Week 3 of the 2021 college football season was one to forget for some of the nation's top teams.
Alabama’s offense slowed down after a hot start in their two-point win over Florida, Oklahoma scraped by a subpar Nebraska team, Clemson managed to let Georgia Tech keep things interesting from start to finish and Ohio State’s passing offense disappointed once again. Along with that, we also got our weekly upset, with No. 13-ranked UCLA going down to Fresno State at home as double-digit favorites.
Let’s dive into some of the biggest storylines from Week 3 of the 2021 college football season.
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THE CRIMSON TIDE AREN’T PERFECT
This top-15 showdown seemed to have all the makings of a classic Bama blowout, as the Crimson Tide got out to a 21-3 lead in the first quarter. But Florida was never going to go down without a fight.
The Gators went from generating -0.18 expected points added (EPA) per play in the first quarter to +0.22 over the last three quarters of action. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide went from generating +0.83 EPA per play in the first quarter to +0.1 in the last three.
Quarterback Bryce Young was impressive under pressure, just as he was in Week 1 and Week 2, but his performance from a clean pocket was shaky in this one.
Alabama QB Bryce Young vs. Florida
|Clean Pocket||Under Pressure|
|1||10+ yard completions||2|
|5.8||Yards per attempt||8.2|
Young now has a better yards per attempt average when under pressure (10.1) than he does from a clean pocket (6.8), which is concerning, given that consistency in the passing game is precisely what separated Alabama from everyone else in 2020. Yesterday’s two-point win against Florida showed that the consistency from years past is no longer there.
Meanwhile, the receiving room did a good job adding yards after the catch, but they combined for only one catch on six contested opportunities and dropped two key downfield targets in the second half.
Alabama is still the best team in college football, but they aren’t perfect. Offensive regression was inevitable, and it’s now starting to show.
OLE MISS QB MATT CORRAL SHOULD BE THE NEW FAVORITE FOR THE HEISMAN
Ole Miss continued on its offensive warpath after a long rain delay against Tulane Saturday night. In the end, they hung 61-points on the Green Wave, with seven of those touchdowns going next to Matt Corral’s name in the stat sheet (three passing, four rushing).
Corral's 86.3 PFF grade for the game matched that eye-popping production. Three of his four rushing touchdowns were an explosive run of 10-plus yards on a draw, zone read and scramble, while two of those three passing scores were deep passes. The Ole Miss offensive line gave up more pressure than they should have, but when they didn’t, Corral was almost perfect.
Matt Corral from a clean pocket vs Tulane
|Yards (YPA)||259 (11.3)|
Corral is now one of three Power Five quarterbacks with a 90.0-plus PFF grade through Week 3 (UVA’s Brennan Armstrong and Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa are the other two).
The Ole Miss QB is tied with Bryce Young for the best odds to win the Heisman after Week 3, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. If we want to give the Heisman to the best player in college football and not just the quarterback of the best team, then Corral should be the comfortable favorite.
Bo Nix had played well against lackluster opponents to open the year, but he reverted to his old ways against the Penn State Nittany Lions in Week 3. He was as aggressive as always, with a 12.1-yard average depth of target, and he even connected on a handful of big-time throws. But overall, Nix failed to convert the plays he attempted to make.
Bo Nix on 20-plus yard throws vs. Penn State
A tip of the cap is in order for Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, though, as he overcame his limitations and executed the offense about as well as he could have. Clifford completed 26-of-28 passes thrown less than 19 yards downfield for 222 yards and two scores, earning one of the highest PFF grades of his career in the process.
MARYLAND QB TAULIA TAGOVAILOA IS ON TRACK FOR A BREAKOUT YEAR
Tagovailoa showed many high-end flashes in the four games we saw of him in 2020, but the small sample was also plagued by poor decision-making. This year, however, Tagovailoa has seemingly fixed that issue.
Maryland’s 2021 offense is calling more screens and scheme throws, making life a lot easier on the quarterback, but Togovailoa has still delivered plenty of well-thrown downfield shots. Tagovailoa has an elite 92.5 PFF grade through three games, with seven big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays.
