by Chad Peltier
This was a balanced week, highlighted by important conference wins for Georgia, Washington State, and Penn State, as well as upset losses by Texas, Miami, Washington, Oregon, and Wisconsin.
Let's start with the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The WLOCP had four main storylines heading into the game. First, how would Georgia respond to their first loss of the season to LSU, especially when Florida had more momentum, having surpassed expectations in Dan Mullen's first season? Second, how would Jake Fromm perform after a 47.1 percent completion rate and 6.1 yards per attempt performance against LSU? Third, which team would have more success on the ground? Georgia had the better rushing offense heading in to the game, but Florida had a much better rushing defense, too. And finally, would third-and-Grantham be a thing this year?
Both teams found success early on, with Georgia driving 71 yards but stalling at the Florida 4-yard line and settling for a field goal. Florida would have more sustained success early, with a 50 percent offensive success rate on their first three possessions, including one touchdown drive, but their first two drives ended in turnovers thanks to Georgia's incredibly opportunistic defense. Mel Tucker's defense plays bend-don't-break, requiring opponents to sustain long drives without allowing explosive plays, even if it is relatively inefficient on the ground on a per-play basis. The Bulldogs couple that bend-don't-break style with an ability to create turnover opportunities relatively consistently -- Georgia's defense has created turnovers on their opponents' first or second possession in five of their eight games so far this season, with all leading to points.
Florida would open the second half with a three-play touchdown drive that started in Georgia territory, but that would be their last touchdown of the day. To that point, Florida had 210 total yards, a 50 percent offensive success rate, a 64 percent opportunity rate on the ground, and two touchdown drives in six possessions. With the Gators' success on the ground, it seemed like the only things preventing Florida from taking the lead were the turnovers on their first two drives. But the Gators would add just 78 more yards for the rest of the game, averaging 3.5 yards per play and a 23 percent success rate.
In contrast, Georgia scored three more touchdowns, aided by explosive passes to half of the receiving corps and both tight ends, an elite performance by sophomore receiver Jeremiah Holloman (who caught two touchdowns from Fromm on fade routes), and explosive runs from D'Andre Swift of 21 and 33 yards (one for a touchdown).
The most surprising thing about Georgia's day was probably the "third-and-Grantham" storyline, which is a Bulldogs joke about former Georgia and current Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's blitz-heavy defenses that gave up a few too many third-down explosive plays. The Bulldogs did much better on third down than Florida, converting 57 percent overall, but even more surprising was that Georgia scored all four of its touchdowns on third down, with three of them coming on third-and-5 or more. According to Pro Football Focus, Jake Fromm was 10-of-12 for 121 yards when blitzed against Florida -- a sharp departure from his performance against LSU. The Gators only managed a single sack early in the game. While the run game managed a few critical explosive runs, Fromm had a 56 percent passing success rate to Georgia's 35 percent rushing success rate (although their rushing success numbers were hurt by their goal-line failures).
Georgia still has plenty of room to grow -- the play calling was occasionally weird, Georgia's tackling was a little lax on Florida running backs Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett, and Florida held Georgia to a field goal on a six-play goal-line stand -- but Georgia also proved that they absolutely belong in the playoff conversation. Next week's game against Kentucky will essentially be for the SEC East title.
Speaking of the Wildcats, they needed an 81-yard drive with 1:24 left, which included a final untimed play following a controversial pass interference call, to preserve their 7-1 record. The Missouri defense held Benny Snell Jr. to 3.5 yards per carry, but the Tigers couldn't manage better than a 26 percent offensive success rate or three scoring opportunities on 12 possessions.
The second big game of the week was Washington State's last-minute 38-35 win over Stanford, giving the Pac-12 just one one-loss team (and playoff hope!). This was a back-and-forth game that was ultimately decided by Washington State's go-ahead field goal with 19 seconds left.
The Cougars' statistical margins were small across the board. Both teams managed to create a scoring opportunity on 64 percent of their drives, and they had similar success finishing those drives, too -- the Cougars averaged 5.9 points per opportunity to Stanford's 5.4. Stanford's 1-yard field position advantage wasn't a factor, and the Cardinal averaged only a 3 percent higher offensive success rate (58 percent) than the Cougars. The game really might have been decided by a Washington State strip sack from Peyton Pelleur, which gave Washington State the ball in the red zone and led directly to the Cougars' second touchdown of the game.
This was definitely Mike Leach's brand of football, with both teams combining for just 179 rushing yards, but throwing a combined 93 times for 761 yards. Quarterbacks Gardner Minshew and K.J. Costello were both efficient, completing at least 79 percent of their passes for 8.8 and 7.5 yards per attempt respectively, with no interceptions. According to Ivan Maisel, Minshew, who is an East Carolina grad transfer, went 24-of-27 for 237 yards just in the second half.
One of the most surprising results of the week was Oklahoma State's big upset over Texas. The Longhorns were liked a lot more by AP voters (sixth) than the numbers, ranking 32nd in the F/+ entering the weekend (which put them third in the state behind both Texas A&M and Texas Tech!). And Tom Herman's Longhorns are almost too predictable: Texas won big tests against then-ranked USC, TCU, and Oklahoma, but lost to unranked Maryland and Oklahoma State, while only beating Tulsa by a touchdown, Kansas State by five, and Baylor by six. And now that we know a little more about 4-4 USC and 3-5 TCU, even those two signature wins look a little hollow. Scientists are likely to spend the next few decades trying to understand why the Longhorns can't get up for a game unless they're the perceived underdogs.
