NCAA Week 8 – After the best weekend of college football in recent years, this Saturday couldn’t quite match last weekend’s drama, but it did provide some very useful standings information. UCLA and Ole Miss had their defenses completely exposed by Oregon and LSU. Syracuse benefited from four Clemson turnovers to gain a solid lead, but Orange couldn’t do anything offensively in the second half to find a win.
Alabama responded to last weekend’s heartbreak by shutting off the oxygen to Mississippi State’s offense, but the Tide’s own running game remains flawed. In Stillwater, Oklahoma State dominated the second half when the Cowboys’ defense forced Quinn Ewers into his worst performance of the season. To cap off the night, TCU orchestrated a comeback from an 18-point first-half deficit and ran away from a pesky Kansas State team. Let’s review the games that taught us the most this weekend.
- All rankings referenced are from Brian Fremeau’s FEI numbers prior to the weekend.
- EPA/play includes special teams and penalties, so combining the EPA/rush and EPA/pass numbers will not give the same total as the number on the top line.
Undefeated No More
No. 15 LSU Tigers 45, No. 8 Ole Miss Rebels 20
Jaxson Dart went 9-for-10 for 156 yards and then went 10-for-24 for 128 yards the rest of the way. Pressure from LSU changed everything for Dart, and it happened without bombing. Led by Harold Perkins Jr., the Tigers finished the game with a 45% rushing rate while charging just 11% of the time, and on those rushing plays, Dart posted a 38.5% completion rate, 5.3 yards per attempt and 45.0 passes. qualification.
On the other hand, Ole Miss’s defense was a mirror inverse, attacking 53% of pushbacks but taking pressure only 19% of the time. Jayden Daniels took charge, fending off pressure and finding open targets, mostly in the middle of shortstop, where he was 7-for-9 for 89 yards and a score. He threw only one ball more than 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage the entire game, but he didn’t need to push the ball when he was so effective at mixing runs and finding targets with space in the midfield.
The Tigers quarterback finished the day with 13.0 EPA passing and 11.5 EPA rushing. He was the dominant force driving LSU and was the main reason LSU put on as efficient a game as you’ll ever see, highlighted by a 71% offensive success rate. Ole Miss’s defense was confused and helpless beginning in the second quarter, and the offense couldn’t overcome the pressure LSU applied after the opening dash.
Brian Kelly’s team will remain tough for their competition in the SEC West for the final month of the season, while Ole Miss faces an outright challenge in the coming weeks that could be a problem for this feckless defense. After this demoralizing loss, the Rebels face Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi State. The Aggies are the only one of those teams that may lack the offense to take advantage of Ole Miss’s increasingly vulnerable defense.
No. 20 Oregon Ducks 45, No. 24 UCLA Bruins 30
Both teams played some of the cleanest, most efficient offenses we’ll see in college football this year. While their defense had its own issues, Oregon won the game by stealing a possession with a surprise onside kick and keeping UCLA from ending the series. Oregon’s offense was unstoppable, and those small manufactured leads allowed Oregon to build a 22-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Ducks gained 89% of their available yards in this game and Bo Nix was the star.
The Auburn transfer, which was the subject of so much harangue at its original school, has become one of the best stories of the season and is now ranked sixth nationally on ESPN’s QBR. Against the Bruins, he had 19.8 passing EPA and another 10.4 rushing EPA, and the Ducks had four other running backs with positive EPA contributions. Even against the pressure, he rated 71.9, and it was nearly perfect when he stayed clean, posting a 90.6 offensive rating. The play-action game allowed him to reach even greater heights, as he averaged 14.6 yards per attempt on his nine play-action throws.
UCLA’s offense continued its excellent run, led by Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s 13.7 EPA in the air and Zach Charbonnet’s 8.7 EPA in the ground. However, it was a game where each team had to hold serve, and UCLA’s failure to finish the drives with touchdowns combined with Oregon’s surprise onside kick early in the second quarter allowed the Ducks to take some control after both teams scored in each first half. possession. The scoring streak continued until Thompson-Robinson threw an interception into the Oregon end zone with just under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. But in that span, Oregon scored touchdowns on six straight possessions, while UCLA settled for field goals on three possessions that went inside the Oregon 25-yard line. UCLA’s 15th percentile performance in red zone hit rate puts a number on the problem with the final drives that plagued the Bruins in all four quarters.
