Howdy and welcome back to the latest edition of Fun With Numbers, your weekly advanced stats post that breaks down the Aggie Football season and upcoming opponents. Before we go any further, I just want to say something and get it out of the way.
I love being at Good Bull Hunting, and I plan on being at Good Bull Hunting and fulfilling my whole contract. I love everything about this place.
I hope that puts any rumors to rest, and we can focus on South Carolina and the rest of the season going forward. Thank you.
How’d We Do Last Week?
The Aggies went on the road and took care of business against a lesser conference opponent, and looked pretty good doing it. Check out the box score below.
On offense, the run game was there essentially all day, just as we expected it would be. I shudder to think what a mobile QB like Haynes King could have done against this Front 7, but even without the threat of his legs, Calzada did a great job making his throws and taking care of the ball. He threw one bad pick, but spread the ball around a lot and was sacked only once. The OL deserves credit too, not only for protecting Zach but also giving the backs plenty of room, averaging 3.5 Line Yards/Rush. They could have been a little more efficient on Passing Downs, and you’d like to see the offense finish drives a little better, although Seth Small missing two field goals didn’t help matters either. Other than that, a pretty successful road trip for these guys.
Defensively, they pressured Bazelak very well and picked him off twice, which helped get Missouri off their game early and allowed our offense some great field position to start drives. They did a pretty good job controlling Badie, and with the exception of a handful of big plays, largely shut this Missouri offense down. There are somethings to improve on sure, but they held the Tigers to their lowest point total on the season and remain one of the better defenses in the country.
What Do We Know?
The Ags take on their second SEC East opponent of the season, permanent rival South Carolina. The Gamecocks come into the game with a 4-3 record, but were winless against SEC opponents until last week, when they defeated Vanderbilt 21-20. First year HC Shane Beamer has a tough schedule ahead of him, with bowl eligibility on the table for the first time since 2018. But first, he’ll be a 21 point underdog for a night game at Kyle Field. The Aggies are a three score favorite for the first time since the New Mexico game, but the SP+ and the FEI both predict it to be a little closer than that.
Aggie Offense vs Gamecock Defense
The Aggies have shown a lot of improvement on this side of the ball in the last few weeks, with an OL that has started to hit its stride and Calzada looking more comfortable as QB1, and they’ll be hoping to continue that improvement against what has proven to be a fairly decent Gamecock defense. Similar to the not-so-long-ago Will Muschamp days, this unit is a bend don’t break defense that will give up plenty of yards but does a great job at limiting explosiveness in both the passing and run game. They’ve also been good at generating Havoc this season, thanks to guys like Jaylon Foster (4 INTs, 2 Sacks) on the back end and Kingsley Enagbare (5 TFL, 4.5 Sacks) up front, and also do a good job at limiting teams to under 3 points/opportunity. Still they’re 98th in the country in forcing teams into Passing Downs and have been on the field a lot this season, and against the three Top 50 OSP+ units they’ve faced (Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee) they’ve given up 16, 40, and 45 points.
Aggie Defense vs Gamecock Offense
The Gamecock defense has a few things going for them that can really slow down an offense like the Aggies, but you can’t really say the same for the South Carolina offense. It’s in the bottom 3rd of units the Aggies will have faced all season, and has really struggled at just about everything except for a few big plays in the passing game. It seems like Zeb Nolan (38% Passing Success Rate, .485 Passing PPA) will be getting the start this week, coming off a game winning drive over Vanderbilt last weekend. Kevin Harris is getting the majority of the carries, but he’s not getting much help from an OL that is generating only 2.17 Line Yards on Standard Downs and a 42.9% Opportunity Rate. The real threat from this group is receiver Josh Vann, who is generating 1.49 PPA/Target and is mostly responsible for the South Carolina’s offense high explosiveness rating.
Despite a couple of missed field goals by Seth, this ST group is still one of the tops in the country. They’re facing another good one this week though, as you would expect from a team coached by Frank Beamer’s son. They’re hitting 90% on Field Goals, averaging over 44 yards/punt, and multiple blocked kicks and punts. Having one of Constantinou’s punts blocked earlier this season, the Aggies will probably want to be very careful, particularly on their own side of the field.
Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?
It’s CONTRIVALRY week here at GBH, and we all know you have to throw the records out the window when the Gamecocks come to town. Sure, they’ve yet to beat the Aggies since the matchup started being played in 2014. Sure, most players or coaches on either side have no idea there’s actually a trophy made for this game. But this game matters. For us. For South Carolinians. For James Bonham. Gig’em.
So What’s the Verdict?
Jokes aside, the Aggies should handle business this weekend and be riding a 3 game win streak into the bye week. There’s no secret formula for a win, but it would be nice to not be sweating this one out or be relying on any last minute heroics from either side of the ball to pull out a victory.
Offensively, you’d love to see us be able to run the ball well like last week and to be able to get ourselves out of passing down situations a little better, without relying on a pass interference call. The biggest concern for me is this OL holding up against what’s proven to be a decent pass rush, and Calzada potentially getting greedy against an aggressive secondary. Like I said, running the ball shouldn’t be a problem, but if this defense can make you one dimensional, it can end up being a 16-10 rock fight like Kentucky had earlier this season, where they averaged 4 Line Yards/Rush but only a 36% Success Rate passing the ball. This team needs to be better about finishing drives this week too, but the South Caro defense has been stout in the red zone.
On defense, the Aggies will want to find ways to pressure Zeb Noland and force mistakes. Georgia and Tennessee both turned in high Havoc rates from their Front 7 (.308 and .278), but at times Tennessee struggled to contain QB Doty (At the time) on rushing attempts. Noland hasn’t proven to be much of a running threat in his time at QB, and those are generally the type of guys our defense can really feast on. Outside of that, assuming the secondary can contain Vann, there’s very little about this Gamecock O that scares me.
My Prediction: If you can’t tell by the brevity and tone of this week’s post, I like the Aggies here. Still, 21 points is relying on our offense to do a lot of work against a decent defense. So I’m going to say it’s more like 28-10, Aggies win comfortably but do not cover.
What Else Am I Picking?
Don’t look now, but I’ve gotten hot the last couple of weeks and am dangerously close to turning this ship around. Don’t love the board this week, but sometimes that’s when you have your best weeks. Let’s make some more money.
Tulane at SMU -14 (SP+: SMU by 14, FEI: SMU by 10.8)- The Ponies are 4-2 ATS this season and 3-0 ATS at home with multiple blow out victories. The Green Wave haven’t shown much after their close loss to Oklahoma to starting the season. I think SMU wins big here on a Thursday night in Dallas.
San Diego State at Air Force -3 (SP+: AF by 1.1, FEI: AF by 9.9)- My head tells me to bet against Air Force this week after they came through for me last week on the road at Boise State. But my heart loves this triple option team who is 5-2 ATS this season and the Aztecs are coming off a tough road win in double OT against San Jose State. Go Falcons.
USC at Notre Dame -6.5 (SP+: Notre Dame by 10.6, FEI: ND by 10.1)- The Fightin’ Irish may not be fightin’ for a playoff spot this year after a couple of near misses and a loss to Cincinnati, but I also think this USC squad is really bad, getting crushed by any opponent with a pulse. I would like Notre Dame up to 10 or 14 points even.
We’ve finally hit the bye week, so we’ll take some time next week to rest up, enjoy Halloween, and get ready to BTHO Auburn to start off a 4 game finish for the Aggies with a lot of potential for wildness. Stay tuned. And if you’re interested in looking up more on football analytics, check out these sites.
- 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.