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Fun With Numbers: LSU

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Previewing the LSU game with advanced statistics

Howdy Ags and welcome back to Fun With Numbers, the weekly post where we try to decide what’s more depressing, talking about Aggie Football stats or watching the games themselves. If this is your first time here and you’re not sure what stuff like the SP+, Success Rate, and other terms mean, check out this glossary. I won’t take up too much time here, I know we all want to get back to burning terrible Thanksgiving sides and arguing with relatives about whether or not they actually understand what Brexit is. Quite pretending like you do. You’re no better than your uncle.

Let’s take a look at last week’s game before we jump into our big match up to end the season.

How’d We Do Last Week?

Brutal. Absolutely brutal. The Aggies went on the road and did their damndest to steal one from the 2019 SEC East Champions, but came up short in a game that was frustrating and exciting and also featured some horrendous no calls that Aggie fans are not at all upset about. Nope. Not one bit. Let’s take a look at the Advanced Stats Box Score and move onto this week.

Pretty rough showing from the offense in the first 3 quarters. The OL was getting virtually nothing done up front, and Isaiah Spiller was held to just 7 yards with an 18% Success Rate on a 9% Opportunity Rate. Luckily Mond and some of the receiving group were able to step in and play well, particularly on Standard Downs where they turned in a 53% Success Rate. The Wydermyer fumble was brutal, but at that point I was just glad to see the offense playing with some life and trying to be aggressive. This is Jimbo’s offense though, especially against “better” teams. He’s going to limit possessions and run into a brick wall repeatedly, trying to keep the game close and minimize mistakes, then take the cap off in the 4th and see if the Aggies can storm back. It almost worked against Auburn and Georgia this season, but it’s incredibly frustrating at times. And it doesn’t work without an outstanding performance by your defense. Speaking of…

What a great job by Elko and Co. It goes without saying that they got bullied a bit on the last drive, where one more stop could have given the Ags one more chance at a win, but overall, this was a good performance. They held the Georgia offense to a 34% Success Rate and 3.17 Points/Scoring Opportunity, and dominated on Passing Downs. It would have been nice to see them limit the Georgia IsoPPP in the passing game a little more, but going into the 4th Quarter the Bulldogs were averaging about 26% Success Rate, and that was with our defense getting repeatedly put back on the field in tough positions. Also, props to Seth Small for hitting 2 big field goals to keep the Ags in the game in a hostile environment and in bad weather.

What Do We Know?

This would be the point in the Rocky movie where Burgess Meredith slaps the Aggies in the face and asks if they really can go one more round, or should he just throw in the damn towel? There has been plenty of talk this season about the difficulty of the Aggies schedule, having already faced 4 Top 15 teams (3 of which are certain/potential playoff candidates) so far, and one more playoff team on the horizon as the Aggies head to Baton Rouge for the season finale. So let’s take a look at some charts.

So this isn’t ideal, but not exactly unexpected. The Tigers are clearly the favorite here, having their best season in nearly a decade with an offense that has exploded onto the scene in a big way and a defense that might not be as good as it has been in recent years, but is still plenty able to get the job done most weekends. Vegas has the Aggies as a 17 point underdogs, the SP+ sees a 14 point victory for the Tigers, and the ever pessimistic FEI predicts a 22 point loss for the Ags.

Let’s take a look at some more charts and see if we can’t muster up something to be thankful for.

Aggie Offense vs Tiger Defense

Like I mentioned earlier, this LSU defense is fine, but it’s definitely the worst they’ve had since Aranda came in to replace Kevin Steele. They’re fairly efficient, although they’re a little more susceptible to big plays this season and they’re not quite the leaders in Havoc that we’re used to seeing in Baton Rouge. Last year they finished the season with 25 turnovers, and they’ve only secured 15 so far (4 fumbles and 11 interceptions) and currently rank 83rd in Sack Rate.

To compare it to a defense we’ve already faced this season, they rank very similarly to the South Carolina team we hung 30 points on a few weeks ago. What I’m trying to say is, we should be able to move the ball efficiently, at least through the air and possibly on the ground assuming we get a little more creative than we did in the Georgia game.

