Howdy and welcome to Fun With Numbers. Not as funny as The Tailgate, not as inspiring as the All Caps Preview, not as dull as the Aggie offense. It’s a sweet spot that I try hard to hit. This is a weekly post where we try to discuss Aggie Football from an advanced stats perspective, meaning we talk about things like the SP+, Line Yards, and Success Rate. If those terms are confusing to you, check out one of these glossaries to help get you up to speed.
How’d We Do Last Week?
Anybody want to talk about the Bama game? No? Me neither. Here’s a box score for the game. pic.twitter.com/MpZjDR9fZZ— Aggie Analytics (@Aggie_Analytics) October 6, 2020
Here’s the Bama Box Score that I put together. I’m not going to add anything here in this section, but I’ll post a tweet thread where I feel like I covered what concerned me the most from the game. Let’s just move onto Florida.
What Do We Know?
If you haven’t been impressed with the Aggies’ first two games of the season, you’re in good company. After two games, the Aggies have dropped out of the Top 15 in all the SP+’s metrics and are barely clinging to Top 30 status. At this point, with 8 games left, the Aggies have just two games where they would be favored by a touchdown or more (Ole Miss, Arkansas), 3 games where the Ags would be underdogs by 6 or more points (Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn), and the remaining games would be projected to be within 2 points or less. Prepare your sacrifices for the Chaos gods folks, it’s fixing to get weird.
On the other side of the field, Florida returns to Kyle for the first time since 2012 looking to start the season 3-0. The defense might not be living up to it’s Top 5 preseason expectations, but Mullen and Trask have the offense rolling going into a pretty interesting 4 game stretch that consists of the Aggies, LSU, Missouri, and Georgia. This is the third time these two teams have met since Texas A&M joined the SEC (and the third head coach for Florida), with each team grabbing a win on the road. Currently, the Aggies are a 6.5 point home dog. The SP+ likes Florida to cover that with a projected 10 point margin of victory, while the FEI is a little more conservative, pegging it at a 4.5 point victory for the Gators.
Let’s take a closer look.
Aggie Offense vs Gator Defense
Through two games, the Aggie offense is still trying to hit its stride. They’ve been far more explosive than they were last season, but there have been some major frustrations leading to a drop in efficiency. I covered the things that concern me in that Tweet thread above, mostly about the run game and our lack of ability to generate much success on the ground aside from some explosive run plays. It’s imperative to try to get some efficiency going from the trio of Mond/Spiller/Smith while these young receivers continue to get up to speed and begin playing better and better. We have one player with 10 or more targets averaging above .5 PPA on passing plays (Wydermyer), Florida has 3 (Pitts, Toney, and Malik Davis). Kam Brown is flashing a lot though, averaging 1.376 PPA on 4 plays, Chapman (despite some rough moments) averaging .844 PPA on 6 plays, and Chase Lane leading in targets at 13 but only averaging .362 PPA. These guys have to continue to develop to give us a second threat besides Wydermyer and Smith out of the backfield.
The Aggies are taking on a Gator defense that hasn’t exactly been ironclad in 2020. After two games, they’re actually rated pretty similar to the Alabama defense that the Aggies moved the ball reasonably well against. They returned quite a bit from last year’s defense (67%), but did lose quite a bit off the DL, including the 2019 team’s sack and TFL leader in Jonathan Greenard. This probably accounts for the rough start we’ve seen from the Florida defense in regards to the run game (72nd in Success Rate and 66th in Average PPA on Rushing plays), but I think it’s worth acknowledging that they looked to be improving (or at least a Will Muschamp team is not capable of pushing a defense like a Lane Kiffin team can, but who would believe that?), and the secondary has experience carrying over from last year. Grantham and Jimbo are no strangers to each other, they faced off 3 seasons in a row while at Louisville and Florida State, and Jimbo had two pretty good games in that stretch (and one real, real bad one).
Aggie Defense vs Gator Offense
Alright, that’s a lot of blue and orange. After last week’s torching in Tuscaloosa, this matchup certainly has a few people concerned. We’re in our 3rd year of Elko’s system, and this defense still struggles to stop explosive passing attacks. Now, few offenses will be able to really threaten the back end like Bama’s combo of Waddle, Smith, and Metchie can, and I’m not sure we’ll face another OL like the Crimson Tides this season, or like… the next 3 seasons. But still, either this secondary needs to grow up in a hurry, or the Front 7 needs to do better than their current ranking of 33rd in creating Havoc. Both would be good.
