Howdy, and welcome back to Fun With Numbers. Because the folks at GBH heard your requests for “More articles, but add math and make them less enjoyable.” Most of you have probably been reading these for a while now, but in case you’re not familiar, you can read my “Preseason Preview” here where I talk about what I try to accomplish with these posts.
In a nutshell, we use advanced statistics, things like the SP+ from Bill Connelly and other stats that are either calculated or brought in from other sites, to talk about the team, preview the upcoming opponents, and in instances like last Saturday, figure out what the hell happened.
How’d We Do Last Week?
So… what the hell happened?
I usually generate my own box scores for this section, but Bill Connelly released his own and well, no one does it quite like the master.
APP STATE 17, TEXAS A&M 14— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) September 12, 2022
A common upset script ... with flair. pic.twitter.com/qGnB0R8lgX
The Aggies were (slightly) more efficient and had a higher explosive play rate, but were struck down by the Mountaineers due to offensive turnovers, an inability to get off the field in 3rd/4th and short by the defense, and an overall failure by the offense to generate anything outside of Devon Achane. Even with as bad as the Aggies looked, this was still a winnable game.
Offensively, the Ags have to get turnovers under control and find some sort of rhythm. That’s going to take some figuring out both from the offensive line (which is only allowing for 2 Line Yards/Carry right now and pressure on nearly 30% of snaps) and whoever is taking snaps for the Aggies going forward. Jimbo’s offenses are predicated on being efficient first and foremost, and when it’s not even efficient… you lose to a Sun Belt squad and get the national media making jokes about you. We’ve seen some flashes for big play potential though, and it’s easy to feel like the pieces are there for this offense to be more than serviceable... even after losing to a Sun Belt squad and having the national media making jokes about you.
Defensively, Durkin’s group has to find a way to create more havoc and the “Yards after Contact” numbers we saw against App. State simply cannot continue. I think we’ll see those things improve as the season goes on and this Front 7 grows up a little more, but sooner would certainly be better than later. Because now the fun starts.
What Do We Know?
The Miami Hurricanes come to Kyle Field for the first time since 2008 in a (barely) Top 25 matchup that has certainly lost a little luster after the Aggies’ Week 2 fumble. Miami is 2-0 with wins over an FCS squad and Southern Miss. The Aggies are a 5.5 point favorite in Vegas, a 6 point favorite by the FEI, and a 7 point favorite by the SP+. A small reminder that people tend to overreact in football but stats typically don’t. Let’s take a closer look.
Aggie Offense vs Hurricane Defense
We’ve addressed the Aggie offensive woes, and it’s hard to say for sure what things will look like come Saturday night. Is a healthy Bryce Foster enough to get the OL back on track? Does the offense just move better with someone else taking snaps (a move that could happen at any point on Saturday, or not at all)? What if we just let Achane take direct snaps 200+ times a game?
All these question marks face a mostly untested Miami defense that may not be elite, but seems certainly improved from last season. Kevin Steele (a familiar face to Aggie fans as he coached the Auburn defenses for many years under Malzahn) and this Cane defense have held opponents to just 20 points in 2 games. They’ve been very solid up front against the run, but have been susceptible to big plays through the air. In non-garbage time, Miami has given up 7 passing plays of 20+ yards, with 2 of those being touchdowns. It seems to be feast or famine with this secondary, who also happen to have 4 INTs to start 2022.
Aggie Defense vs Hurricane Offense
Despite some obvious struggles last week against Appalachian State, the SP+ is still really high on this Aggie defense (The FEI… a little less so). The most glaring weakness is an inability to create turnovers and other havoc plays. With the Front 7 continuing to get more comfortable, we could see these numbers look much more favorable for the Ags. Early in 2021, the Aggies ranked 93rd in Havoc Created, by the end of the season they were a Top 30 Team in that regard. Hopefully we can see that repeated this year.
