One Foot Inbounds
The college football weekend in review

OFI: Clemson Loses, But Does It Matter?

Clemson Tigers vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Week 10 featured four matchups between ranked teams, two with substantial playoff implications. Equally as important, Week 10 also welcomed back the Pac-12 to regular-season play; the scenarios we've been analyzing and theorizing about for months are finally coming to fruition, and the race for the College Football Playoff has never been more uncertain. Who were the big winners this week? Let's dive in.

When No. 4 Clemson traveled to No. 7 Notre Dame on Saturday, expectations for the matchup were sky-high. This game featured the best two teams in the ACC, in prime time, with playoff stakes on the line. Notre Dame edged Clemson out in the second overtime 47-40, and the matchup was about as even as possible: Notre Dame averaged 0.076 EPA/play to Clemson's 0.023, and the Irish were successful on 35.8% of plays compared to the Tigers' 39.5% success rate. Notre Dame outgained Clemson 6.48 to 6.06 yards per play on the day, mostly through the air. The Fighting Irish rushed on 55% of their early downs but were successful in rushing 30% of the time. Outside of running back Kyren Williams' long of 65 yards, the sophomore rushed for just 3.2 yards per carry. Williams had three touchdowns on the day, one on the explosive run and two in overtime, as Notre Dame relied on their big men and the effort of Williams to score twice on a short field in the extra frame. In the passing game, Notre Dame senior Ian Book threw for 300 yards for the second time this season, the fourth time in the last two seasons, completing only 56% of his passes but averaging 13 yards per completion. Book found Javon McKinley and Avery Davis for longs of 53 and 45 on the day, and Notre Dame averaged a +0.226 EPA/pass. They scored only one touchdown through the air, but 60% of their yards came through the pass, despite an almost even 50-50 split of rushes and passes throughout the game.

Clemson's offense, a relatively uncertain commodity with future first-round draft pick Trevor Lawrence sitting out due to COVID-related issues, performed almost exactly the opposite of how you'd expect. Star running back Travis Etienne was a non-factor in the game, averaging 1.5 yards per play. The Clemson offense had a 23% rushing success rate, averaging 2.9 yards per rush on first and second downs, and a -0.419 rushing EPA. But freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei completed 66% of his passes, averaging 15.1 yards per completion and throwing for two touchdowns. His favorite target was Amari Rodgers, who caught eight balls for 133 yards, and Uiagalelei connected well with Etienne in the pass game -- seven targets for 7.1 yards per completion. On the whole, the passing offense seemed not to miss a beat, averaging a +0.438 EPA/pass and a 51.2% success rate.

The story of this game comes down to turnovers. Etienne lost a fumble that Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah returned for a touchdown, and the very next drive, Uiagalelei completed a pass to Rodgers, whose fumble set up a field goal for the Irish. Those two consecutive drives gave Notre Dame a 10-point swing, which turned out to be decisive: outside of those three drives, Clemson outscored Notre Dame 33-23. The Tigers almost had the game wrapped up regardless -- after a Notre Dame turnover on downs, Clemson took over at their own 47 with 2:09 left on the clock, up by a touchdown. Clemson ran three plays, failing to get a first down to ice the game and at forcing Notre Dame to use their timeouts. Book and Notre Dame subsequently marched 91 yards to send the game to overtime.

In terms of the big picture, this game's result probably goes only one way -- Notre Dame gets a quality win and sufficiently bolsters their playoff resume, while Clemson more or less gets a pass due to Lawrence's absence. The teams will almost certainly meet again in the ACC Championship Game with the playoff on the line, or perhaps the chance for both teams to get a bid. The Irish and Tigers have relatively light schedules going forward -- neither face a team currently ranked for the rest of the year -- and will surely be scheming and planning for the almost inevitable rematch.


Elsewhere in games that shaped the playoff picture, No. 5 Florida faced No. 6 Georgia in an SEC East and College Football Playoff elimination match, with Florida pulling off the 44-28 win. Both the Gators and Bulldogs had a loss already this season, and the winner of this matchup pulls into the driver's seat for the division title with the easier part of their schedule ahead of them. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask was stellar in the matchup -- four passing touchdowns, a 70% completion rate, and 474 yards. Trask averaged 15.8 yards per completion, completely picking apart the Georgia defense in the second quarter. Florida and Trask relied heavily on Kadarius Toney, who caught seven balls for 42 yards, and Malike Davis, who caught each of his five targets and averaged 20 yards a reception. The Gators averaged +0.398 EPA/pass and a 54.5% success rate for the game; in the second quarter, the Gators averaged 19 yards per early-down pass, a 78.5% success rate, and an EPA of +1.068 per pass, which even includes a Trask pick-six. After that play, Trask went 10-of-11 with three touchdowns and the Gators never looked back.

