One Foot Inbounds

The college football weekend in review

OFI: Can LSU Really Win SEC West?

by Chad Peltier

Week 3 was defined by four things: two top-ten upsets as LSU hit a last-second field goal to take down Auburn and BYU surprised everyone by knocking off Wisconsin; Ohio State's third-quarter comeback over TCU; and a terrible showing from most other Big Ten teams.

Let's start with LSU first. LSU won 22-21 on a last-second field goal, but this result should not be seen as a referendum on either team. For example, LSU averaged about 0.2 yards per play less than Auburn, had a -15.1 percent success rate margin, and averaged 1.5 points per scoring opportunity less than Auburn. LSU's postgame S&P+ win probability was just 17.4 percent. Auburn outpaced LSU in nearly every meaningful category -- except in total scoring opportunities (LSU had six to Auburn's four) and in turnover margin, where LSU picked off Jarrett Stidham twice.

Those two interceptions were probably enough to change the game. The first led directly to LSU's first touchdown, giving the Tigers the ball on the Auburn 34-yard line, while the other interrupted a promising Auburn drive at the end of the third quarter.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the Ohio State transfer, again completed less than 50 percent of his passes (going 15-for-34), but clustered his success well enough to still get six scoring drives out of the Tigers' offense. And his success was really, really clustered -- he went through a mid-game stretch where he completed just five of 18 passes before connecting on a 71-yard deep pass to Derrick Dillon.

The point here is that LSU is far from a sure thing despite an undoubtedly excellent win, so we have to be careful projecting them as a real challenger in the West. (S&P+ gives the Tigers just a 16 percent win probability against Alabama, along with three other projected losses.) Following the Auburn game, the Tigers' passing offense still ranks just 102nd in marginal efficiency, and second-to-last in the entire country in garbage time-adjusted completion rate (45.6 percent).

And it's a similar story for Auburn: don't count them out of the race for the West or the playoff, either. As unlikely as their win over Washington was (40 percent postgame win probability), their loss to LSU was even more unlikely (83 percent postgame win probability). They still rank 42nd in offensive S&P+ and 12th in defensive S&P+ and are built to challenge every team on their schedule despite playing four more teams ranked in the S&P+ top 12.

Second, BYU managed the biggest upset of the year to date, a 24-21 win over Wisconsin -- in Camp Randall. Unlike LSU's statistically improbable win over Auburn, BYU would be expected to win their game vs. the Badgers 65 percent of the time with the same key stats.

BYU's numbers were pedestrian. Quarterback Tanner Mangum averaged just 4.0 yards per attempt for 89 total yards. The Cougars' success rate was a fine 41.2 percent, but was 3.9 percent less than the Badgers'. But they did three key things right: Squally Canada had a 44-yard run and managed 118 rushing yards on just 11 carries; Zayne Anderson intercepted Alex Hornibrook in Badgers territory, setting up an easy 27-yard touchdown; and the defense held Jonathan Taylor to 117 yards on 26 carries with a long run of just 15 yards. Limiting Taylor, hitting a few explosive plays, and winning the turnover battle is a pretty solid way to upset Wisconsin. The Badgers are nevertheless still ranked 13th in the S&P+ and are still likely to win the Big Ten West.

Finally, Ohio State used an absolutely huge third quarter run to come back over TCU, 40-28. TCU led 14-13 at halftime, with Ohio State reliant on a defensive touchdown scored after a Nick Bosa sack-forced fumble that was recovered in the end zone. The Buckeyes hadn't scored an offensive touchdown, and actually hadn't had run a successful play in the red zone, either. TCU's aggressive defense managed to stuff 21 percent of Ohio State's runs -- and 41 percent if you include 1-yard runs, too. That's the same percentage of runs that went for 5-plus yards.

TCU's Shawn Robinson had effectively managed a great offensive game plan concocted by the Horned Frogs coaching staff, throwing multiple short outside passes to stretch a sometimes-slow-to-respond Ohio State linebacker corps that failed to maintain their gaps. The Buckeyes' Dwayne Haskins, who was excellent all night (9.1 yards per attempt with 344 total passing yards and no interceptions), was also victimized by several uncharacteristic drops from his veteran receiving corps.

But everything changed in the third quarter. Down by eight points with seven minutes left in the third, ESPN's FPI had the Buckeyes with a 34 percent win probability. Then Ohio State's Parris Campbell took a screen 63 yards for a touchdown. On the ensuing TCU possession, Robinson attempted a third-down shovel pass, which went straight into the arms of defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones, who returned it 28 yards for a pick-six. Ohio State then blocked a punt on TCU's next possession, setting up a quick 24-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Hill, who is fast confirming his stance as the Buckeyes' most reliable receiver. In just about four minutes of game time, Ohio State flipped the game script and mounted a double-digit lead that they wouldn't relinquish. ESPN's win probability changed to 93 percent in favor of the Buckeyes.

