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The Numerical, Week 3: No, the Playoff is not ruining college football

The Numerical examines saving chaos for when you need it, Tyler Murphy has found the right system, Bowling Green ran 113 plays in regulation, we should be able to review for delay of game penalties, and ... we're still having fun here, even with a Playoff.

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Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Numerical is a weekly exploration of the best box score nuggets from all around major college football.


Against an Ohio defense that held Kentucky to 402 yards (4.8 per play) and 20 points, Marshall rolled up 705 (8.9 per play) and scored 44 on Saturday. Steward Butler and Devon Johnson carried 33 times for 210 yards and a touchdown. Davonte Allen, Angelo Jean-Louis, and Tommy Shuler caught 13 passes for 371 yards and four scores. Rakeem Cato completed 17 of 29 passes for 425 yards, four scores, a pick, and a sack (yards per attempt, including sacks: 14.0).

Even though Conference USA is looking more competitive than we thought -- in the East, WKU is prolific*, UAB has a pulse, and MTSU looks decent; Louisiana Tech and UTSA look salty in the West (and Rice and UTEP haven't looked terrible) -- Marshall's strength of schedule is still going to be one of the worst in the country. But the Herd can still prove themselves by whipping teams the way they whipped Ohio. The final score was 44-14, and it could have been much worse.

* Western Kentucky managed to gain 700-plus yards and lose, falling in overtime to MTSU. In some ways, that's a more impressive accomplishment than Marshall's.


In two games against FBS defenses (ULM and Utah State), Wake Forest has gained 326 total yards (2.7 per play). There are currently 110 FBS teams averaging better than 326 yards per game.

Wake Forest plays Florida State on October 4, by the way.


Not including sacks, Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy rushed 39 times for 248 yards in six starts for Florida last season. In two games since using the graduate transfer exception to become BC's starter, Murphy has rushed 37 times for 447 yards. I think he may have found a system for his talents.

In a 37-31 upset of USC, Murphy had 12 non-sack carries for 202 yards; USC simply could not get a bead on the Eagles' shifts and Murphy's reads. Though in fairness, Murphy's play-fake is pretty damn awesome.

I would fall for that every time. I'm also not a blue-chipper, but still.


Through three games, Alabama quarterback Blake Sims' passer rating is 177.3, ninth in the FBS among quarterbacks with at least 50 passes. He's completing 75 percent of his passes at 13.5 yards per completion, with four touchdowns and one interception. He's not facing impressive defenses, and he's not being asked to do just a whole lot -- catch the snap, throw quickly to Amari Cooper -- but he's doing it with incredible efficiency.

Needless to say, Florida's defense will offer a higher level of resistance this coming Saturday (most exciting matchup of the weekend: Cooper vs. Vernon Hargreaves III), but there's no doubt that Sims has passed the tests given to him so far.


Bowling Green and Indiana played a mundane first half; despite shootout potential, the Hoosiers led by a 14-12 margin at the break. And then the teams combined for 61 points in the second half. By the time the game was over, the teams had fulfilled prolific expectations with 1,153 total yards.

Indiana actually held BGSU to a pedestrian 5.1 yards per play. The problem: the Falcons ran 113 plays. ONE HUNDRED THIRTEEN. Quarterback James Knapke went 46-for-73 passing and still found time to hand to Travis Greene 24 times.

BGSU scored on four of their final five drives, all of which lasted at least 10 plays. They weren't able to carve out large chunks of yardage, but Knapke's efficiency told the story. Eventually Indiana's defense caved.

Meanwhile, Hoosier conference mates Iowa had a different kind of second-half issue. The Hawkeyes took a 14-3 lead over in-state rival Iowa State into halftime but gained just 102 yards in 28 plays in the second half. A weary defense allowed fourth-quarter scoring drives of 10 plays and 92 yards and 11 plays and 51 drives, and Iowa State pulled off a 20-17 comeback win.


