by Chad Peltier
This week of college football was hyped nearly as much as the opening week, with the AP's top three teams all facing ranked opponents for the first time in Poll history. Those big games mostly delivered, assuming you're not a Florida State fan.
The playoff race seemed to narrow a little with those big games as well. After blowing a 21-point lead for the second time this season, Ole Miss picked up its second loss and faces long odds for the playoff. Notre Dame had a surging fourth-quarter comeback attempt, but ultimately couldn't create as many scoring opportunities, weren't as efficient, and turned the ball over more than Michigan State. This second loss likely eliminates Notre Dame as well. Oklahoma also picked up its second loss -- the first was likely excusable since it was a close loss on opening weekend, but the Buckeyes beat the Sooners by being more efficient on the ground, taking advantage of scoring opportunities, and getting points from turnovers.
Those are the major two-loss teams, but what about the teams that picked up their first loss this weekend? Is Iowa gone after losing to FCS North Dakota State? Is Florida State eliminated because of how lopsided their loss to Louisville was, even if they beat Clemson? I'd argue that Florida State isn't out yet, but they would need to win out, with a convincing win over Clemson, then have Clemson go otherwise undefeated (including a win over Louisville) the rest of the way to argue that its poor performance was an early-season aberration.
What's also interesting is who we have topping most analysts' playoff projections. Alabama and Ohio State (and to a lesser extent, Michigan) are the best recruiting teams in the country. More interestingly, teams like Washington (sitting at fourth in the S&P+ right now), Louisville (with maybe the most impressive win of the weekend), and Houston (whose win over Oklahoma still looks impressive even though Ohio State performed even better against the Sooners) crack the top ten. Louisville has the leading Heisman contender at quarterback even though he was the darkest of dark horses entering the season. Washington has the country's fourth-ranked S&P+ defense. And Houston's schedule looks clear until a showdown with Louisville. This could be a year where we see traditional powers like Alabama, Ohio State, and Michigan vie with up-and-comers for the playoff.
- Georgia's win over Missouri was pretty astounding. Not just because Georgia's freshman quarterback threw a go-ahead touchdown pass in the final two minutes on fourth-and-10, or because Nick Chubb only recorded 63 yards on 19 carries. But two other factors made this an improbable game.
First, freshman quarterback Jacob Eason was asked to do a lot in his first-ever road start. He had 55 passing attempts against Missouri, 19 of which were on third down. The Bulldogs had 22 total third-down attempts, and Eason had to throw on 19 of them (86 percent) because the average distance to go was 7.3 yards! With that kind of standard downs inefficiency, it's a wonder that the Bulldogs were able to move the ball at all. Eason had a 42 percent passing success rate on third downs, which is pretty remarkable given the distance he faced on average.
Second, the Bulldogs went plus-4 in turnover margin, but didn't convert a single turnover into points. Sure, they likely prevented a few scores by forcing turnovers, but that is still incredibly inefficient given their average starting field position (34.8 versus 28.2). So neither team was very successful moving the ball (36 percent for Georgia to 38 percent for Missouri), and Georgia did nothing on offense with its plus-4 turnover margin, but it still won because it prevented potential scores from the defensive turnovers and because Jacob Eason and his top receiver Isaiah McKenzie were able to covert just enough third downs.
- Ohio State had the Oklahoma game more or less wrapped up by the start of the fourth quarter. They won due to several factors: a much more efficient rushing attack, incredible scoring opportunity efficiency on offense and defense, and getting points from turnovers.
The difference in overall offensive efficiency is remarkable -- 51 percent to 35 percent in favor of the Buckeyes -- and that is only more apparent looking at the rushing numbers, where Ohio State had a 66 percent rushing success rate and the Sooners had just a 44 percent rushing success rate even with Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in the backfield. The Buckeyes defense stopped the run incredibly well, if allowing a few explosive carries (five, with three runs accounting for 46 percent of Oklahoma's overall rushing yardage). Freshman starting running back Mike Weber had a 67 percent rushing success rate and H-back Curtis Samuel had a 78 percent success rate, while Samaje Perine was completely bottled up for just a 29 percent rushing success rate.
The Sooners offense was relatively inefficient and relied on big plays, but those explosive plays often didn't end in points. So efficiency in scoring opportunities really mattered, and here again the Sooners came up short. In the red zone, the Buckeyes scored touchdowns on 75 percent of drives, but the Sooners had just a 33 percent red zone touchdown rate. Further, the Sooners averaged just 3.4 points per scoring opportunity while the Buckeyes averaged 6.3. Both rushing efficiency and scoring opportunity efficiency were likely due to the Buckeyes dominance along both lines, where Ohio State had a 58 percent opportunity rate and allowed a 38 percent opportunity rate.
