Howdy and welcome back to Fun With Numbers, the weekly post that takes an advanced stats look at the Aggie Football squad and their upcoming opponent. We are in the final stretch here, just 3 games left in the regular season, and only two more Fun With Numbers to go (there will not be one for Prairie View next week, you sickos).
I apologize in advance for these next two posts, as they’ll be condensed and thrown together rather quickly. I’ll make up for it with a better bowl game post. Or maybe it won’t be any better... I shouldn’t promise that. Who cares. You’re not my supervisor.
Anyway, let’s dive into some stats.
How’d We Do Last Week?
You like defense? Great, we have plenty of that. You like red zone offense and taking advantage of scoring opportunities? Find yourself a different box score, this one ain’t for you. In last week’s post, I said we had to find a way to disrupt this efficient Auburn passing attack in the same way Georgia did earlier in the year. The Aggies managed to do that, getting six sacks and five hurries, forcing Bo Nix to fumble and picking him off as well. The defense still struggles to defend the run at times, but they eliminated big plays this week and held an incredibly efficient offence to a 21% Success Rate on Passing Downs, three yards/play, and only three points scored.
The Aggie offense left a lot to be desired in all honesty, but the run game looked pretty good against what had been a strong front seven, and they hit some big plays when they needed to. There were plenty of missed opportunities (kicking five field goals is the very definition of that) including some bad drops that could have helped Zach’s numbers tremendously, and a near game-icing run by Achane that instead led to Auburn getting the ball back. Bottom line, the Aggie offense is improving and is very close to moving from “potential liability” to “handles business regularly”, but has to do a better job in the red zone and taking advantage of the good things this defense is doing.
What Do We Know?
The Aggies are back on the road this week for a night game in Oxford, with College Game Day in attendance, riding a four-game win streak and looking to continue climbing in the polls. The Rebels have had a bit of an up and down season, but they’re 7-2 with their only losses being to Auburn and Alabama. They have a lot to play for in their final three game stretch, just like the Aggies do, and Vegas likes the Lane Train to keep it close, having the Aggies as a 2.5 point favorite. The SP+ likes the Ags by 3.6 and the FEI actually projects an Ole Miss victory by 1.5 points.
Aggie Offense vs Rebel Defense
The Rebel defense hasn’t been terrible in ‘21, but by the SP+/FEI it’s far closer to the South Carolina squad that the Aggies hung 40+ than it is the Auburn one that just held the Aggie offense to just 12 points. The secondary has been very good at limiting big passing plays, and the Front 7 ranks 37th in Havoc Created, with guys like Sam Williams (10.5 Sacks, 12 TFL, and 4 Fumbles Forced) and Chance Campbell (6 Sacks, 10.5 TFL, and 2 Forced Fumbles) making it difficult for opposing offenses to get going at times. But when opponents do get going… they rarely stop. The Rebel defense has one of the worst Success Rates in the country (both against the run and pass), are 125th in forcing teams into Passing Downs, and are 104th in the country in defensive snaps. They’ve been on the field a lot, and the Aggies certainly have the run game to take advantage of a team that is giving up nearly 1.5 Second Level Yards/Rush.
Aggie Defense vs Rebel Offense
Ole Miss and South Carolina might draw comparisons with their defense, but this offense is unlike just about anything else in the country in 2021. When healthy (which is a big asterisk lately), they’ve been incredibly efficient and explosive on the ground while also maintaining a high success rate in the passing game. They’ve averaged nearly 525 yards of offense a game, and only twice have failed to score more than 21 points (First against Alabama, and second against Auburn with a fairly beaten up squad). Corral isn’t quite matching last year’s production in terms of completion percentage and yards/pass, but he’s doing a much better job of taking care of the ball (only throwing two INTs this season vs 14 in 2020) and also leads the team in rushing (Rushing usage is 27% and averaging .708 PPA/Rush).
Nothing much to say here, Ole Miss Punter Mac Brown is averaging 45 yards a punt and Kicker Caden Costa is hitting 78% of his FGs this season. But the truth is with Lane Kiffin calling plays, we may see the Rebel offense go for it on 4th down more than we will see either of these specialists. Ole Miss leads the country with 35 4th Down Attempts and are converting almost 69% of them. Bottom line, be prepared to stop them four times before you go to the sideline.
Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?
This is the only game the Aggies had scheduled in 2020 that didn’t get played, the first time these two teams didn’t meet since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012 (Although that’s not often enough for Matt Corral to know whether we play every year or not). Could a game against Ole Miss late in the season have changed the Aggie Football trajectory from Orange Bowl Champs to something lesser? Or perhaps by winning against an explosive Rebel squad, the Aggies could have pushed their way further into the CFP talks. The multi-verse may have all the answers to those questions, but I certainly don’t.
So What’s the Verdict?
There’s a lot to be concerned about here. A dangerous offense, likely the toughest environment the Ags will have played in all season, and a lot of hype and pressure for both squads to win their final three games. Here’s a box score for the two Rebel losses on the season.
Right away, you can see how imperative it is to eliminate explosive rushing plays from this offense. That is something the second level of this defense has struggled with at times in 2021, but the LBs will need to be ready for a stable of backs and a mobile QB. Corral averages about a 47% Success Rate running the ball typically, but in these two losses he was held to 0% by Bama and 38% by Auburn. Contain Corral on the ground, you eliminate a huge part of this Rebel Offense.
Here’s the box score for their win against Arkansas earlier in the season. You can see that the Hogs weren’t able to contain the ground game like Auburn and Alabama did, and were therefore forced into a shootout with the Rebels. They also weren’t efficient enough on Passing Downs and were unable to force any turnovers (or really much Havoc at all).
What do all three of these box scores tell us though? The offense should be able to move the ball on Saturday night. If nothing else the ground game will be there and should help the defense by keeping a Top 5 Offense off the field as much as possible, but balance seems to be key. Calzada and these receivers need to be a little more consistent and efficient than they were against Auburn last week, and not turn the ball over to a secondary coming off a 3 INT game last week.
My Prediction: Like I said, this has all the makings of a game where things can go wrong for the Aggies. But this defense is just so good, and after last week’s showing I’m tired of being the one underselling them. I think they contain Corral fairly well and force a couple of big TOs, and the ground game carries the Aggies to a 31-21 win and an Aggie cover. I’m sure I’ll be paying for this confidence come Monday.
What Else Am I Picking?
Well, I had a couple of strong weeks in a row so you had to figure it would end at some point. The Washington-Oregon Under hit with room to spare, but despite a furious 4th Quarter comeback the Air Force Falcons fell short, and my Rutgers pick may have been the most wrong I’ve been on a bet all season. But there are no quitters here in my writing room (which is just me and a couple empty candy wrappers from Halloween), so let’s get a few more picks in this week.
Oklahoma at Baylor +5.5 (SP+: Oklahoma by 1.9, FEI: Baylor by .9)- Maybe the Sooners figured out all the kinks after their bye week and torching of Texas Tech. And could be that the Bears are not as good as we thought after a loss to a bad TCU team. That all could be. I don’t think so though. I don’t think OU’s defense is very good, and I don’t think the offense will have an easy time running the ball against the Bears Front 7. Oklahoma is 0-2 ATS in true road games, Baylor is 5-0 at home. Take the Bears.
Coastal Carolina -10.5 vs Georgia State (SP+: Coastal by 20.5, FEI: Coastal by 15.5)- The stats don’t take injuries into consideration, and there’s a chance starting QB Grayson McCall may not be healthy enough to go. But the coaches are optimistic, and so I have no choice but to bet on one of my favorite G5 schools.
Miami at Florida State Under 61 (SP+: 58, FEI: 56.1)- Life maybe too short to bet the under, but I’ve done pretty well on them this season. This is just because I think the FSU offense is average at best, and because the over has either hit or pushed in Miami’s last four games, and I think they’re due to come back down a bit. This will probably be tight, but I see 31-27 or something similar.
Thanks as always, glad to have you aboard the numbers train. Like I said, we’ll take another break next week and be back for LSU, and whatever fun post season shenanigans come our way. If you’re interested in checking out more of the CFB Advanced Stats world, check out any of these sites below.
- 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.