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OFI Week 2: More than Meets the Eye

On its face, Week 2 looked like an underwhelming slate. There were only two ranked matchups and six ranked teams played FCS opponents while eight more played Group of 5 teams. Week 2 appeared to be thin, but in spite of that, as college football often does, the weekend delivered. We saw what will surely go down as one of the best games of the season in Oregon-Ohio State, what will surely go down as one of the oddest statistical losses in Iowa-Iowa State, and four upsets of top-30 teams along the way. Let's dive in.

A Brief Statistical Aside:

This column, while certainly a general review of the weekend in college football, has a decided analytical bent. I'll be using numbers and data to frame my observations, and will do my best to describe and explain concepts as I use them, but for your reference, here are a few of the most common advanced stats I use to think about football:

  • Expected Points Added (EPA): EPA translates yards to points in context. Here's the problem: a 3-yard gain on first-and-10 is a failed play, whereas a 3-yard gain on third-and-3 is a great success. EPA accounts for down, distance, and game state to attach a point value to each play. In this way, we can compare teams across situations in a meaningful way to understand their relative quality; EPA is a measure of efficiency and explosiveness, all wrapped up into one. EPA can be standardized across a game to give an expected score and postgame win expectancy, both of which you'll see in this column.
  • Explosive Plays: Football is won and lost with explosive plays, defined as runs greater than 10 yards and passes greater than 15.
  • Average Depth of Target (ADOT): Not all passes are created equal. ADOT measures how far downfield, on average, a quarterback threw the ball on targeted passes. Coupled with Yards After the Catch (YAC), ADOT gives us a measure of whether an offense was dominant in their game plan, explosive after the catch, or whether they dink-and-dunked their way to victory.
  • Eckel Rate: Eckel, named after the fullback of the Navy team which holds the record for longest drive in college football history, is an alternative to Time of Possession for measuring game control. Football is more like bowling than we want to admit in that teams generally have similar amounts of possessions and the fact of having those possessions is less important to the outcome of the game than what a team does with those possessions. The Eckel Ratio measures the ratio of productive drives in a game, whereas the Eckel Margin compares the rate at which teams earned quality possessions on their drives. The team who wins Eckel and EPA margins wins the game about 97% of the time.
  • Average Starting Field Position: This one speaks for itself, more or less, but I highlight it only to comment that I'll use this to point out short-field drives, which can be the result of turnovers or special teams plays, and those drives are generally expected to be less informative as to the relative quality between two teams.
  • Rankings: All rankings here refer to FEI.

Now, on to the games.

No. 24 Oregon 35, No. 2 Ohio State 28

Expected Score: Oregon 45.0, Ohio State 35.2 (77.4% postgame win expectancy)
EPA/play: Oregon: 0.27, Ohio State: 0.12
Eckel Ratio: Ohio State 58.3%

Ohio State lost at home for the first time of Ryan Day's tenure on Saturday, falling to Mario Cristobal's Oregon Ducks 35-28. In one of the highest-quality matchups of the season so far, Ohio State controlled possessions—they had seven of the 12 quality possessions in the game—but an uncharacteristic failure to finish drives sealed their fate. On Saturday, the Buckeyes turned the ball over on downs after a first down at the Oregon 34, punted after a first down at the Oregon 33, and turned the ball over on downs after a first down at the Oregon 16. The Ducks held Ohio State to just 2.33 points per drive and only 4.00 points per quality drive. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud threw 54 passes, completing just 50% of his 30 attempts 10-plus yards down the field. Stroud averaged 0.225 EPA/dropback, throwing three touchdowns and one interception.

The divergence between Oregon and Ohio State can best be seen in using total EPA in three key areas. First, Oregon's defense held the Buckeyes rushing attack to just 4.1 yards per carry, -2.02 total Rush EPA. Oregon's rush offense, led by CJ Verdell (8.1 yards per attempt on 20 attempts), managed 13.36 total rushing EPA. Verdell had four runs of 10 or more yards, and 45% of his carries on the day resulted in first downs or touchdowns. Total EPA doesn't exactly work as neatly as this, but for general purposes, that's a 15-point swing in expected value between the two teams.