Finally, Ohio State extended its streak of defensive scores with a pick-six, totaling 17 points off of turnovers on the day if you include the Sooners' two turnovers on downs. The Ohio State defense has now scored more than twice as many touchdowns as it has allowed through three games.
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- The Crimson Tide got into another tense shootout with Ole Miss but avoided a third straight upset by the Rebels. While the Crimson Tide won this year, the game exposed a few deficiencies in Alabama's game that make this team a little different compared to those of other years. First, freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts had just a 31 percent passing success rate. Nick Saban typically likes to start older, experienced quarterbacks who have been criticized as game managers in the past -- but he values their efficiency more than their ability to win games by themselves. Jalen Hurts, at least against Ole Miss, didn't provide the same efficiency through the air that Alabama is used to from its quarterbacks (he did have a 59 percent rushing success rate, however).
Second, the defense still allowed Chad Kelly to throw for 421 yards, with seven completions of 20-plus yards. It's rare for the Crimson Tide to be beat at its own game of rushing efficiency and good defense, but they do occasionally allow opposing quarterbacks to create explosive plays like Kelly did. These aren't damning criticisms -- the Tide have allowed single games with explosive passing plays before (and shut everyone else down), and Jalen Hurts can certainly grow in the position and in his passing efficiency -- but they are areas to watch for development.
Separately, it looks like the Tide have found a single starting running back. First, Hurts became Saban's first quarterback to ever run for 100 yards in a game. Second, Damien Harris looks like the definite favorite between him selfand Bo Scarbrough. Scarbrough received fewer than half of Harris' carries, and he did much less with them. Harris had a 75 percent rushing success rate while Scarbrough had just a 29 percent rushing success rate, with a long run of just 5 yards.
- Michigan State, once again, looks really good. In its win over Notre Dame, it did what Spartans teams typically do: played solid special teams, forced turnovers, was efficient on offense, and shut down the Fighting Irish run game. Notre Dame ran the ball only 25 times for 57 yards. The Spartans' starting field position was more than 7 yards better than the Irish, due in large part to three three-and-outs and three turnovers. Just going by scoring opportunity efficiency -- where Michigan State averaged five points per opportunity and created seven opportunities (for 35 points), while the Irish created only four but scored a touchdown every time (for 28 points) -- you can see the difference in the game.
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- Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Lamar Jackson has headlined the Honor Roll since opening week. This time Jackson's efforts were in a total rout of the Florida State Seminoles, where he had 216 passing yards and 146 on the ground. With or without Florida State defensive back Derwin James, those are impressive numbers.
- Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami.We're not talking enough about Miami's excellent start. Some may argue that it was "only Appalachian State". But Brad Kaaya threw for 368 yards on 21-for-27 passing with an interception. For comparison, Josh Dobbs managed 192 yards and an interception. Kaaya had a 56 percent passing success rate.
- James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State.James Washington went off on Pitt's defense, totaling 296 receiving yards, with 231 of those coming in the first half alone. Washington is fourth in the country in receiving yards and averages 21 yards per reception.
- Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford.This was the first game where Christian McCaffrey looked like Christian McCaffrey (although that's a really high bar to meet from last year). Recording 165 yards rushing and 73 receiving, the USC defense seems to have been all he needed.
- Jabrill Peppers, LB/DB, Michigan. It almost doesn't feel honest including Jabrill Peppers in the non-skill players Lowsman Watch list considering his athletic gifts. Peppers, while always solid, didn't necessarily fill up stat sheets last year, but the move to a more linebacker/hybrid role seems to be paying off in terms of big plays. He had nine total tackles, 3.5 for a loss, and he also recorded a sack and a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown. Yes, that's right -- Michigan has a linebacker who housed a punt return. Peak Jim Harbaugh right there.
- Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State. Not to be outdone by his rival in Ann Arbor, Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker -- who is actually starting in place of the injured Dante Booker -- recorded seven tackles and 1.5 sacks, while also recording a pick-six for yet another touchdown by Ohio State's defense. The Buckeyes defense now has scored twice as many touchdowns as it has given up.
- Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M. Myles Garrett continued his excellent play by recording two sacks and two tackles for loss and the Aggies held Auburn to 4.4 yards per carry.