Michigan Keeps Title Hopes Alive
No. 4 Michigan 21, No. 15 Penn State 17
NCAA Week 11 – EPA/play: Michigan -0.013, Penn State -0.104
On the season, Michigan has allowed 3.74 points per quality possession, 36th in the nation, and a quality possession rate of 34.7%, sixth in the nation. Penn State found a way to move the ball and create opportunities against the Wolverines, creating six quality possessions on 11 drives (54.5% Eckel Rate), but the Nittany Lions came away with just 2.67 points per quality possession in their four-point loss. Michigan allowed 0.063 EPA/play to Penn State outside of scoring opportunities, but once the Nittany Lions got a first down inside the 40, they averaged -0.372 EPA/play and an 18.2% success rate. Penn State found ways to move the ball, but Michigan’s defense prevented them from finding the end zone to pull out the road win.
Michigan’s offense generally struggled to move the ball, averaging a 38.6% success rate on the day, but the passing game averaged 0.140 EPA/play thanks to three Cade McNamara touchdowns. McNamara had a solid day, completing 65.5% of his passes and averaging 11.4 yards per completion. The story for McNamara and the Michigan wide receivers, and where most of their production came from, was yards after the catch. Michigan’s leading wide receivers in total yards (Erick Ali, Cornelius Johnson, and Hassan Haskins) combined for 160 total yards, 11.91 total EPA, and a touchdown, and 144 of those total yards (90%) came after the catch. Penn State missed 14 tackles in the game; the Wolverines didn’t need to attack deep mostly because their playmakers could gain chunk yards after quick, low-risk passes.
Michigan’s rushing attack averaged -0.134 EPA/play as they rushed on 56.6% of early downs, but Haskins made the Nittany Lions pay with yards after contact in the run game: 102 of Haskins’ 156 total rushing yards (65%) came after being hit. Haskins forced nine missed tackles yesterday, and yards per attempt (5.0) and 1.36 total EPA obscure the fact that his explosive playmaking ability likely won Michigan the game.
On the Penn State side, the Nittany Lions again opted for the high-volume Sean Clifford offense yet again; Clifford attempted 43 passes, his third straight game of attempting at least that many (47 against Maryland, 52 against Ohio State), but the offense averaged -0.192 EPA/pass. Clifford averaged just 8.9 yards per completion and had just one pass go for more than 20 yards, a 44-yard Parker Washington reception. Clifford attempted just one pass longer than 20 yards downfield, and the Nittany Lions amassed 144 yards after the catch, just 55.6% of their total receiving yards. Whereas the Wolverines forced missed tackles and made their successes count, the Nittany Lions, at only 32.6% success rate and a -0.104 EPA/play, had trouble finding that explosive ceiling.
The Nittany Lions should be commended for their aggression, going for it on six fourth downs and converting four, but the two they didn’t convert stand out: a disastrous fake field goal after a first-and-goal at Michigan’s 10-yard line had the dual effect of putting no points on the board and providing an out for the Wolverines, who started the next drive on their own 29 rather than their own 2. Finally, down four points with just 2:51 in the fourth, Penn State failed to convert on third-and-2 and fourth-and-2 on consecutive plays, killing the potential game-winning drive.
Penn State takes its fourth loss of the season and its fourth in which the Nittany Lions were tied or led in the second half. After starting 5-0, they have lost four of five games, although three of those four have come against ranked teams. They’ll get a chance to get right against Rutgers before traveling to East Lansing to try and play spoiler to Michigan State.
Michigan moves to 9-1, their only loss coming at Michigan State, and they are tied for second in the Big Ten East Standings. They’ll need some help to slip into the conference championship, but they have their work cut out for them: dispose of Maryland, beat Ohio State, and hope that Michigan State can’t pull off the upset in Columbus.
