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18 Sep 2017

OFI: Upsets Define Week 3

by Chad Peltier

It was a week of surprising upsets (Northern Illinois over Nebraska! Memphis over UCLA! San Diego State over Stanford! Mississippi State over LSU!) as a few teams begin to assert themselves as College Football Playoff contenders. Oklahoma's 56-14 win over Tulane wasn't anything too special, but backup quarterback Kyler Murray did have more than 100 passing yards on just three attempts, while the Sooners cruised. You could say the same thing for Alabama, which allowed 23 points to Mike Bobo's Colorado State. And Clemson dominated Louisville and proved that this year's Tigers might be better than last year's team.

A few weird stats through three weeks of play:

  • It has only been three weeks, but Alabama hasn't had a 100-yard game from a running back, despite facing Fresno State and Colorado State the past two weeks. You would be tempted to pin that on new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and his NFL influence -- until you see that quarterback Jalen Hurts is the team's leading rusher with roughly twice as many yards as Damien Harris or Bo Scarbrough. In fact, the combination of those two and freshman Najee Harris totals just 74 more yards than Hurts, but on over twice as many combined carries.
  • Ohio State beat Army 38-7, which looks like another ho-hum offensive performance from the Buckeyes after getting stopped by Oklahoma at home last week. But they actually had a 70 percent offensive success rate -- their best since at least the 59-0 2014 Big Ten Championship game (which is as far back as I've looked so far). Army just successfully limited the Ohio State to nine drives, eight of which resulted in scoring opportunities.

  • Washington State is now 3-0 after beating Oregon State 52-23, giving them wins over a Pac-12 opponent, a Group of 5 opponent in Boise State, and a non-FBS school in Montana State. But that may be a bad omen, considering Washington State opened the last two seasons with losses to FCS schools (Portland State and Eastern Washington), then went on to win nine and eight games in surprisingly high finishes following inauspicious beginnings.
  • Auburn's Jarrett Stidham was touted as The Answer for Auburn this preseason. After averaging 11.6 yards per attempt with a 12:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a freshman at Baylor, it was easy to see why the Tigers were excited about his transfer. But before the game against Mercer this week, Auburn was 122nd in passing success rate and 121st in IsoPPP -- though those opponent-unadjusted numbers include the game against Clemson when he was sacked 11 times. Stidham definitely lived up to the hype against Mercer, going 32-of-37 for 364 yards and an interception, but the offense a whole didn't. They scored just 27 points against the 1-2 Mercer Bears, due in part to a minus-5 turnover margin.


  • The biggest game of the week was technically Clemson vs. Louisville, the fourth- and 19th-ranked teams in the F/+ heading in to Week 3. The game didn't quite live up to the hype, with Clemson's defense suffocating Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson for most of the night. Although Clemson ended up winning 47-21, the game hit garbage time with two minutes left in the third quarter and Louisville added two fourth-quarter touchdowns after the win was out of reach. Lamar Jackson was his team's leading rusher, with seven more carries than Malik Williams and Reggie Bonnafon combined, but was held to just 3.8 yards per carry. His 7.5 yards per passing attempt and 50 percent completion rate were reminiscent of games against LSU, Houston, and Wake Forest at the end of last season. Louisville wasn't too much worse in terms of overall yards per play, at 6.28 to Clemson's 7.57, but they managed just four scoring opportunities in 14 drives (29 percent) to Clemson's nine in 13 (69 percent).

    Clemson, meanwhile, has shown signs that they might be even better than last season, despite the loss of Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, and Carlos Watkins. Louisville's defense might not end up being the best barometer to rate opposing quarterbacks (ranking 110th in defensive passing success rate with limited data), but Clemson's Kelly Bryant was still an efficient 22-of-32 for 316 yards (9.9 yards per attempt). Tavien Feaster looks like the Tigers' top back with ten carries for 92 yards, while freshman Travis Etienne provides enormous big-play ability, showing off on an 81-yard run against Clemson. But despite the combination of efficiency and explosiveness Clemson showed on offense, the defense looks even more impressive.