Aggie Defense vs Tiger Offense

Their radar just looks like an outer ripple of ours.

Oh no. Alright this is expected but still a little bit shocking to see on screen. If you have paid any attention at all since September, one of the main story lines in CFB has been the resurrection of the LSU offense under the hands of passing game coordinator Joe Brady, through his son Cajun Jesus (AKA Joe Burrow). Currently the offense is only behind Alabama (in the FEI) or Oklahoma (in the SP+) as the #2 unit in the country, and has gone from a frightening passing attack to a complete monster now that Clyde Edwards-Helaire has emerged as a consistent threat on the ground (he’s got 599 yards and nearly a 55% Success Rate in the last 4 games). They’re littered with explosive talent out wide, and unlike previous years they know how to use it.

Last week was pretty good measuring stick for this Elko defense, who did a really good job of shutting down an efficient Georgia offense. But now we get to see how much they’ve really grown since they gave up 47 points and nearly 450 yards to an equally good and explosive Alabama offense. They are going to be really tough to stop, but we might be able to slow them down a little bit if the run defense plays as well as it has been the last few weeks and the secondary plays lights out.

Special Teams

LSU brings a pretty good ST group to the table this year. Kicker Cade York is hitting 84% and punter Zach Von Rosenberg is averaging about 42.5 yards a punt (Braden THE Mann is hitting 47.3). They’ve also got a pretty solid return game, with a couple of punts returned for TDs this season.

Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?

74-72. That’s it.

What’s the Verdict?

Well, it doesn’t seem very likely that the Aggies will be able to make it to a two-game win streak over the LSU Tigers. And I say that as someone who actually threw the numbers out last season and picked the Aggies to win. So what would it take for the Aggies to pull of the unthinkable? What do they have to do to knock off the SEC West Champions, a playoff contender, and a team that is still BIG MAD about leaving College Station with a loss in 2018? It won’t be easy, but here’s my thoughts.

First, Kellen Mond has to be utilized in the run game. A couple of weeks ago, Ole Miss put up 37 points and over 600 yards of offense against Aranda’s defense. Now granted, a lot of that came in garbage time or when they game wasn’t really close, but the point I’m trying to make is that Rebs were able to move the ball with a worse offense, and they did it by letting Plumlee rush 21 times with a 52% Success Rate, which opened things up for their RBs as well (Early in particular had a good day). It’s looking like we could see some rain again this weekend, which means Jimbo is going to be cautious and avoid throwing the ball until he has to. I have no problem with that, but we can’t just keep sending Spiller into the backs of the OL and hope something happens. It allowed us to hang in there with Georgia, but they don’t have the quick strike ability that the Tigers do.

Speaking of, the defense is going to have to have to limit big plays. We are obviously not an Auburn level defense, but we have to try to reach their level of play, where they limited the Baton Rouge Tigers to .8 Rushing IsoPPP and probably more importantly 1.17 Passing IsoPPP. The defense has been much better at giving up big plays this season, but this is a big test for them. If we can keep them from scoring quickly and often, it will give our often slow starting offense time to find their feet.

On top of limiting big plays, Elko’s going to have to find a way to actually get the pressure home on Burrow and notch a couple of sacks. If he has all day to throw the ball, he will pick us apart, even if we’re limiting their big plays and yards after catch.

Finally, everything else has to be perfect. We have to take care of the ball while establishing our typically efficient passing offense, we have to get touchdowns over field goals, and we probably need to force a couple of turnovers ourselves.

My Prediction: Like I said, I’m not against picking the Aggies when things don’t look good. Unfortunately I just don’t see it this season. I think we can hang tough, and could see us scoring late to make it a 7-10 point ball game. I’m going to say 34-23, Aggies finish 7-5 but 8-4 ATS (you know, where it truly matters).

Final Notes

Thanks for keeping up with me and the numbers this season folks. We’ll get back together to see what the bowl game looks like in a couple of weeks.

  • 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.