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Fun With Numbers: The Texas Bowl

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Previewing the Oklahoma State game with advanced statistics

Howdy Ags and welcome back to Fun With Numbers, the only post that uses hard data, advanced statistics, and verified calculations to determine exactly where and when Aggie football will kick you in the groin. If you need to look up some definitions for some of the terms we use in this post, you can find them in this glossary. We’re previewing the Texas Bowl today, maybe talk a little bit about where the Aggies stand in Year 2 under Jimbo, and where things may be headed in 2020.

What Do We Know?

As you know, the Aggies are facing off against an orange team from the Big 12, and don’t worry, it’s not the one that would have actually made this game interesting. This matchup against Oklahoma State marks the 4th time the Aggies have faced a former conference opponent in bowl season, and they’ve managed to go 2-1 in those games (although the most recent trip to the Texas Bowl was a loss to the Kansas State Wildcats). The Cowboys finished their season 8-4, going 3-3 against Top 40 teams in the FEI. After a loss to Big 12 runner up Baylor midway through the season, the Pokes ripped off 4 straight wins (most notably a 7 point win against Iowa State in Ames) before falling to playoff bound Oklahoma in Bedlam.

So we have two teams that didn’t live up to their preseason SP+ expectations, but overall matchup pretty evenly. Vegas has the Ags at a touchdown favorite, but the SP+ and FEI predict it to be a little closer, with 5 and 3 point projected margins from each. Let’s see what the rest of the charts say.

Aggie Offense vs Cowboy Defense

The Aggie offense never quite hit its stride the way it did in 2018. Poor performance by the OL throughout the season, a lack of consistency from the receivers, and Mond not developing quite as much as we all hoped were compounded by the losses of Mccoy, Williams, and Sternberger. It still finished as the 3rd best OSP+ and 2nd best OFEI we’ve seen in the last 5 years, thanks in part to the emergence of some young talent like Ainais Smith, Jaleyn Wydermyer, and Isaiah Spiller. Young talent can sometimes contribute to inconsistency though, and Aggie fans spent a lot of time frustrated at stalled drives and Jimbo’s stubborn playcalling.

In their second year under Jim Knowles, the Pokes defense improved from 71st in the DSP+ to 53rd. That’s a pretty nice jump, but they gave up 45 points to Baylor and Texas Tech, two teams that rank pretty close to the Aggies in terms of OSP+. Their biggest issue appears to be giving up big plays, and while the Ags haven’t proven they can really hit the deep ball effectively, they have found some success with explosive run plays, especially once Jimbo gave Mond the “okay” to tuck the ball and run like hell. Obviously the Aggies struggled to find any success on the ground against teams with solid fronts like Georgia and LSU late in the year, but this DL ranks closer to South Carolina when it comes to Line Yards Allowed, a team that the Aggies rushed for 300 yards against. As far as Havoc Rates go, the Okie State defense is pretty average when it comes to sacks and TFLs, but have been pretty good in the secondary when it comes to picking off opposing QBs, ranking 8th in DB Havoc rates and tied for 24th in Total Interceptions on the season with 12 (and two of those going for TDs).

Aggie Defense vs Cowboy Offense

Elko managed to finish the regular season in the Top 25 of DSP+, but they definitely had some rough outings in 2019, particularly the finale against LSU. They’re still susceptible to explosive offenses, but the secondary took some big steps in Year 2 and the Front 7 held together despite some big losses from last season. If the DL can start finding ways to get sacks again (The Aggies went from 22nd in Sack Rate in 2018 to 70th), it will continue to take pressure off the back end and we can start seeing this defense take another leap forward in 2020.

After 3 straight years in the Top 10 OSP+, Gundy’s offense fell out of the Top 20 in 2019. They still have the potential to push our defense though, mainly due to the fact that Sanders and Hubbard are healthy and ready to play and both have some big play potential. The Pokes have 48 Explosive Run plays this season and Hubbard and Sanders are responsible for all but 4 of them. The Aggie defense hasn’t faced a lot of offenses in the 10-25 range of the OSP+, the closest would be Georgia, who has a similarly explosive RB in Swift but was a lot more conservative in their play calling than Oklahoma State will be.

