by Chad Peltier
The easiest thing to say about Wisconsin's last-second loss to Illinois, which was the biggest upset of the season since the Illini were 30.5-point underdogs, is that the Badgers were looking ahead to their big game next weekend against Ohio State. That may have been true, but it still doesn't do justice to the actual things that went wrong in this game, or give credit to Lovie Smith's Illini team that has been better than their 2-4 record would suggest. Let's go through each of the main issues for the Badgers.
The biggest problem for Wisconsin was their inability to get touchdowns out of scoring opportunities. The Illini successfully slowed the Badgers down on a per-play basis, holding them to a 38.7% success rate, including just a 31.7% rushing success rate, but the main problem was that Wisconsin managed just two touchdowns on eight (eight!) scoring opportunities (which is a drive that goes into your opponent's 40-yard line). Wisconsin had just a 32.3% success rate inside the Illini 40. Those scoring opportunities included (among others) field goal attempts from the Illini 6- and 2-yard lines and a fumble at the Illini 31. That doesn't even include the Badgers' midfield interception with under three minutes to play that allowed for the Illini to attempt their game-winning field goal.
Second, as Banner Society's Bud Elliott said before the game, the average SP+ rating of offenses that Wisconsin had faced this season was 94th. There's no denying that the Badgers' defense had been dominant with four shutouts, but they had not been tested by an elite unit. I'd argue that Illinois' average offense means that they still haven't really been tested, but the Illini were still able to create some explosive plays against the Badgers. On a per-play basis, Illinois was abysmal, with a 30.9% success rate (just 25% through the air!). But they managed a 20% explosiveness rate, meaning that two-thirds of their successful plays were also explosive. Those explosive plays included a 48-yard pass to Donny Navarro for Illinois' first points, a 43-yard run for their second touchdown, and a four-play, 75-yard drive that had three explosive plays to get the Illini within two points halfway through the fourth quarter.
Despite some obvious holes emerging in the Badgers' resume (besides, you know, the loss), I still wouldn't be so quick to completely write off Bucky's chances next weekend against Ohio State. The Buckeyes defense has been fantastic this year, but they, like Wisconsin, have not yet faced an elite offense.
A less consequential (but nearly as surprising) top-25 upset was Vanderbilt's 21-14 win over Missouri. Vanderbilt picked up just their second win of the season against the then-SEC East-leading Tigers thanks to stellar play from quarterback Mo Hasan. Hasan had taken over the starting job from Riley Neal and had averaged 10.9 yards per pass against a Missouri defense that ranked 13th in defensive SP+ heading into the weekend. However, the win was really driven by the Vanderbilt defense, which held Kelly Bryant to a 27.5% passing success rate and a 26.3% success rate inside the Vanderbilt 40-yard line. And while Ke'hawn Vaughn and the Vanderbilt run game were held to a 36.5% rushing success rate, Vaughn came up big in the passing game with a 61-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Missouri still has a shot at the SEC East (with back-to-back games against Georgia and Florida looming) while Vanderbilt will likely have to beat South Carolina, Kentucky, East Tennessee State, and Tennessee to get bowl eligible.
Elsewhere, after Penn State went up 21-0 midway through the second quarter thanks to a beautiful drop-in pass to K.J. Hamler, the Banner Society Slack erupted with jokes about who Michigan's next coach would be after Jim Harbaugh was inevitably fired. Harbaugh's halftime quote citing Winston Churchill and Michigan's upcoming "finest hour" only seemed to make things worse.
But to the Wolverines' credit, they inched their way back into the game thanks to a balanced mix of Zach Charbonnet and Shea Patterson along with a defense that finally slowed down the Nittany Lions. After allowing touchdowns on three of the Nittany Lions' first five possessions, Don Brown's defense tightened up, forcing five straight punts and ultimately holding the Nittany Lions to a 27.7% success rate overall. In fact, outside of Ricky Slade's single 44-yard run, Penn State couldn't get anything going on the ground, and no one outside of Hamler managed to do much through the air. Michigan almost forced overtime in the final minutes thanks to a 44-yard drive to the Penn State 3-yard line, but back-to-back incompletions ended what would have been a heroic comeback. Things don't get any easier for the Wolverines now, with Notre Dame up next weekend.
