College Football Analytics: Week 1 Recap

The first week is in the books!

The first week of the 2021 college football season is in the books. There were a LOT of fun games, a couple upsets, and a couple games that went exactly as you would have expected them to go. Let’s take a quick look back at some of the notable games of the labor day weekend slate.

*Note* During the season if I miss a certain game in my recaps, simply email (CFBNumbers@gmail.com)or DM on Twitter (@CFBNumbers) and I will happily provide you any number related thing you desire.

Also, I use Expected Points Added rather frequently in these recaps. If you need help digesting the decimals, I wrote about how to make it easier to read EPA/Play numbers.

Virginia Tech 17 - North Carolina 10

We start the week off with an upset! North Carolina travels to Blacksburg and leaves with a loss at the hands of the Hokies. At a 96.7% post game win expectancy, Virginia Tech handled the game more than the score would lead you to think. For North Carolina, we wondered what the offense would look like after losing some talent to the NFL. First game and a 38.7% success rate later, and we might be looking at some questions on this North Carolina offense.

Virginia Tech wasn’t very explosive, but they were efficient. This was largely due in part to the passing game, which earned a 0.115 EPA/Pass. The bigger storyline is the defense dominating UNC’s offense. Forcing 3 turnovers and -0.449 EPA/Pass is an excellent victory for the Hokie defense.

Speaking of which, can you see the elephant in the room? -23.063 EPA lost to turnovers and sacks is your headline. To be fair to Sam Howell, two of the interceptions were more on the WR than on him (one was literally taken out of the hands of the WR). Braxton Burmeister had himself a game, and was both explosive and efficient in the air and on the ground. With a defense as strong as Virginia Tech’s, An efficient Braxton Burmeister could lead to a potential conference championship birth for VT.

Oklahoma 40 - Tulane 35

From an upset to a near upset, this game was a LOT closer than we expected coming in. Oklahoma survived with a 55% post game win expectancy against Tulane, in a game that featured a display of passing prowess. In the end Oklahoma was a bit more consistent with a 45.3% success rate, which ended up making the difference in this contest.

I know its kinda cheap to pull the “if these plays didn’t happen he would have been better” card, but look at the numbers for Michael Pratt. The only thing he trailed future first round pick Spencer Rattler in was EPA lost to turnovers and sacks. Even with the EPA lost Michael Pratt had himself a performance to be proud of. Speaking of which, Spencer Rattler had 2 picks, so he must of had a horrible performance, right? Nope! Remember, 2 INTs is just 2 plays out of 47. We need to look at the rest as well, and the rest was pretty good!

Penn State 16 - Wisconsin 10

Its normal for offenses to struggle early in the season, and for defenses to be ahead of offenses. Even knowing that… this one was a hard one to watch. Penn State ends up coming ahead on the defensive battle against Wisconsin with an 87.7% win expectancy. The Badgers had 4 opportunities inside the Penn State 25 go for 0 scores, which was one of the biggest factors in the game.

Coming into this season I was very much on the Graham Mertz bandwagon. Coming into the season he was a bit of a rollercoaster, with some electric performances and some not so great outings. This is firmly in the “not so great” bin. -12.525 points lost to turnovers and sacks is bad, but I think -0.696 total passing EPA might be worse. He did win the success battle, but an overall lack of explosiveness was apparent this game. Sean Clifford didn’t have much an upside either, but a positive EPA performance puts you above the 50th percentile, which in a contest like this is A-OK.

Alabama 44 - Miami 13

Every year we think this might be the year Alabama walks away from week 1 with a loss, and every year we seem to burn ourselves. At a 98.8 post game win expectancy, Alabama cruised from the start and never looked back. I guess you could say Alabama wasn’t efficient on the ground? The real star of the show was sophomore QB Bryce Young, who looks to be the next in line in the Bama QB to NFL pipeline.

Both QB’s had 40 plays, and they went in polar opposite directions. Bryce Young dominated with a 0.347 EPA/Play, with almost all of that coming from the air. For D’Eriq King sacks and interceptions sunk his afternoon. The Alabama defense contained King’s rushing ability, only allowing him to gain 2.87 EPA rushing. You could see King limping at times during the game, you may have to wonder whether he is still getting back to 100% from the ACL injury last December.

Texas 38 - Louisiana 18

The first game in the Steve Sarkisian era results in a 97.8% win expectancy victory over a ranked opponent. These are the types of boxscores you would see last year with Alabama. Absurdly efficient through the air, explosive offense, and a complimentary rushing game. Louisiana didn’t play a bad game, just didn’t have enough high upside offense to keep up with the longhorns.

For the folks at home, that is a 90+ percentile game for Hudson Card. Explosive plays and passing efficiency was a staple of Mac Jones last year, and that appears to have followed Sark to Austin. Yes it was only one game and we’re all probably overreacting, but this is exactly the type of start you wanted to see if you’re a fan of Texas.

Georgia 10 - Clemson 3

We have arrived at the game of the night! Two top 5 games in a clash of the titans… and it wasn’t really all that good? In what became an extremely defensive struggle, Georgia earns a 99% post game win expectancy against Clemson. Just from looking at the offensive numbers you can tell this game did not feature many highlight plays. After losing Trevor Lawrence and Trevor Etienne to the NFL, Clemson came out and lost over half a point per pass and the running game wasn’t too far behind. This was a dominant performance by the Georgia defense. Honestly it was an elite performance by the Clemson defense as well, but they were overshadowed by the Bulldogs.

Overall a very yikes QB boxscore. Low explosive play rate, horrible success rates, just overall nothing really to be excited about. Its only week one and both of these QB’s should bounce back and produce elite results, but overall just not a game to write home about for either QB.

Ole Miss 43 - Louisville 24

To end the week we got to see the explosively efficient Ole Miss offense dominate Louisville to the tune of a 96% post game win expectancy. Even without him on the sideline the Lane Train is full steam ahead this season. Extremely efficient on the ground, in the air, and everywhere. Louisville finishing with a 0.15 EPA/Play would be good in most games, but not when you play Ole Miss.

Week 1 isn’t really a time to talk about the Heisman, but if you had to, I think Matt Corral might be your favorite. This is a 100th percentile game for Corral, who did just about everything right on the ground and in the air. As I said above, any other game and you’d praise Malik Cunningham for a 0.237 EPA/Play performance. Just not this game.

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