Secondly, Ohio State's passing game, for all its volume, gained 13.83 total EPA to Oregon's 6.85. The key for Oregon, and one of the ingredients for upsetting Ohio State, was consistency in the pass game. The Ducks avoided the game-changing turnover so often central to an Ohio State close-game victory (see a strip-sack against Minnesota last week, for example). Anthony Brown was far from masterful, completing 48.6% of passes for just 6.7 yards per attempt, but he was consistent and avoided the turnover.

If you're keeping track, between the run and the pass game, that's +15.28 for Oregon in the run game and +6.98 in the pass for Ohio State, a net of +8.84 points of expected value in Oregon's favor. The final nail in the coffin for Ohio State was a bout of penalties (eight for 71 yards, -1.71 EPA on penalties). The Buckeyes saw, thanks to penalties, a second-and-7 in Oregon territory stall into a second-and-13, a drive starting at the 38 called back to the 19, and a first-and-10 at the Oregon 16 turn into a first-and-15 at the Oregon 21, all stalling drives.

All in all, the Ducks matched evenly with Ohio State in the trenches, at the exterior in the pass game, and in terms of quarterback play. A stifling rushing defense put Ohio State enough behind schedule that the Ducks got what may turn out to be the best win of the season for any team.

No. 6 Iowa 27, No. 13 Iowa State 17

Expected Score: Iowa 13.02, Iowa State 14.24 (46.3% postgame win expectancy)
EPA/play: Iowa -0.21, Iowa State -0.08
Eckel Ratio: Iowa 55.6%

Iowa State outgained Iowa 4.84 to 2.94 in yards per play. Iowa State had a -0.08 EPA/play on offense to Iowa's -0.21. Iowa State was successful on 44% of plays, whereas Iowa was successful on just 35%. What happened?

Iowa State turned the ball over four times on Saturday, giving their in-state rival short fields of 49 yards, 22 yards, and 25 yards. Iowa State scored 13 points off those turnovers; add in a Breece Hall fumble returned for a touchdown and the Hawkeyes came out with a 10-point win in a matchup featuring an impressive refusal to play offense. Just four plays in the game broke for more than 20 yards for both teams combined, and both teams set recent lows for total offense: the Cyclones have been held to fewer than 340 yards of total offense just three times since 2019, and the Hawkeyes haven't been held under 200 yards since 2017.

The Hawkeyes offense went three-and-out on six of 13 drives in the game and punted on eight. Quarterback Spencer Petras completed just 52% of his passes, averaging -0.23 EPA per attempt. What little offense the Hawkeyes had came from running back Tyler Goodson (55 yards, 31% success rate) and receiver Charlie Jones (36 yards on two receptions, including the lone Iowa passing touchdown). On the Cyclones side of things, quarterback Brock Purdy completed 48.1% of his passes, including just one of his five attempts further than 10 yards downfield. Purdy threw three interceptions, leading him to the bench. Backup Hunter Dekkers played well in a negative game script, but his 11 completions, 114 yards, and one touchdown were largely insignificant in the game. Coming into 2021, Breece Hall averaged one breakaway run (10-plus yards) per seven attempts. Through two games this season, he has had just two breakaway runs in 39 attempts and is averaging a career-low 3.5 yards per carry.

The Hawkeyes sit at 2-0 with two wins over AP-ranked opponents, and aside from a trip to Wisconsin and hosting Penn State, they have a schedule they should manage easily. Having cleared the first two hurdles of 2021, with a dash of offense, Iowa could loom in the playoff discussion late in the season. The good news for Iowa State? In efficiency terms, aside from four plays, they more than held their own. Matt Campbell and his team have plenty of time to gear up for another Big 12 run.

