by Chad Peltier
There are two ways we can start the conversation about Purdue's 49-20 upset win over Ohio State. One is to lead with the Buckeyes' red zone ineptitude and defensive struggles and the loss's impact on the playoff race. The other is to celebrate Purdue's huge, emotional win.
We'll have to talk about Ohio State eventually, but let's just spend a minute on Jeff Brohm's Boilermakers first. When Brohm took over in West Lafayette in 2017, Purdue was coming off of a 3-9 season where they ranked 110th in the F/+ rankings (second-lowest in the Big Ten in front of 117th Rutgers). After catapulting to 34th in the F/+ ratings and doubling their win total last season, the Boilermakers are now up to 26th in the S&P+ following their Ohio State win, including a top-ten opponent-adjusted offense.
They're well on their way to at least meeting last season's record, and their only remaining projected loss (by S&P+) is to Wisconsin by 1.6 points -- and that game could even determine the Big Ten West winner. It's undoubtedly a tough road ahead for Purdue, though. They're favored by S&P+ in every game expect against the Badgers, but the win probabilities are all 65 percent or under, meaning that every remaining game is essentially a toss-up. Cumulatively, that works out to about a 7-5 regular season record, but hey, when you've just beaten the second-ranked team in the country, anything is possible.
Brohm is already picking up steam as the coming offseason's hottest coaching commodity, which is a shame considering he's only had 1.5 seasons in West Lafayette. But already, Purdue has a totally different feel -- the blackout atmosphere was electric, completely living up to its ABC prime-time TV spot.
As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes are obviously in a tough spot. This wasn't a fluky game in any sense: Purdue was the better team on Saturday night, with a 99 percent S&P+ postgame win probability. And it wasn't like Purdue tapped in to something that Ohio State's previous opponents hadn't seen, either -- the Buckeyes' problems against Purdue were the same that Ohio State has experienced all season long:
- A completely ineffective run game (25 percent rushing success rate).
- An inability to move the ball inside their opponents' 10-yard line (seven scoring opportunities but only 2.9 points per opportunity).
- A defense that frequently gives up big plays (1.5 IsoPPP rating with 14 plays of 15-plus yards allowed).
But if you had to distill Ohio State's loss down to a single factor, it was that Purdue took advantage of their red zone opportunities and Ohio State didn't. The Boilermakers scored a touchdown on every possession where they got a first down inside the Ohio State 40. In contrast, the Buckeyes had four red zone opportunities resulting in two made field goals, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs. Ohio State's only two touchdowns were each from 32-plus yards away. This fits with Ohio State's offense throughout the whole season -- they rank eighth in standard downs success rate between their 10 and their opponent's 30; seventh in success rate between the 30- and 21-yard lines; 36th in success rate between the 20- and 11-yard lines; and 111th in success rate inside the 10.
It's not a coincidence that Ohio State can't run the ball, either. Despite Urban Meyer's entire career being built on a run game that is perennially one of the most efficient in the country, the Buckeyes are 104th in opponent-adjusted rushing S&P+. They had a 25 percent rushing success rate against Purdue as Dwayne Haskins threw the ball an incredible 73 times. (Ohio State had not had a game with more than 50 passing attempts in at least a decade, which was as far back as I had data to check.)
We'll get to Purdue's offense a little more below, but this game was also par for the course for Ohio State's defense, which has fallen to 49th in defensive S&P+, and allowed Purdue to complete 14 explosive plays with a 43 percent overall success rate, and a perfect touchdown record on scoring opportunities.
The Buckeyes now have a bye week to clean up the same issues that have plagued the team all season. S&P+ now favors Michigan in The Game by 2.4.
Ohio State vs. Purdue was far from the only interesting result of the week. ESPN's College GameDay matchup between Washington State and Oregon lived up to the Cougars' expectations with a 34-20 Wazzu win.
Washington State used a dominant first half of both sides of the ball to go up 27-0, holding the Ducks to just 39 yards of offense and success rates of zero percent and 17 percent in the first and second quarters. In contrast, the Cougars averaged a 61 percent and 52 percent offensive success rate in the first and second quarters.
The Cougars opened the game by driving into the Ducks' red zone, but quarterback Gardner Minshew threw an interception inside the 10. The Ducks couldn't do anything with it though, going three-and-out. Washington State wouldn't make that same mistake again, scoring on their next four possessions of the first half.
Oregon did get within a touchdown of the Cougars with a little under seven minutes left in the game, kicking a field goal to cut the deficit to 27-20, but Minshew came back with a huge touchdown drive on the Cougars' next, and last, possession, which included a fourth-and-six conversion to keep the drive alive. Washington State is now right there with Washington and Stanford in the Pac-12 North. A three-point loss to USC is the Cougars' only loss on the season, and S&P+ favors Wazzu in each of their next four games. If S&P+ is right (although Washington State is just a 1.5-point S&P+ favorite next week over Stanford), then the Apple Cup could be for the Pac-12 North.
