Week 10 of the college football season is the first official fire hose weekend of the season where we get the information faster than we can absorb it. On Wednesday evening we inhaled six MAC games at the same time. On Friday night, we’ll see the undefeated playoff sleeper BYU take on what is by far his toughest test of the season. And on Saturday we have a top four team fight (Clemson-Notre Dame), a neutral fight for second place in the SEC (Florida-Georgia), and, oh yeah, the first five Pac-12 games of the season.
Let’s go over some of the most interesting questions and storylines from Fire Hose Weekend.
Travis Etienne, the ultimate checkdown
If you’re playing Clemson, chances are your defense is second best in the game. However, this may not be the case if the tigers visit Notre Dame on Saturday night. Clemson has resolved some big problems in the past two weeks, giving up more than 20 points to Syracuse and Boston College. It’s tenth in defensive SP + – oh the shame, the horror – while Notre Dame ranks eighth after dropping more than 13 points just once a year.
With Trevor Lawrence still absent from his coronavirus diagnosis, Notre Dame will instead be preparing to host a D.J. Uiagalelei. The blue-chip rookie and Cam Newton clone spearheaded a big comeback against BC last week, completing 70% of their passes without selection this season.
Notre Dame’s defense is much better than BC’s, however. The Irish force you back on schedule with negative games – they come in second place in the stuff rate (running stops at or behind the line), sixth place in the pass pressure rate, and 16th place in the sack rate. Rate. They force you into third and long-term situations and they leave the field: Opponents have an 11% success rate in third and seventh place, the fourth lowest in the country.
While star linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was just as good as expected (six tackles against loss, seven run stuffs), his dance partner Adetokunbo Ogundeji broke out.
Adetokunbo Ogundeji Pass Rushing Statistics:
2019: 199 rushes, 9.5% printing rate, 4.5 bags
2020: 105 rushes, 17.1% printing rate, 3 bags
While only 16% of FBS receptions went to players off the field, 25% of receptions against Notre Dame correspond to this designation, according to Sports Info Solutions. This is usually a great thing for the Irish – they rave about the ball and only give up 6.1 yards per finish in those passes, well below the national average of 8.2 yards per finish.
However, Travis Etienne has no other teams.
Handover to Travis Etienne in 2020. The most valuable currency in football is risk-free explosiveness. That could make him the most valuable skill corps guy in CFB. pic.twitter.com/WNxeTeP5RO
– Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) 5th November 2020
Great offensive players sometimes make you think that intelligent defensive coaches are stupid. They make you think things like “HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW THAT THE BALL IS GOING TO THIS GUY?” than they almost certainly did. Clemson’s running back star has had a perfectly solid year of rushing – he won 606 yards (5.9 per carry) with nine touchdowns. But it was a cheat code in the passing game.
Virginia and Miami have smart, effective coaches and solid defenses. They knew Etienne was extremely dangerous off the field and they probably communicated this to their players as clearly as possible. And he still caught 13 balls for 187 yards and 10 first downs. A whopping 116 of these yards came after the first contact.
When Uiagalelei stood up for Lawrence last week and was about to make a big comeback, he found Etienne repeatedly for quick and easy wins. The senior caught seven passes for 140 yards, one touchdown and five first downs.
Granted, BC, Virginia, and Miami all play more man than Notre Dame, which can result in both lower graduation rates and higher big play rates. The Irish are content with forming a cloud with quarter coverage and rave about short completions. Maybe it is like that in Etienne, but you still have to bring him down when you get to him. Easier said than done.
This game offers Notre Dame a great opportunity. As ESPN’s Seth Walder noted, an Irish win would give them the same chances as Clemson of making the college football playoffs. Clemson tends to react to losses or near-riots like last week’s BC game by kicking the metal for the remainder of the season, but with Lawrence still out we don’t really know what kind of Tigers performance we’ll see. We know they’ll likely be leaning on Etienne, and that tends to pay off.
Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney, the ultimate matchup nightmares
Florida was easy to forget. Dan Mullens Gators lost a 41:38 meeting against Texas A&M and then was sidelined for two weeks due to a coronavirus outbreak. However, they played their most complete game of the season against Missouri last Saturday. Her offensive rolled again – 514 yards (7.2 per game), 41 points – but her defense actually showed itself, keeping Mizzou at 17 points and 248 yards (3.9 per game). Granted, those numbers look a little different with Tiger Jalen Knox holding onto an open 73-yard bomb in the second quarter, but mistakes are always part of the total. This was certainly Florida’s best defensive performance of the season.
Combined with Georgia’s 14-3 win over Kentucky, a nondescript Bearhug win, Florida’s performance enabled the Gators to overtake the Dawgs in my SP + ratings. The Gators and Dawgs are almost dead overall as Georgia dropped to 46th place on the offensive SP +.