Oregon's playoff hopes survived thanks to a comeback win over Washington in the most critical Pac-12 game yet. Both offenses were fairly efficient all night, with the Huskies actually holding a +5.6% success rate margin, but with both offenses above the national average in efficiency. Jacob Eason had one of his best games with the Huskies yet, throwing for 289 yards (8.9 yards per pass attempt, including sacks) against a very good Oregon defense, but two things stand out for the Ducks' win. First, Oregon was incredibly efficient when it mattered most. The Ducks scored touchdowns on five of six scoring opportunities, and they had a 63.6% success rate inside the Washington 40 despite just a 42.8% success rate overall. And the Oregon defense held the Huskies to a 21.4% success rate in the fourth quarter despite allowing the Huskies to average over double that (48.4%) for the game.
The Ducks now have an outside shot at the playoff, although they have few opportunities to really impress the committee. It is possible that they may not play a ranked team for the rest of the season since No. 17 Arizona State was held to three points in a loss to Utah this week.
- Ohio State has demolished everyone they have faced this season. But a weird Friday night game on the road against a tough Northwestern defense could have at least been squirrely for the Buckeyes. Instead, Ohio State won 52-3, demolishing any chance of a third straight season with an upset loss to an unranked Big Ten West team. The Buckeyes were actually slowed on offense, with the Wildcats stuffing a fifth of the Buckeyes' runs (a season high by far), but Justin Fields was efficient through the air (53.8% passing success rate) and every Buckeyes running back got a 50-plus-yard run (including Master Teague's 73-yarder for a touchdown). Northwestern's quarterbacks were held to an 18% passing success rate with two interceptions.
- Speaking of poor passing games, Georgia and Kentucky combined for 52 passing yards! Despite Jake Fromm completing nine passes! Georgia fans' anxieties about the low-margins offensive scheme were only heightened by a(nother) conservative game plan in a drenched Sanford Stadium. D'Andre Swift's 179 rushing yards were nice, but Georgia's passing game was poor even acknowledging the limitations from the weather (Kentucky didn't complete a pass until midway through the fourth quarter).
- Another upset: BYU took down Boise State 28-25, showing that apparently the Cougars can only win their biggest games -- BYU's three wins are against Boise State, Tennessee, and USC. BYU's third quarter was decisive, with the Cougars scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions (on a combined 11 plays, four of which were over 25 yards) of the second half.
- We almost got another huge upset, but Texas managed a last-second field goal to top Kansas 50-48. This was a fairly normal (although tied at 24) game heading into the fourth quarter when both offenses exploded (or the defenses imploded) for a combined 50 points. Texas allowed Kansas a 51.3% rushing success rate despite the fact that the Jayhawks ran on 80% of standard downs.
- Tavien Feaster, RB, South Carolina. The Clemson transfer totaled 175 rushing yards on 25 carries in a workhorse effort for the Gamecocks, who had upset potential for a second week. The Gamecocks had 17.5% of their runs go for 10 or more yards against Florida's defense.
- Charlie Brewer, QB, Baylor. We haven't talked a lot about Baylor despite the fact that they are 7-0 and just beat Oklahoma State 45-27. That will change soon with Oklahoma and Texas back-to-back in a few weeks, but for now it's worth admiring the fact that Charlie Brewer threw for 312 yards on just 13 (of 17) completions, including three receivers with 60-plus-yard receptions. Baylor running back JaMycal Hasty also had a 73-yard touchdown run to fill out the Bears' explosive day.
- James McCourt, K, Illinois. James McCourt kicked the Illini's game-winning field goal in the closing seconds of their win over Wisconsin after missing an attempt earlier in the game. The Illini bench rushed the field and had McCourt on their shoulders for one of the best moments of the season so far. We'll also give a shoutout to Badgers defender Chris Orr, who recorded three sacks on the day and led the team in tackles.