Special Teams

The Aggies bring one of the best punters in the country to the table and not much else this season. Coverage has been awful at times, the return game is average at best, and Seth Small (though improved from last season) is still only hitting 77% of his FGs. For OK State, senior kicker Matt Ammendola is hitting 83% this season (70% inside 40-49 yard line), and punter Tom Hutton is averaging 38.9 yards/punt.

Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?

Justin Madubuike sitting out this game is a little disappointing for Aggie fans, especially once news broke that Hubbard was expected to play on Friday. He leads the team in TFL, forced 1 fumble, and even has an interception for the first time in his career. He’s a one man havoc machine and he will certainly be missed in the middle. On top of that, Isaiah Spiller will be the only scholarship running back on the depth chart as Richardson is not with the team this week. Sure you don’t want to sit this one out Chuba? No one would blame you at all.

What’s the Verdict?

In general, bowl games are hard to predict. Just as an example, the Aggies were a 5 point favorite and projected by the SP+ to win by 3 going into last season’s finale against NC State. The final ended up being 52-13 after a dominant second half by Jimbo’s crew, and that’s not even the most wild example of bowl mania. The main point is, players sit out, coaches leave, teams lose and find motivation like car keys, which makes bowl picks even more of a guess than regular season games. The Aggies have faced five “really good to great” teams this season and lost all of them, but Oklahoma State is closer to Mississippi State than it is Auburn (which is not intended to be an insult at anybody in that sentence). In their four losses this season, 3 of them have been by 10 points or more, so what will it take for the Aggies to get the win and the cover in Houston?

Here are the three games where Oklahoma State was handled pretty well by their opponents.

Obviously the offense needs to be in typical Jimbo Fisher Efficiency Mode for it to be successful, but it has to be explosive to keep up with Oklahoma State. All three of the teams above finished with at least 1.23 IsoPPP, and a lot of their success came through the air (especially Baylor. 3.47 IsoPPP in the passing game is nuts). The Aggies haven’t proven they’re capable of putting up those kinds of numbers in the passing game, but back in November they found a lot of explosiveness on the ground against South Carolina. I think the Aggies can find the same kind of success against this team, even with Richardson not suiting up this weekend, but it’s going to require Mond using his legs quite a bit.

On defense, we have to find some turnovers and limit big plays. In all three of the games above, the Pokes turned the ball over at least twice. In the Tech game, they forced 3 INTs and 2 Fumbles out of Sanders, and sacked him 7 times. Now, it doesn’t have to be that extreme, and Dru Brown (who may also be getting snaps in the game) is a senior who doesn’t seem to be quite as turnover prone as the freshman QB, but regardless, this defense needs to finish on the good side of the turnover margin for the first time since Mississippi State, where they forced 2 fumbles and a pick. Obviously the focus is on slowing down Hubbard, but Baylor gave up 170 yards on the ground to him, but managed to the Pokes under 30 by eliminating big plays through the air, and stepping up in Passing Downs, allowing only a 27% Success Rate.

So there you have it. Find some efficiency early on, and figure out how to hit some big plays, and get pressure on the quarterback and force them to make mistakes. Do all that with one scholarship RB and your lead Havoc man sitting the game out. Easy enough.

My Prediction: As I mentioned earlier, bowl games are hard to predict. I really like our chances against this defense, and maybe I’m just not as scared of Spencer Sanders as I should be. I don’t think either team runs away with this one, and it stays close to the end, with Spiller and Mond putting up a lot of yardage on the ground trying to run out clock. Aggies win 31-27, an Aggie win and a Cowboy cover.

Final Notes

Thanks for tagging along as we journeyed through the lukewarm bowl of cream of wheat that was the 2019 Aggie Football season. I hope to be back next season, and maybe some this offseason... but who knows. The only thing for certain, Aggie Football and CFB as a whole, is almost done for another 8ish months. That sucks, but I know it’s necessary for me to have my break from the abusive relationship I sign myself up for every August. I hope everyone has a fun and safe holiday season, a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a productive off-season.

Be sure to check these sites out if you’re interested in advanced statistics.

  • 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.