However, Georgia still has the best defense in the country, which allows Florida to find out exactly how good its offensive really is. Alabama’s Nick Saban told ESPN’s Chris Low a few weeks ago, “It used to be that if you had a good defense, other people wouldn’t score. They would always be in the game.” That’s still mostly true, but Bama’s No. 1 (per offensive SP +) offense earned Georgia’s No. 1 defense 564 yards and 41 points.
Florida’s misdemeanor is # 4. Does that set the bar? SP + predicts the Gators will score 26 points at the Dawgs – the only teams to have bet that much on Georgia over the past two seasons are LSU last year and Bama this year. No. 1 offenses, both. We’ll see if the Gators can reach this diluted air.
Florida’s offensive success is based on two things:
1. No negative games. The Gators occupy 15th place in the permissible stuff rate and ninth place in the permissible sack rate. The running game was just fine this year: 29th in the success rate, but with a few big games – basically the direct opposite of last year’s all-or-nothing base game. Backs Dameon Pierce, Nay’Quan Wright and Malik Davis aren’t many yards averaging before contact, but they break the first tackle, fall forward, and create a second or third and manageable.
The running game was a bit of a problem in the red zone – the Gators are only 68th in the goal-to-goal touchdown rate and 83rd in the first-and-goal success rate – but it does its main purpose. Plus, it just has to be that good in this passing game.
2. Perhaps the most unique, scary 1-2 punch in the country. Tight end Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney have hit 44 catches, 652 yards and 13 touchdowns in just four conference games, but that kind of doesn’t tell the full story.
Quarterback Kyle Trask doesn’t have an abundance of pre-made prototypes from outside receivers. Trevon Grimes is in fact the only true wideout with more than seven catches. But in Pitts and Toney, which Florida lists as “Athletes” rather than WR, Trask has two uninterrupted matchup nightmares.
Toney primarily positions himself in the slot, forcing the defense to decide whether to move their best corner and cause potential problems elsewhere, or cover him with their nickelback and risk getting burned. Seventeen of its 22 catches have arrived within seven meters of the border, and four of those catches are at least 16 meters long. It doesn’t even bounce or suck, it wobbles, and it’s almost impossible to argue and pull down. In addition, the threat of a quick pass for Toney has helped to completely negate the opponents’ rush to pass. Opponents flash only 17% of the time (the 16th lowest rate in FBS), and Trask was fired only four times throughout the year. It will be fascinating how Georgia and its top 20 lightning rate attack this passing game.
Incidentally, longer passes for Toney: 5 against 8 for 115 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. You can’t overestimate the fast passes as you will burn yourself deeply.
In Pitts there is now simply a man who can line up anywhere and against anyone, runs on any route and is likely to succeed.
This year goes to Florida’s Kyle Pitts.
Put it anywhere, throw it anywhere. Love it.
(Red = comp, blue = INC, yellow = TD) pic.twitter.com/Rphu8W7tSy
– Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) 4th November 2020
These are boom times for tight ends – 16 is an average of at least 50 reception yards per game. Among them, Pitts is first on touchdowns (seven), first on drop rate (0.0%), third on first downs or touchdowns per reception (86%), fifth on yards per catch (16, 1) and the sixth at yards after the catch per reception (6.1). He’s everything an old school man should be, and he’s also one of the deeper threats to the country. If anyone can stop him, it’s Georgia. But there is no guarantee that Georgia can slow it down.
Why it’s really okay to trust USC this time (No, really! It’s completely different this time! Honestly!)
I did some Pac hits in Pac-12 land in the run-up to the 2020 debut conference of the conference, and we inevitably come to the same question in every segment: why on earth should we trust USC? This Time?
This, of course, is USC that we are talking about. The Trojans ranked first in the pre-season AP survey in 2012, eighth in 2015, and 15th in 2018, and each time finished without rank. They randomly rise to 10: 2 and sixth place in 2011, to 10: 3 and third place in 2016, and skip that increase for years. Every time we talk about them as favorites of any kind, it feels like we’re falling into a trap. Of course, I can’t say that this time will be different.
It’s worth noting, however, that this is a team that currently ranks 20th in the AP poll, not fifth or anything. But I can say that at least the reasons for considering the Trojans as conference favorites are different than usual. It is usually based on high recruiting rankings and potential. This time it is based on proven production and experience.
The two best-proven units in the Pac-12 are the USC Offensive and the Oregon Defense. Your other units – an Oregon offense led by a new quarterback and coordinated by Joe Moorhead, and a USC defense with vast experience now coordinated by Todd Orlando – will determine whether either team will take the table can lead and threaten to catch a CFP mooring. But USC’s offensive was ninth on the SP + offensive last year and starts eighth this season. Quarterback Kedon Slovis turned out to be the perfect chunk of clay for offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, and although he’s without recipient Michael Pittman Jr. this year, he still has Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. The running game should stay efficient, if not incredibly explosive (similar to Florida), and the only question really is what the Trojans have in the offensive tackle after losing both of last year’s starters.
