OFI Week 11: Bad Matchups and Good Offenses
You might call it the week of cancellations -- 15 college football games were cancelled or postponed due to virus-related concerns. Once again, this writer would like to emphasize that football is important, and he is glad that teams are taking the measures they feel best prioritize the health and safety of their student-athletes and coaches as they try to play.
No. 6 Florida, No. 8 Notre Dame, and No. 9 Oregon were the only top-10 teams to see action this week; there was not a single matchup of AP-ranked teams in Week 11. Despite a thinner slate, there was still plenty to learn -- the offenses for Notre Dame and Florida are rounding into form, Oregon looks to be the class of the Pac-12, and somehow Northwestern stayed unbeaten. Let's dive into the numbers from the weekend.
Florida hosted a spry No. 50 Arkansas Saturday night, taking care of business against a cross-division foe in a 63-35 shootout. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman was unavailable for the game, as was Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. Both teams mitigated their absences well; Florida quarterback Kyle Trask threw for six touchdowns on 29 passes, finding Trevon Grimes and Xzavier Henderson for 171 yards on nine receptions. Trask has now completed 70.1% of his passes on the season, averaging 14.7 yards per completion; he's an atypical Dan Mullen quarterback, with effectively zero rushing dimension, but his accuracy and downfield threat are more than enough to justify Florida's reputation as a national contender. The Gators offense gained 75% of available yards, extending drives by converting on 10 of 14 third- and fourth-down attempts. Florida was successful on 53% of plays and 58% of their passes, and they outperformed Arkansas by +0.167 EPA/play margin. If you were going to highlight a weakness in Florida's armor, you might point out that Kendal Briles' offense scored 35 points in 12 drives, 2.91 points per drive, and allowed long rushes of 81 and passes of 82 and 48. Those explosive plays are certainly random to some extent, but still worrisome.
Arkansas, behind the duo of Trelon Smith and Rakeem Boyd, averaged 8.7 yards per rush, a positive +0.520 EPA/rush, and quarterback Felipe Franks connected on 15 of his 19 passes (78.9%) for +0.082 EPA/pass. The Razorbacks fall to 3-4 on the season, clearly outclassed by the top of the SEC, but for a program that had won just five games against FBS competition in the previous three seasons, there's plenty to be excited about for Pittman in Fayetteville. For one, the Razorbacks have scored 30 points against SEC competition three times this season -- they failed to reach 30 points in a single 2019 conference game. The Gators, meanwhile, are leading the SEC East and seemed destined for a matchup with Alabama for a spot in the playoff. They have four games remaining, and outside of a tricky Kentucky defense, face few challenges: at Vanderbilt, at Tennessee, and then hosting rival LSU. The next couple of weeks for Florida will involve getting healthy, scouting Alabama's offense, and making Trask's Heisman case.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish beat No. 55 Boston College 45-31, and the story yet again was Ian Book. The Notre Dame senior quarterback, not exactly known for his elite play in the past, is becoming elite before our very eyes. Book completed 74% of passes, averaging 14.2 yards per completion, and added 10 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown as well. He found Avery Davis for two deep strikes, and receivers Ben Skowronek and Javon McKinley combined for 111 yards on 10 receptions, with Skowronek pulling down all three Book touchdowns. The offense was successful on 58.4% of plays in the game, even as they rushed on 64% of early downs after amassing a large lead. The Irish averaged +0.145 EPA/play on the day, converting 50% of their third-down attempts, extending drives six times. The defense allowed Phil Jurkovec and the Eagles to put up some points. The Irish gave up three turnovers, but BC only benefited to the tune of three points; the rest of their 31 points came on full field drives. Jurkovec completed just 18 of 40 passes, but the team averaged +0.037 EPA/pass on the day. Boston College, at 5-4, has already surpassed their conference win total from last year and has two winnable contests left in Lousiville and Virginia. The Eagles could be looking at a step-forward year with some potential for a very successful 2021. The Irish continue their death march to the rematch with Clemson, and the more they can get Book right, the better shot Brian Kelly's team will have to steal a second win from the Tigers and sneak into the layoff.
In the Pac-12, No. 11 Oregon turned the ball over three times in the first 16 minutes of the game against No. 37 Washington State, digging a 19-7 hole. After that, Oregon rattled off a 36-10 run to win the game 43-29. In the second half, Oregon outgained Washington State 10.4 to 6.5 yards per play, averaging 5.6 points per drive (6.2 points per drive if you credit a missed field goal) and holding Washington State to 2.0 points per drive. There were some concerns about Oregon's offense, what with turnover and opt-outs this season, but through two games, the Ducks are averaging +0.262 EPA/play, a 51.5% success rate, and 7.6 yards per play on early downs. Oregon quarterback Tyler Shorugh completed 70% of his passes, throwing for four touchdowns; he found Jaylon Redd and Travis Dye seven times for 186 yards and two touchdowns, averaging +0.560 EPA/pass. Washington State's Jayden de Laura had a productive day, throwing for 321 yards. Receiver Reanard Bell caught 10 of his passes for 158 yards and Travell Harris caught nine for 94 -- those two were responsible for 78.5% of the Cougars' receiving yards on the day. Washington State was relatively successful -- 42.4% success rate overall and 47.5% on the pass -- but they rushed for just 4.63 yards per play on the day, a 34.6% success rate, and averaged only +0.076 EPA, indicating very low explosiveness against Oregon's defense. The Ducks should cruise past UCLA, Oregon State, and Cal before facing Washington in the second week of December. That matchup should have playoff implications, not just Pac-12 championship implications -- Oregon's going to be pressed to accrue as many style points as they can in their six-game regular season.
