College News & Analysis

College Football Week 11 Takeaways: Notable grades, advanced stats & more

Oklahoma's Oklahoma's Caleb Williams (13) and Spencer Rattler (7) warm up before a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Ou Vs Tcu Syndication The Oklahoman

The College Football Playoff rankings will be getting another shakeup this week, as the once undefeated Oklahoma Sooners dramatically fell to Baylor.

Outside of that, it was a dominant showing from the rest of the top 10, with Georgia, Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State all covering their spread as the favorites.

Now that our first run of analysis is live on PFF Premium Stats, let's dive into the biggest storylines from Week 11 of the 2021 college football season.

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Another CFP candidate goes down as Oklahoma takes an L at Baylor

Quarterback Caleb Williams’ risky style of play really worked against his team in this one. A lot of his success since taking over the QB1 spot is down to passing up his checkdown and instead going for the big play downfield. It's a risky way to survive, but it has worked out for him in the past. This week, it didn’t.

The Sooners QB recorded three turnover-worthy plays under pressure, two of which were picked off by the defense. Overall, he earned a 23.9 passing grade under pressure with just one completion for 12 yards on 11 such dropbacks.

That same reluctance to take what the defense gives was a common issue with Spencer Rattler, who replaced Williams for a couple of series after his struggles.

The playstyle was always going to come back to bite the Sooners, and it did this week. They finally dropped a game after weeks of sweating out narrow wins.

The Georgia pass rush was too much for Tennessee to overcome

The Bulldogs got after the quarterback in Week 11, just as they have in every other game this season.

After letting up a touchdown on the opening drive, the Dawgs shut down the Vols offense. They put pressure on quarterback Hendon Hooker (and Joe Milton on the few reps he got) on nearly a third of the team’s pass plays, and they couldn’t handle the heat. 

Tennessee QBs Under Pressure vs. Georgia
Dropbacks 18
Comp/Att 3/9
Yards 46
Sacks 7

Kirby Smart and Co. sent a blitz on more than a third of Tennessee's passing snaps, but they had no issue getting pressure even with a traditional four-man rush. Meanwhile, Georgia’s run defense held Tennessee to a mere 4.0 yards per carry, the 14th-lowest average of any Power Five team for the week.

Same stuff, just a different day for the Dawgs. Now, they need to stay healthy after multiple key contributors went down with an injury in Week 11.

Michigan shows why pass rush is valuable in college football

Pass rush matters at the Power Five level because even the most athletically gifted passers can be prone to mistakes under pressure, and that’s what occurred in this Week 11 game.

Sean Clifford Under Pressure vs. Michigan
Passing Grade 41.2
Dropbacks 25
Comp/Att 5/16
Yards 62
Sacks 6
EPA Per Play -0.64

Penn State had the 10th-lowest success rate of any Power Five team in Week 11 due to the impact of the Aidan Hutchinson- and David Ojabo-led pass rush. Quarterback Sean Clifford was under pressure on 51.8% of his dropbacks, the second-highest rate of the week among Power Five teams.

If Michigan is finally going to knock off Ohio State during rivalry week, they’ll need their defensive front to get home.

C.J. Stroud needs help around him

Ohio State provided a near-perfect ecosystem for quarterback C.J. Stroud on Saturday against Purdue: He was pressured on only one dropback, the receiving room caught over 91% of their catchable targets and the playcalling provided him with a significant rate of quick, schemed throws.

The Buckeyes signal-caller got rid of the ball in 2.15 seconds and threw the ball 6.7 yards downfield on average, both of which were season lows. He was accurate, on time and didn’t make any bad decisions, completing 31-of-38 attempts for 361 yards and five touchdowns.

The only thing missing? Stroud didn't record a single big-time throw.

Stroud has the arm talent and has made a few special throws this season, but his inconsistent play when the environment isn't perfect could hold this team back.

Wisconsin isn’t going to be an easy W in the Big Ten title game. They’ve changed.

Wisconsin has rattled off seven straight wins after a disappointing 1-3 start to the 2021 season. Defensively, nothing has changed, as they’ve been one of the best in the country from start to finish. The Badgers are second to only the Georgia Bulldogs in the Power Five in team defense grade this year. 

