College News & Analysis

College Football Week 10 Takeaways: Notable grades, advanced stats & more

West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Purdue Boilermakers wide receiver Broc Thompson (29) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Aidan O'Connell (16) in the first half against the Michigan State Spartans at Ross-Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Between the seemingly inevitable Michigan State collapse to the minor scares Alabama, Ohio State and Cincinnati endured as double-digit favorites, the Week 10 college football slate will make for an interesting College Football Playoff Ranking Show on Tuesday.

Now that our first run of analysis is live on PFF Premium Stats, let's dive into the biggest storylines from Week 10 of the 2021 college football season.

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The ultimate trap team strikes again

Purdue’s offense rose to the occasion in the upset win over Michigan State. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell took on a major workload, dropping back to pass more than 50 times, but he played clean football and took advantage of the Spartans' shaky coverage unit.

Michigan State’s defense finished with a 56.1 coverage grade, allowing +0.43 expected points added (EPA) per pass and positive EPA on 54.2% of their targets. All of these figures fell outside of the top 100 among FBS teams in Week 10. Meanwhile, O’Connell’s 91.8 passing grade is the highest grade ever earned by a Purdue quarterback in the eight years of the PFF College era.

Now, the door is open for a new team to join the top four, but the next two in line haven’t been performing well of late.

Ohio State is trending down

The Buckeyes were on the offensive warpath from Week 5 to Week 8, but they have come back down to earth over the last two weeks. Yes, they still managed to come out on top against Penn State and Nebraska, but they failed to cover in closer-than-expected outings.

Ohio State's Week 10 game against the Cornhuskers was among their least productive passing games since 2019, as the Buckeyes generated negative EPA per pass and recorded their lowest successful pass rate of the season at 47.5%.

Quarterback C.J. Stroud looked more like the player we saw early in the season instead of the one who strung together three elite grades since his return from injury in Week 5. Stroud recorded four turnover-worthy plays against Nebraska. His decision-making was problematic, and he missed several throws downfield.

Stroud has proven capable of high-level play in this system, but when things start to fall apart, his vulnerabilities show and inconsistent play emerges. That’s not only worrisome for their hopes of lasting in the CFP; it could end up being a problem over the next few weeks as they face Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan.

Cincinnati’s “style points” are running dry

Instead of smashing Tulsa by 20-plus points, Cincinnati barely held onto an eight-point victory after falling apart in the fourth quarter.

The Bearcats’ offense was right where it needed to be on their scripted plays at the start of each half, but the in-game output was horrid. In fact, Cincy ended with negative EPA per play for the first time this year.

While quarterback Desmond Ridder did fumble late in the fourth quarter to give Tulsa the ball at the three-yard line down just eight points with a minute to play, he wasn’t solely responsible. He uncorked two big-time throws in the fourth quarter, but both were dropped. Had those been caught, Cincy would have been deep into Tulsa territory with a good chance of putting the game on ice.

The Bearcats offense just hasn’t been cohesive this year. If they want to pass the committee’s “eye test,” they’ll need to fix that starting next week.

Alabama has the kind of holes Georgia can exploit 

LSU had Alabama an upset alert when no one thought it was possible. Unfazed by the 28.5-point spread, the Tigers battled to keep it close and even had a shot at taking the lead before losing 20-14.

The responsibility again falls on the Alabama offensive line, as quarterback Bryce Young was pressured on 50% of his dropbacks against LSU. Yes, the Tigers did an excellent job of bringing the heat with well-designed blitzes and sim pressures, but the Crimson Tide's struggles are nothing new and have to be a concern when it comes to game planning for Georgia.

The Crimson Tide consistently allowed free rushers. Of the 22 pressured dropbacks, 11 were unblocked. Now, Alabama has allowed more unblocked pressure in the 2021 season than any other team in the Power Five. Confusion and missed assignments were rife, which falls not only on the offensive line but also on the coaching staff.

Young did a good job of keeping his eyes downfield, and he made a few throws when under pressure. But, overall, he just couldn’t lead an efficient passing offense with all the pass-rushers around him. This was the first time in nearly three years that Alabama failed to generate positive EPA per pass play in a single game.

