Hello and welcome back to Fun With Numbers. Because the folks at GBH heard your request for “More articles, but add math and make them less entertaining”. Most of you have probably been reading these for a while, but if you’re unfamiliar, you can read my “Preseason Preview” here, where I talk about what I’m trying to achieve with these posts.
In short, we use advanced stats, things like Bill Connelly’s SP+ and other stats that are either calculated or imported from other sites to talk about the team, preview upcoming opponents and in cases like last Saturday find out what the hell happened.
So… what the hell happened?
I usually do my own box scores for this section, but Bill Connelly posted his own and well, nobody does it like the master.
The Aggies were (slightly) more efficient and had a higher explosive rate of play, but were put down by the Mountaineers due to offensive turnovers, an inability to leave the field at 3/4 and short of defense, and an overall failure of the offense, produce anything outside of Devon Achane. Even with the Aggies looking so bad, this was still a winnable game.
Offensively, the Ags have to get ball losses under control and find a certain rhythm. That takes a lot of figuring out, both from the offensive line (which is currently only allowing 2 line yards/carry and putting pressure on nearly 30% of snaps) and whoever is snapping for the aggies. Jimbo’s offenses are based primarily on being efficient, and when it’s not even efficient… lose to a Sun Belt force and get the national media making jokes about you. We’ve seen some flashes of big game potential, however, and it’s easy to think that the parts are more than useful for this offense…even after you’ve lost to a Sun Belt squad and have the national media joking about you.
Defensively, Durkin’s group needs to find a way to create more chaos and the yards after contact numbers we saw against App. The state simply cannot go on. I think we’ll see these things improve as the season progresses and this Front 7 matures a bit, but sooner would certainly be better than later. Because now the fun starts.
The Miami Hurricanes come to Kyle Field in a (barely) top-25 match for the first time since 2008, which has certainly lost a bit of its shine after the Aggies fumble in Week 2. 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 little reminder that when it comes to football, people tend to overreact, but statistics usually don’t. Let’s take a closer look.
Aggie Offense vs. Hurricane Defense
We’ve addressed the Aggie offensive issues and it’s hard to say how things will go this coming Saturday night. Is a healthy Bryce Foster enough to get the orienteering back on track? Does the offense just move better when someone else 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 per game?
All of those question marks face a largely untested Miami defense that may not be elite but certainly appears to have improved from last season. Kevin Steele (a familiar face to Aggie fans, having coached the Auburn defense under Malzahn for many years) and that Cane defense have kept opponents down to just 20 points in two games. They were very solid up front against the run but were prone to big plays through the air. In non-garbage time, Miami gave up 7 passing plays from 20+ yards, 2 of which were touchdowns. There seems to be a feast or famine at this secondary which also happens to have 4 INTs to start 2022.
Aggie Defense versus Hurricane Offense
Despite some obvious struggles against Appalachian State last week, the SP+ is still very high on this aggie defense (The FEI… a little less). The most notable weakness is the inability to generate turnovers and other devastating plays. As the Front 7 becomes more comfortable, we could see these numbers looking much more favorable for the Ags. At the start of 2021 the Aggies finished 93rd in Havoc Created, by the end of the season they were a top 30 team in that regard. Hopefully we can do that again this year.
On paper, the Miami offense doesn’t look all that different to Aggie’s offense in the past. Super efficient but not many big games. They run the ball very well at the moment and only find themselves in passdowns 21% of the time (6th in the country). He doesn’t provide flashy numbers, but QB Tyler Van Dyke is completing almost 74% of his passes, up from 62% in 2021. Again, they’re not very explosive and obviously haven’t seen much defense this season, but it seems that Josh Gattis This Hurricane O. Parrish Jr. (an Ole Miss transfer) has brought a lot of success early on in attack, but leading target Xavier Restrepo (14 yards/target, 1.33 PPA/target and over 80% success rate) appears to be down with an injury to be. It could end up being WR Brashard Smith (1.34 PPA/pass to 5 targets) to fill that gap at receiver, as well as a big dose of passes from the backfield.
