Georgia lost 27-3 to Florida on Saturday in Jacksonville. The result all but handed the SEC East title to the Gators, whose magic number is now one and who can only lose the division to Vanderbilt at this point. (They're not going to lose the division to Vanderbilt.)
Florida's resurgence has been an impressive story, but the bigger story comes on the losing side. Mark Richt's Bulldogs have now scored 10 or fewer points in three of four games after doing so just once in the previous 45. The last time the Dawg offense had a four-game stretch this bad: 1995, Ray Goff's final year. Not the best precedent.
Granted, two of these three performances have come without injured Nick Chubb, but the running back position is still in pretty good hands with Sony Michel and Keith Marshall. The biggest problem is the other member of the UGA backfield ... whoever that is in a given week.
I was quite high on Georgia in the offseason. I called the Dawgs the safest bet in the SEC East, and my logic was, I felt, pretty sound.
Richt's hire of [Brian] Schottenheimer to replace new Colorado State coach Mike Bobo wasn't inspiring, especially not for a fan base predisposed to hating even good coordinators (see: Bobo, Mike).
But here's where I remind myself the job of both the quarterback and the offensive coordinator will be pretty easy. All UGA needs is competence, and the running game will take it from there.
So ... about that "competence" thing.
Bobo coaxed a 155.8 passer rating out of Hutson Mason in 2014 and a 135.9 out of Joe Cox in 2009. Three Georgia QBs have combined for a 131.5 so far in 2015, and that includes Greyson Lambert's long-forgotten early stretch against South Carolina and Southern. Take those two games out of the equation, and UGA's combined passer rating falls to 107.8.
For a frame of reference, Wake Forest's passer rating this year is 110.1. New Mexico's is 109.5. Purdue's is 111.2. Yeah.
Georgia had to replace its longtime coordinator, quarterback and top two receiving targets. Regression was conceivable, even likely. But this goes beyond regression. With Lambert struggling and Brice Ramsey uninspiring, Richt and Schottenheimer were desperate enough that they decided to start third-stringer Faton Bauta. He averaged 4.4 yards per pass attempt and threw four picks. He's more mobile, but mobility didn't apply -- not including one sack, he rushed twice for seven yards.
I didn't talk myself into Schottenheimer being great, and I didn't talk myself into Lambert, Bauta or Ramsey being the next Aaron Murray. But I didn't think competence was too much to assume. I was wrong. No quarterback has played well in a few weeks, and with opponents ganging up on the run, Schottenheimer doesn't seem to have a Plan B.
The latest Fire Richt! rumbles are premature in my eyes. If I were to grade his recent performances, I'd probably give him an unscientific B or higher for each of the last four seasons (B in 2011, A+ in 2012, B+ in 2013, A- in 2014). One season doesn't mean he's over the hill or he's lost control of whatever, and his staff has raised its recruiting game a bit recently.
In 2015, though? He's looking at a D, propped up only by Chubb's injury. That will kill the GPA. In replacing Bobo with Schottenheimer, he took a risk that is not paying off. And somehow, despite top-level recruiting, he has a bare cupboard at quarterback. I'm not sure how that happens, but Richt has to figure out how to patch up two gaping wounds. The former can be stitched up with a new hire; the latter, though?
After playing one of the most dominant stretches in quite some time, Michigan's defense has quickly become mortal. The Wolverines allowed 6.1 yards per play in their last two contests, and while they were one fluky blown punt from winning both, their offense isn't good enough to start winning shootouts.
Allowing 5.4 yards per play to Michigan State is no crime. The Spartans were able to find enough success to get to 21 offensive points, but they have a good offense.
Minnesota's offense? Less good. Even including Saturday's performance, the Gophers rank 87th in Off. S&P+. But they averaged 6.8 yards per play, threw for 317 yards and scored 26 against Michigan.
Maybe this requires extra context. Both were rivalry games, and Minnesota was playing inspired ball for former head coach Jerry Kill, who announced his health-related retirement last week. Maybe this is simple regression to the mean. Regardless, Michigan still has quite a bit to play for (namely, a Big Ten East title), and the Wolverines' odds are dictated by their elite defense. It needs to reappear pretty soon.
The Charlie Strong era has spanned 21 games and 12 losses. In eight of these 21 games, the Longhorns have been held to 10 or fewer points.
Every breakthrough has been followed by a pothole. A 48-45 win over Iowa State in 2014 preceded a 23-0 loss to Kansas State. The Longhorns averaged 32 points per game in three November contests, then scored a combined 17 against TCU and Arkansas.
This year, it's been more of the same: Score 71 points against Cal and OSU, then seven against TCU. Beat Oklahoma and KSU by a combined 47-26, then lose to Iowa State, 24-0. ISU's offense had just enough success to control the ball, but the UT defense wasn't really the problem. As always, it was the offense.
The bar has been so low that averaging 5.3 yards per play against OU and KSU (still well below the national average) was considered a breakthrough. But the Longhorns' attack is still incredibly one-note; Texas rushes 74 percent of the time on standard downs (11th in the country) and 53 percent on passing downs (fifth, behind only three service academies and Georgia Southern) and can't pretend to pass (122nd in passing success rate). So while they can do some damage if you don't mind your P's and Q's on the read option, if you hem that in, the Longhorns are done.
Not even including sacks, Iowa State limited the Texas run to 131 yards in 29 carries (4.5 per carry), and yet again, the Longhorn passing game was wretched: 25 attempts (including sacks), 73 net yards, one interception.
