Howdy and welcome back to Fun With Numbers, where we use advanced stats and other data to understand the Aggie Football squad as well as their matchups. We’re fresh off a bye week, and everybody is looking up, so naturally we should look at the last game played by this team to bring everybody back down.
How’d We Do Last Week?
Before a much needed bye, the Aggies traveled to Knoxville to take on the Volunteers. It ended poorly. There’s not much to say, the defense struggled a little against this explosive rushing attack, but absolutely gave this offense everything they needed to win this game… and they just couldn’t do it. A brutal showing on Passing Downs ended drives early, 33% Success Rate in the Red Zone proves that’s still an issue, the OL only getting 1.3 Line Yards/Rush for the backfield, and somehow Ainias Smith was at the bottom of the team in terms of targets. That’s a recipe for a bad loss and Jimbo and Petrino baked it to perfection.
What Do We Know?
The Aggies welcome the Gamecocks to Kyle Field, attempting to win back the Bonham Trophy (That’s right, I remember what it’s called) and stop their midseason skid. South Carolina has hit a bit of a wall in Shane Beamer’s 3rd year as the head coach, sitting at 2-5 overall with wins over Furman and Mississippi State after a tough schedule in the first half of the season (4 losses to Top 25 AP opponents). They’re not projected to turn things around just yet, with the Aggies being a 14 point favorite by Vegas, which is what the SP+ and FEI project it. What do the Aggies need to watch out for in order to get back to winning this Contrivalry? Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.
Aggie Offense vs Gamecock Defense
At this point, the Aggie offense can be described as
-”Fine” to “Good” against average opponents
-Bad against good teams
-Overly complicated and frustrating to watch regardless of opponent.
I know this feels familiar, and I wish I could tell you something to make you feel better about that.
I can’t really, but I can at least tell you that the Aggies are facing a bad defense this weekend at Kyle Field. South Carolina has allowed 170 points this season (24 points/game), which is more than anyone else in the SEC. The Gamecocks lost quite a bit of talent off the 2022 Defense that regressed a little in Year 2 under DC Clayton White, and have continued to struggle in the Front 7. Teams are mostly moving the ball at will against the Gamecocks, with a defense that has seen more snaps than just about anyone else in the country (107th) and spending nearly 73% of their plays in Standard Down. They do alright at preventing big plays thanks to an experienced secondary, and have picked off opponents 6 times this season. In terms of up front Havoc though, they’re not generating much, ranking at the bottom of the country in terms of sacks and tackles for a loss. If the Aggie Offensive Line struggles against this group, something maybe really broken in that position room.
Aggie Defense vs Gamecock Offense
In another familiar tale, the Aggie Football team is largely being carried by what will likely finish as one of the top units in the country. The corner spot can be a liability at times, and some teams have certainly been able to take advantage of it during the season. But there are very few offenses that are able to run the ball effectively or protect the QB long enough when this Aggie Front 7 starts wearing them down. They are really, really good.
And they’re facing an offense that has had some issues this season. With very little threat of a rushing attack, Spencer Rattler is compensating by leading an average passing unit with some explosive capabilities but he can only do so much considering the amount of pressure he’s typically under (28% of passing plays). This has led to a lot of inconsistency, the Gamecocks have scored 30+ points against Florida, Mississippi State, and Furman, and 20 points or less in their other matchups. In fairness to this squad, they have suffered a multitude of injuries, particularly on the offensive line, and they might be without leading WR Xavier Legette (Averaging 1.34 PPA/Target) this weekend as well. Overall, this seems like the type of offense that the Aggies can really punish if the secondary can hold their ground. They’ve already proven to be one dimensional with little run threat (unlike the previous two opponents) and are very likely to find themselves in 3rd and Long situations early and often.
Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?
South Carolina needs to win 4 of their next 5 games in order to be bowl eligible. After this matchup, they go on a 4 game home stand against Jax State, Vandy, Kentucky, and Clemson. They’ll be favorites in at least half of those games, but maybe even all of them depending on how things shake out the next few weeks. But for now, they’re big road dogs on a three game losing streak. Does that make them more dangerous? Playing with nothing to lose while the Aggies still wrestle with the preseason expectations they’re unlikely to meet this season?
On the flip side of that, the Aggies under Jimbo rarely beat SEC opponents by more than a couple of scores. The exception to that, has been South Carolina.
Obviously last year was a bust, and only 2021 was a matchup against a Shane Beamer team. Still, the Ags being favored by a couple of touchdowns might make you wonder a nice “get right” game is coming for the Aggies. Probably not, it rarely ever feels easy.
What’s the Verdict?
You guys know the drill. This is the SEC, the Aggies are a team still trying to piece it all together, there are no gimmes. But you can look the charts, and you know this is a team the Aggies should handle with ease.
On Offense, Max Johnson should be able to move the ball effectively. This is not the same level of defense he’s faced in the previous two games, and they’re not even rated similar to Arkansas or Auburn. Even teams that have lost to them have QBs turn in +40% Success Rates throwing the ball, and Florida QB Graham Mertz tossed for over 400 yards in the Gator’s win. If nothing else, Moss and the rest of the backs should be able to keep things moving on the ground. On top of sustaining drives, the Aggies have to start capitalizing on Red Zone trips or this season is going to get even longer.
Defensively, it might be a little more challenging. If for some reason the Aggie DL and Linebacking group can’t take the run game away, the Aggies could find themselves in more of a shootout situation like the Florida or Mississippi State games, particularly if the Aggies allow Spencer Rattler to get out on the move and run. Missouri held him to 25 yards (-3.69 EPA/Rus)h, while he turned in 67 yards on 4 carries against Mississippi State (6.35 EPA/Rush). Controlling that run game and forcing them into passing downs, where this DL can hopefully get as many sacks as Missouri did last week, while hoping the secondary can do a better job of holding up than they did against Alabama. Make it a long day for Rattler like they did Zeb Noland in 2021.
My Prediction: Like I said, even these types of games rarely feel easy these days. Still I think the bye week came at a good time to reconfigure this offense for Max, and I think this defense is just going to keep getting better (despite some of the issues in the secondary). I think the Aggies win 27-13.
Thanks as always for reading along, check out these sites below if you’re interested in more CFB stats.
- 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.