ST is a mixed bag for the Aggies this season. Ainias didn’t have much opportunity in the punt return game, but Achane proved last week why kicking a 6 is still a very bad idea. On the other hand, Constantinou had plenty of opportunities and averaged 44 yards/punt. While Caden Davis continues to rip kickoffs out of the end zone on kickoffs, he struggles in the short game, only 1-3 this season with FGs, including a crucial miss from last week.
Miami has proven there are some dangerous returnees in Keyshawn Smith and Tyrique Stevenson who have helped the Miami offense start from a 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 seems to have the edge here, which is far from ideal for what can be a very close ballgame.
Jimbo was 7-1 against Miami during his time at Florida State, but nobody on this Hurricane team was there for those losses. The more interesting point seems to be how this Aggie team can react after last week’s excitement. Slow starts are not new to Jimbo teams, especially in recent years. This game seems to be the fulcrum that will tell us whether Appalachian State was a godsend for a highly talented Aggie squad or a huge red flag that something really is wrong at College Station.
These are always difficult to write early in the season because it’s hard to know how good the data is after just a few games against less competition. Losing one of those games to lesser competition muddies the waters even more. On paper, it looks like Miami’s defense should handle the Aggies easily, and the Canes should be able to run it down our defenses. And if the same team that played the Mountaineers shows up Saturday night, that seems very likely to happen.
To avoid that, we need another QB game. Haynes King, Max Johnson, Jimbo himself… I don’t care about the man who takes snapshots. But the small offensive win Southern Miss had in the first half against Miami came through the air, the Golden Eagles throwing the ball 120 yards, a 53% win rate and a TD. The Aggies need to find a way to pass early and attack that runner-up because while I think the Miami Run D-numbers are slightly inflated, I think this struggling OL will have problems, things for Achane and the rest of the backfield to open.
Defensively, I’d like to see Durkin put Gattis and TVD in some passing down situations and apply pressure, something the Canes saw very little of earlier in the season. The Aggies will need to be much better against the run on Saturday night to make that happen, but if the offense can get going sooner, perhaps the defense will be better rested and better able to slow Miami’s rushing attack.
My prognosis: I think we’re going to see a different Aggie team on Saturday. I don’t expect them to win the game comfortably, but Vegas’ 45 point total feels about right. I see a 24-21 win for the Aggies. Maybe even a little redemption for Caden Davis.
The week 1 picks I dropped here were a total bust. 0-4, real garbage. Let’s turn our luck around.
WKU +6.5 in Indiana (SP+: WKU at 3, FEI: WKU at 4) – Even if those two projections weren’t on my side, I’d take the Hilltoppers to keep it close. Indiana is obviously the first real competition WKU has seen all season, but the offense is booming after a few offseason losses, and while the defense isn’t great, I’m not sure Indiana is built to take it testing.
texas tech at NC state Over 56 (SP+: 55, FEI: 54.8) – This one will admittedly be sweating close, but I see this one approaching 60 total points.
State of Mississippi -2.5 at LSU (SP+ LSU up 1, FEI: CLANGA up 1.5) – This has less to do with overreacting to LSU’s Week 1 loss to Florida State and more to do with being very cautious when Mike Leach returns a ton of talent (including a QB in his 3rd season).
Thank you for checking in for another week. The Aggies still have a long way to go and we will watch it happen on the field and on paper as we always do. Expect more stats as the season progresses, and hopefully we’ll all be a little happier next week.
- FootballOutsiders.com for a solid compilation of all things football analysis.
- Bcftoys.com for Brian Fremeau’s RDI data and other fun projects of his.
- ESPN.com is home to all of Bill Connelly’s SP+ information (as well as the FPI rankings). These days you have to subscribe to ESPN+ for most of its stuff.
- CollegeFootballData.com is a great site for data and charts that you can download and play with at your leisure if Fun With Numbers isn’t filling that statistical gap in your life. Most of my data comes from here.
- SEC Statistical Cat is another great site. Solid mix of stats and football concepts.