Toledo trailed Cincinnati by 34 points, 41-7, with about 32 minutes left Friday night. Eighteen minutes later, they trailed by 41-34. Georgia Southern trailed Georgia Tech by 25 points with 31 minutes left, then took a 38-35 lead 21 minutes later. Both comeback efforts were in vain -- Cincinnati scored the last 17 points to again pull away, and Georgia Tech rebounded to win as well -- but they set the tone for a silly, entertaining weekend.


Havoc rate is a pretty simple method for looking at how much hell a defense is raising. Add up tackles for loss (which includes sacks), forced fumbles, and defensed passes (picks and break-ups), divide it by total plays, and voila: havoc rate. The national havoc average in 2013 was 15.9 percent.

Against Georgia, South Carolina's was a paltry 11.7: four tackles for loss (two sacks) and three pass break-ups in 60 snaps. Not very good. However ...

A) It represented significant improvement from South Carolina's first two games, in which the Gamecocks averaged a woeful 6 percent against Texas A&M and East Carolina: five tackles for loss, five passes defensed in 166 snaps. (Further frame of reference: Navy was dead last in havoc last year at 9.3 percent.)

B) South Carolina's second "sack" saved the game. Georgia trailed 38-35 with 5:24 left, and Damian Swann had just picked off S.C. quarterback Dylan Thompson and returned the ball to the Gamecocks' 4. Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo had called seven consecutive run plays (three for Todd Gurley, one for Sony Michel, three for fullback Quayvon Hicks) to finish Georgia's last scoring drive, and he decided it was time for the play-action bootleg that tends to work pretty easily in those situations. Only, when Mason turned to run to his right after faking the handoff, Dixon was charging at him. Mason attempted to throw the ball at a back's feet (a "grounding" that doesn't tend to draw a penalty), but the ball deflected off of Dixon, and Mason was penalized.

It was a pretty tenuous call, and if the ball doesn't hit Dixon, it doesn't get called at all -- but it set into motion the chain of events that won South Carolina the game. Facing second-and-goal from the 14, Georgia quickly went three-and-out (thanks in part to a pass broken up by J.T. Surratt), and previously automatic place-kicker Marshall Morgan missed a 28-yard field goal off of the right hash. South Carolina moved the chains a couple of times, converted a fourth-and-1 by a literal millimeter, and ran out the clock for the win.

So while South Carolina didn't generate much havoc, it generated clutch havoc. That's something.


Since throwing his third interception of the first half in the season opener against Boise State, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has averaged 10.7 yards per pass attempt.

  • Before: 11-for-17 (65 percent), 103 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions -- 17.6 percent interception rate, 0.0 percent sack rate, 6.1 yards per pass attempt
  • After: 60-for-77 (78 percent), 920 yards, eight touchdowns, one interception -- 1.3 percent interception rate, 7.2 percent sack rate, 10.7 yards per pass attempt

A lot of that came against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, but a lot of it also came against Vanderbilt and the same Boise State team that had roughed him up at the start. Wallace has played relaxed, smart ball, and while it has gotten him sacked a bit more, it has proven that the Ole Miss offense has upside despite a run game that has only worked in one of three games.

The real tests begin soon enough -- Alabama visits on October 4 -- but this is the version of Dr. Bo Ole Miss fans have been hoping to see. We'll see if he sticks around.


On September 9, 2004, Troy beat Missouri, 24-14, on national television. It kicked off a half-decade or so of sustained mid-major success for the Trojans. They finished 7-5 in 2004, whipping 9-3 Florida Atlantic and reaching their first bowl game. Two years later, they nearly beat Florida State and WON their first bowl game. The year after that, they rocked Oklahoma State by 18 and gave an 11-win Georgia team a hard time.

Things have taken a turn, however. Troy fell from 8-5 to 3-9 in 2011, and while the Trojans had rebounded a bit -- 5-7 in 2012, 6-6 in 2013 -- 2014 has started out as a complete dud. Troy lost by 38 points to UAB in the season opener, and after rallying to play well for a while against Duke, the Trojans lost, 38-35, to FCS newcomer Abilene Christian on Saturday.

