Howdy and welcome back to Fun With Numbers, the weekly analytics based post where sometimes a little bit of despair and self loathing is all you need to push the Aggies to a victory over the #1 team in the country. I’d feel bad about being so down last week, but it made the win all the more sweet and even now writing this, you could cut my leg off and I don’t even think I’d notice. There’s just nothing in the world like Aggie Football.
How’d We Do Last Week?
Check out the box score above to see how the Aggies managed to take down the Tide.
First, this team came out firing in the first quarter just like Johnny and the rest of the 2012 squad did in Tuscaloosa. They turned in an 81% Success Rate and had 3 Explosive Plays (1 Run by Spiller, 2 throws to Wydermyer) in the first, which was crucial because of how much they would get shut down later in the game. The receivers had a few bad moments and Zach had one particularly bad interception, but overall this was the best our passing game has looked against a Power 5 opponent all season, with 5 receivers averaging above .5 PPA/Target and Calzada turning in his highest QBR of the season at 90. We knew the running game would probably struggle against this Front 7, but they got yards when they needed and broke some big plays for the Aggies, and the OL was night and day different from what we’ve seen in previous weeks (Calzada was not sacked once during the game).
On defense, the Alabama rushing attack was still potent and averaged 1.4 Second Level Yards/Rush and Bryce Young had plenty of explosive plays throwing the ball. But overall, they kept him from getting into a rhythm and made him uncomfortable with pressure, getting home on 4 sacks and picking him off in the red zone. They gave up a ton of yards (their most this season) but rarely broke, and once again when the offense needed them most they stepped up and got the ball for our offense. This time, Calzada paid them back for it.
What Do We Know?
The Aggies travel for their first non-neutral site road game of the season, to face the Missouri Tigers who are 3-3 on the season. Mizzou has been off to a rocky start, losing their first two conference games to Kentucky and Tennessee and dropping a non-conference matchup with Boston College. The offense is putting up points, but the defense has regressed tremendously after losing nearly 34% of 2020’s production. The Aggies are a 9 point road favorite according to Vegas, and the SP+ sees it being right on the money, where as the FEI likes the Ags by 11.4. Let’s take a closer look.
Aggie Offense vs Tiger Defense
As mentioned earlier, this defense is closer to the ones the Aggies faced in their first 3 games of the season than it is anything they’ve seen in SEC play. In particular, they have one of the worst run defenses in the country, and opposing offenses are averaging 6.1 yards and .42 PPA per rush. It’s not a secret either, teams are running the ball over 57% of the time when playing the Tigers, one of the highest rushing rates in the country. It’s not all bad though, Mizzou does a good job of generating Havoc, especially from the Front 7, and their secondary has been pretty good at disrupting plays with 7 INTs and 15 passes defended on the season.
The main takeaway is that the Aggies should be able to move the ball on the ground really well here, but this should still be a good test to see where this offense really is. Can the OL pick up blitzes and keep Zach on his feet again, and can Calzada take care of the ball and not put our defense back out on a short field? This team looked really good at home but it would be great to see a little more consistency in the passing game.
Aggie Defense vs Tiger Offense
On the other side of the field, the Aggies will still have a pretty good advantage, but the Missouri offense is definitely one that can move the ball well. They are throwing the ball on nearly 60% of plays (15th in the country), and are very efficient in the passing game. They do a good job of protecting the QB too, with Connor Bazelak only being sacked 5 times this season. They’ve been explosive, hitting several big plays through the air and also ranking 28th in the country in Open Field Yards/Rush. They spread the ball around a lot, with 8 guys all having over 100 receiving yards 6 games into the season. They’re great at finishing drives, and are currently averaging 36 points a game and 467 yards of total offense. However, against the only two Top 30 DSP+ teams they’ve faced this season (Kentucky and Tennessee), it’s more like 26 points on a little under 400 yards.
So they’ve yet to face a defense like what is coming to Columbia this weekend, but that’s true of a lot of teams the Aggies will face in 2021, this defense is that good. We’ve seen them struggle at times though (the efficient passing attack of Mississippi State comes to mind), and it will be interesting to see if this Front 7 can start pressuring QBs consistently like they did against Alabama (and like we all expected them to before the season started).
Nik and the punting team had a couple of rough moments against Alabama, but that was negated by Devon Achane being speed in its purest form, and Seth Small could miss every kick for the rest of his life and we should still build a statue of him (I’m just kidding, please do not do this Seth).
The Tigers have a really good ST group though, Harrison Mevis is perfect on 8 kicking attempts, and punter Grant McKinnis is averaging 44.4 yards/punt, which has helped their defense tremendously in terms of field position.
Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?
The threat of a hangover is probably very real here, especially for a defense that has been on the field more than almost any other school in the country over the last three weeks. There’s also history here of upsetting the #1 team and traveling to Missouri to get beat, but I’m trying not to think about that too much.
So What’s the Verdict?
We’ve got a team with a dangerous offense and a weak defense, who’s three wins are against an FCS squad and teams outside the Top 90 in the SP+. It’s hard to know what to expect in this game from either team, but let’s look at Mizzou’s two SEC losses and see what we can find.
