by Chad Peltier
This was one of the lighter weekends so far this season, which is kind of expected given that Week 12's nickname is "SoCon Saturday" because it's when SEC teams so frequently schedule opponents from the Southern Conference. We didn't get very many upsets, but there were still a few important games to dig in o before teams get ready for rivalry week.
There was one legitimately impactful game, and it was between Oklahoma State and West Virginia. After trailing 31-14 at the half, Cowboys quarterback Taylor Cornelius led three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to upset the Mountaineers 45-41.
Turnovers were pretty much the only reason that the Cowboys needed a 21-point fourth-quarter comeback at all. Oklahoma State had a solid success rate margin (56 percent to 40 percent for the game), and averaged 2.3 more points per scoring opportunity, but had a -3 turnover margin, with two of those turnovers leading to ten West Virginia points on short fields. S&P+ considered 9.3 of West Virginia's points as due to turnovers luck, and the Cowboys had a postgame win probability of 90 percent. So this was a thorough, convincing win despite the narrow scoring margin.
The Cowboys were particularly effective on the ground, ending with a 61 percent rushing success rate and both Cornelius and running back Chuba Hubbard going over 100 yards on the day (Cornelius had an insane 91 percent rushing success rate, with an equal percentage of his runs going over 4 yards).
The Cowboys' win, along with Texas' 24-10 win over Iowa State, sets up an exciting finale for the Big 12 where Oklahoma, Texas, or just-defeated West Virginia could all make the title game. Oklahoma and West Virginia play each other, with S&P+ favoring the Sooners by about 6.5 on the road, and Texas will face Kansas (S&P+ projects Texas by 19 with an 86 percent win probability). All of these teams are win-and-in. If the Longhorns beat the Jayhawks, then they will face the winner of Oklahoma-West Virginia.
However, Texas' chances may be a little hurt by an injury to Sam Ehlinger's AC joint. He was replaced by Shane Buechele, who went 10-for-10 for 89 yards against the Cyclones, but isn't the same run threat that Ehlinger is. For the season, Buechele averages 3.0 yards per completion less than Ehlinger and runs for 4 or more yards on 37.5 percent of his carries compared to Ehlinger's 57.4 percent. Ehlinger is expected to try to throw in practice again on Tuesday.
The second important game was Maryland's near-upset of Ohio State. The Terrapins aren't strangers to upsets of big-name programs (see: their opening upset of Texas), but few saw how wild this game would get. Maryland jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the first quarter thanks to a series of huge plays. Freshman running back Anthony McFarland started in place of the injured Ty Johnson, and after losing a yard on his first carry, he would score on his next two, running for 156 yards in the process. Maryland's biggest statistical advantage heading into the game was its ability to create big plays, especially on the ground -- an area which Ohio State's defense has been notably weak in this season.
Altogether, Maryland's offense would have 12 plays of 15 or more yards on the day, which was about 20 percent of their overall snaps. But it wasn't just how many explosive plays they were able to create, it was also how big they were, too -- they averaged 38 yards per explosive run and 32 yards per explosive pass. Maryland had four plays over 50 yards. Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome only completed six of 13 passes on the day, but four of the six completions were for 15 or more yards, and he averaged 30 yards per completion.
Maryland's explosive plays more than compensated for the losses they gave up, including stuffed runs on nearly a third of their carries and just a 46 percent completion rate. The explosive plays also combined with bad turnover luck for the Buckeyes -- giving about 9.2 points of turnover luck to Maryland -- to force the Ohio State offense to be as efficient as possible. But credit to Ohio State -- they had a 59 percent offensive success rate on the day, managing 10 scoring opportunities on 14 drives and 5.0 points per scoring opportunity.
With that offensive success, the Buckeyes managed to tie the game with 40 seconds left, and held on to force overtime. In overtime, Ohio State converted a gutsy fourth-and-1 pass and eventually scored. Maryland, of course, ripped off a 24-yard run on the first play of their overtime possession, scored on the next play, and then decided to go for two. Pigrome's pass was wide, ending the thrilling 52-51 game in favor of the Buckeyes. Ohio State will now meet Michigan for the Big Ten East title and playoff elimination.
The final important game of the week was Notre Dame's 36-3 win over Syracuse. This wasn't close -- Notre Dame's defense only allowed Syracuse to kick a field goal with ten seconds left in the game. Syracuse only had two scoring opportunities and a 14 percent passing success rate, piling up six sacks and 11 total tackles for loss.
The Irish weren't dominant offensively, with just a 43 percent success rate and 35 percent success rate on the ground, but took advantage of turnovers (scoring their first touchdown after an interception return to the 9-yard line) and Ian Book was again efficient through the air.
The reason why this blowout mattered in the grand scheme of things was because Syracuse was seen as having a better shot of knocking off the Fighting Irish than USC. Without a conference championship, Notre Dame will have a playoff spot locked up with a win over USC next week. (Side note: the Trojans are actually ranked higher in S&P+ than Syracuse, and have a 29 percent win probability). So despite two games with under a 50 percent postgame win probability (Michigan and Vanderbilt, both in the first three games of the season before Book took over), the Irish are likely headed to the playoff.
- ESPN decided to head down to Orlando for Central Florida vs. Cincinnati in a matchup of two of the best Group of 5 schools in the country. Central Florida won easily, 38-13, ending with a 99 percent postgame win probability despite only managing a 3 percent higher offensive success rate. The Bearcats' big problem was that they averaged only 1.8 points per scoring opportunity and only four scoring opportunities total. Quarterback Desmond Ridder improbably fumbled three times, losing all of them, which probably accounts for some of the Bearcats' poor drive efficiency. Even with the loss to Central Florida, Luke Fickell's Cincinnati is ahead of schedule, and Central Florida has done just about all it can to prove that it is elite.
- This probably got lost among the other games, but Florida State got a nice 22-21 win over Boston College. The win puts the Seminoles at 5-6, just an upset of Florida away from bowl eligibility in Willie Taggart's first year in Tallahassee. At 60th in S&P+, Boston College was the highest-rated win that Florida State has on the year. Neither team was particularly impressive, as both teams were under the national average in success rate (both rushing and passing) and in average points per scoring opportunity. Overcoming two interceptions, Deondre Francois hit Tamorrion Terry for a 74-yard touchdown with under two minutes left. The run game is also improving, with Cam Akers getting the first 100-yard game of his season (with a 50 percent success rate, too).
- Dante Smith, RB, Citadel. Dante Smith only had nine carries, but he became one of the few freshmen running backs to break the 100-yard barrier against a Nick Saban Crimson Tide defense in years. Smith finished with 130 yards and a 44 percent success rate, breaking a 45-yard run for a touchdown to tie the game at seven in the second quarter. Alabama and the Citadel were tied at ten going into the half. It wouldn't last long, as the Tide would go on to win 50-17, but Smith's explosiveness against an elite Alabama defense was awesome to see.
- Andy Isabella, WR, Massachusetts. Massachusetts faced Georgia and obviously didn't have a chance at an upset (Georgia scored touchdowns on each of its first seven possessions), but Andy Isabella helped prove that the nation's receiving yardage leader (he's at 1,698 after this week) is elite no matter what defense he faces. Isabella had 15 catches for 219 yards and a long of 75 yards against Georgia. Sure, most of those yards came in garbage time against backups, but still -- Georgia's backups are young, but also elite players.
- Alohi Gilman, S, Notre Dame. Syracuse was a popular upset pick against Notre Dame, but safety Alohi Gilman led the way for the Irish defense with two interceptions, ensuring that the Orange wouldn't come close to an upset. He was also second on the team in tackles.