocking ten-point loss to Purdue!) Many believed that Texas A&M was on the upswing after the switch to Kyler Murray, but the freshman quarterback threw three interceptions and averaged 4.6 yards per pass as the Aggies struggled to field a consistent offense. Auburn has discovered running back Jovon Robinson, who gained 159 yards on 27 carries. Auburn's offensive line didn't yield a sack, even to Aggie defensive Myles Garrett. Finally, Northern Illinois handed Toledo its first loss of the season. The Huskies lost three straight in September and early October, but the win makes Ohio State's single-touchdown victory look a little better.
  • Freshman Josh Adams again had to take over for C.J. Prosise due to concussion symptoms in Notre Dame's win against Pitt, and Adams showed once again why he was a top running back coming out of high school. Adams had three runs of 23 or more yards against the Panthers -- who, to be fair, are 114th in rushing IsoPPP on defense this season.
  • Minnesota's rushing offense wasn't much to speak of before the game against Ohio State, but its rushing efficiency was abysmally low regardless of their season stats. The Buckeye defense forced Minnesota to a 4 percent success rate and opportunity rate. The Gophers had just a single efficient carry from either metric you use for rushing efficiency, though they were actually different carries: the successful run was actually a 1-yard pick up on second-and-4, while the efficient carry according to opportunity rate was a third-and-long run that didn't get the first down. With that kind of rushing inefficiency, Minnesota had six total three-and-outs, or 46 percent of their total drives.


  • DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame: Many thought that Notre Dame would be in serious trouble after Malik Zaire went down early this season, but the "other" DeShone (to Clemson's Deshaun Watson) averaged 10 yards per pass and had five touchdown passes against Pitt.
  • Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: We already talked about Derrick Henry; the running back proved to be a freight train, just getting better as the LSU defense got tired. Henry proved he is efficient while handling a large load of the total offensive production, and still has some explosiveness despite his workload and size.


  • Chad Whitener, LB, Oklahoma State: The Oklahoma State linebacker tied for the team lead in tackles while intercepting Trevone Boykin twice, returning one for a touchdown.
  • Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State: Bell hauled in a 16-yard pick-six to put the Buckeyes on the board against Minnesota, then went on to lead the team in tackles with ten. Though Minnesota's Mitch Leidner threw for nearly 300 yards, the Gophers had poor drive efficiency and only reached the end zone twice in the second half.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 09 Nov 2015