  • Upsets helped define a Week 3 slate that looked a little dull at first glance. Memphis over UCLA was one of the first of the weekend, with the Tigers holding on due mostly to ill-timed turnovers since the two teams were so evenly matched. There was just 0.41 yards per play difference, a 3 percent difference in scoring opportunity rate (how often an offense turned a drive into a scoring opportunity), and a difference of just 0.38 average points per scoring opportunity. In fact, UCLA had a relatively significant difference in per-play success rate (47 percent to Memphis' 35 percent), but UCLA failed to capitalize on their higher per-play consistency.

    The quarterback battle between Josh Rosen and Riley Ferguson was one under-the-radar highlight of the weekend, with Rosen throwing for 462 yards (8.3 yards per attempt) and Ferguson throwing for 398 (10.5 per attempt) and six touchdowns. But Rosen's two interceptions were ultimately the difference. In the third quarter, with Memphis up 34-31, UCLA was driving into Memphis territory but then Rosen threw a pick-six to Memphis' Tim Hart. Then, after a UCLA comeback cut the difference to 48-45 and the Bruins had driven into the Tigers' red zone, Rosen threw another interception that was returned for 42 yards. Memphis would hold that 48-45 score for the remaining seven minutes of game time.

    A second major but somewhat under-the-radar upset involving a Pac-12 team was San Diego State taking down Stanford. F/+ had Stanford as a 10.3-point favorite with a 72.3 percent win probability, demonstrating how underwhelming the Cardinal have been this season. Like their Week 2 loss to USC (24-42), Stanford's primary issue was at quarterback, with run defense as a close second. Quarterback Keller Chryst, a former heralded recruit, failed to crack 100 passing yards and completed less than 50 percent of his passes for just 3.6 yards per attempt and two interceptions against a San Diego State defense that was 80th in passing success rate through two weeks. Running back Bryce Love continues to impress (13 carries for 184 yards), but the offense still maintained just a 32 percent offensive success rate and managed only four scoring opportunities in 12 drives. On the other side of the ball, Rashaad Penny was a workhorse against the suddenly leaky Stanford front seven, gaining 175 yards on 32 carries (44 percent rushing success rate).

    The final upset (if you can really call it that; F/+ had Kansas State by just 3.5 with a 58 percent win probability) was Vanderbilt taking down 18th-ranked Kansas State. Vanderbilt's Derek Mason has had the Commodores playing excellent defense without a ton of recruiting talent (ranking 40th and 12th in defensive S&P+ the last two seasons), and that showed this week as the Wildcats were held to a single touchdown and only three scoring opportunities. Kansas State quarterback Jesse Ertz was held to 2.7 yards per attempt with two interceptions, while Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur's efficiency might have made the difference in the game: 14-of-23 for 205 yards without any interceptions.

  • The Tennessee vs. Florida game has seen better years. Neither team has shown much of an offense yet this season outside of Volunteers running back John Kelly (who rushed for 141 yards, 7.4 yards per carry against the Gators). And for three quarters, this year's game saw a combined nine points until things opened up for a 37-point fourth quarter, including a 63-yard Hail Mary on the final play of regulation when the teams were tied at 20. The Florida offense had done very little to that point. The Gators had a single offensive touchdown (their other score was a 16-yard pick-six), and even that touchdown came on a short field following a 46-yard kickoff return to the Tennessee 44. That touchdown was the Gators' first on offense this season -- their other three touchdowns were all pick-sixes (at least Florida is tied for the lead in pick-sixes).

