Howdy Ags and welcome back to Fun With Numbers, the weekly post about Aggie Football, analytics, and the James Bonham trophy, the hero of the Alamo whose likeness will continue to shine inside the Bright Football Complex along with Will Muschamp’s reading glasses, which Jimbo is permitted to keep until next season.
If you’re new here, or the forgetful sort, check out this glossary for some of the terminology we’ll use today.
How’d We Do Last Week?
Well Jimbo’s squad beat another SEC opponent at home by more than two scores, something the 12th Man hasn’t witnessed in a while. Even though it was 13-3 going into the 4th Quarter, the game never really felt like it was in doubt. Let’s check out the Advanced Stats Box Score from Bill Connelly and see what went down.
First of all, let’s give props to the defense. They knew going in that they had to shut down Dowdle and the Gamecock Rushing attack (29% Success Rate and 29% Opportunity Rate- Check) and force Hilinski into passing downs (20 attempts in Passing Down situations- Check) where in general, South Carolina has been pretty inefficient. While the Ags managed to bring some pressure they failed to record any sacks on Hilinski, but it worked out because of how well the secondary was playing. We see you Chuck Oliver, with your 6 passes defended. They held strong when the offense struggled to put points on the board in the 3rd Quarter (holding SC to a 9% Success Rate), and were much better at preventing big plays this week. Just a really good job by Elko and the defense all around.
Offensively, the Aggie run game had the best game of the year against a Power 5 opponent. The OL landed an Opportunity Rate of 54% (Aggies have averaged 47.7% in 2019), but still allowed 2 sacks on Mond, who turned in a QBR of 78.2, his 3rd highest outing against an SEC opponent in 2019. It’s fun seeing Wydermyer continue to emerge as reliable and explosive TE, and the Aggies managed to take care of the ball well into garbage time when a fumble ended up turning into another 3 points for South Carolina. You’d like to see a little more efficiency in the passing game (although who needs it when you’re running the ball that well?) and the Aggie’s Red Zone offense has to improve in the last two games of the season, but overall it’s hard to complain when you put up over 500 yards of offense and sit on the ball for nearly 70% of the game.
The Aggies are riding a 4 game win streak, I am now 8-1 picking their games straight up and 3-6 against the spread, and we have yet another playoff contender on the schedule. Let’s get into it.
What Do We Know?
Texas A&M faces the Georgia Bulldogs for the first time since joining the SEC (Move to a Pod system you cowards!), and boy did we pick a great year for those stars to align. The Georgia Bulldogs are the 3rd team in the CFP Top 5 that the Aggies will play this season, and they won’t even be the last assuming everything holds up between now and Thanksgiving weekend.
Kirby Smart took over the Dawgs back in 2016, and he seems to have finally built the 2011ish Alabama style team that he learned during his time serving as an Apprentice to the Dark Lord in Tuscaloosa. They aren’t terribly exciting on offense despite having plenty of athletes, and can always lean on their incredible defense to grind out a win. They clearly have the upper hand on the Aggies, with Vegas currently showing them as a 13.5 point favorite, and most metrics projecting a similar margin of victory for Georgia. Let’s take a look at the matchups.
Aggie Offense vs Bulldog Defense
Yikes. The Aggie offense has been on a steady improvement since the Alabama game, where they were ranked 40th in the OSP+ and 56th in OFEI and are now up to 17th and 27th, and up to 14th in Rushing Success Rate (from 36th). All that improvement isn’t enough to make ol’ Kirby sweat though, as he has taken last season’s 8th ranked DSP+ unit and improved it to a Top 5 Defense. The secondary remained steady after the loss of Deandre Baker, and the Front 7 has improved, currently allowing only about 75 rushing yards/game. They do not typically give up big plays (only 38 explosive pass/run plays this season), and are ranked 1st in Red Zone Defense, allowing 6 TDs and 3 FGs on 15 Red Zone trips by opponents. They don’t generally cause a lot of Havoc though, ranking 61st in Sack Rate, 84th in TFL, and 93rd in Passes Intercepted.
