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The Numerical, Week 4: Ameer Abdullah's incredible start and more big stats

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Michigan's failure is breaking the numbers, Arizona's fourth quarter against Cal should be cherished forever, and Georgia Southern is already proving FBS-worthy.


Projected for 13 games, Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah is on pace for 2,382 combined rushing and receiving yards. The senior from Homewood, Ala., carried 35 times for 229 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-31 home win over Miami on Saturday; it was his second time over 225 rushing yards this season, and in his other two games, he rushed for 110 yards against Fresno State and put together 150 rushing and receiving yards (and saved the Huskers' bacon) in the surprisingly tight win over McNeese State.

It's really difficult for a running back to put together a Heisman case these days. Quarterbacks have won the award 12 of the last 14 years, and the two running backs who won in that span (including Reggie Bush, whose award has since been stripped) were on teams that went a combined 23-0 in the regular season. Nebraska's not a national title threat, so Abdullah probably isn't a serious Heisman contender (you know, because you can't be the best player in America if your teammates aren't that great), but that's a shame.

He's perhaps been the single most valuable player in the country ... at least outside of Tallahassee.


Maryland's first seven snaps at Syracuse on Saturday gained 149 yards and produced two touchdowns. Quarterback C.J. Brown found junior Marcus Leak for a 25-yard touchdown to give the Terps a 7-3 lead, then Brandon Ross took a pass 90 yards for a 14-3 lead. Maryland scored on a short drive after a blocked punt, then William Likely went 88 yards with a pick-six to give UM a 31-13 halftime lead.

From there, Maryland completely packed it in. Second-half drives: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, game. Syracuse lost fumbles, missed field goals, turned the ball over on downs, and blew countless chances (actually, they're countable: seven trips inside Maryland's 40, 7.5 yards per play ... and 20 points), and Maryland just sat back and watched it happen. By the end of the game, Syracuse had outgained the Terps by 220 yards and never gotten closer than 14 points.


The game will be remembered for the final play, a 47-yard Hail Mary from Anu Solomon to Austin Hill. But you might never see a wilder fourth quarter than the one Arizona and California played late on Saturday night. The two had combined for 44 points and 610 yards through three quarters, which is exciting enough. Cal had staked out a shocking 31-13 lead, and Arizona was driving when the quarter began. Arizona kicked a field goal, then Tra'Mayne Bondurant picked off Jared Goff. Solomon found Hill for a nine-yard touchdown to make it 31-23, then Cal responded with a 50-yard Khalfani Muhammad touchdown. 38-23.

That all happened in the first four minutes of the quarter. Arizona drove 75 yards in nine plays to make it 38-30, but Cal again responded with a Muhammad touchdown to go back up by 15 with 5:21 left. Solomon completed five passes for 60 yards to set up a short touchdown run, Arizona recovered an onside kick, and Solomon found Cayleb Jones for a 15-yard touchdown. 45-43, 2:44 left. Arizona attempted another onside kick, but Cal recovered, forced Arizona to use its timeouts, and missed a 47-yard field goal with 52 seconds left. Solomon found Jones for 41 yards, but it was called back for offensive pass interference, and after three shorter completions and a spike, the table was set for the Hail Mary.

The fourth-quarter damage: 50 points, 590 yards. Cal took an 18-point lead into the final 15 minutes, scored 14 more points, and still lost. This quarter belongs in a museum.

Watch RichRod react to Hail Mary


A solid 37.2 percent of the total yardage from USF's 17-14 win over UConn on Friday night came from two drives: USF's second and UConn's last. USF took an early 14-0 lead when the Bulls scored on a short drive after a Chandler Whitmer fumble, then went 80 yards in 10 plays and scored on a 30-yard pass from Mike White to Rodney Adams. On UConn's final drive, Whitmer completed four of four passes for 75 yards, including a 32-yarder to Geremy Davis to get the Huskies within striking distance.