Georgia's defense more or less stifled the Florida rushing attack, but it was a game of "pick your poison." Although the Bulldogs held Florida to a rushing EPA/play of -0.151, the Gators still scored 3.1 points per drive. Georgia's defense gave the offense plenty of opportunity to come back in the second half -- a dropped interception that surely would've resulted in a touchdown could have pulled the game within six, but Georgia's offensive woes ultimately hamstrung their entire effort. The Bulldogs passed for just 112 yards on the day, completing only nine passes and throwing three interceptions. A switch from Stetson Bennett to D'Wan Mathis at quarterback did little to get the offense going. Outside of a Zamir White 65-yard touchdown on the first play of the game, Georgia was outgained 3.74 to 7.13 on a per-play basis. The Bulldogs scored quick touchdowns on consecutive drives to start the game, then punted or turned the ball over on 10 of their next 11 drives.

Florida, whose only loss was to Texas A&M, all but has the SEC East wrapped up. They'll play Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and LSU before they face Alabama in the playoff eliminator. Georgia falls to two losses, but they have bigger concerns on their horizon -- JT Daniels is evidently still injured, and the quarterback room is otherwise untenable. With some help, Georgia could still get to the SEC Championship Game, but it's extremely unlikely -- they'll spend the rest of their season trying to figure out the offense.


The third matchup of ranked teams featured No. 25 Indiana beating No. 16 Michigan 38-21. The Hoosiers, now 3-0, outgained Michigan 6.87 to 5.22 yards per play and converted on 11 of 20 (55%) of third- and fourth-down conversions, while holding the Wolverines to just 3-of-11 (27%). Michigan punted on six of its seven first half-drives as Indiana went up 24-10. The Wolverines averaged -0.230 EPA/play in the first half and just 18 yards per drive. Michigan quarterback Joe Milton struggled even as he completed 53% of his passes for 344 yards. He threw two interceptions, was sacked three times, and had 11 yards on two scrambles, with no designed quarterback runs. Indiana won the line of scrimmage, took away the rush (13% rushing success rate for Michigan), and made Milton try and win with his arm. Receiver Ronnie Bell showed up big, averaging 24.8 yards per reception on the day, but Michigan had four drops. Milton's two interceptions came in the last two make-or-break drives, and Michigan just couldn't keep up with a suddenly red-hot Indiana.

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw for three touchdowns in the first half, completing 60% of his passes, and running back Stevie Scott added 97 yards on the ground, rushing for 4 yards a carry. Indiana's longest play on the day was a 35-yard pass to Ty Fryfogle, indicating an astounding efficiency rather than explosiveness. The Hoosiers were successful on 42% of their passes and averaged +0.128 EPA/play in the game. Receiver Whop Phylor added 11 receptions and 79 yards in the game as well. Indiana continued to play their particular brand of consistent football, taking turnovers when they can and stalling opponents on third down. With division foes Penn State and Michigan in their rearview mirror, Tom Allen's team is looking at a special season behind Penix and Co.


Across the Nation

  • No. 1 Ohio State is in full "get to the playoff mode," coasting to a 35-3 lead against No. 87 Rutgers and then taking their foot off the gas. Don't be fooled by the 49-27 final margin -- Justin Fields completed 86% of his passes and threw for five touchdowns in the rout.
     
  • It was a quiet day for more than a few top teams. No. 19 Texas A&M averaged +0.325 EPA/play in a 48-3 stomping of No. 65 South Carolina. In the Pac-12, No. 14 Oregon cruised past No. 45 Stanford 35-14, averaging a 54% success rate and converting 80% of their third-down attempts. No. 18 Iowa State survived disaster, coming back from a 21-7 deficit against No. 47 Baylor. Quarterback Brock Purdy struggled, throwing three interceptions and averaging only +0.009 EPA/play.
     
  • It's probably time to start talking about No. 29 Texas again. After a 17-13 win over No. 34 West Virginia, Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns are in a very good position to play themselves into the conference championship game. Running back Bijan Robinson averaged 9.4 yards per carry and linebacker Juwan Mitchell had nine combined tackles on the day. Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Doege, after looking good early in the season, averaged only 6.3 yards per completion against Texas.
     