Taulia Tagovailoa in 2021
|PFF Grade||BTT:TWP||Avg. Depth of Tgt.|
|W1 vs. WVU||86.6||3:0||6.3|
|W2 vs. Howard||88.2||2:0||6.6|
|W3 at Illinois||91.2||2:0||7.1|
Tagovailoa has shown that he may have overcorrected on the decision-making issue, as there have been a few plays where he opted not to pull the trigger on an open receiver downfield. Still, he’s not giving the defense a chance to make a play on the ball and is executing an efficient offense.
Don’t sleep on the Terps.
IT’S TIME FOR THE SOONERS TO PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON
Upon the first review of the game film, this closer-than-expected outing was one of Spencer Rattler‘s lowest-graded games of his career. Undisciplined play continues to be a major issue with the Sooners quarterback, who let go of multiple turnover-worthy plays the Nebraska defense couldn't take advantage of in the first quarter. Making matters worse is that his deep passing is falling well short of the standard he set last season.
Spencer Rattler Deep Passing
|2020 (11 games)||2021 (three games)|
Rattler has done a good job of hitting throws at the short and intermediate levels of the field, but his downfield decision-making has been poor and he hasn't been able to find the special kind of throws that can offset those mistakes.
The Sooners need that to change if they are to have a shot at winning their first College Football Playoff.
NORTH CAROLINA QB SAM HOWELL HAS A NEW PLAYMAKER
Through two weeks of the 2021 college football season, the biggest concern with North Carolina was the lack of support Howell had on offense after the offseason departures of Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter.
For the most part, this receiving room is inexperienced, raw and has struggled to stay healthy. But in the Tar Heels' high-scoring win over Virginia on Saturday, wide receiver Josh Downs emerged with a desperately needed breakout game.
Josh Downs, a 2020 top-100 recruit, teamed up with Howell for five of the Tar Heels’ six explosive pass plays, making plays after the catch on schemed touches and downfield in the passing game. And one of those deep targets resulted in one of the best catches of the weekend.
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 19, 2021
WR Josh Downs vs. Virginia
|Yards after the catch||141|
|Passer rating when targeted||158.3|
From a grading perspective, Downs’ night against the Cavaliers was the best single-game performance by a North Carolina wide receiver in the PFF College era.
This could be the beginning of a new top QB-WR tandem in college football, which doesn’t bode well for the defenses on the rest of their schedule, including the likely showdown with Clemson in the ACC championship game.
THE CFP MIGHT NOT INCLUDE CLEMSON
The Clemson Tigers were sluggish in their six-point win over a Georgia Tech team that entered the game as the 81st-ranked FBS team in PFF's Power Rankings.
Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei‘s struggles continued, failing to deliver a big-time throw and completing just three passes over 10 yards downfield. Uiagalelei has led Clemson to negative EPA per pass in all three of his performances this year and to an explosive pass play rate of just 8%.
Clemson explosive pass play rate by season
|2021 through Week 3||8.0%|
The biggest issue for Uiagalelei has been a concerning lack of accuracy. He currently has 11 quarterback-fault incompletions on throws of 10-plus yards downfield and only 10 completions on such passes. Trevor Lawrence wasn’t the most accurate passer, but it was nowhere near this level. He only threw 19 quarterback-fault incompletions on 10-plus yard throws in 2020 while completing 65 in total.
Clemson may have an easy schedule the rest of the way, but it would be surprising to see them run the table with zero slip-ups, given the offensive output this far into 2021.
CINCINNATI PASSED ITS FIRST BIG TEST
The Hoosiers found themselves up by one point at the start of the fourth quarter, but they somehow let the Bearcats claw their way to a 14-point victory.
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder left a lot to be desired after showing signs of growth earlier this season. Indiana generated pressure with creepers and five-man rushes, and it rattled Ridder early on. He overthrew multiple passes and missed throws entirely, but he also didn’t get much help from his receiving unit as they dropped four passes in total. All of this led UC to an inefficient offense that produced -0.15 EPA per pass play, well below the production level they were at in the first two games (+0.4).
Given the current chaotic state of college football, the Bearcats have a small chance of obtaining a spot in the four-team playoff. They’ll need some help with unexpected losses to other highly ranked programs, but, more importantly, they need to take care of business against Notre Dame in South Bend in two weeks. And to do that, this offense can’t have the kind of performance they did in Bloomington on Saturday.