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Syracuse, Arizona State, and the best teams of one hell of a 'This is why we love college football' weekend

October 16,2017 04:30

This was a bad week to do something wild. Unless you did it against a top-10 team, it was going to get drowned out. This also wasn't a good week to pull off a dramatic comeback. Sorry, West Virginia (over Texas Tech), USC (over Utah), Air Force (over ...


This was a bad week to do something wild. Unless you did it against a top-10 team, it was going to get drowned out.
This also wasn’t a good week to pull off a dramatic comeback. Sorry, West Virginia (over Texas Tech), USC (over Utah), Air Force (over UNLV), Appalachian State (over Idaho), etc. There was just too much happening for us to give you guys the attention you deserved.
This was the week that all of your issues came home to roost. And Clemson most certainly had issues, even if we were too distracted by the Tigers’ glittery résumé to see it. From earlier in the week:

Here’s what S&P+ sees in Clemson:
A team with minimal big-play capability. The Tigers rank a solid 22nd in offensive success rate, but in IsoPPP (which measures the magnitude of one's successful plays), they are just 108th. When you aren't recording a ton of big plays, that means you have to avoid mistakes for eight or 10 plays at a time to score touchdowns. Clemson ranks just 45th in points per scoring opportunity and 41st in passing-downs success rate. Once they fall behind the chains, they are not yet excellent at catching back up.
A team that gives up nearly as many sacks as it makes. Clemson’s defense ranks second in Adjusted Sack Rate, but the offense ranks 111th. Kelly Bryant is getting sacked 8 percent of the time on standard downs (108th) and 12 percent on passing downs (109th).
A team with pretty bad special teams. The Tigers rank 120th in Special Teams S&P+, and it's costing them about a point per game at the moment. They are 119th in punt efficiency, 114th in kick return efficiency, and 106th in field goal efficiency, and they just lost place-kicker Greg Huegel. Special teams can flip a game all by itself, and if it does so in a Clemson game this year, it's probably flipping it to the opponent. Plus, despite extreme defensive efficiency, special teams has led to Clemson ranking just 68th in field position margin.

