In an effort to mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus, colleges and universities around the nation are ending the in-person portions of their semesters here on Thanksgiving break, Week 13 of the college football season, and pushing up dates for final exams. A couple of contenders saw their final exams for the regular season this weekend, while others got stuck by tests they thought they'd ace without studying. Let's dive into the numbers and notes of Week 13's games to see which college football teams are making the grade as the season begins winding down.
No. 1 Alabama 42, No. 18 Auburn 13
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones began the game with two straight incompletions and the Twitter rumbling began. Fortunately, Jones isn't on Twitter during games, and the Heisman candidate completed 16 of his next 24 passes. The Crimson Tide averaged a 47% overall success rate, 54% passing and 40% rushing. The passing attack averaged +0.763 EPA/pass, and Alabama gained 57% of available yardage; they extended drives frequently, converting six of their 10 third downs into a fresh series.
Jones threw for five touchdowns on the day, averaging 16.8 yards per completion and picking apart the Auburn Tigers. Devonta Smith and John Metchie III combined for 13 receptions, 226 yards, and four touchdowns. Smith averaged an absurd 24.4 yards per reception. Running back Najee Harris shut the game down with 71 second-half yards. Harris, tasked with moving the ball and running the clock, averaged 11.8 yards per rush in the second half, and the Alabama rush game averaged +0.128 EPA/play.
For the Tigers, Bo Nix completed only 60.5% of his passes, averaging 9.9 yards per completion, but he threw two interceptions and was pressured on 13 of his dropbacks, including four sacks. On the day, Nix was successful on just 38% of his attempts, averaging -0.225 EPA/play. The Tide held Auburn to just 3.6 yards per carry and -0.043 EPA/play in the rush game.
From start to finish, the Tigers could get nothing going against the Tide as Alabama proved itself to be one of the few legitimate title contenders in the nation. At 8-0, Alabama has only two tests before the playoff, which they are all but guaranteed to make: a hapless 3-4 LSU and then presumably Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Even with a loss to Florida, it's hard to see a path for Alabama to miss out on their sixth playoff berth in seven years. As for Auburn, rumors and grumbling surrounding coach Gus Malzahn will only continue; Nix hasn't lived up to his preseason hype, and the Auburn offense ranks 54th in passing efficiency. Who knows, what with strapped budgets and offseason uncertainty, whether Auburn will make a move, but Malzahn has not done much to instill confidence in his regime.
No. 6 Notre Dame 31, No. 15 North Carolina 17
Notre Dame was a popular "upset watch" pick this weekend as North Carolina's potent offense and more-than-competent defense seemed to pose a threat to the Fighting Irish's perfect season. Instead of a close game, the Irish delivered a boring game that felt out of reach for the Tar Heels the entire second half. The game was tied at 17 at the half, and then Notre Dame politely declined to allow North Carolina the privilege of playing offense. North Carolina had six second-half drives and punted five times, failing a fourth-down conversion on the sixth. The Tar Heels averaged 2.32 yards per play in the second half, and only one of those drives went longer than four plays. North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell averaged 12.4 yards per completion on a 62.9% completion rate. The Tar Heels' passing attack averaged -0.002 EPA/play on a 33% success rate, and the rushing game got nothing started: 21% success rate and -0.311 EPA/rush. The Irish defense held North Carolina to just three points on eight drives in the final three quarters Friday, a truly dominant performance by a defense that ranks 11th nationally in EPA/play allowed.
The Notre Dame defense had a comparatively worse day, punting on five of their 11 drives, but did more than enough to put the game away with two second-half touchdowns (and a missed field goal). Notre Dame averaged a 43% success rate, gaining 53% of available yards, and the pass game averaged +0.332 EPA/attempt. Ian Book continued his quiet above-averageness this season, completing just shy of 70% of his passes for 279 yards and a touchdown. He connected with Javon McKinley six times for 135 yards, including a long of 53. Running back Kyren Williams had a big day, even as the Irish's rushing attack averaged -0.077 EPA/rush. Williams ran for 5.39 yards per attempt, picking up two touchdowns. He caught a touchdown pass as well, accounting for 144 yards and three total touchdowns on 27 touches. His volume overall generated value, but the Irish were just 4-for-11 on third downs.
Notre Dame appears to have won their spot in the ACC Championship Game, with a one-game lead on Clemson and Miami and only Syracuse and Wake Forest left on the schedule. In their first (and only) year in the conference, Notre Dame has strung together an excellent season and may have done enough so far to garner a playoff spot regardless of the result in the inevitable rematch with Clemson. North Carolina, on the other hand, has fallen a little flat relative to preseason expectations. Howell is still a top-30 quarterback, but the Tar Heels have felt just a little underwhelming with losses to Florida State and Virginia. The Tar Heels will play FCS Western Carolina before a matchup with Miami.
