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Fun With Numbers: UTSA

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Previewing the UTSA game with advanced statistics

Howdy, and welcome back to Fun With Numbers. If you like the idea of looking at advanced statistics to explain the Aggie football team, and then using those same stats to make often inaccurate predictions for the upcoming game, this weekly post is for you.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of advanced stats, meaning things like the SP+, Success Rate, etc. you should check out this glossary.

How’d We Do Last Week?

Last week the Aggies took down an SEC opponent at Kyle Field by the biggest margin we’ve seen since the days of Jonathan Football. It was by no means a perfect game played by either side of the Aggie squad, but we finished with a 100% Win Expectancy and went into the 4th Quarter with the game in garbage time. Let’s take a look at the box score and talk about it.

To start, love the efficiency of the passing attack this past weekend. We knew the Ags would be able to pass against this secondary, but it still required Kellen Mond and his receivers to all show up. Thankfully, they didn’t let us down, with Kellen taking care of the ball, not taking any sacks, and was particularly efficient on Passing Downs. It was good to see the receivers continue to step up, Wydermeyer moved up to a 71% Success Rate on the season and a 30% Explosive Catch Rate and Rogers seems to be rounding into “2018 late season” form (Up to a 71% Catch Rate and a 61% Success Rate on the year). We knew the run game had been improving, and that this Mississippi State Front 7 had been struggling lately, but it was still nice to see the 49% Success Rate and the OL continuing to get a little better. On top of all that, the Aggies finished drives better than they have all season and the special teams were back to winning the field position battle.

The defense did a decent job corralling the Bulldogs, but when things went bad they tended to go real bad. They let Kylin Hill get loose a few too many times (3 Explosive Runs and 11.21 Highlight Yards/Opportunity) and gave up two passing TDs of over 30 yards. Overall though, Elko did a good job controlling what has the capability of being a very efficient offense, and was able to get some pressure on Shrader (2 sacks) and turned the ball over 3 times. Obviously you want to see the big play issues cleaned up in the next couple of weeks, but it’s hard to be too disappointed in a defense that has held its last two opponents to 35% and 31% Success Rates.

What Do We Know?

Beating up on a mediocre Mississippi State team will send you up in the rankings a little bit, and the Aggies remain in the Top 25 in the SP+ and FPI, and are even starting to impress the ever skeptical FEI. It’s going to take a massive victory this week in order to impress any of the metrics I imagine, as the UTSA Roadrunners are just flat out bad this season.

Frank Wilson started his career at UTSA in 2016, and had the Roadrunners climbing back out of the hole left by Larry Coker, even getting a victory over current Big 12 leader Baylor back in 2017. The past two years have been a rough fall though and while I have no idea what expectations are at a school like UTSA, if he doesn’t get himself back up to 6 wins, I can’t imagine we’ll see Frank Wilson at a Texas System school much longer. Until Tom Herman hires him as an analyst to get the scoop on how to take out the Bears anyway.*

*I’m aware that UTSA lost to Baylor this season and that Herman is 2-0 against them, a joke doesn’t have to be true to be funny.

Vegas has the Ags as a 38 point favorite, the SP+ likes us to win 49-7, and the FEI projects a near 40 point win. Let’s take a closer look and see if the Ags have much to worry about this week.

Aggie Offense vs Roadrunner Defense

So it’s not all maroon in the chart, but it’s pretty close. 2018’s 103rd ranked SP+ Defense actually has gotten worse this year, with UTSA nearly hitting the bottom of all FBS defenses. You see the Roadrunners have a slight advantage when it comes to their DL vs OL, but those numbers are unadjusted for opponents and the Aggies have been improving every week up front (particularly in Line Yards where they have moved from 93rd to 68th in just one week). They’ve also been decent enough preventing big plays in the secondary, but explosive passes aren’t something the Aggie offense is doing consistently week to week anyway. They’re not much of a threat taking the ball away, totalling only 9 turnovers so far (3 INTs, 6 Fumbles), and rank 103rd in the country in Red Zone Defense.