If we talk well about USC this year, we are not talking about what the Trojans could do, but what they have already proven. If the combination of Orlando and great two-down defense can easily make defense a top 40 unit, offense should be able to carry the weight of a strong division title fight. This is not incredibly exaggerated hype by USC standards, and I think the Trojans can do it justice.
(Note: This message is self-destructive and will be completely deleted from the Internet when the State of Arizona hits the Trojans on Saturday.)
The energy surrounding the Pac-12 is palpable as players and coaches are ready to kick off the season.
A great test for the BYU defense
I’ve spent a good chunk of the last two months talking about BYU and discovering that while the Cougars have a terribly weak schedule – one that, of course, wasn’t their fault as their original, P5-heavy schedule broke up in August – they dominate this schedule at the same level as most of the top teams. They earned their place in the AP Top 10.
You also only have three games left to make a lasting impression. After playing at Boise State on Friday night, they will host FCS newcomers North Alabama on November 12 and San Diego State on December 12. While SDSU has been outstanding itself so far, SP + BYU gives an 83% chance of 2-0 in these games.
It only gives them a 59% chance of surviving Friday in Boise. Bryan Harsin’s Broncos rank 26th in SP + after thorough defeats to Utah State and Air Force and currently have the highest pass rate (68%), pass rate (65%), and touchdown rate (100)%) and points-per -Drive average (4.2) in FBS. Small sample against weak competition? Naturally. But this wouldn’t be the first time that the BSUs have played excellent offensive football.
It’s unclear what the BSU defense has to offer – the Broncos were set on fire by the Air Force for 415 rushing yards last week, but the Air Force’s option is different from anything the BYU throws at the BSU for better or for worse. But even if BYU star quarterback Zach Wilson continues to thrive, the BYU defense, which was good but not as bulletproof as the offensive, is going to take a tough test.
BYU has been content with playing mostly soft zone coverage against opposing passing games. While this helps to limit large games, it could also mean a high completion rate and opportunities for ball control for one of the BSU’s quarterbacks: Starter Hank Bachmeier (20-for-28 for 268 yards against Utah State) or Jack Sears (17-for- 20 for 280 yards against Air Force). Bachmeier’s injury status is unclear, but Sears, a USC transfer, is a damn good backup option.
Playlist week 10
Here are 10 games – at least one from each time slot – to watch out for in order to get the most out of the weekend, from both an informational and a entertainment perspective.
All times east.
# 9 BYU at # 21 Boise State (9.45 p.m., FS1). The game that determines whether we will continue to offer two mid majors (BYU and Cincy) or just a dark horse CFP hype.
Arizona State at No. 20 USC (12:00 PM, Fox). Honestly, I’m not sure if the benefits of “let’s start at 9 a.m. local time like it’s a high school cross-country get-together or something” outweigh the cons, but at least I don’t have to go all day wait to have my USC questions answered.
# 23 Michigan at # 13 Indiana (12 p.m., FS1). Michigan has had the full experience of relying on high-upside sophomores in the first two games of the season. At first it was surpassed a lot, then it was undercut even more. What happened to the top-ranked Indiana team in 33 years?
# 25 Liberty at Virginia Tech (12 noon, ACC Network). These teams have two of the most interesting and powerful offenses in the country, and Liberty made its way into the SP + Top 50 for the first time. This could be a track meeting.
# 8 Florida at # 5 Georgia (3:30 p.m., CBS). The winner becomes a favorite for the CFP … if he can beat Bama in December. Child’s play, right?
# 14 Oklahoma State, Kansas State (4 p.m., Fox). The Pokes were unlucky to lose to Texas but have to recover immediately against another team that lost their first conference game last Saturday.
# 1 Clemson at # 4 Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., NBC). I trust Clemson and I assume the Tigers will find a way to win, but I don’t want to underestimate how physical this Notre Dame team is or how well the defense is playing right now.
Stanford, Oregon # 12 (7:30 p.m. ABC). After finding out about one Pac-12 primary challenger early in the day, we can find out about the other late. What is Moorhead’s new crime in the west (and how many sacks will Kayvon Thibodeaux have this year)?
# 11 Miami, NC State (7:30 p.m., ESPN). If Notre Dame loses, Miami will be in the middle of the race for the second ACC title playground. But the canes have to get past a capricious NC State team that defended their third losses quite well.
New Mexico in Hawaii (12 noon, Spectrum Sports). It’s your first chance of the season to see Robert Kekaula and the Hawaii broadcast team at midnight. It’s also an opportunity to watch Hawaii’s adorable, swift attack.