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LIFE ON THE MARGINS, WEEK SEVEN

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Weekly obsessing over statistical anomalies and fringe idiosyncracies. Don’t get carried away by these scores from last weekend...

(As always, click here for a definition of 'Swing points')

South Carolina North Carolina
Total Offense 282 398
1st Downs 15 22
Yds./Play 4.9 5.0
Yds./Possession 19.1 26.5
Turnovers 2 3
Swing Points 0 0

Final Score: South Carolina 21, North Carolina
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It’s probably wrong to characterize this score as "misleading" when South Carolina led 21-3 at the half and half of the Tar Heels’ first half drives went backward. It should be recognized, though, how thoroughly USC was dominated over the final two quarters: after picking up a first down at the start of the third, the Cocks went the rest of the game – six full possessions, one ending in a missed field goal following a UNC turnover – without moving the sticks once. South Carolina hasn’t always been a juggernaut under Spurrier, but that kind of half-long malaise must be unprecedented for any OBC-led team. North Carolina hit its stride at the end of the third quarter, moving 61 yards for a touchdown and following it with two drives well into USC territory that failed to score (one interception, one failed fourth down conversion) and then racing 62 yards on back-to-back big plays to cut the score to 22-15. The Heels had a chance to win this game with the ball at the Gamecock 31 when time ran out; taken with its tough loss to Virginia Tech and borderline beatdown win over Miami, the tenor must be optimistic for Butch Davis and his redshirt freshman quarterback. Spurrier’s team, meanwhile, has won the games its supposed to win, but aside from the fumble return fest against Kentucky, hasn’t looked particularly good in any of them.
Oregon State California
Total Offense 339 478
1st Downs 17 23
Yds./Play 4.5 6.3
Yds./Possession 24.2 36.8
Turnovers 1 3
Swing Points +13 0

Final Score: Oregon State 31, California 28
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Yes, Kevin Riley, this was a kinda dumb play.
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There’s the much-replayed ending, obviously, which submarined an 85-yard drive that should have at least sent the game to overtime, but Cal left at least six and possibly ten more points on the field by missing a field goal on its first possession and failing to score on four straight runs by Justin Forsett after moving the ball 77 yards to the OSU two in the third quarter. That goalline stand to preserve a six-point lead is probably the game’s crucial sequence, though, as Football Outsiders notes in its weekly awarding of the John L. Smith Trophy, there’s plenty of second-guessing to go around:
There was much discussion in the SDA comment thread of giving the award to Cal’s Jeff Tedford after his redshirt-freshman quarterback inexplicably opted to run, costing the Bear’s a chip-shot field goal attempt to tie their game against Oregon State. Tedford does deserve some blame for that situation. He’s got to drill it into the quarterback’s head that he absolutely, under no circumstances, can run the ball. Yet, at some point, it’s up to the player to understand the situation and execute. There were 14 seconds left in the game, too much time for Cal to attempt the field goal right there, so running another play was the right call.

Yet Tedford does not escape scrutiny for another decision in the game, one that was largely lost based on how the contest ended. Cal had just scored a touchdown to take a 14-10 lead with 43 seconds left in the first half when Tedford opted to call for a squib kick, despite the fact that Oregon State had all three timeouts remaining. The Beavers got the ball at their own 42, and moved 23 yards in four plays to kick a 52-yard field goal. What’s more, they only needed a single timeout to do it. Forty-three seconds is an eternity in college football, and you cannot concede possession near midfield with that much time remaining. Those three points ended up being the difference in the game." - - -

At midseason, it’s interesting to see the heretofore sorry state of Beaver ball-handling turn into a relative advantage for a change. I started this feature on a weekly basis because of Oregon State’s bizarre loss to Cincinnati, the first of several turnover-heavy chokes by the Beavers, who entered Saturday as the most generous offense in the country. Finishing on the plus side of the margin – just as OSU did when it upset USC and won a string of impossibly close games at the end of last season – makes all the difference in the world.

Notes: I considered including Missouri’s loss to Oklahoma, as the Tigers gained slightly more yards and more first downs and led entering the fourth quarter, yet lost by ten. The game was really a dead heat, though, with the teams moving the ball about equally well and Missouri losing mainly on crucial turnovers. But it doesn’t follow that Mizzou certainly would have won without them: the giveaways and "swing points" (Oklahoma was +17) served to break a tie, if you will, not turn a game that was going the other direction.

The same can be said of Louisville’s 28-24 win over Cincinnati, which was evenly matched (the offenses finished 13 yards apart in total yards) but turned on Cincy’s four turnovers, two of them coming deep in UL territory.

Colorado moved the ball with Kansas State (460 yards for KSU to 411 by the Buffs) but turned it over four times, failed on three fourth down conversions and allowed a blocked punt that broke CU’s back late in the third quarter. Thus an even game down-to-down becomes a 27-point romp.