This is a tough test for an Aggie O that has been on an upswing in the last 4 games. And while that improvement has come against a weaker schedule overall, the South Carolina Defense that they put up 30 points and ran for over 300 yards on ranks 25th in the DSP+ and 45th in Defensive Line Yards. My point is this, the Bulldog defense is good. But they’re not Auburn level up front (Which I know is a weird thing to say after they just beat the Tigers 21-14), and I believe we can at least get some movement on the ground with Spiller and Mond working together behind an OL that is starting to find its feet as the season has progressed.
Aggie Defense vs Bulldog Offense
This Georgia offense should look fairly familiar to Aggie fans. They’re efficient, almost to the point of being boring, with explosive play potential at RB and little to no deep threat in the passing game. Sound familiar? It’s the Aggie offense, with a better offensive line (albeit an OL with a couple of injuries). They score exactly as much as they intend to in any game, which is rarely more than 27. They take care of the ball, turning it over only 8 times all season, with 4 of those coming in their defeat at the hands of the Gamecocks , and haven’t given the ball away since that increasingly weird loss.
The Aggies have faced two Top Ten OSP+ units in 2019 (Bama and Clemson), and everyone else they’ve matched up against has been outside the Top 40. In terms of DSP+, the Aggies ranks almost identical to Notre Dame, who held the Georgia offense to 23 points back in September. I think the Aggies can do something similar this weekend in Athens, but it relies heavily on being able to keep Swift from breaking big runs off. If Elko can contain the ground game on Saturday, and force Georgia into Passing Down situations (where they rank 112th in Success Rate), I think our much improved secondary will have a good shot at slowing down this efficient passing attack.
With an iffy coverage and return team, a kicker hitting 75% of his FGs, and the best punter in the country (This blog no longer recognizes the authority of the Ray Guy Organization), the Aggies have ended up with a fairly average Special Teams unit. They take on one of the best units they’ll face this season, with Rodrigo Blankenship being one of the top kickers in the country and Jake Camarda averaging 47.9 yards/punt in 2019. Here’s hoping that our opponent’s punter isn’t one of the leading rushers on the team this week. Although... actually... maybe that’s not so bad in the grand scheme of things.
Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?
The weather is set to be a little rainy in Athens this weekend, I imagine both teams will try to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible and dare the other to make the first mistake. Something tells me that pleases both Head Coaches very much.
What’s the Verdict?
This is about as good of a test as you could hope for if you’re wanting to find out how “for real” the changes we’ve seen since the Alabama loss are. I think a lot of Aggies are going into this game thinking, “Let’s just keep it close and see what happens.”, which is a pretty healthy mindset. But what would it take for an upset to occur at Sanford Stadium this weekend?
It’s pretty simple. The offense needs to find a way to stay efficient, whether that is Mond connecting with reliable targets like Wydermyer and Ausbon early on, similar to how Trask and Florida managed a 51% Succcess Rate against the Dawgs a few weeks back, or by using Mond’s legs to move the chains (QB runs have had a 38% Success Rate against the Bulldog defense, which isn’t great, but isn’t bad when you compare it to their overall average of 34%). Either way, the Aggies have to find a strategy to keep the down and distance manageable. Most importantly though, the Ags have to take advantage when they get into the Red Zone. 3 of the 4 teams that have either beat Georgia or managed to keep it close this season have outdone them when it comes to Points/Scoring Opportunities, and because we likely won’t get many chances against this defense, the Aggies will need to be much better than they were last week against South Carolina.
Defensively, contain Swift and prevent the big run plays. Force Fromm into passing downs where their offense has been a lot less efficient this season. The Georgia QB was sacked and picked off 3 times in their loss to South Carolina, I hope Elko brings some interesting looks to try to confuse him and force a mistake, similar to what we saw last week against Hilinski. It’s going to be a tough match up, they’re likely going to rack up some yardage and try to wear us down similar to what we saw in Week 2 against Clemson. Hopefully we can force a turnover to give our offense extra chances to move the ball.
My Prediction: Overall, I like our chances to keep it close and cover. I’m just really concerned about the way this team has played on the road this season and worry that some of the success we’ve had on defense and in the run game will disappear against a really, really good team. I’ve already prepared myself for a little heartbreak this weekend, Ags cover but lose 27-17.
Thanks for keeping up with me and the numbers this season folks. We have one final round next week against the LSU Tigers and then a bowl game of some sort to preview. I hope you’ll be back for them, and I hope we can all enjoy college football while it’s here, because it never lasts long enough.
- 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.