The Cowboys mounted a 17-point first-half lead, but the Longhorns clawed back thanks to some efficient passing from Sam Ehlinger. The two teams had equal success rates of 57 percent, and Texas was much better finishing drives than Oklahoma State, averaging a touchdown per opportunity to the Cowboys' 4.8 points per opportunity, but Texas also had three fewer scoring opportunities overall. A late touchdown with just under two minutes left led to a failed Texas onside kick and the end of the Longhorns' comeback attempt.
The Big 12 is wide open now, with Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia all tied with one conference loss, but 3-2 Iowa State is within striking distance too. West Virginia's place in the Big 12 should be solidified soon, since they play Texas next week and Oklahoma at the end of the regular season (setting up a potential rematch in the conference title game just a week later!).
Finally, Penn State outlasted Iowa thanks to a late interception to preserve their 30-24 lead. This was almost the Hawkeyes' most perfect upset win though. Two of Penn State's first four drives ended with safeties (seriously, how many multiple-safety games are there per year?), and Iowa got a pick-six with ten minutes left to cut the lead to three.
It also would have been an extremely lucky Iowa upset (you call it luck, Iowa calls it "opportunistic," I guess), because Penn State had -2.1 turnover luck despite both teams turning the ball over twice. Basically, based on the number of passes defensed by Penn State (and how often those typically turn in to interceptions) and Iowa's fumbles (three, and they recovered all of them), the Nittany Lions would have been expected to score around ten more points than they did, since turnovers are worth around five points or so.
Penn State's win, along with Northwestern's upset over Wisconsin, puts the Wildcats at the top of the Big Ten West, but with three teams (Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue) right behind at 3-2 in conference. The Hawkeyes have a head-to-head loss to the Badgers, but can move ahead of Purdue and Northwestern with games the next two weeks. (Northwestern also hosts Notre Dame next week, so the Wildcats have the potential to extend their chaos behind the Big Ten West.) Wisconsin still has Penn State and Purdue on the schedule.
- It was a big week for the two Arizona schools, and a bad one for traditional Pac-12 powers USC and Oregon, who lost to Arizona State and Arizona, respectively. Arizona's win over Oregon was no fluke -- they had a 98.6 percent postgame S&P+ win probability -- but USC's 35-38 loss was a little more unlucky, since they actually had a 69.0 percent postgame win probability. Oregon's Justin Herbert was held to just 3.9 yards per pass attempt with an interception. Maybe even worse, he was the team's leading rusher with 31 yards. And someone from Arizona besides Khalil Tate had a monster day running the ball, as J.J. Taylor had 30 carries for 212 yards. Taylor wasn't the only Arizona running back with a huge day, as the Sun Devils' Eno Benjamin ran 29 times for 185 yards against the Trojans.
- Just a quick reminder that Clemson is a Death Star. The Tigers beat Florida State by the widest margin in the series so far, 59-10, and didn't break a sweat doing it. Trevor Lawrence posted another 300-yard passing day without an interception, and the defense totaled 14 tackles for loss and five sacks. Five Tigers receivers made an explosive play. Florida State's two running backs, both former five-star prospects, combined for 18 carries for 24 yards. S&P+ has the Tigers winning out, with the smallest projected margin still over two touchdowns (to Boston College). They can go ahead and book their playoff tickets.
- One of the more interesting upsets was Mississippi State knocking off 16th-ranked Texas A&M 28-13 behind a dominant defensive effort. The Aggies had just a 29 percent offensive success rate and averaged only 1.9 points per scoring opportunity, with the Bulldogs' front seven in complete control of the game.
- Some other shoutouts for upsets: Kansas picked up their third win over the year despite a 4.0 percent postgame win expectancy; Houston piled up 682 yards on South Florida to remove the Bulls from the short list of undefeated teams; Syracuse scored 51 on North Carolina State to knock them out of the AP top 25; Iowa State stayed ahead of Texas Tech despite a -8.0 percent success rate margin due to creating twice as many scoring opportunities and going +2 in turnovers; and Oregon State beat Colorado for their second win of the year despite just a 15 percent postgame S&P+ win probability (remember when the Buffaloes were undefeated just three weeks ago?).
- Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia. Jake Fromm was critical to Georgia's win over Florida, going 17-of-24 for 240 yards, just a week after one of his worst performances in a year and a half at Georgia. We've already detailed his excellence against the Florida pass rush, but it's worth noting that Fromm's passing-downs success has declined a little bit from last season. Last year Fromm completed 27-of-48 passes on third-and-7 or more, getting the first down on 17 of those attempts (35 percent). Against Florida, he converted five of seven third-down passing attempts, while running for two more conversions. As previously mentioned, all of Georgia's touchdowns came on third down, with three of them through the air. Georgia is now up to 15th in passing downs S&P+, and Fromm is 13-of-25 on third-and-long passes this year, getting the first down at a similar rate (36 percent of the time).
- Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State. Taylor Cornelius completed 23 pass attempts against Texas, and 10 of them were to Tylan Wallace (on 17 attempts!). Wallace totaled 222 receiving yards (22.2 yards per catch). Wallace is fourth in the country in receiving yards per game, with 117.5.
- Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State. The sophomore defensive end totaled two sacks and four tackles for loss, along with a team-leading eight tackles against Iowa. Gross-Matos is now tied for 14th in tackles for loss in the country.