Toe Drags

No. 79 Arkansas 40, No. 9 Texas 21
Speaking of the Big 12, what a weekend. No. 9 Texas traveled to No. 79 Arkansas and received a less than warm welcome, losing to the Razorbacks 40-21. The Longhorns averaged -0.07 EPA/play to Arkansas's 0.25, allowing touchdown drives of 66, 81, and 75 yards. Texas converted just four of 13 third downs (30.7%), and head coach Steve Sarkisian played musical chairs at the quarterback position, benching starter Hudson Card for Casey Thompson late in the third quarter.

No. 72 Stanford 42, No. 22 USC 28
In a game of similar surprising fashion, No. 22 USC lost to No. 72 Stanford 42-28. The Cardinal held USC to 0.063 EPA/play while averaging 0.398. Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee settled in nicely after a subpar performance against Kansas State in Week 1, averaging 0.70 EPA/pass and a 65% success rate. Running backs Nathaniel Peat and Isaiah Sanders both averaged more than 1.0 EPA/rush in the blowout. USC quarterback Kedon Slovis completed 64% of his passes for only 8.26 yards per completion as USC failed to find any spark on offense; aside from a 39-yard completion to Drake London, no other Trojans pass when for more than 17 yards.

No. 38 Miami 25, No. 27 Appalachian State 23
No. 38 Miami narrowly avoided an 0-2 start to the season, kicking a late field goal to seal a 25-23 win over No. 27 Appalachian State. Both teams averaged negative EPA/play, but the deciding factor was the run game, as App State was held to -6.91 total EPA on 39 carries, averaging 3.25 yards per carry to Miami's 4.06. Miami quarterback D'Eriq King looked flat again this week, completing 60% of passes for no touchdowns and a 40% success rate.

No. 26 BYU 26, No. 19 Utah 17
Finally, future Big 12 member No. 26 BYU broke a nine-game losing streak to No. 19 Utah, taking a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter and never looking back in a 26-17 win. Utah turned the ball over on their first two drives and punted on the third en route to that 10-0 hole, and completed just 22% of third downs on the day, while BYU converted 59% (11-of-19). Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer completed just 57% of his passes for 147 yards against the BYU defense, averaging -0.22 EPA/pass.

OFI Top 15: Week 2

These ratings will be fairly sticky from week to week, combining my preseason priors with recent performance and stats. For detailed team stats, see cfb-graphs.com.

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia (-)
  3. Oklahoma (-)
  4. Clemson (+1)
  5. Penn State (+1)
  6. Oregon (+7)
  7. Ohio State (-3)
  8. Iowa (+5)
  9. Wisconsin (-)
  10. Cincinnati (+1)
  11. UCLA (+2)
  12. Ole Miss (NR last Week)
  13. Michigan (NR Last week)
  14. Florida (+1)
  15. Texas A&M (-6)

Not much change at the top of the rankings, as all four teams rolled against lesser competition. These four—Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson—appear to be the prohibitive favorites for the playoff, but with how deep the Big Ten is, Clemson is barely hanging on. There's some re-ordering in the bottom half of the top 10—Oregon and Iowa get huge boosts, while others rearrange accordingly. Texas A&M, after an unnecessarily uncomfortable 10-7 performance against Colorado, falls to the bottom of the rankings. Ole Miss and Michigan move into the top 15 after a couple of respectable offensive performances, replacing USC and Iowa State, who both hover just below the list. Outside of the Power 5, Coastal Carolina looks sharp and UCF seems to be clicking, but Cincinnati stands alone in the race for the New Year's Six Group of 5 spot.


1 comment, Last at 13 Sep 2021, 3:04pm

1 King's success rate

When mentioning D'Eriq's comp % and success %, you should at least mention the two first-down passes that 5th year senior WR Harley flat-out dropped [and iirc he had a 15yd OPI or something similar as well.] 

Add those back in [not counting any other drops] and his comp% is now 67% and Miami wins easily. They lost 10 points on special teams and had a TD called back into a FG on a touch-foul. Should have won by 2 TDs without those 2-3 dumb mistakes.