  • No. 9 Cincinnati handled No. 60 Houston 38-10, moving to a perfect 6-0. Cincinnati, behind 184 rushing yards from Gerrid Doaks and another night of excellent defense, outgained Houston 7.39 to 4.54 yards per play. The Bearcats sit atop the race for the NY6 Bowl slot, but also in a very weird year, are more than a fringe playoff contender.
     
  • No. 12 BYU and quarterback Zach Wilson kept their undefeated streak alive. The Cougars averaged +0.382 EPA/play in beating No. 26 Boise State 51-17 on Friday night. Wilson completed 77% of his passes and the Cougars had five rushing touchdowns.
     
  • No. 49 Coastal Carolina handled No. 110 South Alabama 23-6 and are the only unbeaten team in the Sun Belt Conference. The Chanticleers and quarterback Grayson McCall have their eyes on the Sun Belt Championship Game, likely a rematch with Lousiana, but have an early December non-conference matchup with undefeated Liberty that will determine their national standing this season -- Sun Belt Champion, or NY6 contender.
     
  • No. 48 Liberty won 38-35 at No. 20 Virginia Tech, thanks in large part to an "icing the kicker" timeout gone wrong by Virginia Tech. The Flames were outgained 5.8 to 7.2 on the day and lost the turnover margin by one, but Virginia Tech struggled to finish drives and went just 4-for-10 on third downs, keeping the game closer than it should've been on paper.

Honor Roll

These players generated the most value for their teams this week:

  • D'Eriq King, Miami QB: +28.4 Total EPA
    King threw for 430 yards and five touchdowns in Friday night's 44-41 win over NC State. He also added 105 yards on the ground, averaging 7 yards per carry.
     
  • Desmon Ridder, Cincinnati QB: +23.3 Total EPA
    Ridder generated most of his value with his legs, rushing for 103 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-10 victory over Houston.
     
  • Hendon Hooker, Virginia Tech QB: +21.9 Total EPA
    Hooker, in a losing effort to Liberty (38-35), looked as good as he has in a while: 74% completion rate, three passing touchdowns and one rushing, and 373 total yards (rushing and passing).
     
  • Sean Dykes, Memphis WR: +14.6 Total EPA
    Blake Proehl, East Carolina WR: +14.6 Total EPA
    A couple of AAC receivers are tied on the list here. Dykes' seven receptions, 147 yards, and two touchdowns helped Memphis come back and beat South Florida 34-33, while Proehl was the only offense East Carolina had in a 38-21 loss to Tulane. Proehl caught 13 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
     
  • Ronnie Rivers, Fresno State RB: +10.8 Total EPA
    Rivers had a great game against UNLV as his Bulldogs won 40-27. Rivers accounted for four touchdowns (three rushing, one passing), and 234 yards on just 25 touches.

Note: All team rankings refer to Bill Connelly's SP+. Stats and data are pulled from collegefootballdata.com. You can find College Football Advanced Stats Leaderboards at cfb-graphs.com.

Comments

4 comments, Last at 09 Nov 2020, 7:02pm

1 Rematch madness

I'm perfectly OK with Clemson and Notre Dame playing in the ACC championship, but I don't like that the NCAA essentially compelled conferences to have a championship game, then devalued the game by ignoring the result when choosing the four teams for the playoff.  The conference championship game should be (at least for the loser) an elimination round.  Honestly, I don't care if the resulting tournament doesn't have the "four best" teams--if we already know who the four best teams are, why are we bothering with conference championship games? 

 

2 your question is ???

In reply to by young curmudgeon

For $$$, you silly young curmudgeon, you. It's really really important to the Insanely Rich that their alma mater beats their Country Club Rival's alma mater in football. So even separate from the TV ratings those games will generate a friggin' ton of $$$ for the respective athletic departments.

Umm, just how young are you??

3 Well, yeah, there's that

Sorry, for a moment there I forgot what a stinking cesspool of fiscal corruption college sports is.  No one likes being called "silly," but in this case, guilty as charged.

 

4 Go IU!

Indiana led Michigan 24 - 7 at the half (not 24 - 10).  Michigan did not kick a field goal during the game.

The cumulative record of Indiana's past opponents:    2 - 7

The cumulative record of Indiana's future opponents:  9 - 3