Auburn, San Jose State best of Week 14

Week 14 had two of the best finishes of the season as Auburn ran back a missed field goal to defeat Alabama and Ohio State stopped a two-point conversion attempt to beat Michigan.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the best performances of Week 14 and the decisions of Nick Saban and Brady Hoke at the end of those games.

Best individual performances

Brett Hundley had a career-high 98.4 opponent-adjusted QBR in UCLA's 35-14 win at USC. Hundley converted 7-of-13 third-down plays, including four rushes for 57 yards and a touchdown.

David Fales posted a 97.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in San Jose State's 62-52 upset of Fresno State. Fales passed for a school-record 547 yards and was responsible for seven touchdowns. He is the fourth FBS player in the last 10 seasons to throw for at least 500 yards, account for seven touchdowns and not turn the ball over in a game.

Nick Marshall had a 95.0 opponent-adjusted QBR in Auburn’s 34-28 win against Alabama. Marshall ran for 99 yards and one touchdown against the Tide, the most rushing yards Alabama has allowed by a quarterback in the Nick Saban era.

Braxton Miller posted a 95.0 opponent-adjusted QBR in Ohio State’s 42-41 win at Michigan despite completing just six passes. Miller ran for 153 yards and three touchdowns on 16 rush attempts, resulting in a 98.2 Total QBR on running plays. Since the middle of October (Week 8), Miller has the second-highest opponent-adjusted QBR in the nation behind Jameis Winston.

Best team performances

Offense - San Jose State added 36.7 expected points on offense in its 62-52 win against Fresno State. The Spartans scored a touchdown on seven of their first 10 drives, including six passing touchdowns longer than 15 yards. They are the ninth team in the last 10 seasons to have six passing touchdowns of this distance in a game.

DefenseHouston held SMU (which had previously averaged 30.8 points per game) scoreless in its 34-0 win on Friday. The Cougars forced four turnovers and held the Mustangs without a first down on 53.3 percent of their drives. As a result, Houston added 33.3 expected points to its net scoring margin on defense, its most defensive EPA in the last 10 seasons.

Special Teams – Auburn added 11.5 expected points to its net scoring margin on special teams, the highest special teams EPA allowed by Alabama under Nick Saban. The Tigers were the beneficiaries of four missed field goals, a blocked punt and a missed field goal returned 100 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Additionally, Auburn punter Steven Clark had two punts downed at the 1 yard line.

Analysis of Saban/Hoke decisions

Saban’s decision to attempt a 57-yard field goal: Given that Nick Saban was trying to win the game in regulation, he made the correct decision in attempting the long field goal. In the last 10 seasons, teams have made 28 percent of their fourth-quarter go-ahead field goals from around this distance and none had been returned for a touchdown by the opponent prior to this game. In comparison, only two percent of all Hail Mary attempts have been converted at the end of games. So, Alabama had a better chance of winning by attempting a long field goal than by throwing a Hail Mary, or kneeling and going to overtime.

Hoke’s decision to attempt a two-point conversion: With an extra point pending and Michigan trailing 42-41, Brady Hoke elected to attempt a two-point conversion with 32 seconds remaining. Based on analysis of similar situations, Hoke slightly increased Michigan’s chance of winning with this decision. Had the Wolverines tried a point-after kick, they would have had about a 44 percent chance of winning. With the Wolverines going for two points after the touchdown, they had about a 45 percent chance of winning based on the success rates of similar situations in the past 10 seasons. Given the Wolverines’ status as a heavy underdog against their rival, Brady Hoke’s decision should not be questioned.