No. 9 Wake Forest 45, No. 27 NC State 42
EPA/play: Wake Forest 0.152, NC State 0.051
In a battle to stay alive in the ACC Atlantic Division, NC State traveled to Wake Forest Saturday night. The game took a few possessions to reveal itself as a shootout but became one nonetheless. The Demon Deacons led 7-6 after three possessions each, but the two would go on to combine for 87 points in the next 14 possessions. Both teams missed field goals in the game, and each committed three turnovers. The decisive play, though, may have very well been a 57-yard Taylor Morin kick return that set Wake Forest up to kick a field goal with three seconds left in the first half. By effectively stealing a possession, the Demon Deacons had the three-point cushion they needed to stave off an NC State comeback in the second half.
While both teams had turnover issues, one must remember that not all turnovers are created equal. NC State and Wake traded interceptions at midfield early in the game, which had no effect on subsequent drives. But later in that half, NC State fumbled at its own 39 and Wake Forest returned it to the 5-yard line, scoring a touchdown on the very next play. The Deacons and Wolfpack traded interceptions again in the second half, but both were deep in the defense’s own territory, and so not much was to be gained—NC State drove the ball well, but after a first-and-10 at the Wake Forest 19, came away with nothing but a missed field goal. Again, the Wolfpack intercepted Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman but were rewarded only with a possession starting at their own 20. Despite three turnovers, only Wake Forest stood to gain from field position.
NC State found more success rushing the ball than passing, largely thanks to selection. They averaged 0.076 EPA/rush but rushed on just 23% of their early downs. Wake Forest, on the other hand, had a much more prolific rushing attack, with mixed results. The Demon Deacons rushed on 56% of early downs but averaged just -0.024 EPA/rush. In the passing game, Sam Hartman far outpaced Devin Leary, despite what the volume stats suggest. Although Leary threw for 408 yards to Hartman’s 290 and only two interceptions to Hartman’s three, Hartman accounted for 14.3 total EPA and averaged 14.5 yards per completion, while Leary amassed 2.6 total EPA and averaged just 11.0 yards per completion. The issue of selection gets even more dramatic when one considers the distribution of passes that Wake Forest threw: 13 of Hartman’s 20 completions (65%) and 61% of his total yards came inside the numbers. That’s the beauty of Dave Clawson’s offense—the Clawfense, if you will—they run a slow mesh and are heavy on RPOs. On offense, the Deacons were able to execute their game plan, and their defense did enough to get them by.
Wake Forest, now one of just 15 teams with one or fewer losses, ranks 16th in EPA/play margin, seventh out of that group. They’ll travel to Clemson Saturday to secure a spot in the ACC Championship Game. The Deacs haven’t beaten Clemson since 2008, and haven’t won in Clemson since 1998. Dave Clawson and his crew will look to buck the trend.
No. 12 Ole Miss 29, No. 8 Texas A&M 19
EPA/play: Ole Miss: -0.047, Texas A&M -0.075
In Oxford on Saturday, both teams averaged a negative EPA/play. We knew the key matchup going in would be Texas A&M’s fourth-ranked defense against Ole Miss’ eighth-ranked offense, and if you told an impartial observer before the game that the Aggies would hold the Rebels to almost a quarter-point less than their season-average on offense, they would have assumed the Aggies had won. In fact, Ole Miss’ defense, a unit that had struggled all season and especially of late, sealed the victory for the Rebels, intercepting Zach Calzada twice in the latter half of the fourth quarter to put a 15-13 slugfest entirely out of reach.
Ole Miss returned one interception for a touchdown, and the other was so deep in Aggies territory that the Rebels had only to march 14 yards for a touchdown. Outside of those two drives, Texas A&M scored 19 points on 11 drives, holding Ole Miss to just 13 points on 12 drives. Ole Miss had not been held below two points per drive in SEC play, but outside of those interceptions, the Aggies held Ole Miss to just 1.08.