No. 16 Iowa State 23, No. 23 Texas 20
Iowa State and Texas played an eerily similar game on Saturday. Both teams had success rates in the mid-40s (45% for the Cyclones and 43% for the Longhorns) and starting field position in the 20s (25 for the Cyclones and 29 for the Longhorns); both teams converted on just over one-third of their third-down attempts; and both teams scored less than four points per scoring opportunity.
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy completed 70% of passes for 12.5 yards per completion, whereas Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger completed 58.6% of his passes for 17.5 yards per completion. Purdy and running back Breece Hall combined for 3.79 yards per rush, and Ehlinger and running back Bijan Robinson combined for 3.83 yards per rush. Both teams averaged a slightly negative EPA/rush (-0.019 for Iowa State, -0.045 for Texas).
This game featured two teams who more or less played each other exactly evenly for 18 drives. The other two drives decided the game. The first drive came in the first half, when Texas received the kickoff after an Iowa State touchdown to bring the game within three points. The Longhorns moved the ball well, advancing from their own 20 to Iowa State's 17 in just five plays. A Tarik Black fumble, though, turned a productive drive into zero points, and Iowa State was able to hold serve for the remainder of the half. The second drive came with three minutes left in the game; Iowa State and Texas had traded punts, and the Cyclones got the ball down three on their own 31. Purdy completed two passes for 39 yards (12.5% of his total yardage for the day on just two of his 25 completions), and Breece Hall broke open an 18-yard run, his long on the day. The Cyclones scored the game-winning touchdown, taking down Texas in Austin for the first time since 2010, and beating Texas in consecutive years for the first time in program history.
In five years in Ames, Iowa State's Matt Campbell is now 4-6 against Oklahoma and Texas. Iowa State is now the first Big 12 team to best both the Longhorns and the Sooners in the same season since 2014. The Cyclones sit at the top of the Big 12 standings, for now, but their path to the championship game is a bit uncertain. In all likelihood, the Cyclones will get a rematch with Oklahoma and a chance to make history yet again: Iowa State is one of four current Big 12 members without a conference title.
Texas, on the other hand, finds itself again in a period of transition. Despite declarations of being "back," the Longhorns have won just 30 games in four seasons under Tom Herman and have come nowhere near competing for the playoff. It's nice to beat Oklahoma every couple of years, but you'd imagine the boosters in Austin would like a little more out of the program. Top linemen Samuel Cosmi and Derek Kerstetter have reportedly opted out for the season, with rumors of Ehlinger following suit. It should be a dramatic end to the season for the Texas Longhorns, who might be making a change at the helm.
Oregon State 41, Oregon 38
Michigan State 29, Northwestern 20
In a couple of upset bids this weekend, Northwestern's luck ran out and Oregon's streak over their rival ended.
The Oregon Ducks played a fine offensive game on Friday night; 11 explosive plays, a 51% success rate, 5.2 points per scoring opportunity, and a +0.223 EPA/pass. Quarterback Tyler Shough was more than just modestly efficient: 64.5% completion rate, but a 50% success rate and +0.233 EPA/attempt. Two turnovers -- one in Oregon State territory and one backed up near Oregon's end zone -- proved to be decisive; in the first half, an interception in Beavers territory swung a likely touchdown into no points, and in the second half, a backed-up interception gave Oregon State opportunity for an easy 33-yard score.
Oregon State's Tristan Gebbia completed 62.1% of his passes and averaged only 11.4 yards per completion on the day. The passing game did enough to extend drives (Oregon State converted on 62.5% of third-/fourth-down attempts), but the rushing game was the spark for the Beavers. More specifically, Jermar Jefferson was the spark for the Beavers. The junior, a three-star recruit out of California, rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns on the day, averaging 7.79 yards per carry. If you censor his long run of 82 yards, he still averaged 5.14 yards per carry, indicating a lethal combination of efficiency and explosiveness. The Oregon State rush game averaged a 49% success rate and a +0.407 EPA/play. Oregon State linebacker Avery Roberts led both teams with 12 total tackles.
