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')
Final Score: Iowa State 31, Kansas State 20
- - -
This game barely makes the cut, because a lot of K-State’s yardage advantage was on its last, essentially meaningless drive, and because Iowa State started so hot: the typically inept Cyclones scored touchdowns on three of their first four offensive possessions, first on a short field (32 yards) after a good opening kickoff and later on drives of 68 and 90 yards. After that, they were, yes, inept: between its last offensive touchdown in the second quarter and an icing field goal in the fourth, ISU’s six offensive possessions netted 27 yards, and seven of its nine non-scoring possessions on the day went three-and-out – the biggest play over the last two-and-a-half quarters was an interception return for touchdown by Chris Singleton in the middle of an offensive drought in the third quarter that extended the lead to 28-10.
K-State moved the ball well, but aside from the turnovers missed a lot of chances to score – the Wildcats punted in ISU territory on their first drive and in the fourth quarter missed a field goal and, more crucially, turned the ball over downs at the end of a 72-yard drive when the Cyclones turned back monster quarterback Josh Freeman on a fourth down sneak at the goalline. That stop, after the interception return a quarter earlier, was the difference.
Final Score: UConn 38, Rutgers 19
- - -
UConn delivers the best "bend don’t break" defensive performance since South Florida outlasted West Virginia back in September: Rutgers have five drives 69 yards or longer in the first half alone, and only scored a touchdown on one of them. In the second half, the Knights had 42, 37, 38 and 59-yard drives that ended missed field goal, turnover on downs, interception, end of game.
That’s the main difference here: UConn finished drives and Rutgers didn’t, and this is very largely the result of field position, especially in the first half – where the Knights had five drives that covered more ground than the Huskies’ longest effort (54), UConn’s average starting position was a full 30 yards better. Every Rutgers drive began inside its own 30, whereas UConn’s average position was its own 45, and didn’t start any possessions inside its own 38. So Rutgers was moving further and coming up with less; throw in a safety on a blocked punt and a kickoff return for touchdown, and it’s 25-16 at the break, before Rutgers’ parade of failure in UConn territory in the second half served to widen the final margin. Don’t ignore the "yards per play" line above, because Rutgers ran so many more plays, but that too was a consequence of this being largely a special teams victory for UConn (see the plus nine and a missed chip shot field goal by Jeremy Ito) amid some opportunistic defense, and it’s hard to keep those coming when the defense is giving up so much ground.
Then again, special teams is a recurring problem for Rutgers, which almost lost the South Florida game on a blocked field goal nearly returned for a touchdown and currently ranks 117th in net punting at a measly 29.2 per boot despite not giving up any blocks before Saturday.
Final Score: North Carolina 16, Maryland 13
- - -
My god, the ACC is such an ugly, brutally dull, field goal-driven conference, but if any team is going to fall victim to that kind of aesthetically bankrupt game, I’m glad it’s Maryland, one of the worst offenders of ConservaBall over the last two years. The Terps won six games by six points or less last year, outgained in every single one of them, and beat Georgia Tech by two earlier this year. But UMD couldn’t hold off the bronze foot Saturday of Connor Barth, who hit three field goals in the second quarter, allowing UNC to harumph its way to victory with but a single sustained touchdown drive on the game.
Maryland, clearly, was not much better. The game might have turned on the Terps’ failure to get more out of the most successful drives of the day by either team in the second quarter, one of them ending after 57 yards with a classic fraidy-cat punt from the UNC 35 and the next with a field goal after a 74-yard march stalled with goal-to-go inside the five. North Carolina didn’t cover that much ground on any of its possessions – Maryland also had an 80-yard drive for its only touchdown in the third quarter – or get that close for any of Barth’s kicks, and punted within five plays on each of its last four chances with the ball. But Maryland couldn’t wrestle the lead away.