What should have been a decisive defensive win was blown open by offensive mistakes, and the Aggies came away with their third loss of the season, on the outside looking in at the SEC West championship. Ole Miss, on the other hand, survives thanks to its defense and perhaps Jimbo Fisher’s reluctance to run the ball. They’ll host Vanderbilt and then travel to Starkville to finish out their season, perhaps with a shot to play themselves into a division championship.
No. 28 Pittsburgh 30, No. 44 North Carolina 23 (OT)
Thursday night in the rain, Pitt and North Carolina played a barnburner. The Panthers jumped out to a 17-0 lead and seemed to be cruising into halftime. Two wrenches were thrown into the Panthers’ plan. First, a Pitt cornerback fell down and left Tar Heels receiver Antoine Green wide open for a 76-yard touchdown pass to bring the game within 10. Second, a, shall we say, dubious late hit call took Pitt from a third-and-7 to a third-and-22 situation with 30 seconds left, and the Panthers scrambled and ended up missing a field goal. What could have been a 30-0 halftime lead was just a 23-7 advantage, and as the rain came down, the Tar Heels came back. A tipped interception for Kenny Pickett gave the Tar Heels a chance at the tying field goal, but the Panthers took care of business in overtime to win 30-23 and stay one game ahead of the Virginia Cavaliers in the Coastal Division with two left to play. Pickett had arguably his worst game, thanks to the rain, amassing -1.73 total EPA on the day, but the Panthers got the win and host Virginia to play for the division championship this weekend.
No. 18 Baylor 27, No. 14 Oklahoma 14
Oklahoma seemed destined to lose a close game, and Baylor, fresh off an embarrassing loss in Fort Worth, seemed prime to be the trap game that finally stuck the Sooners. Not many expected, though, the 27-14 beatdown that happened in Waco. Dave Aranda’s Baylor defense was more than disruptive against Lincoln Riley’s offense, and Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams looked, at times, lost on the field. He accounted for 6.02 total EPA on 19 attempts, but threw two interceptions and was benched in the fourth quarter for Spencer Rattler in an odd full-circle event for the Sooners. Baylor, with the win, more or less erases the damage from last week’s loss in their Big 12 title hunt, and the Sooners now have more pressure to win Bedlam against Oklahoma State than they have in years.
No. 126 Kansas 57, No. 19 Texas 56 (OT)
This column would be remiss if it failed to point out that the University of Texas football team lost to Kansas at home on Saturday.
No. 1 Georgia 41, No. 32 Tennessee 17
Tennessee scored on their first drive, which against Georgia is an accomplishment in and of itself, but that’s about all the Volunteers did in their 41-17 loss at home. Georgia’s excellent defense held Tennessee to a -0.01 EPA/play on a 43.4% success rate and the Vols gained only 40.3% of available yards. Georgia’s James Cook ran for two touchdowns, 104 yards, and 6.75 total EPA in the win. The Bulldogs continued their almost tiresome march to the SEC Championship Game this weekend, and be sure that Kirby Smart already is working on his game plan for Alabama.
OFI Top 15
1. Georgia (+47.3)
2. Alabama (+45.8)
3. Ohio State (+37.5)
4. Michigan (+14.2) +2 from last week
5. Cincinnati (+12.6) -2
6. Oklahoma State (+26.4) +2
7. Wake Forest (+33.9) +5
8. Oregon (+15.8) -1
9. Houston (+37.1) +1
10. Michigan State (+6.4) +1
11. Notre Dame (+15.2) +4
12. Pittsburgh (+25.24) NR
13. UTSA (+23.6)14. 14
14. Wisconsin (+18.3) NR
15. Ole Miss (+15.1) NR
Hovering: Baylor, BYU, NC State, Arizona State, Louisiana, Virginia.
Out: Oklahoma’s loss exposes their dropoff at the quarterback position this year, and their defensive secondary has not improved throughout the course of the season. Texas A&M’s offensive woes may be too much to overcome for their defense, and Coastal Carolina’s status as Group of 5 darling has largely worn thin as they dropped a second game this weekend.