Offensively, a lot has changed…

Wisconsin in 2021 (w/ Power Five rank)
Weeks 1-5 Since then
-0.30 EPA Per Play +0.06
41.9% Success Rate 48%
46.8 Passing Grade 76.3
73.0 Rushing Grade 80.1

Yes, they did have a tougher slate to open up the year, but they’ve undergone philosophic changes, and several players have come into their own.

After quarterback Graham Mertz earned a PFF grade of 45.1 and 29.7 in his two 40-plus-dropback outings, Wisconsin recognized that they couldn’t win with the dropback passing game. So, they’ve lighted the load on Mertz while leaning on emerging true freshman back Braelon Allen

Since Week 6, Mertz has averaged 17 pass attempts a game and has generated +0.24 EPA per pass play. It’s not spectacular quarterback play by any means, but he’s no longer a liability.

Allen, a former four-star who reclassified from the 2022 class, only handled 12 carries through Week 5 of his true freshman season. Since then, he’s taken 105 and generated +0.17 EPA per rush in that span. For reference, only three running back rooms in the Power Five have generated more EPA per rush this season.

Wisconsin is on track to win the Big Ten West and face either Ohio State or Michigan in the conference championship game. And the Badgers won’t be an easy W.

Texas‘ season is trending in the wrong direction

It has been all downhill for the Longhorns after blowing the multi-score lead against Oklahoma back in Week 6, losing five consecutive games to take them to 4-6 on the year.

Texas fielded the most efficient offense in the Power Five after Week 5 but now ranks 57th in that same metric since Week 6. On defense, they’ve consistently been below average but allowed the Kansas Jayhawks to finish with their best offensive outing in some time.

Most EPA per play from Kansas in a game since 2020
1. 2021 Week 11 at Texas +0.22
2. 2021 Week 4 at Duke +0.05
3. 2021 Week 8 vs. Oklahoma +0.04
4. 2021 Week 2 at Coastal -0.06

Bad defense hurt Texas against Oklahoma. Poor quarterback play killed them against Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State. A combination of both led to the loss against Kansas at home as favorites by over four touchdowns. The come-from-behind loss to Oklahoma has seemingly broken the team.

North Carolina QB Sam Howell is doing everything he possibly can with his situation

The Tar Heels lost in crushing fashion on Thursday night. They rallied from a 23-7 deficit to send the game to overtime, but unfortunately UNC lost extra time as the rain came pouring down.

The receiving room was one-dimensional with Josh Downs and nobody else,  while the offensive line did their usual thing by letting up an astronomical pressure rate. Howell was under pressure on 42% of his dropbacks, the fourth-highest rate among all Power Five quarterbacks for the week.

Still, the Tar Heels quarterback led the team to +0.25 EPA per pass play for the game and gave his team a shot to win it. He earned a 77.8 passing grade at Heinz Field, buoyed by a 90.5-graded second-half performance.

As everyone has now come to expect, Josh Downs accounted for 55% of the wide receiver room’s targets and is now responsible for 57% of targets over the year. And when you’re that predictable, it makes the defense’s job easier.

That predictability and incredibly poor pass protection have forced Howell to use his legs more and more. And despite being on the lower end of the athleticism spectrum, the UNC quarterback is actually tied with Malik Willis for the most 10-plus-yard runs by a quarterback this season with 39. He owns an 88.3 rushing grade for the season and has earned a 77.6 grade as a passer. 

Howell's draft stock has taken a dip because of the downtick in play this season, but let’s remember what kind of situation he is in down at Chapel Hill. He’s making the most of an inexperienced supporting cast after losing four key contributors to the NFL last offseason. He still has one of the top deep balls in the country, which has led him to a 91.4 passing grade on 10-plus-yard throws in 2021. 

Don’t forget about his 2019 and 2020 seasons as an underclassman when he earned a PFF grade of 83.3 and 91.5. The talent didn’t leave Howell, the talent left him. And at the collegiate level, it can be much more difficult for elite quarterbacks to prop up lesser players around them.

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