That stretch highlighted a lot of the things that make the Buckeyes elite this season: absolute game-changers on the defensive line, special teams excellence, and the best quarterback Ohio State has had in decades combined with a veteran receiving corps.

Finally, outside of Ohio State and a few others, the Big Ten had a really lousy day. You already know about Wisconsin, but Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska, Illinois, Purdue, and Northwestern all lost too. Rutgers was absolutely destroyed by Kansas 55-14 (giving the Jayhawks a winning record!), with a -3.2 yards per play margin and an astounding seven fewer scoring opportunities. Maryland showed its extreme volatility by losing to Temple 35-14 with a postgame win probability of 0.1 percent and just a 17.1 percent offensive success rate. Scott Frost's Nebraska tenure is off to a rockier start than expected, but maybe now no volatile Power 5 teams will schedule Troy. The Huskers get somewhat of a pass with quarterback Adrian Martinez out for the game and forced to start walk-on Andrew Bunch. Illinois lost to South Florida, which isn't really surprising. Purdue lost by three points to Missouri despite a postgame win probability of 60.8 percent, with quarterback David Blough throwing for 572 yards (don't ask about the Boilermakers' ground game). Finally, Northwestern dropped a game to Akron (Akron!) 39-34 in another unlikely upset. The Wildcats had twice as many scoring opportunities, but obviously failed to maximize them, with Clayton Thorson throwing two pick-sixes, one of which was in the Akron red zone. The Zips also had a fumble recovery for a touchdown. With three defensive touchdowns, what are you going to do?

TOEDRAGS

  • Alabama vs. Ole Miss was a game for all of half a quarter. The Rebels started off as good as you could hope for, with Jordan Ta'amu throwing a 75-yard touchdown to D.K. Metcalf on the first play of the game, then Alabama fumbling in their own territory on their second possession. But after their opening shot, the Rebels had two three-and-outs, a fumble, an interception, and then three more punts and turnover on downs to close out the half. Alabama would go on to win 62-7 with a 32 percent success rate margin and ten more scoring opportunities than Ole Miss. So much for that upset talk -- our Alabama overlords didn't care for that.
  • Notre Dame is winning ugly. Vanderbilt's Kyle Shurmur completed 26-of-43 passes for 326 yards (7.6 yards per attempt), but the Commodores lost 22-17. They might have won if not for one of the most bizarre plays of the week -- a Donaven Tennyson fumble at Notre Dame's 1-yard line, which was recovered by the Fighting Irish for a touchback in the end zone after both teams flailed around for the ball. All of Notre Dame's wins have been by eight points or less this season, and the Irish have already had two games with sub-50 percent postgame win expectancies (42 and 43 percent). The funny thing is that S&P+ favors the Irish in each of their remaining games, too (although they have just 9.8 cumulative projected wins).
  • Time for more "Texas is back!" jokes (Jokes? Jokes.). After scoring on two of their first three drives, the Texas defense held USC scoreless for the rest of the game by rendering the Trojans entirely one-dimensional. Lead back Stephen Carr had only six carries for 13 yards. Excluding J.T. Daniels sacks, the Trojans had 13 carries for 21 yards. Texas' ground game wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire either, but explosive passes to Lil'Jordan Humphrey, a blocked field goal return, and some timely penalties were enough for the Longhorns to win comfortably and avoid a losing record through three games. S&P+ has the Trojans averaging 6.6 cumulative projected wins.

HONOR ROLL

  • Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State. In his first real test as a starter, Dwayne Haskins was both efficient and explosive, averaging 9.1 yards per attempt. In six big games last season with J.T. Barrett at the helm, Ohio State averaged a 36 percent passing success rate. Haskins had a 47 percent success rate against a strong TCU defense. He also averaged 9.1 yards per attempt compared to Barrett's 6.1.
  • James Proche, WR, SMU. Michigan has consistently had one of the best defenses in the country under Don Brown, but James Proche lit up the Wolverines for 11 catches and 166 yards, including a 50-yarder, in a losing effort. All other SMU receivers combined for eight catches for 43 yards.

LOWSMAN WATCH

  • Jordan Brailford, DE, Oklahoma State (and the rest of the Cowboys defense). Boise State was actually favored at kickoff, but special teams and an incredible successful Cowboys defense harassed Brett Rypien all night. Jordan Brailford led the charge with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, but five players had at least half a sack as the team combined for seven.
  • Dre'Mont Jones, DL, Ohio State. We already detailed how Dre'Mont Jones' pick-six was an absolute game-changer for the Buckeyes. But it's also worth mentioning that Jones stepped up with a sack and interception after Nick Bosa left the game with an injury.

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