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Fun With Numbers: Mississippi State

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Previewing CLANGA with advanced statistics

Welcome to Fun With Numbers, the weekly post where we look at what the stats say about Aggie Football and their upcoming opponents. Sometimes these stats confirm what we’ve already been seeing, sometimes they teach us something new, but they’re always presented to you in beautiful charts thrown hastily together by me as I shirk duties at my office or watch my toddler find new ways to terrorize the dogs (don’t worry, they totally deserve it).

Let’s get into it.

How’d We Do Last Week?

Top 5 wins are fun right? I was wrong about a lot in my post last week, but at the end of the day, I’m 2-1 picking the winner of our games and also 2-1 picking against the spread. Here’s the box score from the game, as well as the Twitter thread where I give shoutouts to some offensive players, talk about the few things the defense did well, and discuss the fact that somehow this game broke the ESPN play-by-play API. Maybe it was that clock management at the end of the half that did it.

Anyway, let’s not waste too much time and move onto the Bulldogs.

What Do We Know?

After a couple of weeks of sliding down in most computer rankings, the Ags threw on the e-brake and started trending in the right direction with their big win against Florida. Despite a dominant performance over the reigning National Champions in Week 1, the rankings never over reacted, and after two losses Mississippi State is barely clinging to Top 40/50 status in the different metrics. The Aggies are a 6.5 point road favorite this weekend, and while the SP+ thinks that’s about right, the FEI actually predicts us to lose by a point.

Let’s take a closer look.

Aggie Offense vs Bulldog Defense

Reminder that Success Rate, Explosiveness, etc. are not opponent adjusted

The Aggie offense finally put it together last week and got rewarded for it, jumping back into the Top 25 in OSP+ and OFEI. These numbers look a lot more like what we’re used to seeing out a Jimbo coached offense. Efficient on the ground and through the air, but still working on hitting those big plays more often. Love what the OL has been able to do up front, allowing only one sack on Mond so far (They averaged 4 sacks a game in the first 3 games of SEC play in 2019) and 3.16 Line Yards/Rush. The Stuff Rate (plays getting stopped behind the line) is still a little high at 22%, but they’ll continue to improve and with Spiller and Smith proving they are capable of breaking off major yardage at the second level, this offense certainly looks much more capable than it did during Week 1.

Don’t even ask me why the DSP+ and DFEI disagree so much on the Bulldogs. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle of the ratings, they’ve faced an LSU offense that was… going through some things in Week 1, but is generally well regarded statistically, and Kentucky and Arkansas’s offenses which are… not. Their defense has been put in some bad spots though, 14 of the 24 points Kentucky scored last week were immediately due to interceptions thrown by Costello. They’ve been pretty middle of the road against the run, although they’ve been very good at eliminating explosive runs, finishing 8th in the country in Second Level Yards. They’ve been solid against the pass, but again have only faced one offense known for their ability to sling the ball. The Bulldogs have been fairly average at creating Havoc as well, but rank 7th in the country in Sack Rate with 12 sacks in 3 games.

Aggie Defense vs Bulldog Offense

After fairing ok against a bad Vandy O to start the season, and then facing two of the best offenses in the country, we don’t know a whole lot about the Aggie defense yet either. They’ve been decent against the run, particularly good at eliminating big plays on the ground. What has most people concerned since we’re coming up against the great and unmerciful Air Raid God, is the secondary and their inability to stop big plays through the air. They’ve given up 14 passes of 20 yards or more this season, and on top of that haven’t been able to create a lot of pressure up front. If nothing else, second half adjustments seem to be working well so far. The defense is averaging a 50% Success Rate in the first half and a 37% Success Rate in the second.

After a dominant showing against LSU to open the season, the Mississippi State offense has looked pretty hapless in their last two matchups, putting up 695 yards, 14 points, and 10 turnovers against Arkansas and Kentucky. Now to be fair, Kylin Hill was out for the majority of the Arkansas game, and he was a big part of their offense against LSU, being involved in 16% of their pass plays and averaging 1.147 PPA. The OL has been pretty good at keeping Costello on his feet, the Dogs rank 20th in Sack Rate and 15th in Front 7 Havoc Allowed, but the interceptions and fumbles have been killers for this offense, much more so than any other issues Leach may want to complain about in his press conferences.

Special Teams

Another week where we seem to be outclassed on Special Teams. CLANGA punter Tucker Day is averaging 50.5 yards a punt and kicker Brandon Ruiz is 3 for 4 on FGs this season. Even still, State isn’t exactly dominating in field position, ranking 71st in Offensive Starting Field Position and 55th in Defensive (great punting being offset by some horrendous turnovers I imagine).

The Aggies have basically given up on the idea of returning the ball, and I don’t hate it. They rank 51st in Offensive Field Position and 49th in Defensive, and punter Nik Constantinou had his first punt downed inside the 20 last weekend. Seth Small hit a big time field goal to seal the deal last week, so all is forgiven in regards to his first miss of the season against Bama.

Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?

The Aggies haven’t won in Starkville since #2 was firing up his Heisman campaign. Pair that with the fact that many Ags still have nightmares from Leach’s Tech days and it makes sense why the high from last week’s win has evaporated a little. The Aggies are a touchdown road favorite against a team they’re more talented than, it’s time to start winning these consistently.

What’s the Verdict?

If you’re an Aggie fan, you have to feel pretty good about what the numbers say so far. Still, the Bulldog defense is probably a lot better than the charts say, and we’ve seen the offensive potential in their first matchup. I think we pull this thing out, but it may be kind of ugly… Think Ole Miss from last year. How do we do that?

I think we’ll continue to lean on the run game in Starkville. The Bulldog Front 7 may not be the same wet paper bag variety that the Aggies encountered last weekend, but when Kentucky needed to move the ball they did it on the ground, averaging a 38% Success Rate and had 2 runs go for more than 15 yards. Let’s get Kellen involved in the ground attack and continue to see more two back sets. Don’t panic if you get behind the chains a little bit, this State defense is 63rd in the country in Passing Down Explosiveness. Kentucky had 3(!) TEs haul in a 12 yards (Or more) catch against this defense. Let Wydermyer (20% of your targets on 3rd down and averaging 1.699 PPA on 3rd Downs) be Mond’s safety blanket and above all else, take care of the football.

Defensively, it’s pretty simple. Contain Kylin Hill and keep everything in front of you. The first part might be easier due strictly from play calling, Leach is running the ball only 18% of the time right now (76th in the country, and yes, that is dead last) but he has been targeted 14% of the time in the Bulldog’s passing game. As for the secondary, some of that is going to come down to scheme. What I’m saying is... Elko, don’t Pelini this damn thing. Offenses are averaging .5 PPA against this secondary right now (74th in the country), and while Costello is no Mac Jones (or even a Kyle Trask for that matter), they’re still going to push us.

Don’t bring a knife to a shoot out this weekend. That’s how you end up becoming a tiger pelt rug under Leach’s desk.

My Prediction: Like I said, I think we win this one but I think it’s going to cause some people to say some really terrible things very late in the game. Me. I’m some people. Ags win and cover, 31-21.

Final Notes

Thanks for stopping by, I’ll be taking taking off next week and then we’ll be back to preview the scrappier than ever Hogs. Until then, you might find these links useful.

  • 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.

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? You know where to leave ‘em.