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Dissecting the Frogs: Iowa State Football


Greetings all - what follows is a statistical breakdown of the forthcoming matchup between TCU and Iowa State, utilizing Bill Connelly's S&P numbers, which are the best football analytics we have at our disposal. It's about time FOW got a little more nerd-friendly; my goal for the rest of the season is to take us to that great statistical beyond.

Links to find each team's advanced statistical profile can be found below, and a glossary of terms can be found here.

Saturday, October 28: TCU Horned Frogs (AP #4, S&P+ rank 6th overall, 23rd offense, 11th defense) at the Iowa State Cyclones(25th, 24th, 45th, 29th).

What does Iowa State do well?

1. They win the field position game. ISU gives their offense and defense the best opportunities to succeed, starting, on average, with the ball at the 32.7 yard line (17th best in the nation), and holding opponents to just better than a touchback, (26.2 yard line, 13th in the nation).

2. They stop big plays on defense. The Clones rank 29th in the nation at limiting the damage of opposing offense. Their IsoPPP, effectively a measure of how much an offense does on a successful play - or here, how little a defense allows on a successful play - is 1.05. For reference, TCU so far this season has averaged 1.25 pts per play in that same measure.

3. They finish drives. ISU has 4.8 points per scoring opportunity this season, firmly in the top 40 of all FBS teams this year. This means that not only do they score when they get into your territory, but they score touchdowns. With the exception of the abject disaster that was Texas's crown win this season, ISU has dropped 30 on everyone, and scored 40 in 4 of their games. Granted, Texas was the only "good" defense they have played this season, but they are an offense that wants to score, and score often.

4. They get after the ball. Their turnover margin is plus 8, good enough for ninth in the country. The S&P numbers attribute a lot of that to luck, but at some point, consistent luck reflects talent.


What are Iowa State's weaknesses?

1. They don't stop teams from converting scoring opportunities. ISU is 74th in the nation at scoring opportunity defense, allowing 4.53 points per scoring opportunity. While their special teams have been death on field position, if you can get it into the red zone, you're going to convert.

2. They don't stop the run on third/fourth and short. Their power success rate is an abysmal 81% on defense, meaning that their defense, when it bends, breaks.

3. They don't get a push at the line. Their offensive opportunity rate is a paltry 33.6%, good for 112th in the FBS. This essentially means that their offensive line "does its job" on offense 33.6% of the time. This is a huge opportunity for TCU's defensive line, which is quite literally the best in the nation with a 22% opportunity rate.

4. They don't run the ball for big gains. Offensive rushing IsoPP - points per successful play - is 100th in the nation. When they run the ball, it is not consistent, and it is not for yardage. This, coupled with their just-below-average passing IsoPP (80th) indicates that the times their offense has scored, it has been a grueling affair. They just don't get big plays.

5. They don't pass when they need to. Iowa State is successful on 25.7% of their passing downs - situations that typically call for a pass - which indicates their inability to spark themselves out of a hole.

The bottom line:

Iowa State has played well against bad competition and taken advantage of a weak Oklahoma defense to get where they are. They have won convincingly against FBS Northern Iowa (90% win expectancy, N/A opponent S&P), Akron (100% win expectancy, 110 opponent S&P), Kansas (the horror), and a decent-but-still-unknown Texas Tech (95%, 39th S&P). They also have pretty convincing losses against Texas (14%, 57th), and Iowa (16%, 45th), who are the only two live, human defenses they've faced this season - yes, Sooners, you heard me correctly: your defense is ranked 85th and even Baker can't overcome that.

This looks to be the classic case of an opponent who has benefited from a lucky upset - a team performing exactly how ISU did against exactly how Oklahoma did would be projected to win only 36% of the time - and a bunch of soft defenses. Expect TCU to win this game by converting on third down, shutting down the run, and keeping ISU out of the red zone.

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