It's time to talk about 4-0 Northwestern. Ranked just 29th in F+, the Wildcats have quite literally snuck into the driver's seat of the Big Ten West. This week, they beat No. 41 Purdue 27-20 despite averaging 3.8 yards per play on early downs and just 1.88 yards per rush, a 27.5% early-down success rate. Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey averaged just 9.2 yards per completion, and Northwestern's longest play was 18 yards. A Purdue fumble set up the decisive score, giving Northwestern an 18-yard field to go up 24-10. Aside from that, Northwestern in the second half punted three times and kicked a field goal on four "full field" drives, averaging just 3.3 yards per play. The Wildcats held Purdue to a 25% success rate, -0.263 EPA/play. The Boilermakers started on their own 31-yard line, on average, yet gained only 35% of available yards on the day and converted just six of 20 third- and fourth-down attempts. Northwestern seems to be testing the limits of "suffocating defense and enough offense to survive" in college football; they are allowing 1.2 points per drive to opponents and have 10 turnovers in their four games. The Wildcats have a date with Wisconsin this coming weekend, and then play the down slate of the Big Ten with matchups against Michigan State, Minnesota, and Illinois; a one-loss or even undefeated season is somehow very much in play.
Across the Nation:
- Speaking of Wisconsin, the No. 4 Badgers humiliated No. 17 Michigan, winning 49-11. The defense held Michigan to a 24% success rate, just 2.5 yards per early down, and only 3-of-12 on third- and fourth-down conversions. The Badgers rushed for 341 yards to run the game out after taking a 21-0 lead in a six-drive sequence where Michigan threw two interceptions and punted while Wisconsin scored three touchdowns.
- No. 25 Indiana handled No. 64 Michigan State 24-0 on the back of Michael Penix's 320-yard passing performance. Ty Fryfogle had 200 yards on 11 receptions for the Hoosiers, and the defense held Michigan State to -0.618 EPA/play, thanks in large part to three Spartans interceptions. It's hard to say who had a worse game, but it certainly was a bad weekend in Michigan. Western and Central both won, though!
- It's hard to say whether No. 27 USC is actually a good football team. For the second straight week, the Trojans struggled, this time sneaking past No. 91 Arizona 34-30. The Trojans played the Wildcats effectively evenly (an EPA margin of just +0.030) and allowed 2.75 points per drive.
- No. 21 Miami might be in the same boat; although they sit at 6-1 after a 25-24 win over No. 26 Virginia Tech, their last three wins have been one-score, nerve-wracking affairs. D'Eriq King averaged 10.6 yards per completion, but Miami's explosive offense was nowhere to be found -- their longest play was a 36-yard Mark Pope catch, and the Canes averaged just +0.019 EPA/play.
- No. 11 Cincinnati blew past No. 110 East Carolina 55-17 as Desmond Ridder accounted for four touchdowns and the Bearcats offense averaged 8.7 yards per play on early downs, while the defense held the Pirates to a 37% success rate and -0.376 EPA/play.
- No. 31 Marshall reminded unbeaten, scoring 21 points in the second half to beat No. 116 Middle Tennessee 42-14 behind Willie Johnson's 137 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The Thundering Herd have some caveats due to strength of schedule, but with Charlotte, Rice, and FIU left to play, look poised for their first unbeaten season since 1999.
These players added the most value to their teams in Week 11:
- Matt Corral, Ole Miss QB: +26.3 Total EPA
Elijah Moore, Ole Miss WR: +22.2 Total EPA
Corral found Moore 13 times for 225 yards and two touchdowns, including a 91-yard pass that induced Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin to throw his clipboard 30 yards in the air in celebration. Corral threw for 513 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 18.3 yards per completion in a 59-42 win over South Carolina.
- Kyle Trask, Florida QB: +29.5 Total EPA
Trask was excellent again, this time in a duel against his former teammate Felipe Franks. Trask threw for six touchdowns and only six incompletions on the day. He averaged 15.5 yards per completion and completed 79.3% of his passes.
- Sam Howell, North Carolina QB: +27.1 Total EPA
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati QB: +27.1 Total EPA
Two quarterbacks of very different stripes are tied this week. Howell caused some fireworks against Wake Forest, throwing for six touchdowns and 550 yards. Ridder helped Cincinnati cruise past East Carolina: he was responsible for 402 total yards and four touchdowns on the day.
- Kevin Harris, South Carolina RB: +21.3 Total EPA
Harris gained 243 yards on 25 touches Saturday, including five touchdowns. That's an average of 9.42 yards per carry, but it wasn't driven by outliers: his long was 46 yards, and outside of that, he averaged an absurd 8.2 yards per carry.
Note: All rankings refer to F+, a combination of Brian Fremeau's drive-based FEI ratings with Bill Connelly's play-level SP+ ratings. Advanced Stats and leaderboards can be found at cfb-graphs.com. Follow Parker on Twitter: @statsowar.