Another successful week of college football is in the books. This week, we got two premier fights on the card: on last-minute notice, BYU filled in for LIberty and took on Coastal Carolina in a battle of undefeateds, while Indiana and Wisconsin went nine rounds in Camp Randall. The top 10 teams largely cruised this weekend, and the playoff picture is drawing more and more into focus, thanks to a few teams from Oklahoma, the Most Interesting State in College Football.
No. 20 Coastal Carolina 22, No. 4 BYU 17
The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers got outgained 6.98 to 5.30 yards per play on Saturday, completed 10 passes for just 85 yards, and averaged -0.067 passing EPA/play … but they rushed the ball 54 times and still came out on top against BYU in what may turn out to be a seminal game for college football, not just in 2020 but beyond. BYU and Coastal Carolina made on-the-fly schedule adjustments to make this matchup happen, and college football fans everywhere were rewarded with a highly entertaining, high-drama contest. The teams were neck-and-neck the entire way, tied 14-13 at the half. BYU’s Zach Wilson had his worst passing game of the season, completing just 63% of his passes for 240 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He found Dax Milne six times for 106 yards, but the team struggled to finish drives — they averaged a 43% success rate, had 15 explosive plays, and gained 47% of available yards, but only scored 1.0 point per scoring opportunity on the day.
The best story of the day, by far, was the Chanticleers defense, as the Sun Belt team contained one of the nation’s most dynamic passing offenses. Including the interception, the BYU passing game averaged just -0.169 EPA/play. The Chanticleers defense played the ultimate bend-but-don’t-break game, led by cornerback Derick Bush, who had eight total tackles and a goal-line interception that swung the game back in Coastal Carolina’s favor.
On offense, Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall had a quiet day, but the rushing attack was ruthless — 281 yards on 5.27 yards per carry and three touchdowns. Coastal’s long play of the day was just 20 yards as the Chanticleers relied on consistent success and extending drives (46% of third downs converted) to march down the field and keep pace with BYU’s offense. From here, Coastal Carolina has two more opportunities to make their case as the Group of Five’s best team; a trip to Troy and then the Sun Belt Championship Game, where they’ll get a shot to add a third ranked win to their resume and complete the undefeated season. BYU now looks largely out of the New Year’s Six race, but with the Group of Five autobid not available to them, they were a long shot anyway to get in. They’ll host San Diego State in their final regular-season game.
No. 19 Indiana 14, No. 6 Wisconsin 6
Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. tore his ACL against Maryland, and Indiana’s 5-1 season looked a lot less fun with a trip to Camp Randall looming. Sophomore Jack Tuttle took over for Penix on the road against Wisconsin and brought some fun back to the Hoosiers. Tuttle completed 59% of his passes, connecting with Whop Philyor four times for a touchdown and 47 yards. Stevie Scott rushed for just 3.2 yards per carry, and the passing touchdowns were the difference in game where neither team had much downfield attack.
The Indiana defense held Wisconsin to just two field goals, drives where Wisconsin averaged 5.54 yards per play, but outside of that, the Badgers averaged 4.60 yards per play, punting or turning the ball over on six of their eight drives. The Badgers had a first down at the Indiana 21-yard line with just over a minute to play, but a crucial sack and a pass breakup resulted in a turnover on downs and an Indiana win. The Hoosiers held Wisconsin to a 31% rushing success rate and -0.202 EPA/pass, entirely disrupting the Badgers offense and preventing those long, crushing drives Wisconsin so often strings together. Quarterback Graham Mertz completed only 58% of passes and threw an interception. Most of Wisconsin’s offensive production came from running back Jalen Berge, who averaged 5.8 yards per carry on the night.
Indiana still has an outside shot at berth in the Big Ten title game, but regardless, they’ve continued their ascension under Tom Allen and have put together a solid Big Ten team with capabilities of developing into a contender. They’ll end their regular season against Purdue this weekend. Wisconsin, on the other hand, may be ready to chalk 2020 up as a lost season. The Badgers have played just five games after three cancellations, and they’ll face a ranked Iowa on the road this weekend to try and salvage a .500 record.
The State of Oklahoma
Given that this weekend featured only two matchups between ranked teams, it seems prudent to check in on what might be the most interesting state in college football at the moment. Three teams from the state of Oklahoma entered the weekend ranked by the College Football Playoff Committee. Oklahoma led the pack at No. 11, Oklahoma State followed at No. 15, and Tulsa sat at No. 24, and all three of them have direct implications on the postseason.