Here’s the advanced stats box score for their Kentucky game.
Right away, we see that the Wildcats outgained the Tigers, were more explosive, and had more scoring opportunities. College Football Data labels this game as a 96% win for Kentucky. So how did they end up in a nail biter with Missouri?
Turnovers played a big part, the Wildcats had the opportunity to go up 28-7 at the half but fumbled the ball in the red zone which led to Mizzou scoring instead and making it 21-14. This was after Will Levis was intercepted in the first quarter as well. Kentucky’s defense also struggled to get off the field, and Connor Bazelak had an 80% Success Rate running the ball.
On the other hand, here’s the box score from the Tennessee game
Tennessee did a much better job of pressuring Bazelak (only 1 sack, but 4 QB Hurries) and also picked him off twice, while having no turnovers themselves. The Vol offense was incredibly explosive, particularly on the ground and they stayed on schedule, with a 75% success rate on standard downs.
So what can the Aggies take from this?
Offensively, the Aggies need to stick to the run game as much as possible and hit some 10+ yard chunk plays there. Calzada has built up a lot of confidence in just a week’s time, and there’s no reason for that to be lost in this game against an aggressive secondary. Stick to the rushing game and let Zach play with the RPO some more to find easy completions. The Aggies used a lot of pre-snap motion to mess with the Alabama defense, more so than they have earlier on in the year, and I certainly hope that’s in the playbooks to stay.
BUT while I love that gameplan (and ZC making some throws), TAMU noticeably wanted to give Bama eye candy— SEC StatCat (@SEC_StatCat) October 11, 2021
The Aggies used at-the-snap motion (Jet, Orbit) on 17/58 snaps (29%). Through the first 5 weeks, they had THIRTEEN total instances all yr (4.1%) https://t.co/FxoAgcfaGv
On defense, the pressure we saw last week against Alabama also needs to make a return. The easiest way to disrupt this Missouri offense is to get Connor off schedule and disrupt the passing game. Don’t make the same mistake Kentucky did and allow him to slip away for a decent run either, something this defense has struggled with and even saw Bryce Young do a couple of times last weekend. Past that, the secondary has to hold up on the backend. They did a decent job keeping Alabama under their season average in both success rate and explosiveness, so you have to hope they can play just as well in Columbia.
My Prediction: Never a gimme when you’re on the road against an SEC opponent, but this should still be a win for the Aggies. I’m sure there will be a little bit of shaking things off to do in the first half, but I think this running game is too good for the Mizzou Front 7 and I like our defense’s chances against this offense. I think it’ll be 31-21, Aggies win and cover.
What Else Am I Picking?
Hey, what’d I tell you? We were due for a bounce back game, and now I’m going to keep trying to claw my way back to .500 on the year.
Duke at Virginia Under 69.5 (SP+: 62, FEI: 58.8)- That’s right. Starting off with another Duke under. Both the SP+ and FEI see this finishing well under 69.5, the under is 5-1 in Virginia’s 6 games this season, and even though I don’t think the Cavs have that great of a defense, I still think they’ll hold Duke under 30 points.
Oklahoma State +5.5 at Texas University (SP+: Horns by 3.2, FEI: Horns by 6.9)- Call it a hate bet or just hoping for more misery in Austin, but I really think that Oklahoma State can keep this pretty close. Did you know the Pokes have the 8th ranked Defense according to the DSP+? That would be the best the new look Sarkisian offense has faced all season. That said, this would certainly be one of the better offenses Gundy’s team will have faced as well, so maybe I am just holding out for that whole “more misery” thing. I think this one ends within a field goal, one way or the other.
Florida -11 at LSU (SP+: Gators by 15.1, FEI: Gators by 7.5)- Okay, maybe I am all in on the hate today, particularly for rivals that will be playing at the same time as us. And it’s probably not wise to pick against the Tigers as double digit dogs in Death Valley. But with the announcement of Boutte being out, Ed O’s seat so hot he maybe on fire at halftime, and the way Kentucky just demolished the Tigers last week, I just think Florida gets their revenge for last year’s shoe debacle.
Air Force +4.5 at Boise State (SP+: Boise by 1.7, FEI: Boise by .7)- Yes I was burned last week by BYU’s home loss to the Broncos. But that’s precisely why I’m leaning towards the Falcons here. Tough road game win, then a matchup with a team like Air Force who loves to grind it out and control the ball on offense and a defense that has been playing pretty well so far, feels like one where Air Force could keep things close. The under is tempting too, but at 51 it’s awfully low and I could see it ending 28-24 or something similar.
What a difference a week makes. There’s still a lot of season left, and obviously a lot of time for things to go wrong, but at least I’m not dreading writing for the time being. Stick around, we’ve got South Carolina next week, then a much needed break before a tough November. Check out these sites where the majority of my stats and info comes from these days.
- 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 home for all of Bill Connelly’s SP+ info (as well as the FPI rankings). You’ll need to subscribe to ESPN+ for most of his stuff these days.
- 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. Most of my data comes from here.
- SEC Stat Cat is another great site. Solid blend of statistics and football concepts.