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LIFE ON THE MARGINS, WEEK FOUR

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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')

SMU TCU
Total Offense 352 250
1st Downs 23 13
Yds./Play 4.3 4.2
Yds./Possession 25.2 20.8
Turnovers 2 2
Swing Points 0 +14

Final Score: TCU 21, SMU 7
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The Horned Frogs welcomed running back Aaron Brown back to the offensive fold after a two-week absence (during which the team, perhaps not coincidentally, was 0-2) and Brown was immediately effective, running for 92 yards on just 11 carries. He had so few touches, though, and ineffective TCU quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Marcus Jackson had so many, because SMU executed the move-the-chains, kill-the-clock game it wanted for the upset to perfection – almost. The Mustangs had a 12-minute advantage in time of possession and almost doubled up TCU in first downs while stuffing the Frog offense, but such approaches are doomed by mistakes, and SMU had two killers of the most lethal order in the first half: TCU blocked a punt that it returned for a touchdown in the first quarter and ran an interception all the way back in the second, one possession before the offense scored on its only sustained drive and called it a night. Quarterback is very far from settled.

SMU ultimately had five possession die in Frog territory, three on failed fourth down attempts and two on turnovers. Only one, a three-play drive in the first quarter that featured a 46-yard pass bracketed by 15-yard runs by DeMyron Martin, ended in the end zone.

Oregon State Arizona State
Total Offense 514 396
1st Downs 28 19
Yds./Play 6.4 5.5
Yds./Possession 30.2 23.3
Turnovers 6 2
Swing Points +2 +10

Final Score: Arizona State 44, Oregon State 32
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If everything else is going well, this is probably going to end badly.
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Arizona State immediately fell into a hole by botching a punt for an OSU safety on the first possession of the game, then allowed consecutive touchdown drives of 72 and 44 yards and a field goal for a 19-0 deficit in the first quarter. Oregon State’s offense didn’t slow down after that, but it did screw up, repeatedly; in fact, after the Beavers’ seven-turnover debacle at Cincinnati, at least moving the ball prior to giving it away represents a sort of progress. The moving is not the problem; it’s the holding that counts, really, and quarterback Sean Canfield to date simply cannot hold. With his five interceptions Saturday – two on consecutive possessions in the third quarter, both of which gave ASU the ball in Beaver territory and led directly to touchdowns – Canfield now has nine for the season, eight in the two losses, and is projected to throw a stunning 27 interceptions over the entire season in addition to otherwise impressive numbers (2,685 yards, 18 touchdowns, on his current pace). OSU can run and throw if it doesn’t stop to draw the pistol on its own foot.

As for Arizona State, the Devils put up 28 points in a matter of minutes, greatly assisted by three drives that began in Oregon State territory. But can ASU play defense? Apparently, it cannot, and less error-prone teams down the line won’t be so intent on bailing it out.

There’s one more game that should go up, because it fits in the category statistically, but I don’t know who might argue there’s anything misleading about it given the home team’s previous defensive efforts:

Syracuse Louisville
Total Offense 465 628
1st Downs 16 37
Yds./Play 7.6 6.7
Yds./Possession 35.8 41.9
Turnovers 2 4
Swing Points +10 0

Final Score: Syracuse 38, Louisville 35
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Again, Louisville’s defense is atrocious, and has been atrocious, and will be regarded as an automatic 31-point liability, minimum, regardless of opponent until further notice. The Cardinals’ allowed 7.6 yards per play, and after Middle Tennessee State and Kentucky, there’s nothing anomalous about that. Whether it’s a lack of an Elvis Dumervil or Amobi Okoye up front or some sort of philosophical change at the top ¬– the defensive coordinator is a holdover from the Petrino staff - the most sack-happy defense in the nation over the last two years suddenly can’t get to the quarterback, and who know if it could ever cover. If so, it’s lost that edge, too.

Still, somehow, Louisville could have won this game even with that defense, if the special teams hadn’t allowed a 98-yard kick return for touchdown in the second quarter and the offense hadn’t turned the ball over at its own 13 in the third quarter, setting up a ‘Cuse field goal after the (rare) defensive stop. UL punted twice and turned the ball over on downs in Syracuse territory. So the numbers suggest the offense is still a juggernaut when it comes to moving down the field, good enough to overcome even as putrid a defense as this if it takes care of the ball. Given that this is rock-bottom Syracuse, though, and the results fit nicely in line with the defensive crashes against MTSU and Kentucky, I’m not sure I believe that.

For anyone wondering, I had the chart set up for UConn’s 34-14 win over Pitt, in which the Huskies were outgained by 60 yards and were the beneficiaries of six turnovers, which they subsequently turned into 17 points. Looking at the game more closely, though, all of Pitt’s yardage was garbage time: the Panthers outgained UConn by 161 yards in the second half, but it came against a prevent defense with a true freshman quarterback who threw three interceptions on his team’s final five drives and had a short completion fumbled away on another. More on the Panthers’ very dismal (and entirely predictable) quarterback situation later today.