They’ll have their work cut out for them in College Station on Saturday Morning. Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, and Kadarius Toney lead the charge for the jorts wearing, Bud Lite shotgunning, Molotov cocktail throwing equivalent of the Alabama offense. The Florida offense has scored 11 touchdowns in 2 games, Kyle Pitts has 6 of them. Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis are solid backs too, even if they haven’t been the most explosive RBs we’ve seen in a Florida offense, and they’ve got a senior heavy OL leading the way for them. It’s not an infallible line though (despite the experience) with Florida allowing the 58th highest Havoc Rate in the country, allowing 3 sacks on Trask and also 10 TFL. Make no mistake, this is not the Florida squad that Jimbo went 7-1 against during his time in the Sunshine State.
Through two games, the Gators have a clear advantage here. Kicker Evan McPherson is perfect on field goals on the season, and Punter Jacob Finn has been used sparingly but effectively, with 3 punts averaging 48.7 yards. This has allowed their defense to enjoy good field position to start out, average starting field position for UF has been the 27 yard line.
The Aggies haven’t been so great starting out. Several blunders in the return game against Vanderbilt cost us yards, points, and a possession, and Seth Small missed a relatively easy field goal to open the game against Alabama. Jimbo seemed to decide against taking chances in the return game last week, so it’ll be interesting to see if Chase and Smith are allowed any leeway against Florida.
Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?
The Aggies are 1-1 coming into this game, which is where most people would have predicted us going into the season. Still, it feels like whatever honeymoon period Aggie fans and Jimbo were enjoying has grinded to a halt. There’s a push to win one of these “big” games from fans and media alike, with the 7 OT game against LSU feeling like a distant memory. And while I believe Jimbo is getting us closer to where we want to be and that “Oh man this is what $75 Million gets us?!” is both a lazy and stupid point, I think it’s fair to expect a coach in Year 3 to be able to pull off dominating wins against opponents of equal standing or a victory as an underdog against a top team. He’ll get the chance this weekend for the latter and hopefully quiet the Twitter and TexAgs crowd for another week.
There’s also something about Kyle Trask being named after Kyle Field, and you better believe after Saturday somebody is going to ask why we didn’t recruit a 2 Star backup to come be our starting QB. Gotta be honest, recent history for QBs with “Kyle” in their name playing at Kyle Field hasn’t been great.
What’s the Verdict?
From the moment this schedule was announced, this game felt like the one where we’d really learn something about the 2020 Aggie Football squad. This is a tough matchup, but it’s a home game, it’s the SEC, and there’s still plenty to like about this team. What do we need to see at Kyle Field on Saturday for an upset win?
Offensively, other than cleaning up the drops and the dumb penalties, I think we need to see Kellen Mond run the ball effectively. The Aggie QB was involved in 27% of the runs against Bama but averaged -.046 PPA and a 38% Success Rate. The Tide DL and LB group is fast, and managed to corral him in a way that most defenses won’t be able to. I think Jimbo is going to want to keep the ball on the ground, win the TOP, and keep the ball out of Trask’s hands as much as possible. This is not a new gameplan, but for it to work and not just have Isaiah Spiller bashing his head into the back of the OL for 60 minutes, we need to continue to be creative in the run game. After seeing a lot of success with a 21 Personnel Package against Vanderbilt, I was certain we were going to see plenty more of it against the Tide. We ran one play out of a two back set, when Haynes King was in at QB. I’m not sure why that is, but I wonder if we’ll see it utilized this week against a Grantham defense that will try to be creative and generate pressure on Mond.
Defensively, the obvious statement to make is that we can’t get burned for big plays through the air like we did against Alabama. More specifically, big plays on Passing Downs are a huge problem. 4 of Alabama’s explosive pass plays came on Passing Downs, and 3 of those were touchdowns. The Aggie defense is currently 62nd in the country in Passing Down Success Rate and 58th in Passing Down Explosiveness. We need to see better play from the safeties this week, and the LBs will need to continue to be strong over the middle in order to contain the receiving threat of Kyle Pitts. Elko is going to have to create pressure on Trask better than what we saw against Mac Jones, who only saw pressure on something like 10% of his drop backs last week. Limit the big plays to Pitts and Toney and find ways to put Trask on the move early, I like our chances to keep this Florida offense from running wild like they have the last two weekends.
My Prediction: This is a really good Florida team. The defense is good enough, and the offense is lethal at the moment. I have gone back and forth here, and unfortunately, I just don’t think the offense is there yet and the secondary is still trying to get the right combo of guys on the field. I’m going with a Gator win and an Aggie cover, 28-24. It is possible that by the time Power is blaring through the quiet morning on campus, I will have flipped those scores in my head.
Thanks for stopping by, we’ll be back next week in the same place to preview the Aggie’s first matchup with Mike Leach in over a decade. As always, almost all of my data and information comes from these websites, so feel free to check them out if advanced analytics is your thing.
- 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.