Clemson had won 14 of its last 16 one-possession games, a rate of clutchitude that simply isn’t maintainable. The Tigers have become incredibly adept at pressing the “OK, time for a big play” button while blowing teams out as infrequently as possible. Their run game is dreadfully inefficient and reliant on the QB. Special teams really have been awful.
On Friday night in the Carrier Dome, quarterback Kelly Bryant came into the game injured and left with a concussion. He finished with three non-sack carries for four yards. Consequently, the Tigers couldn’t run the ball consistently. They got a 52-yard touchdown from Travis Etienne and a 37-yard run from Tavien Feaster. Their other 19 non-sack carries gained just 54 yards.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Zerrick Cooper was put in an impossible situation and acquitted himself reasonably well (10-for-14 for 88 yards), but Syracuse was able to tee off on him because of Clemson’s rushing problems. He was sacked three times and could only move Clemson more than 35 yards downfield once in five possessions.
Of course, if not for the whole “bad special teams” thing, the Tigers might have survived. But they missed two more field goals — a 34-yarder and a 38-yarder — and are now just 4-for-10 on field goals for the season. Greg Huegel was just 2-for-4 before tearing his ACL a while back, but replacement Alex Spence has been worse.
We’re all just a kicker injury away from disaster.
That said, an upset win should be about the conqueror, not the vanquished. This was Dino Babers’ moment, and he seized it. The second-year Syracuse head coach is easily one of college football’s most likable figures, and after last year’s upset of Virginia Tech (and the locker room brilliance that followed), he just sent an even louder message about his own capabilities.
This is about:
Eric Dungey, everybody’s new favorite quarterback, who completed 20 of 32 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Cuse to 27 points and 440 yards on one of the nation’s best defenses.
Steve Ishmael and Eric Phillips, senior receivers who entered the game with 1,204 receiving yards and an opportunity to make a name for themselves against Clemson's sticky DBs. They combined for 10 catches, 167 yards, and two touchdown. And yes, a couple of egregious push-offs, but who's counting?
Chris Slayton and the rest of the Syracuse defensive front, which dominated Clemson’s line at times, forced Tiger running backs to find their yards on the outside, and harassed two quarterbacks.
Syracuse fans. They’ve been through quite a bit. From 1987 to 2001, the Orange went to 12 bowls and finished in the AP top 15 five times. They produced incredible quarterback play (Don McPherson, Donovan McNabb) and absurd individual talent, from receiver Marvin Harrison to defensive end Dwight Freeney. But after trailing off in Paul Pasqualoni’s final seasons, they bottomed out under Greg Robinson and averaged only 5.6 wins per year in seven seasons under Doug Marrone and Scott Shafer. And technically they’ve only won eight of 19 games under Babers. (Hell, they lost to a pretty bad MTSU just a month ago.)
Friday night was why we all keep watching our teams, why coaches keep working ridiculous hours, and why student-athletes put in ridiculous hours of their own (without the six-digit salaries). You never know when perseverance might pay off, be it in the stands, on the sideline, or on the field.
Change some of the names, and everything I just said could go for fans of the schools below, too. This was a life-affirming weekend of college football.
2. Arizona State (def. No. 5 Washington, 13-7)
Arizona State won 10 games in both 2013 and 2014 under Todd Graham, but as he began losing assistants to other jobs, he began losing a lot more, too. Since a 2-4 start in 2015, the Sun Devils lost 12 of 19, and a rugged schedule — four of their first five opponents were ranked 51st or better in S&P+, as was Saturday’s opponent (and three of the next four as well) — had prevented them from proving any major progress in 2017.
A win over Oregon dropped some hints, though. And on Saturday, against a surprisingly lackluster Washington, ASU made a statement. The Sun Devils scored on three of their first four drives, and a defense that tends to give up some of the biggest big plays in the country, did anything but. Washington gained just 230 yards and scored a single touchdown in a big ASU upset.
3. California (def. No. 8 Washington State, 37-3)
I ranked ASU’s win over UW higher than Cal’s upset of Wazzu simply because I was far more confident in Washington’s ability to avoid such a loss. But make no mistake: Cal looked really, really good on Friday night and helped to make Washington State look really, really bad. The Golden Bears pounced on every single Cougar mistake.
They had lost their last three games by a combined 62 points ... and then they beat a top-10 team by 34. College football!
4. Boston College (def. Louisville, 45-42)

Good gracious.
5. South Alabama (def. Troy, 19-8)
Drowned out in all the cacophonous noise that followed: USA was 1-4 with only a win over Alabama A&M. And the Jaguars took down the team that took down LSU. Kudos.
6. Tulsa (def. Houston, 45-17)
A week ago, Tulane beat Tulsa, 62-24, to move the Golden Hurricane to just 1-5 in 2017. After last season’s breakthrough, they were staring a 3-9 or so season in the face. On Saturday, they stomped 4-1 Houston. Tulane, meanwhile, lost to FIU. College football!
7. Boise State (def. No. 19 SDSU, 31-14)
Like Clemson, SDSU was a team reliant on big, timely plays to disguise some ongoing issues. Like Clemson, the Aztecs got their comeuppance at the hands of a Boise State team ready to look like Boise State again.
8. No. 6 TCU (def. Kansas State, 26-6)
It took a few hours more than normal, thanks to the storms that rolled through the Midlands on Saturday, but in an upset-laden weekend, TCU traveled to Upset Town (aka Manhattan, Kansas), and handled its damn business.
9. LSU (def. No. 10 Auburn, 27-23)
From “Ed Orgeron is done!” to “Ed Orgeron’s shining moment!” in, what, about an hour? Hour and a half?
10. No. 23 Stanford (def. Oregon, 49-7)
Bryce Love rushed 17 times for 147 yards, and it lowered his season per-carry averages. Since figuring out a way to lose to SDSU, Stanford has looked awfully Stanford-like. Might get that rematch with USC after all.

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