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Football 201: Ohio State Recap, Texas Advanced Stats Preview

Behind the numbers on TCU’s recent loss, and how the Horns and Frogs stack up.

TCU Football vs Ohio State | September 15, 2018
TCU Football vs Ohio State | September 15, 2018
Melissa Triebwasser

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Greetings, friends and Frogs, and welcome to your weekly behind the numbers look at TCU football. Below, I recap the Ohio State loss and preview the Texas matchup, all from the perspective of the margins, peripherals, and unseen trends.
Author’s note: No graphs this week. Life happens, sometimes.

Last Week: Ohio State Buckeyes (Postgame win probability 63.1%) 40, TCU Horned Frogs (36.9%) 28

  • What went right for the Frogs?

Well, if you erased a four minute stretch in the third quarter, a whole lot went right. Last week, I mentioned that TCU would have to figure out a way to break some long, downfield plays if they were to compete against the Buckeyes. Their IsoPPP (90th in the country heading into the matchup) bumped all the way up to fifty-eighth this week on the back of a 51 yard Tre’Vontae Hights touchdown and 93 and 16 yard rushing touchdowns for Darius Anderson. The offensive line had a first half demonstrating they can hang with anyone. TCU may not face a better defensive front seven all season, and the Frogs moved the ball well - a 40.8% success rate, which includes the late floundering by the Frogs - and 6 scoring opportunities (4.7 points per) to the Buckeyes’ 7 (3.9 points per).

The defense contained the 2nd best offense, according to S&P+, in the nation in an under-appreciated manner. I won’t harp too long on this, but teams like Penn State moved up in S&P+ this week after playing Kent State because the Nittany Lions were projected to cover and did much more. Somehow, covering the spread against an elite team is a net negative for TCU, though. I’m tuning into a deeper examination of the dynamics of S&P+, and because it penalized the Frogs for this game, I’m going to attempt some other reasoning to explain how well the Frogs played, outside of a disastrous 4 minutes.

Ohio State had 11 drives, 525 total yards, and 3 offensive Touchdowns (plus a field goal). That averages out to 47.7 yards per drive for Ohio State, 2.18 points per drive. The Buckeyes averaged over six points per scoring opportunity heading into the TCU game, and that number is now well below six - TCU held the Buckeyes to nearly half their average points in a scoring opportunity. The Buckeyes were averaging north of 4 points per drive, and TCU held the Buckeyes to nearly half that. Anyway you look at the non-special teams, non-turnover play, TCU absolutely outplayed the Buckeyes. Somehow, that means that TCU is more like Indiana, Kentucky, and App State than Michigan State, Notre Dame, or Memphis. Something is wonky with opponent adjustments, if that’s the case, or the influence of special teams and turnovers is vastly overstated.

  • What went wrong?

I’ll keep this brief, as we all watched the game. Two statistics tell the story of the game.
Turnover Margin: Ohio State +3, TCU -3
Average Starting Field Position: Ohio State 30.1, TCU 18.9.

That won’t do. The Frogs’ ~40% postgame win probability is a testament to the defense’s play on Saturday. TCU couldn’t get ahead of field position, and consistently found themselves in exposed positions. Guess what Ohio State does excellently? Takes advantage of an exposed team. TCU can hang with anyone, but the field position has to get better. (I’ve always said, “You can’t fumble a snap out of the end zone if you’re not standing right in front of the end zone.”)

This Week: TCU Horned Frogs (25th S&P+, 27th in Offense, 41st in Defense) at Texas Longhorns (43rd, 62nd, 39th)

The matchup this weekend in Austin, forecast to be a wet one, features two teams at polar opposites, an established power taking on a scrappy up-and-comer with (allegedly) new life. A sound fundamental team with a palpable identity versus an ethereal mess of talent and grit, smashing together, with state and conference dominance on the line. TCU, reeling from a close but definite loss to Ohio State, heads to Austin to take a stand and right the ship at the start of conference play, as the hosting Longhorns, riding high on a drubbing of nominal powerhouse USC, look to prove they are, for real this time we promise, ‘back’.

When Texas has the ball:

The Longhorn offense, simply put, doesn’t have a “thing”. Three drives went for more than 8 plays last week, and both the Longhorns’ non-garbage touchdowns last week against USC were more a story of USC’s tackling than Texas’s efficiency. Texas moves the ball at a below average rate, 43% against Maryland, Tulsa, and USC. Much of Texas’s success came against USC, as the Trojan’s 87th ranked offense struggled to move the ball and withstand the heat of Austin. Despite a second half collapse and a terrible offense, USC still had a 42% postgame win probability. Putting together that logic - after Texas’ “thumping” USC, the Trojans still had a better statistical chance of winning that game profile than TCU did against Ohio State. Not exactly an encouraging sign for the Horns, but to their credit, they are starting to normalize a bit after a week one embarrassment.