To put it simply, this is a bad defense, even for a G5 team. They’ve given up 25 non-garbage time explosive runs, with 4 of them going for TDs. I expect to see the Aggies continue to find success on the ground, with Mond and Spiller both getting some serious Highlight Yards this week. They’ve only played one other offense in the Top 30 in OSP+, and that was Baylor, who put up 63 points on the Roadrunners. Kellen Mond shouldn’t even break a sweat this week.

Aggie Defense vs Roadrunner Offense

Sometimes, a team is great on one side of the ball but are dragged down by the other being absolutely terrible.

That is not the case for the Roadrunners. They have found a little success in the run game at times, ranking 57th in Opportunity Rate, 63rd in Line Yards, and have had 21 explosive runs this season, but they haven’t been able to do it efficiently enough to scare anybody. Still, big run plays have been an Achilles heal for this defense in 2019, due to some youth and inexperience on the back end, so they need to be prepared for big runs by Sincere McCormick and know that QB Lowell Narcisse has no problem tucking the ball and running (65 carries and 5.6 yards/carry). Despite a lot of returning experience in the WR room for the Roadrunners, the passing game has been inefficient, and they’ve only hit 10 explosive passing plays all season.

I think we’ll see the Aggies stack the box early and bring lots of pressure, and try and force this offense into passing down situations. Think Kentucky in 2018, but you know... worse.

Special Teams

The Aggie special teams has been pretty average this season outside of Braden Mann’s recent return to punting domination. They’re still better than UTSA though, who has struggled replacing what was a solid unit in 2018 but lost a lot to graduation and transfers. Punter Lucas Dean is averaging about 41.6 yards/punt this season (65th in the country) and Kicker Hunter Duplessiss is 4/6 on FG attempts this season.

Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?

This is a cool down going into the bye week. Relax and enjoy one of the last remaining home games of the season.

What’s the Verdict?

It’s hard to reign in your confidence on this one. This team ranks about as bad as Texas State does offensively, and is much worse on defense. Most of the plays in the 2nd half should end up being in garbage time. So we’re feeling pretty good about a victory, but what do we want to see from this team as they wrap up the “easier” middle portion of the schedule?

When the Aggies have the ball, I hope we see continued efficiency, particularly in the run game. Now that Jimbo has found a way to make that work, utilizing Mond’s legs and opening things up for Spiller and Richardson, I’d hate to see it drop off against a lower level opponent. Take care of the ball and continue to find pay dirt when you get in the red zone. We had two turnovers against Texas State and turned in 4.1 points/opportunity, we should be much better this late in the season.

On defense, I’d love to see us shut down the rushing attack and allow no more than 2 big runs from this Roadrunner offense. They’re not particularly great at protecting the QB, so it would also be nice to see the Aggies turn in a couple of sacks like they have the last two weeks. They gave up 7 points to Texas State, and 3 to Lamar, maybe the Aggies can pitch their first shut out of the Jimbo/Elko era?

My Prediction: If you can’t tell from the tone of this post, I’m predicting an Aggie win. It would take a massive breakdown of all the progress we’ve seen the last couple of weeks for anything else to happen. I’ll say Aggies win and cover 52-7. I’m 6-1 straight up and 2-5 ATS, so hopefully this is the game where I start trending back to .500.

Final Notes

Thanks for checking out Fun With Numbers this week. I know it’s a little on the short side, but there’s only so many ways to say, “We should win this game easily.” No post next week as we coast through the second bye of the season, but I should be back for the South Carolina preview. As always, if you’re interested in football statistics, analytics, and all that good stuff, check out these sites below.

  • FootballOutsiders.com for a solid compilation of all things related to football analytics.
  • Bcftoys.com for Brian Fremeau’s FEI data and other fun projects from him.
  • ESPN.com is the new home for all of Bill Connelly’s SP+ info (as well as the FPI rankings).
  • CollegeFootballData.com is a great site for data and charts that you can download and play with on your own time, in case Fun With Numbers isn’t filling that statistical void in your life.
  • Also you can now follow me on Twitter @Aggie_Analytics.

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? You know where to leave ‘em. I’ll see you at the tailgate.