College Football Misleading Box Scores: Veritable Victors, Dubious Dominators & Bona Fide Busts from Week 9
Brian Bahr/Getty Images. Pictured: Sam Ehlinger.
We’ve all lived through enough bad beats to understand that the final score does not always do the best job of reflecting each team’s performance. This weekly column highlights matchups where the advanced box score tells a different story than the game’s result, as well as interesting data points that stick out from certain games.
Sports bettors may want to keep this information in the back of their minds before placing next week’s college football wagers.
Texas 41, Oklahoma State 34
For the second week in a row, we saw a team lose a game despite a 100% postgame win expectancy (per College Football Data).
Oklahoma State had a wide gap in terms of success rate, at 49% compared to 29% for Texas. The Pokes also drove past the opponent 40-yard line eight times while Texas only crossed it six times. Oklahoma State gained 243 more yards than Texas (530 compared to 287) and gained an average of 2.0 more yards per play than the Longhorns (5.8 to 3.8).
However, winning the turnover battle is important, and the Pokes came nowhere close to winning that battle. Oklahoma State fumbled three times and threw an interception, while Texas never coughed up the ball. Those turnovers played a big part in the Longhorns having an average starting field position that was 20 yards closer to the end zone than Oklahoma State’s.
Virginia 44, North Carolina 41
One team averaged 8.8 yards per play and outgained its opponent by 116 yards, but it wasn’t the team who won.
Despite having a yards per play edge of 8.8 to 5.6, North Carolina came away with another frustrating loss. The Tar Heels were able to hold Virginia to just three third-down conversions on 12 chances (good!), but they allowed Virginia to convert all four fourth-down opportunities (bad!).
Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell threw four touchdowns and 15.8 yards per attempt, and his favorite target Dyami Brown went for 240 yards and three touchdowns on 11 catches. However, the defense was not able to do its job in its own territory (5.43 points per trip past the 40 for Virginia), and North Carolina left with a loss.
Georgia 14, Kentucky 3
Georgia didn’t play like an offense that only scored 14 points. The Bulldogs averaged 6.1 yards per play and posted a 52% success rate, which should lead to a much better offensive output than we saw.
However, Georgia only ran 57 plays and was very inefficient in opponent territory. The Bulldogs made it past the Kentucky 40-yard line six times but only averaged 2.33 points per opportunity on those attempts. Quarterback Stetson Bennett also threw an interception on first down at the Kentucky 10-yard line.
Louisiana Tech 37, UAB 34
For the second week in a row, UAB lost a game despite playing better than its opponent. The Blazers outgained Louisiana by 100 yards and had a 1.5-yard-per-play edge (6.6 to 5.1). UAB had a healthy advantage in success rate, as well, at 41% to 34%.
The Blazers had a hard time in opponent territory, despite getting past the Louisiana Tech 40-yard line eight times. UAB only averaged 2.13 points per opportunity on those drives, while Louisiana Tech averaged four points on six trips past UAB 40.
Signs of Improvement / Cause for Concern
Florida 41, Missouri 17
After fielding one of the worst-performing defenses in college football up to this point, Florida went into this game down several defensive starters due to COVID-19 contact tracing. After a three-week layoff and without some key personnel, you would figure a struggling defense would only get worse, right?
Well that’s not how college football works, as we all know. The Gators held Missouri to the worst success rate of any team on Saturday. The Tigers only posted a 16.7% success rate before garbage time. For reference, Akron’s 30% success rate in 2019 ranked as the worst in the nation. The Gators limited Missouri to 248 offensive yards, 3.9 yards per play, and 1.7 yards per carry.
Maryland 45, Minnesota 44
So is Northwestern’s defense really good, or is Minnesota’s really bad? Probably a mix of both. After Northwestern held Maryland to three points, 208 yards and a 27% success rate, the Gophers were … unable to do the same.
Maryland’s offense averaged 10.2 yards per play, gained 675 yards of total offense and posted a 62% success rate against the Gophers. The Terrapins were still able to win the game despite having a minus-2 turnover margin and committing seven more penalties than Minnesota.
Auburn 48, LSU 11
I think we can now say that this is just what LSU’s defense is this year. It allowed a very suspect Auburn offense to go for 506 yards on 7.2 yards per play. The Tigers posted a 60% success rate, which ranked fourth among all teams in Week 9. Auburn’s previous single-game high in success rate was 53%, coming against a horrendous Ole Miss defense.
Other than those two games, Auburn has not averaged a success rate higher than 43% in any of its other four games. Quarterback Bo Nix had one of the best games of his career, throwing for 300 yards on 11.5 yards per attempt while completing 69% of his passes and getting in the end zone four times.
Judging by this year’s LSU defense, it looks like former defensive coordinator and current Baylor head coach Dave Aranda is pretty good at what he does.