Ten years ago Abilene Christian was losing to Eastern New Mexico and going 5-5 in Division II's Lone Star Conference under Gary Gaines (yes, Gary Gaines of Friday Night Lights fame). Times, and fortunes, change.


Louisville quarterbacks Will Gardner and Reggie Bonnafon combined to average just 4.0 yards per pass attempt in an upset loss at Virginia. They completed just 20 of 43 passes (47 percent) for 203 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and three sacks for 18 yards against a Cavalier defense that is quickly proving itself between solid and very good.

The Hoos ranked 39th in Def. F/+ last year, but the offense ranked a horrific 108th. We don't yet know if the offense is really any better this time around, but the D is doing its job, and after a near-upset of UCLA two weeks earlier, Mike London and Virginia are now 2-1.

And speaking of tough passing days and fast defenses ... Tennessee's Justin Worley averaged just 3.4 yards per pass attempt against Oklahoma. His day was almost identical to that of Gardner and Bonnafon: 21-for-44 for 201 yards, one score, and two picks. Only, he was sacked twice more. Quentin Hayes had two of Oklahoma's five sacks, while Eric Striker tossed in three hurries and Julian Wilson defensed three passes (one pick, two break-ups). Oklahoma's defense is mean and fast as hell.


The College Football Playoff has added one extra game to the schedule. There are still bowls. There are still conference titles. There are still rivalries. The structure of the sport itself has barely changed, and for a vast majority of FBS participants, it hasn't changed at all.

This year, two extra FBS teams will have a shot at the national title. That's it. We are still watching college football on Saturdays because it is still college football. Ridiculous games like Toledo-Cincinnati, Bowling Green-Indiana, ECU-Virginia Tech, West Virginia-Maryland, Vandy-UMass, Virginia-Louisville, Iowa-Iowa State, South Carolina-Georgia, MTSU-WKU, Abilene Christian-Troy, Florida-Kentucky, BC-USC, and even Penn State-Rutgers and UCLA-Texas are fun because they're fun.

The addition of one extra game to the docket has not changed that. So let's stop overthinking the impact of the Playoff. We were talking about the BCS in September, too.


Watch these 40 seconds, and tell me what you think is about to happen.

Even if this play doesn't draw a delay-of-game penalty, there's absolutely no way it succeeds, right? With the head coach looking sad, wet, and resigned on the sideline? With the quarterback still yelling at people to line up in the right place with about two seconds left on the play clock? The most likely scenario at this point has to be Driskel getting rushed into a desperation pass or throwing a pick because someone was running the wrong route, right?

Instead, the result was a soft, easy lob to Demarcus Robinson for the game-tying touchdown.

Yes, the ball was snapped after the play clock hit zero. No, in 2014, with a million ESPN cameras at every game, the "refs use their eyes, and delay of game is really hard to call perfectly (and no, this is not reviewable because ... human error or tradition or something)" rationale for why this was called "correctly" isn't acceptable. We want the right team to win, and if we can review something like when a ball is snapped -- like we can review when a player's foot or a floating ball lands out of bounds -- we can review whether a ball was snapped before the play clock expired. Teams are given 40 seconds to snap the ball, not ~40. That's the primary story here. Obviously. But still ...

... the fact that this play actually succeeded was a minor miracle. And if justice couldn't be served through Florida receiving a delay-of-game penalty, at least there was some poetry in Demarcus Robinson catching the touchdown pass. Without Robinson, Florida's offense would have gone nowhere on Saturday night. He accounted for 60 percent of Florida's receptions (15 of 25) and 73 percent of its receiving yards (216 of 295) in what was eventually a three-overtime win. Florida running backs averaged a decent-not-great 5.0 yards per carry, and non-Robinson Gators caught just 10 of 22 passes for 79 yards (3.6 yards per target).

But Florida had Robinson and an extra half-second, and Kentucky didn't. That was just enough.