Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» 2017 Defensive Personnel Analysis

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?

14 Nov 2016

OFI: Chaos Finally Strikes

by Chad Peltier

Second-ranked Clemson, third-ranked Michigan, fourth-ranked Washington, eighth-ranked Texas A&M, and ninth-ranked Auburn were all upset last Saturday in what was supposed to be one of the worst weekends of college football yet. A neat and tidy group of four undefeated Power-5 teams was shaken up so that the playoff picture is now muddled.

The top of college football has an increasingly stratified group of one-loss teams and dark-horse two-loss teams that remain in contention. Top contenders include Alabama, Ohio State, Louisville, Clemson, Washington, and Michigan. West Virginia (which is a one-loss team for now), Oklahoma, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Colorado are technically in the running too, but it would take more chaos for any of these teams to get considered.

Of the top contenders, Alabama has the easiest path to the playoff by far. With Auburn's poor play against Georgia, even the Iron Bowl doesn't look too difficult, while the SEC Championship Game shouldn't be bad either. Michigan just has to win out despite its loss to Iowa -- but its path includes second-ranked Ohio State and likely a rematch against a Wisconsin team that it beat by just a touchdown earlier in the season. Clemson's path is also fairly straightforward -- it has three quality wins against Auburn, Louisville, and Florida State on its resume, and no truly difficult games remaining on the schedule. Louisville's chances improved dramatically, but it faces Houston this week and only has the one blowout win over Florida State on its resume. Washington's position is a little more precarious, as it can only point to wins over Stanford (43rd in F/+) and Utah (34th) for its resume, while it lost by double digits in its only game against a top-25 F/+ opponent (USC this week).

But the Buckeyes likely have the longest road to the playoff. Could Ohio State miss out on the playoff because of a blocked field goal return? The Buckeyes, who will likely be second in the playoff rankings on Tuesday, will miss out on the Big Ten title game if Penn State beats Rutgers and Michigan State -- even if the Buckeyes win out too.

If the playoff were held today and based only on advanced stats, your playoff would see Alabama face Clemson in a rematch of last year's championship game, while Ohio State would face Michigan just two weeks after squaring off in The Game. Louisville and Washington would be the first two teams on the outside looking in, but they would both have arguments for their inclusion over Clemson and the loser of Ohio State-Michigan.


  • One of the more surprising upsets was Pitt downing Clemson on a last-second field goal. While the Tigers have had six games this season that were decided by one score, their resume includes nonetheless impressive wins over Auburn, Troy (yes, Troy, who is 22nd in S&P+), Louisville, and Florida State. Ultimately what downed Clemson are the same things that have been a problem all season: turnovers and running the ball. Clemson had a 53 percent success rate to Pitt's 40 percent, had more scoring opportunities, and had better average field position too. But they went minus-2 in the turnover battle, bringing them to a season total of 21 lost, which is tied for 114th in the country. And the Tigers failed to run the ball against Pitt's 41st-ranked rushing S&P+ defense, rushing for just 2 yards per carry as Deshaun Watson threw the ball 70 times. While the Tigers still have a strong opportunity to make the playoff, those two weaknesses -- a run game that ranks 66th in opportunity rate and the Tigers' propensity to turn the ball over -- aren't likely to go away. This is also a positive sign for a Pitt team that now has wins over top-ten teams Penn State and Clemson this season, along with three losses by a touchdown or less.
  • Washington had maybe the weakest resume of the top four entering last Saturday. With wins over just Utah and Stanford, Washington had rolled through its schedule, but the Selection Committee and popular perception were skeptical. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they hit a rising Trojans team at the wrong point of the season. New quarterback Sam Darnold has undoubtedly invigorated the USC offense, but the defense's rise under coordinator Clancy Pendergast has been even more surprising. After allowing 7.11 yards per play and 6.43 points per scoring opportunity in the 52-6 loss to Alabama to start the season, the Trojans now rank 16th in defensive S&P+, rarely allowing efficient plays (they allow just a 34.6 percent passing success rate, for instance). And the defense stepped up against Washington, with Adoree Jackson recording two interceptions and Myles Gaskin being held to just 3.4 yards per carry. In fact, the only player to make a dent on the Trojans was leading receiver John Ross, who recorded eight catches for 154 yards.
  • Georgia completely shut down the Auburn offense in the second half, preventing them from getting a single first down -- literally, their second-half drive chart reads pick-six, then five-straight three-and-outs, then a final turnover-on-downs. Georgia's defense is 27th in defensive S&P+, but it had not turned in a performance like this: Auburn's reportedly injured quarterback, Sean White, completed just six-of-20 passes for 1.4 yards per attempt with a pick-six. Georgia's offense, for its part, didn't perform much better. Auburn had a 31 percent offensive success rate, but Georgia's was just 33 percent. Their only touchdown was the pick-six, despite six scoring opportunities. Georgia now ranks fourth-to-last in finishing drives, averaging just 3.5 points per scoring opportunity. Auburn drops to 7-3 and 5-2 in conference, with Alabama still left on the schedule.
  • Michigan and Iowa looked similarly terrible on offense, averaging just 3.44 and 3.23 yards per play as Iowa squeaked out a win at home to upset the Wolverines. Michigan had led the country in scoring margin, but Wilton Speight averaged just 4 yards per pass and the Michigan running game's longest carry went for just 12 yards as the Wolverines finished with just 2.8 yards per rush. And Iowa running backs Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels Jr. managed several explosive runs of their own to secure the upset. That template -- shut down the Michigan run game first and make the Wolverines beat you through the air -- might be enough for Ohio State to win a second against Jim Harbaugh two weeks from now.


  • Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama. Alabama faced the weakest team in the SEC West in a blowout win, but what Jalen Hurts did against a conference opponent -- any conference opponent -- is incredibly impressive: 28-of-37 for 347 passing yards with another 100 on the ground. That kind of absurd stat line is incredible coming from a Nick Saban-coached quarterback, and also may land Hurts in New York for the Heisman sooner than we all thought.
  • Shea Patterson, QB, Ole Miss. Ole Miss may not have put up more than six points until the fourth quarter, but their pedestrian 3.75 average points per scoring opportunity didn't diminish the debut of new Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson. Patterson, the top-rated quarterback recruit in the country, threw for 338 yards and ran for 64 as he showed a similar level of escapability as Johnny Manziel. Between Patterson, Jalen Hurts, and Georgia's Jacob Eason, the SEC received a big influx of quarterback talent this season that has been missing in recent years.
  • Derrius Guice, RB, LSU. This shouldn't diminish Leonard Fournette's performance, but the best LSU running back last weekend was Derrius Guice. Guide ran for 252 yards on just 21 carries after he took a late-game carry for 96 yards to further the distance between the Tigers and Razorbacks.


  • Hunter Dimick, DL, Utah. Hunter Dimick absolutely exploded against Arizona State. His statline is incredible, similar to some of Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright's best games: five sacks and 6.5 of the Utes' astounding 22 tackles for loss on the night. Dimick is suddenly tied for the country's lead in sacks and third in tackles for loss.
  • Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma. Oklahoma's defense hasn't earned many accolades this season, but Jordan Evans recorded two interceptions, two sacks, and led the team in tackles in the win over Baylor.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 14 Nov 2016

4 comments, Last at 15 Nov 2016, 3:10pm by ramirez


by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 11/15/2016 - 9:49am

Michigan's offense has looked pretty pedestrian against anything resembling a decent defense (Colorado, Wisconsin, MSU, Iowa). The only team of note they really scored on was Penn State.

It's a good defense, but their true potential is probably as a variant version of LSU.

by ramirez :: Tue, 11/15/2016 - 11:18am

Michigan put up 49 on Penn State, 45 on Colorado, 41 on Illinois, and 32 on Michigan State. The only teams they have failed to score at least 32 against were Wisconsin and Iowa. And unlike LSU, who has yet to beat a currently ranked team this season, Michigan has beaten 3 teams currently ranked in the top 12. GTFO with that nonsense.

by ChrisS :: Tue, 11/15/2016 - 2:44pm

Against Colorado 2 TD's were from special teams, and 4 out 5 of their scoring drives were less than 45 yds. The PSU game was a great performance. Illinois gives up over 31 pts/game and only two of U of M scoring drives went at least 75 yards (one was 20 & another was 44 yards). MSU defense is also not good (27 pts/game), although MSU was definitely motivated and played one of their better games. When Speight can complete some passes the offense is capable to good, but he was shut down against Iowa and if the D is not worried about passing then Michigan's running game is not that good.

by ramirez :: Tue, 11/15/2016 - 3:10pm

Hey ChrisS, you know who else has an overrated offense? The Alabama Crimson Tide. Sure, they put up a bunch of points on mediocre SEC defenses and Western Kentucky, but their big win over USC was way back in week 1, and when they ran ito LSU, they only scored 10 points. And let's not forget all those points they've gotten from their defense and special teams.

I'm being saracstic, Alabama has a great offense, but if you're willing to run a fine-toothed comb over a team's performance, you can establish that almost anyone is overrated. Why are we just leaving out Michigan's good performances against weak teams? No one says Alabama is overrated because they crushed Kent State.