Texas is going to have to find a second note. Not sure when that's going to happen.
Houston averaged only 5 yards per play against a good Vandy defense in a 34-0 win. But the Cougars still cruised because of opportunism. Their four touchdowns came on drives of zero, five, 12 and 36 yards; three were set up by interceptions, the fourth by a punt return.
Turnovers and defense (VU: 185 total yards) resulted in a nearly indomitable plus-18-yard field position advantage. They also gave the Cougars a marquee win of sorts; Vanderbilt isn't very good, but when you're in a mid-major conference, you need to take full advantage of your power-conference opportunities. AAC mate Memphis did that by beating Ole Miss; Houston did that by beating Vanderbilt by a ton.
The AAC's top four -- Houston, Memphis, Temple, and Navy -- are 29-0 against teams not named Notre Dame (and, yes, 0-2 vs. the Irish). They have the following non-conference scalps: Air Force, Bowling Green, Kansas, Louisville, Ole Miss, Penn State and Vanderbilt. That includes five powers. Aside from Temple failing to close the deal against Notre Dame on Saturday, it's hard to ask for more from this foursome. The winner of this conference is going to be an excellent team, one that will have a fighting chance in its likely major bowl bid.
Washington rose 21 spots, from 40th to 19th, in this week's F/+ rankings following a 49-3 destruction of Arizona. The change in S&P+ (which accounts for half of the F/+ rankings) was even more stark: 30 spots, from 48th to 18th.
How does a jump like that happen this late in the year, long after preseason projections have been phased out of the system? Two primary reasons:
- Teams in this portion of the ratings are bunched together. S&P+ is presented in the form of an adjusted scoring margin, and at the moment there's only a touchdown's difference between No. 18 Washington (plus-14.2) and No. 44 Georgia (plus-7.2). Meanwhile, there's a touchdown's difference between No. 1 Clemson (28.7) and No. 4 Ohio State (plus-21.4). This is a crowded section of the bell curve, so a really good game can move you up.
- Washington played a really good game. Arizona is a bad team this year -- 87th in F/+, 86th in S&P+ (32nd on offense, 115th on defense) -- but the Huskies' domination was swift and complete. The Wildcats drove for a field goal on their first drive, then finished with five punts, four turnovers and three turnovers on downs. The young Washington offense finished with seven touchdowns in 10 drives. Hard to top that.
Washington is only 4-4 but has played at an incredibly high level in its four wins (average percentile performance: 89.8) and has suffered three one-possession losses. Considering youth, the Huskies are far closer to being a strong team than they should be. They could be something pretty awesome in 2016.
Texas Tech lost 70-53 to Oklahoma State. Tech started on a 24-7 run, OSU responded with a 35-14 run to take the lead, the teams traded scores briefly and then the Cowboys put the game away.
The primary story was an out-of-nowhere brilliant performance by OSU's J.W. Walsh, a former starter who has been used mostly in goal line situations. He rushed eight times for 80 yards and a touchdown ... and he completed four of five passes for 167 yards and two scores. He rushed for 64 yards to set up a go-ahead score with 12 minutes left, then he completed bombs of 75 and 73 yards to James Washington to ice the win.
This was a fun, long game with more big plays you can count. It was also a little bit typical. In four losses, Texas Tech has averaged 41.8 points. This was the second time the Red Raiders have scored 50 and lost in 2015. Going back to the start of 2014, Texas Tech is a paltry 9-7 while scoring at least 30 points.
Now, part of this has to do with tempo. Tech is one of the 10 fastest teams in the country, and when you play other fast teams, the result is going to be a ton of possessions and scoring chances. OSU and Tech combined for 173 plays, which is basically one and a half LSU games. Play at that pace, and the scoring will go up. But this much?
David Gibbs was brought over from Houston to work his turnovers magic. He has professed that he's okay with giving up yards as long as his guys are getting their hands on the ball. But while Tech's two takeaways per game mean an improvement (it was 1.3 per game in 2014, 1.5 in 2013), it hasn't been enough to account for per-play regression. The 5-4 Red Raiders have fallen from an awful 114th in Def. S&P+ to 120th, and while they'll probably win one of their final three games and reach a bowl after going 4-8 last year, any improvement has come because of an elite offense. The defense has become an even heavier anchor.
In soccer, possession is the end goal for many teams. European clubs like Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Arsenal have won many matches by playing keep away. And it makes sense. You can't score (at least not without something fluky) if you don't have the ball.
Still, possession is more descriptive than evaluative in a lot of cases. Plenty of teams are content with giving you possession, instead trying to set you up for counter-attacks and quick scores.
I thought about that this weekend as Arizona State and Colorado combined for 222 snaps -- two hundred twenty-two -- and went 0-2.
ASU had 108 snaps to Oregon's 69 and outgained the Ducks by 241 yards, but the Sun Devils lost in overtime (61-55) because of blown opportunities (three missed field goals before halftime), a kick return touchdown and two long touchdown runs.
Colorado had 114 plays to UCLA's 59 but lost 35-31 because UCLA never needed too long to score. Four of UCLA's five touchdowns occupied a combined 2:15 and 11 plays. Colorado had the ball almost the entire game but only led for about three and a half minutes.
Stats like time of possession, total yards, total snaps, etc., are descriptive. They tell us about a team's philosophy and how a game played out. But they really aren't very predictive. And in both cases, the team with all the snaps averaged fewer yards per play than the opponent. That's more predictive.