Welcome back to Fun With Numbers, our weekly look at the advanced stats side of the A&M football season and what that means for the next game. Why do we do this? Sometimes we learn something new, sometimes it just confirms what your eyes are already telling you about the team, but most importantly it’s a way for me to develop a devoted readership that I can one day drop my manifesto to. Until that day, let’s continue talking about stats.
How’d We Do Last Week?
We took a week off from FWN during an FCS matchup, where the Aggies dominated PVAMU with almost no trouble at all. Before that, it was a different story. The Aggie offense really struggled early against an average Ole Miss Defense, and was unable to pull out a road win even when the defense gave them a really good chance to do so. Here’s the box scores for both of those games.
What Do We Know?
The Aggies head to Death Valley for a night game against the LSU Tigers in a matchup that doesn’t mean quite as much as it would have had the Aggies managed to beat the Rebels in Oxford last weekend, and certainly doesn’t mean as much after the season the Tigers have had in 2021. But this is a rivalry, one that Jimo is 2-1 in, and bowl eligibility is on the line for LSU in Ed O’s final game in Baton Rouge. You can complain about NIL or playoff discussions or whatever else is making that “Old Man Yells at Clouds’’ part of your brain tickle just a little bit, but at the end of the day… this lowly game matters, players and fans will be amped up for it, and that alone makes College Football great. The Aggies are a 6.5 point favorite in this matchup, while the SP+ likes the Ags to win by 14 and the FEI thinks it’s closer to a 5 point victory.
Aggie Offense vs Tiger Defense
No spoilers for the defensive section of this article, but this is the far more interesting matchup of the game. The Aggie offense has looked really good against really bad teams, and against Alabama. Against Top 50 DSP+ units, they averaged under 350 yards and just 22.4 points a game. It’s Year 4, and the Aggies still haven’t shown much explosiveness under Jimbo Fisher, and at times have really struggled in the Red Zone this season. The blueprint has been pretty clear for opposing defenses, if you can limit the Aggies’ dangerous rushing attack, the lack of a consistent passing game (due both to the QB and pass catchers in the system) will at least allow them to stay in the game.
The question is, can the LSU defense do that? They’re outside the DSP+ Top 50 (although the DFEI is a little higher on them), and haven’t played all that well at times. But their last 3 games (against Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana Monroe) they’ve averaged an allowed 31% Success Rate on the ground and a -.04 PPA/Rush and held Alabama to just 6 rushing yards a few weeks ago. It’s possible after giving up 5.3 yards/rush in their middle 5 games of the season, this Tiger Front 7 has turned a corner and will give the Aggie OL all they can handle. Even without Derek Stingley Jr., I wonder about how well Calzada and these receivers can attack the LSU secondary.
Aggie Defense vs Tiger Offense
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot less to look into here. The LSU offense has really struggled in 2021, and the Aggie defense has moved to an elite level in the same time frame. The run game for the Tigers has absolutely fallen off a cliff this year, not entirely the fault of lead back Tyrion Davis-Price (The OL is only generating a 45% Opportunity Rate), and while Max Johnson (60.6%, 58.3 QBR) along with guys like Kayshon Boutte (13% Usage, .894 PPA) and Jack Bech (13% Usage, 1.01 PPA) have drug this passing offense to moderate efficiency, it hasn’t been enough to do anything except help kick start the “Fire Dan Mullen” Train. Johnson is getting pressured on nearly 28% of his passes (according to the SEC StatCat), which is third most in the SEC among QBs with 100+ attempts. He also has the highest percentage of Defensive Back Breakups in the SEC, and throws a high percentage of interceptable balls. That all bodes well for a defense that has 13 INTs and 33 sacks on the year (averaging 3 sacks a game in their last 4).
Not much to add here, the Aggie return game has plenty of weapons, and Constantinu and Small are doing their job well enough. LSU has an experienced kicker in Cade York who is 81.3% on FGs this season, and Punter Avery Atkins is averaging 43 yards/punt.
Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?
As I mentioned earlier, this is a great example of why College Football is king. On one side, you have a team that is chasing 9 regular season wins, hoping to create an opportunity for consecutive 10 win seasons, who’s head coach is 2-1 against the guy being let go on the other sideline. On the other side, you have a team fighting for bowl eligibility and trolling rights for the next year. I love it so much.
So What’s the Verdict?
This team may be better on defense than the Tiger team the Aggies beat in 2020 at Kyle Field in the rain, and the Aggies are more inconsistent on offense than they were last year too. That alone is a little concerning, particularly going on the road.
On offense, the Aggies have to find a way to run the ball effectively. The LSU Front 7 has played better in their last few games, but this is still the team that gave up 330 yards on the ground to Kentucky in the middle of the season. Achane needs his touches, he’s averaging .361 PPA/Rush right now, and we all know his ability to break big plays. He’s a cheat code for an offense that can still get lost trying to find it’s identity 11 games into the season. I would love to see him on the field in 2 back sets with Isaiah Spiller more, something we haven’t seen nearly enough this season in my opinion. I’d also love to see Moose get a shot against a real defense, after his 3.7 PPA/Target performance against Prairie View this past week. Other than that, it’s all about taking care of the ball and being better in the Red Zone than they have been in recent weeks.
The defense will need to play to their normal standards, and hopefully do it the whole game. Second half adjustments are great, but you know what’s better? Being great the whole game. Take away the run game like every team except Florida has, and find a way to get pressure on Max Johnson (Again, like every team except Florida has). In games where LSU has won or played things close (Particularly their last two losses to Arkansas and Alabama), it usually hasn’t been on the back of this offense, so I think the Aggies should be able to handle them effectively.
My Prediction: Always hate being confident about this game, but I don’t know that I see the Tigers pulling off another surprise emotional victory for a coach on his way out. That said, I would be very surprised if the offense doesn’t struggle throughout the game, and so I think I like the Aggies to win 21-13 in a low scoring, ugly affair.
What Else Am I Picking?
Well despite whiffing on my A&M/Ole Miss pick, I went 2-1 in these bonus picks and have brought myself up to .500 on the season. Let’s close out here on the positive side of things.
Oregon State +7 at Oregon (SP+: Oregon by 9.2, FEI: Oregon by 5.7)- Maybe not smart to bet against a team who just got embarrassed in primetime as they return home to face their instate rival. This could be a game where Oregon bounces back really well, but I think they be a little down for this after last week’s blowout and Oregon State has been playing really well.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State -4 (SP+: Ok St by 1, FEI: OK State by 9)- Bedlam certainly has the chance to live up to it’s name here. I think Oklahoma has really struggled against good defenses, and the Pokes certainly have that this season. Ride with the better defense especially when they’re the home team.
Notre Dame -19 at Stanford (SP+ ND by 23.8, FEI: ND by 18.4)- Let’s keep this one simple. Notre Dame is playing really well, Stanford is not, and this stadium might be empty.
Thanks for following along this season, whether you’ve been around since I was writing fan posts that were getting comments from Russian bots or whether you just discovered me this season. Either way, I appreciate it and I’m thankful for a place like GBH that allows me to indulge in a weird hobby and also have an (admittedly small) audience while doing so. I hope to continue tinkering with things in the offseason, and come back in 2022 with something sort of new and revamped, but who really knows. That was my plan last offseason, and look where we are. I’ll be back for Bowl Season with a FWN post to preview that game, but until then I hope you all have a happy and safe Holiday season. Enjoy the time with friends and family, and hopefully watch some good football at the same time.
- 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.