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Nerd Notes: An Advanced Stats Breakdown of an Iowa State Storm and Bevo on Deck

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If you’re into numbers, or just want to take a deep dive into how Saturday will go, this is MUST read material.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings all - what follows is a brief statistical breakdown of the disaster in Ames and the forthcoming matchup between TCU and Texas, 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 boldly into 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.

A quick look in the rearview:

Saturday, October 28:

TCU Horned Frogs at Iowa State Cyclones

Pulling from the Five Factors Box Scores:

Five Factors - Iowa State

Date Offense Points Plays Yards Yards Per Play Drives Trips PtsPerTrip AvgFP Success Rate TO Margin Exp TO Margin Diff
Date Offense Points Plays Yards Yards Per Play Drives Trips PtsPerTrip AvgFP Success Rate TO Margin Exp TO Margin Diff
10/28/17 Iowa State 14 68 255 3.75 14 4 3.5 25 0.25 2 -0.3 2.3
10/28/17 TCU 7 59 307 5.2 12 3 0 30.4 0.39 -2 0.3 -2.3

What went wrong?

Turnovers. I mentioned last week, whereas some football statisticians believe turnovers to be luck, consistently getting a break in your favor is in many ways a replicable skill. It appears Iowa State has that skill, to whatever degree it exists. In an ultimate showing of bend-don’t-break, the ‘Clones allowed TCU into a scoring opportunity (inside the opponent 40) and allowed zero points, two of those turnovers.

What went right?

Some quick hits in regards to my last post:

  1. Field Position: TCU started at the 30.4 yard line on average, well above Iowa State’s season average of 26.2. That goes hand in hand with Special Teams, which TCU won with some excellent punting and a run-of-the-mill Turpin TD.
  2. In terms of the play-by-play, efficiency and Success Rate were strongly in TCU’s favor. TCU moved the ball well on offense, converting on 39% of their downs, while the defense held Iowa State to a 25% rate. Neither of those factor in the penalties that stalled a few huge TCU plays and lifted up some Cyclone efforts.
  3. Limiting Scoring Opportunities on defense. TCU’s defense struggled in the first half, but on the whole, had a pretty solid day. They held ISU to 3.5 points per scoring opportunity, which is over a point less than Iowa State averages.

All in all, Iowa State had a 35% win expectancy based on statistical performance (TCU’s defense played in the 94th percentile Saturday and Iowa State’s offense in the 6th, just for instance), and so we see some limitations of these advanced statistics - every now and then, you’re just going to have one of those games. Weirdly enough, Iowa State has now had two of them in their favor.

Breaking Bevo:

Texas Longhorns (52nd S&P+, 80th offense, 32nd defense)

at TCU Horned Frogs (12th, 36th, 8th)

On to more pressing matters.

What do the Longhorns do well?

  1. They limit opportunities on defense, specifically the against the run. Success rate is 44th in the country, 38.9%. Rushing S&P+ is 19th in the country, IsoPPP is 23rd, Power Success Rate is 3rd (45.8%), and Stuff Rate is 27.9% (4th). In Passing, they are 29th on defense, with an outstanding Adjusted Sack Rate of 140.6 (15th best in the nation).
  2. They stifle points on scoring opps. Defense is allowing 3.55 pts per trip, good enough for 17th in the nation. This will be especially important given the fashion in which TCU lost last week.
  3. They get turnovers. +3 turnover margin is 39th in the nation. Field position - they have started on average on the 31 yard line (38th). Both of these are periphrial, yes, but every marginal advantage counts for the Texas team who does some core things pretty poorly.
  4. They shut it down in the second half, and when it matters. Let’s look at some numbers.

Texas Defense S&P+:

  • First Quarter (123.0, 27th nationally)
  • Second Quarter (103.9, 63rd)
  • Third Quarter (134.4, 6th)
  • Fourth Quarter (105.9, 49th)

It’s almost like Texas is a young team with a new coach who is still learning how to operate and adjust. Couple that with a 158 S&P+ margin on third down defense, and you are looking at a situation where you need to convert early and often, and then hold on for dear life.

What do the Longhorns do poorly?

  1. Their offense starts really slowly. Quarter 1 S&P+ is 119th in the nation. That’s Sun Belt territory, what’s Texas doing down there? Additionally that slow offense cannot convert third downs. 97th in the nation on third down offense.
  2. They don’t close drives: Texas ranks 103rd in the nation at points per scoring opportunity. Almost as good as their defense is in this regard, their offense is as bad.
  3. They give up big passing plays when teams should pass. 86th in the nation, 1.56 points per play on passing downs, and 101st in defensive IsoPPP Passing.
  4. They do not pass for any consistency - a fact that should be evident from the quarterback woes, but they are 106th in explosive passing. Which is especially troubling for them considering...
  5. They don’t run the ball well. In fact, “run the ball” is a generous term for what their offense does when they hand it off. Rushing success rate of 40.2% (90th), IsoPP of .74 (121st), Rushing S&P+ of 98.7 (74th). They cannot run on rushing downs: .89 IsoPPP on standard downs is 120th in the nation. This is a bad recipe for a team who cannot pass.

How TCU wins:

  • Shutting Texas down in garbage time. TCU has the nation’s best 2nd and 4th quarter defensive S&P+ margins. Texas has (almost) thrived in absorbing the blow and holding on, but TCU’s at-times-incredible ability to tighten the screws on defense as the game gets tighter will be a huge dampener on Texas’s chip-away mentality.
  • Not allowing anything cute on offense. There is literally not a category where TCU’s defense doesn’t dominate Texas’s offense on paper, and execution will be the name of the game. Look specifically for TCU to disassemble the run as Texas tries to establish a rhythm for the QB, whoever ends up playing.
  • Closing drives - TCU had the Cyclones in the bag last week if they could’ve finished their scoring drives. How they respond this week, specifically how Ken Jr. and Sonny respond, will determine whether this is the blowout it should be or not.

How TCU loses:

  • Starting slowly. If TCU can’t get out and put a lead on Texas, the Frogs will get the Longhorns’ best shot with little cushion. Texas improves substantially on both sides of the ball as the game goes on, so it’s important to establish the status quo.
  • Abandoning the run. I have some numbers cooking for the future about TCU’s run/pass tendencies, but it will suffice to say that TCU’s expected value of a run play demands they run more. This is a case of best on best, and if TCU’s strength can’t overcome Texas’s strength, expect trouble. The key matchup here will be the defensive line - their havoc rate is abysmal, meaning their DL impact on a play-by-play basis is low. If TCU can handle their blocks and get to the second level, the run game should flourish.

In Summary:

I expect a game that will naturally be closer than it should, as TCU is reeling a bit and Texas is gearing up for their Super Bowl. Expect a compelling battle in the trenches as Texas’s run defense will give TCU some problems. If TCU can get a lead and convert scoring drives early, though, they should handily put away a conference rival.