Oklahoma, since two early-season losses thanks to a couple of key suspensions and a young quarterback learning the ropes, has been on a tear: six straight wins, four by double digits, including ranked wins versus Texas and Oklahoma State. The Sooners are averaging +0.121 EPA/play on offense for the season, and the defense is eighth nationally in EPA/play allowed. The Sooners’ pass rush has been brutal with the trio of Nik Bonitto, Ronnie Perkins, and Isaiah Thomas combining for 17 sacks and 100 pressures on the season. The offense has picked up as of late too: after throwing five interceptions in his first five games, Spencer Rattler has thrown just two interceptions in the last five, completing over 70% of his passes and throwing for nine touchdowns in that span. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson has come on strong too — he’s averaging 5.9 yards per carry with six touchdowns on 65 attempts, gaining a first down on almost one in three of his touches.
That being said, the Sooners had a rough weekend. They beat Baylor 27-14, averaging negative EPA/play in the rush (-0.244) and the pass (-0.041) for the game with only four explosive plays. The Bears sufficiently stifled the Sooners offense in the first half, holding Oklahoma to 10 points on seven drives. The Sooners never could pull away from Baylor’s defense; Rattler finished the day with a 71.4% completion rate, but only 193 total yards, and Stevenson was held to just 50 yards on 15 carries for the day. There was smoke around Oklahoma possibly sneaking into the playoff with a Big 12 championship, and the defense looks better than it has before, but the struggles against an average defense make the matchup with Iowa State all the more worrisome; Iowa State’s defense has come on strong as of late, and their offense seems to be doing it’s normal end-of-season ramp-up. The Big 12 Championship Game may have more national significance than it has in years, even as Oklahoma guns for its seventh consecutive conference championship.
Oklahoma State factors into the playoff picture because their 24-21 win over Iowa State is the only thing keeping the Cyclones out of the playoff conversation. Since beating Iowa State, the Cowboys have gone a narrow 2-3 — narrow in the sense that they very easily could have and perhaps should have lost a 50-44 contest to Texas Tech in Week 13. Oklahoma State earned their third loss this season, 29-22 to TCU, clinching a Big 12 Championship Game matchup of Oklahoma and Iowa State. Oklahoma State looked hapless on offense, averaging just a 25% success rate, -0.209 EPA/rush, and -0.160 EPA/pass against a TCU defense that looked reminiscent of the early 2010s. Oklahoma State is now out of the Big 12 Championship Game picture and has firmly counted themselves out of a New Year’s Six bid; given that 2020’s defense was supposed to be the best of Mike Gundy’s tenure, it’s hard to see things in Stillwater as dismal.
Finally, Tulsa beat Navy 19-6, which is mostly significant in that the Golden Hurricanes have just one loss on the season (a 16-7 setback in Stillwater to Oklahoma State) and have a back-to-back series with Cincinnati, thanks to a rescheduled game and the AAC Championship Game. With two wins there and some help, Tulsa could find itself in a New Year’s six bowl; with just a split, they could wreck Cincinnati’s playoff and perhaps New Year’s Six hopes. Tulsa won the field position battle 41-27 but only gained 36% of available yards and averaged -0.321 EPA/rush against Navy. They’ll need better quarterback play and a more consistent rushing attack to get by Luke Fickell’s Bearcats once, let alone twice.
These players added the most value to their teams in Week 14:
- Brock Purdy, Iowa State QB, +31.1 total EPA
Purdy completed 87% of his passes, throwing for 247 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-6 beatdown of West Virginia.
- Carter Bradley, Toledo QB, +29.4 total EPA
Against Northern Illinois, the sophomore Bradley threw for three touchdowns and 432 total yards, averaging 14.8 yards per completion.
- Bijan Robinson, Texas RB, +18.9 total EPA
Texas tried their best to drop 70 against Kansas State on the back of Robinson’s nine carries: he gained 172 yards, averaged 19.1 yards per carry, and rushed for three touchdowns. Robinson also added 51 yards through the air.
- Kevin Harris, South Carolina RB, +17.9 total EPA
In a losing effort, 41-18 to Kentucky, Harris was about the only bright spot for South Carolina. He carried the ball 21 times for 210 yards and caught a 17-yard reception as well.
- Treylon Burkes, Arkansas WR, +17.2 total EPA
In another losing effort, Burkes caught 10 passes for 206 yards, averaging 20.6 yards per reception on the day. It was Burkes’ fourth 100-plus-yard receiving game of the season, and he added one to his touchdown total Saturday, bringing that up to seven on the season.
Note: All rankings refer to F+, a combination of Brian Fremeau’s drive-based FEI ratings with Bill Connelly’s play-level SP+ ratings. Advanced Stats and leaderboards can be found at cfb-graphs.com. Follow Parker on Twitter: @statsowar.