    Things were much more frustrating for the Volunteers -- not just in how they lost, but in how many squandered opportunities they had to win. The Volunteers had 13 drives and managed nine scoring opportunities -- but averaged just 2.2 points per scoring opportunity. That's in contrast to the Gators, who had a higher offensive success rate, but managed a scoring opportunity on just a third of their drives -- that's five more scoring opportunities for the Volunteers. Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormandy threw three interceptions, all of which were impactful. The first was in the first quarter, with Tennessee driving at the Florida 34-yard line. The second was on third-and-goal at the Florida 6-yard line. The third was the pick-six that gave Florida a 13-3 lead. Tennessee's Butch Jones has elevated the talent level and win totals in Knoxville, but these kinds of games are the ones that have built up so much ill will.

  • LSU's passing offense was always the one thing separating the Tigers from another national championship under Les Miles (that, and being in the same division as Alabama). New offensive coordinator Matt Canada looked (and still does) like a slam-dunk hire for coach Ed Orgeron. But the passing game wasn't going to change overnight -- and Mississippi State managed to hold the Tigers' Danny Etling to 13-of-29 passing for 4.7 yards per attempt. Derrius Guice, who many thought was every bit as talented as Leonard Fournette, was held to just 76 yards on 15 carries. It wasn't for lack of trying that they couldn't get him going, but LSU had four of ten total drives end in a three-and-out -- more than their total scoring opportunities. Meanwhile, LSU allowed a surprising 5.9 yards per carry to Mississippi State's offense, with Aeris Williams and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald combining for 234 yards on 37 carries (6.3 yards per carry, 58 percent rushing success rate). The Bulldogs now will face the SEC's other Bulldogs in Athens next week, as two top-20 teams collide, and with Georgia facing its old defensive coordinator in Todd Grantham.
  • The rematch of the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC ended up being more exciting than almost everyone expected, as it looked like Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger's 17-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds left would seal the 17-14 win for the Longhorns. But a tying field goal took the game to overtime, where an Ehlinger fumble and subsequent USC field goal in the second overtime ultimately led to the Trojans' revenge after 11 years. Texas is now 1-2 in Tom Herman's debut season, but Longhorns fans have to be somewhat pleased (ignoring the Maryland loss), considering they were able to keep things close against a top-5 AP Poll team (seventh in the F/+) with a true freshman quarterback. Neither team managed to establish much of a run game. Texas' Chris Warren III had just four carries for 15 yards, recalling the quarterback-centric offenses that Herman ran in Houston with Greg Ward Jr. But USC's Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr, who should be one of the best duos in the country, combined for just 76 yards on 27 carries. USC's offensive line may turn out to be one of the big weaknesses to watch for the Trojans' Pac-12 run this season, as they allowed Texas' Anthony Wheeler to gain 1.5 sacks and two other tackles for loss.


  • Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State. Sure, it was just Pitt's defense, but what Mason Rudolph did against Pitt in just a half of play is insane. People sometimes say a player has "video game-type numbers," but that is only a fair comparison to Rudolph if you're using a maxed-out create-a-player with the game set on easy -- Rudolph's 497 passing yards (15.5 yards per attempt, one interception) somehow surpass video game attempts.
  • Kelly Bryant, QB, Clemson. Kelly Bryant looks like a veteran, going 22-of-32 for 9.9 yards per attempt. The Clemson offense may not be as electric down the field yet, but Bryant has kept Clemson's efficiency high.
  • J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State. Yes, it was only against Army, but J.K. Dobbins managed to run for 172 yards on just 13 carries this week, including a 52-yarder that showcased his lightning-quick jump cut.


  • Anthony Wheeler, LB, Texas. As we mentioned above, Anthony Wheeler exposed USC's offensive line for 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss overall, as the Longhorns held the Trojans' electric running backs to under a hundred yards.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 18 Sep 2017

3 comments, Last at 20 Sep 2017, 11:34pm by obatamandel


by Will Allen :: Mon, 09/18/2017 - 5:04pm

What black hole has Missouri fallen into, to get totally housed by Purdue? What's the worst loss suffered by a team which was ranked 40 or more spots higher?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 5:02am

Based on the Louisville game, Purdue might actually be decent.

by obatamandel :: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 11:34pm

i hope i can look at live