Howdy and welcome back to Fun With Numbers, Good Bull Hunting’s weekly attempt to take your misery and self loathing derived from Aggie Football and put some numbers to it. We are two games in the season, the data is still sparse and unreliable, and the misery is already pretty high.
Let’s talk numbers.
How’d We Do Last Week?
We gotta talk about it. Last week, I wrote that this game would come down to defensive play. What I didn’t realize was that there would be virtually none of that from the Aggies. Specifically, I thought we needed to limit explosive and second level yardage from the Hurricane rushing attack. I said that because I assumed this year’s defense would be similar to last season’s, which finished 9th in Passing Explosiveness and 68th in Rushing Explosiveness. I was wrong there. Extremely.
Well, the Texas A&M Defense did contain the rushing attack, limiting Miami to only .7 Open Field Yards/Rush. Miami didn’t really need to run the ball though and simply took shot after shot downfield, where our guys got beat, failed to wrap up and make tackles, or simply were pushed off. Okay, the last one is a little bit of bitterness. But still, whatever the game plan was here at Hard Rock, Durkin and Co. need to toss it immediately.
Offensively, the Aggies were pretty explosive in their own right, but could not generate enough easy yards in the ground game, struggled in passing down situations, and three turnover by the Aggies essentially gifted the Hurricanes 10 points. Not the best day, but clean up the turnovers and it still looks like an offense that can win you ball games.
Overall, a pretty bad day for Aggie fans and we’ll reflect a little more on what this loss means for the season later on.
What Do We Know?
You don’t need to see the chart to know this, but the Aggies are not as good as they want to be, and are still leagues better than the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. The Ags are a 36.5 point favorite, Bill Connelly’s SP+ predicts the Ags to win by 34, while Brian Fremeu’s FEI predicts it to be closer (a 21 point margin instead). That said, one of these teams is 2-0 going into this matchup, and it ain’t the Aggies. Head Coach Terry Bowden has the Warhawks halfway to last season’s win total with an underdog victory over Army in Week 1 and 10 point win over Lamar in Week 2. It’s possible ULM may be moving out of the Sun Belt basement they’ve spent the majority of their time in, what have they shown in just 2 games?
The Warhawk defense has played a big part in this 2-0 start, holding their opponents to 13 and 14 points. Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning has coached a lot of football, typically running a 3-3-5/4-2-5 blend scheme. They’ve been really good against the run in their first two games, with opponents averaging a 36% Success Rate against their Front 7. The secondary is relatively untested though and hasn’t been great when pushed, Army only attempted 12 passes and 3 of them went for 20+ yards (one a 54 yarder) and Lamar receivers averaged 7 yards/target. This feels like it could be a confidence builder for Conner, the Warhawks may not make things as easy as the New Mexico defense did a couple of weeks ago, but they’re not going to be Guidry’s Miami unit either.
On offense, ULM is running the ball a lot to start the season, 26th in the nation in rushing rate with over 56% of their plays being on the ground. Carries have been split between Isaiah Wullard and Hunter Smith mostly, but they love the read option and QB Hunter Herring is not afraid to tuck the ball and run, averaging .843 PPA/Rush. It will be interesting to see what happens if Herring is forced to stay in the pocket and make throws in order to keep up with our offense, assuming Weigman is moving the ball well.
So What’s the Verdict?
This game shouldn’t be an issue for the Aggies. I don’t think Conner will throw for 5 TDs again, but I don’t think this ULM team is built to push the Ags very hard either. At worst, they’ll control the ball well with long drives and put up some high rushing totals, limiting the amount of time our offense can strike back, but it certainly doesn’t bear the resemblance of an App State repeat… the Warhawk defense isn’t that good and the Aggie offense is much better than it was a year ago. I think they win by 4 scores, something like 38-10.
The real question is… where do the Aggies go from here? Which is… not a question you really want to be asking just 3 games into the season. But there is no doubt that the Miami loss took a lot of wind out of everyone’s sails and made the 9-3 or 10-2 predictions a lot more difficult to achieve. Even the 8-4 ones might feel like a stretch. Before the season started, I took a look at the schedule through the eyes of the SP+. Let’s take another look at it, now that everyone on the schedule has played a couple of games.
Obviously plenty of football left, so teams will continue to fall and climb on the SP+, but rather than a few Tier 1 teams that the Aggies would be underdogs to, the schedule is now mostly consisting of Tier 2 teams that are projected to be one score type games in either direction. Again, it’s early, we’re going to know a ton more about this team and the rest of the SEC in like 3 weeks, but until then it looks like it could be a really tight season.
The Miami games told us a couple of things I think. First, the offense is better, but Conner is still learning, he’s only got 6 games under his belt, and Bobby Petrino was not a big red “EASY” button for this team. That said, there’s plenty to be encouraged about as we start wrapping up non-conference play.
Secondly, something is broken with this defense, and no games are going to be easy unless it gets fixed. Durkin has to have a better game plan together, and the Aggie defenders have to tackle in space and find a way to make opposing QBs a little more scared. Everybody is missing Elko, but the defense doesn’t even need to play at that level for this team to have a good amount of success this season. Last year, the Aggie D finished 36th in Defensive Points/Drive, with a young Front 7 that was on the field a lot due to offensive ineptitude. After the Miami game, the squad ranks 86th. You don’t have to be “last year” good, even a Top 50 defense from LSU last season was enough to win the West. Just some slight improvement on this side of the ball could go a long way.
Thanks again for joining me. Check out these sites below where most of my data comes from.
- 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.