Outside of these two drives: unspeakable horror. UConn otherwise gained 70 yards in 32 plays, at one point going three-and-out on five consecutive drives (then doing it two more times later on). USF gained 191 yards in 61 plays, sandwiching a pick six between six punts and a late field goal.

Every week, there's one game that makes you question our love of college football. In Week 4, we got it out of the way on Friday night.


Pittsburgh running back James Conner's first 18 carries against Iowa gained 131 yards. The Panthers bolted out to a 17-7 halftime lead at Heinz Field thanks in large part to Conner, and he began the second half with two big carries for 32 yards.

But his final 11 carries gained just 24 yards, and Iowa began to claw its way back. He gained three yards in two carries as Pitt went three-and-out to start the fourth quarter, and Iowa responded with a nearly eight-minute touchdown drive to take the lead. On the ensuing Pitt drive, he was stuffed for no gain at the Iowa 29 on first down, which led to three straight Chad Voytik incompletions.

Iowa backup quarterback C.J. Beathard's nearly flawless performance (7-for-8, 98 yards) became the primary storyline of the game. Beathard was in charge during the second half, when Iowa scored 17 points in three drives to take the lead. But Beathard's heroics wouldn't have mattered if Iowa hadn't gotten a handle on Conner.


This week's "This Sport Is Mystifying" award goes to Indiana. In Week 3, Indiana's Havoc Rate (total tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passes defensed divided by total plays) was a below-average 12.4 percent against Bowling Green; the Hoosiers were passive participants as the Falcons snapped the ball 113 times, completed 46 passes, and manufactured 39 first downs in a 45-42 loss. Meanwhile, Missouri allowed a 10.2 percent Havoc Rate to a generally active, athletic UCF defense in an easy win.

A week later, Indiana racked up 11 TFLs and six passes defensed in 83 snaps, a 20.5 percent rate of havoc. Missouri gained 503 yards, but most came on a series of big plays; the Hoosiers sent the Tigers backwards repeatedly and took advantage of a Missouri offensive line that suddenly reverted to 2012 form, with bad snaps, false starts, and all sorts of leakiness. The result: a 31-27 Hoosier upset that would have been nearly unfathomable seven days earlier. This sport is mystifying.


Wyoming has scored 20 or fewer points in all four games this season. The Cowboys are also 3-1 with wins by scores of 17-12, 17-13, and 20-19. Bohl Ball, baby.


Michigan fans react

If you've read my writing semi-frequently over the last couple of years, you've probably seen me make reference to teams like 2011 Notre Dame, 2011 Texas A&M, and 2012 Michigan State, teams that produced wholly mediocre records (combined: 22-17) and strangely solid statistical profiles. The 2011 Notre Dame team ranked 13th in the F/+ rankings but went just 8-5 thanks to a propensity for making every mistake an apocalyptic one. The 2011 Texas A&M squad ranked 15th but went 7-6 thanks to its tendency to think games were only 45 minutes long and blow late leads; the Aggies lost five games by a combined 17 points and got their coach fired. The 2012 Michigan State team ranked 15th with a 7-6 record, powered by an elite defense but done in by a mediocre offense and five losses by a combined 13 points.

These three teams went a combined 36-4 in their following seasons. Certain teams end up characterized by key turnovers/takeaways, clutch play, etc., but you tend to play to your ratings eventually, even if it takes until the next season.

So what do we make of Michigan? Brady Hoke's Wolverines have pulled off something pretty incredible so far this season, even if Michigan fans think it is anything but nice. They have managed to outgain both Notre Dame (289 yards to 280) and Utah (308 to 286) and lose both games by a combined 57-10.

It takes a spectacular, steady rate of failure to pull this off. It takes a place-kicker just trustworthy enough to send onto the field and just shaky enough to miss (Matt Wile missed field goals of 46 and 48 yards against Notre Dame). It takes a flawed quarterback (Devin Gardner, he of nearly 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards last year) who is just good enough to continue to produce and fail. (It also helps that his backup, 7-for-20 Shane Morris, hasn't taken advantage of opportunities either.) It takes a defense good enough to shut down a decent opponent's run game (Utah and Notre Dame: 2.0 yards per carry, 2.9 without sacks) and stay just close enough that the offensive failures matter.