On paper, the Miami offense doesn’t look too different from what Aggie offenses have looked like in the past. Super efficient, but not hitting a lot of big plays. They’re running the ball extremely well right now, and only find themselves in passing downs 21% of the time (6th in the country). He’s not putting up eye popping numbers, but QB Tyler Van Dyke is completing nearly 74% of his passes, up from 62% in 2021. Again, they’re not very explosive and they obviously haven’t faced much of a defense this season, but it appears that Josh Gattis has brought a lot of success early to this Hurricane O. Parrish Jr. (an Ole Miss transfer) is getting the majority of the carries (63% Success Rate, .322 PPA/Rush) for this rushing attack but leading target Xavier Restrepo (14 yards/target, 1.33 PPA/Target, and over an 80% Success Rate) appears to be out with an injury. It could end up being WR Brashard Smith (1.34 PPA/Pass on 5 Targets) who steps up to fill that void at receiver, as well as a heavy dose of passes out of the backfield.
ST is a mixed bag for the Aggies this season. Ainias hasn’t had much opportunity in the punt return game, but last week Achane proved why kicking to 6 is still very much a bad idea. On the other side, Constantinou has had plenty of opportunities and is averaging 44 yards/punt. While Caden Davis continues to boot kicks out of the end zone on kickoffs, he is struggling in the short game, just 1 for 3 on FGs this season, including a crucial miss from last week.
Miami has proven to have some dangerous return men in Keyshawn Smith and Tyrique Stevenson, who have helped the Miami offense get started from great field position so far. Veteran Aussie punter Lou Hedley returns for his 4th season and has successfully landed 2 of his 4 punts inside the 20 yard line. The Hurricane seem to have the edge here, which is less than ideal for what could be a very tight ball game.
Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?
Jimbo was 7-1 against Miami during his time at Florida State, but nobody on this Hurricane staff was around for those losses. The more interesting point seems to be how this Aggie team can respond after last week’s upset. Slow starts are not new to Jimbo teams, particularly in the last few years. This game seems to be the hinge point that will tell us if Appalachian State was a fluke for an ultra-talented Aggie squad, or a giant red flag that something is truly off in College Station.
So What’s the Verdict?
These are always tough to write early in the season, because it’s hard to know how good the data is after only a couple of games against lesser competition. Losing one of those games against lesser competition muddies the water even further. On paper, it looks like Miami’s defense should handle the Aggies easily, and the Canes should be able to run it down our defense’s throat. And if the same team that played the Mountaineers shows up on Saturday night, that seems very likely to happen.
In order to avoid that we need the QB play to be different. Haynes King, Max Johnson, Jimbo himself... the man taking snaps isn’t important to me. But what little offensive success Southern Miss had in the first half against Miami came through the air, the Golden Eagles throwing the ball for 120 yards, a 53% Success Rate, and a TD. The Aggies have to find a way to pass early and attack this secondary, because while I think the Miami Run D numbers are slightly inflated, I do think this struggling OL will have trouble opening up things for Achane and the rest of the backfield.
Defensively, I’d love to see Durkin put Gattis and TVD into some Passing Down situations and bring pressure, something the Canes have seen very little of to start the season. The Aggies will have to be much better against the run on Saturday night to make that happen, but if the offense can get going earlier on maybe the defense will be better rested and better able to slow down the Miami rushing attack.
My Prediction: I think we see a different Aggie team on Saturday. I don’t expect them to win the game handily, but the game total of 45 points by Vegas feels about right. I see a 24-21 win for the Aggies. Maybe even a little redemption for Caden Davis.
What Else Am I Picking?
The Week 1 picks I dropped here were a total bust. 0-4, real garbage. Let’s turn our luck around.
WKU +6.5 at Indiana (SP+: WKU by 3, FEI: WKU by 4)- Even if these two projections weren’t on my side, I think I’d take the Hilltoppers to keep it close. Indiana is obviously the first real competition WKU will have seen all season, but the offense is humming along after taking some offseason losses, and even though the defense isn’t great, I’m not sure Indiana is built to test it.
Mississippi State -2.5 at LSU (SP+ LSU by 1, FEI: CLANGA by 1.5)- This has less to do with me overreacting to LSU’s Week 1 loss to Florida State and more with me being very wary of any time Mike Leach returns a ton of talent (including a QB in his 3rd season).
Well, thanks for checking in for another week. The Aggies have a long way to go, and we’ll watch it happen on the field and on paper, just like we always do. Expect to see more stats coming in as the season goes on, and hopefully we’ll all be a little happier next week.
- 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.