In the Big Ten, Northwestern's brand of offense aversion and turnover luck proved to be unsustainable. The Wildcats' offense performed at its familiar level of inconsistency, averaging a 33% success rate, -0.177 EPA/pass, and -0.424 EPA/rush, and the defense held Michigan State to 31% success and only 2.7 points per scoring opportunity. The twofold difference for Northwestern this week was that they allowed Michigan State to extend drives, converting on 48% of their third downs, and they were not gifted an absurd number of fluke turnovers. Turns out, if you can't move the ball on offense and your defense can't magically induce turnovers, you're eventually going to drop a game you shouldn't. Of note: one of Northwestern's two touchdowns came on a 37-yard drive thanks to a long punt return. The Wildcats punted or turned the ball over on 10 of their 12 drives Saturday. Northwestern still holds the reigns for the Big Ten West, but unless they can figure out a way to move the ball, their 2020 campaign might just be remembered as a disruptive fluke to the standing order of the Big Ten.
Across the Nation
- Iowa 26, Nebraska 20: The Cornhuskers had a better success rate, points per opportunity, and third-down percentage, but a 12-yard advantage in field position and a 48% passing success rate allowed provided Iowa with its fourth win of the season. Nebraska was driving with the ball late in the fourth, but fumbled at the Iowa 39 to squander the comeback effort.
- Texas A&M 20, LSU 7: This game reminds us of two facts: first, the reigning national champions have fallen off a cliff; and second, Texas A&M is quietly benefitting from being just a little better than the bad teams on their schedule. The Aggies had a 27% success rate, -0.375 EPA/pass, and -0.252 EPA/rush in their win. Kellen Mond completed only 11 of 34 passes in a rain-soaked affair, while running back Isaiah Spiller averaged 3.42 yards per carry outside of a lone long run.
- Florida 34, Kentucky 10; Georgia 45, South Carolina 16: SEC East teams took care of business this weekend, driven largely by quarterback play. Kyle Trask threw for three touchdowns, averaging 12.2 yards per completion and +0.210 EPA/play. Against South Carolina, Georgia's JT Daniels, working himself back from injury, looked to be the highly touted player the Bulldogs thought they were getting. Daniels had a more modest stat line (139 yards on 10 completions, two touchdowns, and an interception), but the Bulldogs averaged +0.087 EPA/pass, a far cry from their early-season performances through the air. Georgia running backs combined for 351 yards on 28 carries, +0.451 EPA/rush.
- Indiana 27, Maryland 12: The Indiana Hoosiers continued their Very Good Season, holding Maryland's explosive pass offense to -0.302 EPA/attempt and intercepting Taulia Tagovailoa three times. Indiana's offense struggled with efficiency in the pass game: a 21% success rate and -0.054 EPA/play for Michael Penix Jr., and star wideouts Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle combined for just four catches and 34 yards with no touchdowns. Indiana's offense needs some work, but they survived and sit at 5-1 with an outside chance at the Big Ten East Championship, given some scheduling constraints.
- Coastal Carolina 49, Texas State 14: It was a quiet weekend for the non-Power 5 teams. BYU and Marshall have completed most of their games, and Cincinnati's cancellation means the Bearcats won't play again until December 12. Meanwhile, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers continued beating up on bad teams, running through Texas State. Coastal was successful on 53% of plays, gained 79% of available yards, and averaged +0.517 EPA/pass on the day. Running back CJ Marable picked up 157 yards on the ground and three touchdowns as the Chanticleers clinched their first Sun Belt regular-season championship.
These players added the most value to their teams in week 13.
- Brett Gabbert, Miami (OH) QB: +23.3 Total EPA
In a 38-7 blowout of Akron, Gabbert completed 66% of his passes and accounted for 308 yards and four touchdowns.
- Jaret Patterson, Buffalo RB: +19.3 Total EPA
Dustin Crum, Kent State QB: +20.8 Total EPA
Patterson had a rushing day for the ages in a 70-41 win over Kent State, rushing for 409 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 11.4 yards per carry. His praise is warranted, and his performance is impressive, but don't let Dustin Crum's 419-yard, four-touchdown performance be obscured; in a loss where the defense had no hope of stopping the run, Crum put up one of the best quarterback performances of the week.
- Chevan Cordeiro, Hawai'i QB: +23.3 Total EPA
Calvin Turner, Hawai'i WR: +12.7 Total EPA
Hawai'i upset Nevada on Saturday as Cordeiro and Turner connected 10 times for 77 yards and a touchdown. Cordeiro added a touchdown on the ground, and Turner had a long 30-yard run to push the Warriors 24-21 past the Wolfpack.
- Mac Jones, Alabama QB: +17.9 Total EPA
As detailed above, Jones had a huge day against Auburn: 302 yards on 18 completions, with five touchdowns.