It takes a spectacular, steady rate of failure to pull this off.

Michigan has outgained opponents by an average of 6.1 yards per play to 4.2. The Wolverines have held all four opponents below their full-season offensive averages. They've generated scoring opportunities.

And they've also thrown six interceptions and recovered just one of four fumbles in two losses. (They're currently losing about six points per game to turnovers luck.) They showed wonderful creativity in finding ways to fail against Utah, entering Ute territory seven times and coming away with three points*. (Their only touchdown: a pick-six.)

On a per-play basis (in a system that counts turnovers simply as non-successes until drive data is factored in after seven weeks), they are good enough to rank 19th in the country, just one spot behind a team that beat them by 31 points and 11 spots ahead of a team that beat them by 16. But in ways similar to 2011 Texas A&M and 2011 Notre Dame, they're figuring out ways to make their failures count double, and it seems they (and their fans) know the failures are coming before they happen.

Seven of the next eight conference games are winnable, and eight are losable. We'll see if Hoke can figure out how to turn promise into reality, or if, like Texas A&M in 2011, it will take a new coach and a new quarterback to translate decent stats into good results.

* Failed scoring opportunities were kind of the story of the week. Both Kansas State and Clemson generated more than enough opportunities to take down top-five teams (Auburn and Florida State, respectively), and both were done in by increasingly improbable failures.

How the hell did FSU beat Clemson?


Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer has thrown eight interceptions in 161 passes in 2014. He showed his control and general leadership ability in the Hokies' road win over Ohio State in Week 2, but in Weeks 3 and 4, his five picks were key contributors in back-to-back upset losses. On Saturday against Georgia Tech, he drastically overthrew a screen pass early in the fourth quarter, and linebacker Paul Davis picked it off and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown and a 17-16 Georgia Tech lead. Brewer responded with a 21-yard touchdown run (a scoop-and-score, actually) to give the Hokies the lead again, but after GT tied the game with two minutes left, he was picked off by D.J. White at the VT 40, and the Yellow Jackets kicked a game-winning field goal at the buzzer.

In his first month as Virginia Tech's starter, Brewer has laid out all of his strengths and weaknesses for the world to see.


Vanderbilt had averaged a woeful 4.3 yards per play and scored a combined 44 points in its first three games against Temple, Ole Miss, and UMass. On Saturday against South Carolina, the Commodores averaged 6.9 per play and scored 34 points, albeit with help from two kick return touchdowns. South Carolina eventually scored 48 points of its own and capitalized better on scoring opportunities (points per trip inside the opponent's 40: SC 5.9, VU 4.0). But freshman quarterback Wade Freebeck averaged 8.4 yards per pass attempt, and Ralph Webb and Jerron Seymour combined for 129 yards on 25 carries as either VU's offense finally figured some things out, or SC's defense fell further into a crater.


Georgia Southern is in Year no. 1 in its life as an FBS program. It is also currently in spot no. 1 in the F/+ rankings among Sun Belt teams. The No. 79 Eagles are one of only two top-100 SBC programs (the other: No. 89 Arkansas State). The conference has seen some of its best coaches and programs plucked away in the last couple of years and currently houses four of the five worst FBS teams (only Eastern Michigan is worse than No. 124 Appalachian State, No. 125 Georgia State, No. 126 New Mexico State, and No. 127 Troy).

But instead of focusing on the depressing fact that No. 120 Idaho is the seventh-best team in the conference, we'll find an optimistic tone and point out that GASO is acclimating in a hurry. The Eagles currently rank ahead of five power teams (No. 83 Colorado, No. 90 Kansas, No. 93 Purdue, No. 102 Vanderbilt, No. 103 Wake Forest) that have been playing at this level far, far longer than they have. They're just five points from being 4-0 after a one-point loss to NC State and a four-point loss to Georgia Tech.


There are no moments in college football as consistently wonderful as Verne Lundquist saying "Oh my gracious."