Most of the rest of the day went pretty much on schedule -- the higher ranked teams all generally won. But while higher ranked, the stars seemed to be aligning against Michigan for their rivalry game against Michigan State. The Spartans were uniformly picked against, had just upset Penn State a week earlier, played in terrible weather conditions that included a lightning delay, and seemed to match up well with the Wolverines, particularly in run defense.
Despite all of those ominous signs, Michigan used a dominant defense and effective-enough offense to slowly wear down the Spartans. First of all, the Spartans only had 94 total yards of offense, averaged 1.8 yards per play, and had a 22 percent success rate because of Don Brown's incredible defense. Michigan State's only touchdown was due to fumble on Michigan's own 7-yard line. Six of the Spartans' 14 drives ended in a three-and-out. Brian Lewerke completed just two-of 14 attempts on passing downs. Of Michigan State's three scoring opportunities, one was the previously mentioned fumble recovery, one was aided by Michigan personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and the final opportunity was on the last drive of the game, which also included four Wolverines penalties. Essentially, the Spartans couldn't move the ball without help from Michigan mistakes.
With that kind of cushion from their defense, the Wolverines could afford some offensive inefficiencies. Michigan had just a 37 percent passing success rate, with Shea Patterson's numbers greatly boosted by Donovan Peoples-Jones' 79-yard touchdown catch-and-run. The Wolverines had two quarters with offensive success rates of 32 percent or worse. And while Karan Higdon eventually totaled 144 yards, it took him 33 carries to get there, and he averaged only 4.2 highlight yards per opportunity, even with a 38-yard run.
But the Wolverines were able to win ugly, and now look like the Big Ten's best hope for the playoff.
The final headliner game of the week was billed as Clemson's toughest remaining test, which means you might as well slot the Tigers in the playoff now. Clemson didn't let North Carolina State even think about an upset after close finishes in 2016 and 2017, with a dominant 41-7 point win.
Trevor Lawrence, the top-rated quarterback recruit in a long time, hasn't been asked to a whole lot this season. Before Saturday, he had only had one game with more than 13 passing attempts, and that was last week with 20 against Wake Forest. But with the Wolfpack effectively shutting down Travis Ettiene and the run game, holding them to a 36 percent success rate and only three carries of 4 or more yards (and a long of just 6 yards), Lawrence was forced to shoulder more responsibility. He responded with his first (of likely many) 300-yard passing game, completing 26-of-39 for 308 yards (7.9 yards per attempt). North Carolina State has a top-35 defense, so Clemson seemed to answer part of their biggest question -- whether the passing game was good enough to win if the Tigers run game was slowed down.
The Clemson defense performed even better than expected, holding Ryan Finley (who is frequently mentioned as an NFL draft prospect) to a 22 percent passing success rate and two interceptions. The Wolfpack only created four scoring opportunities, which ended in a fumble, interception, touchdown, and end of the game.
- The Wolverines and Tigers weren't the only teams with elite defensive performances on Saturday. The Iowa Hawkeyes held Maryland to 115 total yards and a 23 percent success rate, and didn't allow a single scoring opportunity. Iowa only had eight offensive possessions on the night, won the turnover margin, and had a 14.6-yard average field position advantage, meaning that it was kind of a perfect night for Iowa. (And yes, Iowa's Nate Stanley only had 86 passing yards of his own -- still a perfect game for Iowa.)
- Several SEC teams are having issues in the passing game, but it's affecting one much more than the others. Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald completed just eight of 24 attempts for 59 total passing yards against LSU as the Bulldogs lost 19-3 to the Tigers. LSU's Joe Burrow wasn't much more efficient, going 16-for-28 with a 27 percent success rate, but Mississippi State is now 114th in passing S&P+ and 121st in marginal efficiency this season. Similarly, but with different results on the scoreboard, Kentucky's Terry Wilson only had nine total passing attempts against Vanderbilt for 18 passing yards -- but that's OK when Wilson can run for 7.6 yards per carry in addition to Benny Snell's 169 rushing yards. The Wildcats are 101st in passing S&P+ compared to 29th in rushing S&P+, but have won mainly because of their elite defense (which is a sentence that feels weird to write).
- A final surprising result of the weekend: Utah's 41-28 win over USC. This game was not close. The Utes had a 100 percent postgame win expectancy, held the Trojans to a 24 percent success rate, and only allowed Trojans quarterback J.T. Daniels to complete six of 16 passes with two interceptions. The Utes offense has also come alive, as they've scored 40 or more points in three straight conference wins.
- Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue. Rondale Moore definitely wasn't the only reason the Boilermakers won, but he was by far Purdue's most valuable player. He caught 12 passes for 170 yards, averaging 14.2 yards per catch, and added 24 rushing yards on two carries. He was targeted an insane 18 times by David Blough. While Moore is known as an electric speedster, he showed his extreme efficiency and reliability against Ohio State, breaking tackles just as often as he outran man coverage.
- Shaun Bradley, LB, Temple. Shaun Bradley intercepted Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder on third-and-36 in overtime to hand the Bearcats their first loss of the season. Temple drove 75 yards to tie the game with under a minute remaining, then Bradley sealed the win.