Week 8 brought another shocking upset. Penn State not only fell to Illinois, but they fell to Illinois at home while coming off of a bye. Oklahoma State lost to an Iowa State team that has now won three straight and has two losses by a combined 12 points. Cincinnati and Oklahoma played games that were very much lacking in style points and Michigan pulled away in the second half against Northwestern setting up a top ten showdown in East Lansing in week 9. 

What Happened In Happy Valley?

Even while not having the skill players that Penn State does, Illinois wore down the Nittany Lions enough to pull out the win behind a late 2 point conversion in the NINTH overtime. Penn State got crushed in the line of scrimmage battle all afternoon, allowing Illinois to hang around just long enough to pull out their first road top ten win since 2007. Illinois outgained Penn State 357-62 on the ground alone. Once Illinois knew they could win the line of scrimmage they abandoned the passing game almost altogether going for just 38 yards through the air. That is, until the ninth overtime when former Michigan-turned-Illinois backup quarterback Brandon Peters hit Casey Washington in the end zone for the deciding 2 point conversion.  Much of the week leading up to this game, many were unsure about the status of Penn State starting quarterback Sean Clifford. Once it was announced that Clifford was starting, many anticipated that Penn State would cruise to a victory, which evidently was not the case. Clifford, still looking hobbled at times, went just 19/34 for 165 yards. Penn State’s offense this year has been sporadic at best. While at times they have looked explosive (see 1st Q @ Iowa), they have not been able to maintain that high level of play. Their offense ranks 100th in EPA/play, 119th in EPA/rush, and 84th in EPA/pass. Maybe, just maybe, it took a lowly opponent like the Fighting Illini, who in new head coach Brett Bielema’s first year now have more wins than the entirety of last season, to expose Penn State’s weakness. Looking ahead to next week, Penn State visits Columbus to play Ohio State and one has to wonder if Penn State was getting ahead of themselves, figuring that they’d walk all over the Illini. (And with a -24 point spread, who can blame them?) 

Overreaction: Penn State’s loss isn’t a fluke. Ohio State will roll next weekend.

Michigan-Michigan State

Who would have thought that the two undefeated teams in the Big Ten midway through the season would have been these two? Week 9 is bringing not only Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff to East Lansing, but ESPN’s College Gameday as well. It’s no understatement to say that everyone in the country will have eyes on East Lansing at noon on Saturday. The question that remains is, who will win? When looking at this game, the headlining matchup is Michigan State’s offense vs Michigan’s defense. However, the likely winner of this game will be the winner of the other matchup, Michigan’s offense vs MSU’s defense. More importantly, MIchigan’s pass offense vs. MSU’s pass defense. Michigan’s pass offense has shown to be plenty capable, especially in Michigan’s thrashing of Wisconsin through the air. However, Michigan’s offense ranks 66th nationally in EPA/pass while MSU’s defense ranks 29th in EPA/pass. Digging deeper, it seems that Michigan’s pass offense has faced defenses ranking 36th in EPA/pass, on average. MSU’s pass defense has faced offenses ranking an average of 75th in EPA/pass with just one of those passing offenses ranking higher in EPA/pass than Michigan’s. The Wolverines played Northwestern and again attempted to throw the ball but quarterback Cade McNamara missed a few deep throws and has shown a tendency to do so all season. Against the Wildcats, who ranks 22nd in EPA/pass, Michigan threw the ball for 163 yards but McNamara had just 129 of those. True freshman quarterback JJ McCarthy has shown sparks of taking the offense to another level through the air in limited action this season (see deep shots against WMU and Wisconsin) but Michigan hasn’t really needed to throw the ball yet. If MSU can force Michigan to the air, this game could be very very interesting. MSU on the other hand is coming off of a bye and Big Ten teams have come off of byes one of two ways: red hot like Ohio State and Purdue, or flat like Michigan and Penn State. Michigan, Penn State, and Purdue all survived while Penn State wasn’t so lucky. 

Overreaction: Michigan State does start hot getting to an early lead, but Michigan battles back *through the air* (maybe with a certain five star freshman) proving interesting down the stretch. Too early to declare a winner. 

Style Points

Oklahoma and Cincinnati played games that were almost *too* close down the stretch during week 8. Oklahoma’s defense couldn’t get off the field early while their offense was stymied by the Kansas defense. Cincinnati faced nearly an identical fate against Navy when their offense couldn’t extend drives, leaving their defense on the field way too often. As for Oklahoma, how does an offense ranking 5th in EPA/play, 3rd in EPA/rush, and 19th in EPA/pass in the nation get shutout in the first half by a defense ranking last in EPA/play, 126th in EPA/rush, and last in EPA/pass? Caleb Williams, who seemingly vaulted himself into the Heisman candidacy just last week, fell short of his first performance, going just 15 of 20 for 178 yards with 2 TD’s and an INT. The answer is time of possession. Kansas’s first drive lasted 9:15 and overall Kansas dominated TOP, 35:30 to 24:30. Oklahoma’s offense was about as efficient as normal, but Kansas was able to sustain long and time-consuming drives, keeping the high powered Sooner offense off the field, which was why Kansas had such great success early in the game. Oklahoma’s defense is by no means great (91st in EPA/play and 127th in EPA/pass), and Kansas offensively is below average (76th in EPA/play, 75th in EPA/rush, 67th in EPA/pass), but they were just good enough to hang around with an Oklahoma team that they had no business being in a close game with. For Oklahoma, it’s looking more and more like their season will go as far as their defense takes it. Cincinnati, on the other hand, has a phenomenal defense. The Bearcats are 7th in EPA/play, 24th in EPA/rush, and 7th in EPA/pass; however, they got outgained by the Navy Midshipmen 308-271. The Navy offense attacked primarily on the ground, rushing for 192 yards. Navy’s offense ranks 92nd in EPA/rush, showing that even though their offense is not good at running the football, they were still able to have a vast amount of success against the Bearcats. South Florida, SMU, and East Carolina all have better rushing attacks than Navy and could prove to be tough tests for the Bearcats. SMU has a solid offense all around and an average defense to boot. 

Overreaction: Oklahoma will succeed until they play a capable offense. The defense will be tested and it might not be too long. Texas Tech this weekend and Baylor and Oklahoma State down the road will provide trouble for the Sooner defense. 

Overreaction: Cincinnati will still roll through their schedule until at least November 20th and then after that as well. If the Bearcats win over SMU it’ll be very tough to keep them out of the Playoff, regardless of who is on the edge.