Oregon now finds itself alone atop the Pac-12 standings and will prepare for a test with a Utah team that beat the Ducks twice last year. The Bruins get a couple of the conference’s weakest opponents before the matchup with UCLA on Nov. 19. The Bruins have a few things to clean up on defense to make sure they don’t stumble ahead of the much-anticipated cross-town showdown.
No. 11 Clemson Tigers 27, No. 29 Syracuse Orange 21
The story after this ACC Atlantic battle was that Cade Klubnik replaced DJ Uiagalalei in the third quarter and ignited the offense to pull off a win from behind for Clemson. However, that is not exactly what happened. In fourth and a half, Klubnik attempted four passes that gained 19 yards and were worth -3.5 EPA. The truer story is that Clemson’s running game was great all day, the Tigers stopped turning the ball over to finish some drives, and the Clemson defense did this to the Syracuse offense in the second half: punt, clear, clear, clear. , clearance, clearance, interception. Syracuse gained their lead in large part because Clemson suffered the most debilitating play possible in football: giving up a scoop and score on a Syracuse 3 first-and-goal play. That was worth -13.1 EPA and temporarily tipped the scales of the game until Clemson was able to stop flipping the ball. Without the fumbles from Uiagalalei and Shipley, Clemson had 29.3 EPA rushing.
On defense, Clemson was relentless, rushing Garrett Schrader on 36% of his rebounds and finishing five sacks. Schrader completed nearly 70% of his passes, but Orange receivers were immediately stopped, averaging just 2.7 yards after the catch. The most confusing aspect of this game is that Sean Tucker had only five carries despite averaging more than 10 yards on those he did carry. When Syracuse could have clinched the victory by holding the ball in the second half, Tucker only had two carries. Orange’s offense had a 90th percentile performance running the ball and a 16th percentile performance shooting the ball, so involving Tucker more in the second half apparently would have been beneficial. Instead, Syracuse saw Clemson slowly get the game back and never threatened to score in the last two quarters. With playoffs firmly in hand, Clemson now holds a two-game lead in the division with just two conference games remaining, while Syracuse will battle Wake Forest for second place in the Atlantic.
No. 17 Oklahoma State Cowboys 41, No. 5 Texas Longhorns 34
The 75-point scoring total in this game seems much more pedestrian when we see that each team had 19 possessions. For Texas, the 1.79 points per series number would rank 95th nationally so far this season. Quinn Ewers lobbed the ball downfield but couldn’t get it to work. He completed just over 40% of his passes with an average shooting depth of 13.7 yards similar to Tennessee. Spencer Sanders found enough efficiency to propel the Cowboys to a significant win, as he had a 4.8 EPA passing and a 6.3 EPA rushing. It was a disappointing loss for Texas and an encouraging return to the kind of suffocating pass defense that fueled much of Oklahoma State’s success last season.
No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide 30, No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs 6
Despite dominating the scoreboard from start to finish in this game, Alabama showed more worrying signs of vulnerability. This was the one of the tide the worst performance accelerated the hit rate in at least nine years, and Alabama had a total offensive EPA of -4.1 for the game. Bryce Young was accurate enough to help Alabama take their early lead, but it was a complete smothering of Mississippi State’s passing offense that was decisive. Will Rogers finished with a 19th percentile in EPA/approved and a 10th percentile in yards per return number. He was 5-for-18 when he threw 10 to 19 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and fell short of a 50.0 passer rating in every zone more than 10 yards beyond the line. After last week’s coverage debacles, Alabama significantly toughened things up against the Bulldogs and kept things at arm’s length even as the offense never found its groove.
No. 16 TCU Horned Frogs 38, No. 18 Kansas State Wildcats 28
TCU’s defense continues to allow big plays, but kept its lead in the second half as Kansas State finished the series with two missed field goals and two interceptions. Will Howard replaced the injured Adrian Martinez and was excellent, earning 17.5 EPA passes and averaging more than 10.0 yards per return, but the Wildcats’ vaunted running game didn’t find its usual pizzazz in this one. TCU remains undefeated and travels to Morgantown next Saturday in their quest to run the Big 12.
Mystery games next week
No. 38 Florida vs. No.2 Georgia
No. 1 Ohio State at No. 13 Penn State
No. 26 Notre Dame at No. 29 Syracuse
No. 17 Oklahoma State at No. 18 Kansas State
No. 39 Cincinnati at No. 14 UCF
No. 23 Kentucky at No. 6 Tennessee