by Chad Peltier
This was maybe the best week so far in 2018 for top-15 shakeups. None of the results were toosurprising based on the Vegas spreads or S&P+ projections: S&P+ had Florida by 1.8, Auburn by 0.9, Kentucky by 0.5, and Stanford by 5.0, so Texas' win against 11.8-point favorite Oklahoma was really the only surprising result as far as the numbers are concerned.
But this was a good week to pick up your first loss and/or shake up key national and conference races. Florida handed LSU its first loss, resuming the Tigers' concerns about Ed Orgeron. Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead got his first signature win over an offense-less Auburn. Texas A&M gave Jimbo Fisher his first big win over previously undefeated Kentucky. Utah gave Stanford a second loss. Maybe most importantly, the Longhorns knocked off Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown.
Let's start with Texas' 48-45 win at Red River. You probably know that Texas kicked a 40-yard field goal in the final ten seconds to win, but how did they get there? The Longhorns were in control of the game for most of the day, and were up by three touchdowns with under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. But Lincoln Riley's Sooners mounted a furious comeback, scoring touchdowns on three straight drives -- ten total plays, 178 total yards, 3:16 of game time -- to tie it up with under three minutes left in the game. Sam Ehlinger then had to lead a 52-yard drive for a game-winning field goal using the same offensive formula that had gotten Texas the lead -- efficient passing and steady running.
On the whole, everything about the stats suggested that Oklahoma should have won -- they averaged 2.5 more yards per play, had a +11 percent success rate margin, and averaged 0.43 more points per scoring opportunity (6.43). The only problems were two turnovers that gave the Longhorns the ball in Sooners territory, leading to ten points. Texas had a 9 percent postgame S&P+ win probability.
Texas, with a sole loss to Maryland, sits on top of the Big 12. Oklahoma's loss increases the Big 12's risk of missing the playoff, especially if Notre Dame remains undefeated -- but we've still got half a season of football to go.
LSU was the other notable team to pick up its first loss, after climbing to fifth in the AP poll with wins over Auburn and Miami this season (although those two teams lost to Mississippi State and almost lost to Florida State this week, so maybe those wins are decreasing in value). But with Joe Burrow clinging to a 53.9 percent completion rate and running backs Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire averaging less than 5 yards per carry, you also got the sense that the Tigers were living at the top of the rankings on borrowed time.
It would be tough to argue that Florida's eight-point win was dominant. The Gators first drive of the second half started with a 49-yard pass to Josh Hammond and a defensive personal foul penalty that gave Florida the ball on the LSU 13, but quarterback Feleipe Franks threw an interception on the next play to bail the Tigers out. Franks completed just 12-of-27 pass attempts, averaging just 6 yards per pass, and the two main running backs combined for 31 carries for 150 yards, which isn't exactly lighting the world on fire.
Florida was marginally better on offense overall, averaging about half a yard per play better and a 3 percent higher success rate. That small margin between the two offenses ensured a close game, which it was until the final two minutes. LSU took over on their own 12-yard line (thanks to the play of the game, a 61-yard punt) with exactly two minutes left and down by eight, but Joe Burrow ended two drives with interceptions, the first of which was a pick-six, to seal the game in Florida's favor.
In the seemingly endless rotation of teams that could (theoretically) challenge Georgia for the SEC East, Kentucky's loss and Florida's win mean that the Wildcats and Gators probably have similar odds of upsetting the Bulldogs over the next month.
Speaking of Kentucky, the Wildcats picked up their first loss of the season (20-14 in overtime) and Jimbo Fisher added his first win over a ranked team at Texas A&M following relatively competitive showings against Clemson and Alabama. The Aggies eked out the win in overtime following a dominant defensive effort. Out of Kentucky's 12 offensive possessions, they only managed two scoring opportunities but six three-and-outs, had just a 30 percent success rate, and averaged 3.6 yards per play. Benny Snell was held to just 13 carries for 60 yards. And one of Kentucky's scores was a fumble recovery for a touchdown, too. Despite Snell becoming somewhat of a household name in September, Kentucky's surprising start was always built on defense, which ranked third in defensive S&P+, while the offense was 90th heading in to the game against the Aggies, so it shouldn't be all that surprising that a team finally made them pay for their lackluster offensive production.