Bryce Young When Kept Clean vs. Under Pressure vs. LSU
Clean Pressure
22 Dropbacks 22
+0.50 EPA Per Pass -0.57
16/21 Comp/Att 8/17
194 (9.2) Yards (YPA) 108 (6.3)
1:0 BTT:TWP 0:1

Young was relatively composed throwing the ball and didn't make any egregious misreads or forced throws, but he did cough up the ball on a strip-sack that gave LSU the shot at an upset victory. And while the Tigers ultimately couldn’t pull through, this was still a very concerning performance from the Tide.

Better luck next year, ACC

The odds of a Wake Forest playoff run fell dramatically after the team's fourth-quarter collapse in Chapel Hill.

Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman led an explosive passing offense, with eight deep completions over 20 yards downfield on 12 attempts for 243 yards and five scores — tied for most deep touchdowns in a single game since 2015. However, a game that quickly turned into an offensive shootout was turned on its head when UNC hung 24 unanswered points on the scoreboard, and a game-breaking interception from Sam Hartman sealed Wake Forest's fate.

Now, the ACC is guaranteed to be sitting on the sideline for this year's playoff for the first time.

Notre Dame’s offense is different

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees made notable changes during the team's Week 7 bye. He’s easing stress on quarterback Jack Coan and the offensive line as a whole with less true dropback passing, and it’s having a positive impact.

Coan is limited as a passer, but he is accurate underneath from a clean pocket. The Irish are leveraging that skill, scheming throws and limiting opportunity for opposing defenses to generate pressure:

Notre Dame’s Offense in 2021 (w/ Jack Coan on the field)
Weeks 1-6 Weeks 8-10
23% Play-Action % 40%
11% RPO % 25%
9% Screen % 20%
10.3 Avg Depth of Target 7.4
30% Pressure % 14%
-0.04 EPA Per Pass +0.26

There’s been a notable difference in the ground game, too. They’ve increased the usage of gap concepts and aren’t running nearly as much zone. Their zone run usage has tanked nearly 30 percentage points down to 36% since their Week 7 bye, and it’s had positive ramifications on the offense.

Notre Dame Rushing by Concept Since Week 8
Zone Gap
-0.12 EPA Per Rush +0.33
33% Success Rate 63%
4.0 Yds Per Att. 7.8

If this holds, Notre Dame has the chance to cruise to an 11-1 record for the regular season. Not only will that get them into the likely “first two out” in the CFP conversation, but it will also significantly help Cincinnati.

TCU: A New Era

TCU seemed destined for a bad day against the rising Baylor Bears on Saturday. The Horned Frogs had just parted ways with longtime head coach Gary Patterson, and they were going to be without starting quarterback Max Duggan and star running back Zach Evans due to injury.

But instead of succumbing to defeat, TCU won outright as seven-point dogs at home thanks to the elite performance of backup quarterback Chandler Morris, a 2020 three-star transfer from Oklahoma. Morris earned a 91.3 passing grade for the game, the highest of any TCU quarterback since 2018 by over eight grading points.

Highest Passing Grade by a TCU QB in a Game Since 2018 (min. 15 att)
Player & Game Passing Grade
1. Chandler Morris (2021 W10 vs. Baylor) 91.3
2. Alex Delton (2019 W1 vs. Ark Pine-Bluff) 83.2
3. Max Duggan (2020 W4 vs. Iowa State) 80.3

Morris led the Horned Frogs to their third-most-efficient offense of the PFF College era, behind only two games from their 2015 season.

Outside of one turnover-worthy play, it was nearly a flawless performance from Morris. He’s small in stature, at 5-foot-11, 175-pounds, but he’s a playmaker and plus athlete. He gathered four explosive runs of 10-plus yards on seven attempts. Through the air, he was accurate, on time and shredded the Bears downfield, completing 13 passes over 10 yards downfield for 327 yards and four big-time throws.

It was a bad Bo Nix day

Nix couldn’t do much of anything against Texas A&M and was ultimately the reason Auburn lost 20-3. He earned a 40.2 passing grade and led the Auburn Tigers to -0.66 EPA per pass and a 23.4% successful pass rate, with the latter two figures being among the five worst from an Auburn offense in the PFF College era.

Nix got panicky under pressure, with only four completions for 27 yards on 17 pressured dropbacks while taking four sacks and posting two turnover-worthy plays.

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