Speaking of lackluster offensive production: Auburn! The Tigers, who lost 23-9 to Mississippi State, are kind of Kentucky-prime in that they're all defense and no offense (first in defensive S&P+ and 93rd in offensive S&P+ before playing Mississippi State). This is surprising considering a lot of NFL folks think Jarett Stidham is a future first-rounder and he's got Gus Malzhan as his coach. But the Tigers have had a lackluster run game. Freshman JaTarvious Whitlow has looked like The Guy at times, and had a team-leading 88 yards on just eight carries (including a 41-yarder), but maybe part of the problem was that Auburn backs had just 16 total carries, while Stidham had 38 pass attempts at 5.6 yards per pass.
Auburn's big problem (besides the fact that they had just a 34 percent success rate) was converting scoring opportunities into points. They had six scoring opportunities, which equaled Mississippi State's, but averaged only 1.5 points per opportunity. Those failed scoring opportunities included a missed field goal, a goal-line fumble, and two drives that ended on downs.
For the Bulldogs' part, they still are decidedly not a passing team -- Nick Fitzgerald had 69 total passing yards (4.1 per attempt) with an interception -- but give credit to Moorhead for figuring out what would work and then just calling it over and over again. Fitzgerald paced the team with 195 rushing yards while running back Kylin Hill contributed 126 of his own, and combined they had 51 carries. Mississippi State also only allowed one negative play to the Auburn defense, which is kind of astounding.
Finally, Utah upset 14th-ranked Stanford in a big way, 40-21. The Cardinal was without Bryce Love, so Trevor Speights (17 carries, 56 rushing yards) was the primary run game instead. Stanford hasn't been great running the ball all year, but K.J. Costello has still made defenses pay for loading the box against the run. He had a strong day against the Utes, throwing for 381 yards (9.3 yards per attempt) with three hundred-yard receivers. But all of those yards don't count for much when Utah shuts you down in the red zone -- Stanford averaged just 3.0 points per scoring opportunity compared to Utah's 6.6. They were nearly equal in all other aspects of the game, at least on a per-play basis: Stanford only had 2 more total yards, averaged about half a yard per play less than Utah, and had a one percentage point higher success rate, while also creating two more scoring opportunities. So Costello's two red zone interceptions (one of which was a pick-six) were brutal.
- Notre Dame has probably passed its toughest test of the season with a 45-23 win over the Hokies in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech played it close for a half (17-16 at the break), but then Notre Dame erupted for 28 second-half points to pull away. Ian Book continues to be a revelation for the Fighting Irish, but the game ball probably goes to running back Dexter Williams, who had 17 carries for 178 yards, including a 97-yarder. According to ESPN, the Irish now have a 62 percent chance of making the playoff. None of Notre Dame's remaining opponents are currently ranked in the AP Poll, and 3-2 USC is the highest-ranked in the S&P+, at 37th.
- Just looking at the box score might have you convinced that Florida State is starting to figure some things out on offense. They lost by one point to Miami after the Hurricanes scored three second-half touchdowns, but still, 27 points against a top-15 S&P+ Miami defense is good, right? Well, the Seminoles still averaged just 3.1 yards per play with 200 total yards and had a 26 percent success rate.
- Kind of lost in the shuffle, but Michigan State picked up a second loss this weekend too, losing 29-19 to Northwestern. The Wildcats' Clayton Thorson piled up 373 passing yards despite Northwestern's complete inability to run -- seriously, they had 8 total rushing yards! The Spartans actually outgained Northwestern and had the same offensive success rate, though, at 37 percent.
- J.D. Spielman, WR, Nebraska. Cue Solid Verbal's "In a Losing Effort" music here. J.D. Spielman had nine catches for 209 yards against Wisconsin. Nebraska may be 0-5, but the combination of Spielman, freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez, and Stanley Morgan Jr. is at least a solid base to build on offensively. This "in a losing effort" shoutout could also go to UCLA's freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who went 27-for-38 for 272 passing yards against Washington for the winless Bruins.
- Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas. We can joke (It's still sarcastic, right? Maybe not?) that Texas is back, but at least they do seem to have a solid quarterback for the first time since Colt McCoy. Sam Ehlinger completed 69 percent of his passes for 314 yards (9 yards per attempt) and ran 19 times for 72 yards.
- Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State. Dwayne Haskins threw for 455 yards (10.3 yards per attempt) against Indiana, which was 3 yards shy of the school record. Haskins is on pace to obliterate school passing records, and he's completing passes to pretty much whoever lines up wide -- six different receivers had at least 40 receiving yards. The Hoosiers are a top-40 defense, too.
- Jachai Polite, DL, Florida. Jachai Polite had two sacks, a pass defensed, and a QB hurry against LSU. He now has six sacks on the season, which is tied for eighth in the country.