All in all, Texas moves the ball at an about average clip, hampered by their abysmal starting field position (27.9 yard line, 94th in the nation). TCU is allowing opponents to start at the 26 yard line, good enough for 31st in the country. Here again we come to another game where TCU can do themselves favors by, I don’t know, not kicking the opening kickoff out of bounds?

In the rushing game, Texas gets stuffed at the line 18.4% of the time (64th in the country), indicating offensive line problems on which TCU’s defensive line will love to feast (23.1% stuff rate, 39th in the country) . The Texas OL provides just an average push; the opportunity rate is 58th in the nation, hovering right about 49% (TCU allows 46.2, good for 73rd, but I tend to believe this is more schematic than executive). The Longhorns tend towards passing on Standard Downs, and running on Passing Downs, indicating perhaps some gamesmanship in UT’s play-calling. The Longhorns are well above average at avoiding open field tackles - only 77.6% of their tackles come in the open field, 34th in the nation. TCU’s defense can flip this game by making tackles in the open field, avoiding those second and third effort conversions; a 21st overall Havoc Rate indicates TCU excels here.

Finally, the Longhorns get in to third down situations quite a bit (85th in the nation at “first downs coming on first or second down”), but move the ball well enough on third to convert (44.1%, 48th in the nation). 54.4% of those third downs classify as “third and long”, and that brings trouble for conversion. TCU’s defense ranks 8th in the nation at 8% third-and-long success rate, so you can see this as a focal point for the matchup - note, TCU held Ohio State to 4/12 on third down last week, and that gave the Frogs a chance to be competitive up until the very end of the game. A similar performance could yield much better results this week against an offense trying to find itself.

Key Points:

  • Third Down Success
  • Missed Tackles/ Open-Field Tackles
  • Field Position

When TCU has the ball:

The TCU offense hinges on the ability to create space, reflected in their below average run rates (TCU prefers to pass, even when that pass is a backfield toss, effectively a “spread pitch”), their 78.1% solo tackles rate, and 13.6 havoc rate allowed (32nd and 49th in the nation). This means TCU gets the ball into the open field without allowing a blow up (havoc), forcing a defender to make a play (solo tackle). TCU’s offense, despite youth at it’s helm an the approximately 17 new starters on offensive line (depending on which national outlet is getting this wrong), moves the ball better than most; their 52.8% success rate is 12th in the nation. TCU is fairly average outside that elite success rate, though; their explosiveness has improved, as discussed before, but their points per scoring opportunity is mediocre, and their turnover margin really hamstrung them against an Ohio State team they could have beaten.

The TCU offensive line is 8th in opportunity rate, 7th in standard down yards per carry, and 31st in Standard Downs sack rate. Those numbers all drop significantly for passing downs, and that confirms the story of the season; when TCU can start in good field position, get ahead of the sticks, they set themselves up to gain chunks of yardage (and even pop off a big play). The Horns stop the run effectively, ranking in the top 25 in both opponent opportunity rate and stuff rate, and a more than respectable 1.83 line yards. Against a Texas team well above average in opportunity rate and sack rate, the Frogs offensive line will have to work to create space for runs and to give Shawn Robinson time to make quality decisions and place the ball downfield.

Texas’s defense, contrary to its offense, knows itself well - the 39th ranked Longhorn defense holds opponents to a 34.4% success rate (29th in the country) and only 3.63 (29th) points per scoring drive. The Horns rank 12th in third and long success rate, meaning the Frogs will have to avoid digging holes, because, much like Ohio State, Texas will make you pay for sluggish first and second downs. Texas’s defense has not done much in the way of defending passes - 59.3% completion rate is 73rd in the nation, and the 34.1% PD to INC ratio is just about average - or getting pressure - the Horns have a 2.0% adjusted sack rate and a 4.3% DL Havoc rate (123rd and 81st in the country), and so if the Frogs can make their blocks, they should move

Key Points:

  • Can I say field position again?
  • Converting scoring opportunities
  • First and Second Down Success

What to expect:

The Longhorns will come out ready to play, but have been hapless against the Frogs the last few years despite reasons to be excited - remember the “Save Charlie Strong” game? I expect this to be tooth and nail, and maybe a little bit on the pointsy side, but far from a shootout.

S&P+ says TCU 30, Texas 27. My gut tells me this is close, but I’m gonna say the Frogs score one late again, similar to last year, after the Texas defense finally broke from bending.

TCU 33, Texas 24.

What Else I’m Watching:

Note: Shout out to, randomly the best place for schedules and watching info for all of CFB.

Thursday/Friday: I’m not going out of my way to watch Tulsa/Temple, but FAU/UCF should be a fun first half. Wazzou and USC should be a snoozer.

Saturday (Early): Kind of a thin slate this week, especially early on. I’d probably watch Georgia at Missouri until it gets uninteresting, and flip to either Notre Dame at Wake Forest or BC at Purdue, both games that should be one sided but could get weird.

Saturday (Afternoon): Aside from the Frogs, I’m very interested in the Kansas-Baylor game. A win against Baylor, and then Kansas just has to find three more for a bowl.

Saturday (Post-Frogs): Texas Tech-Oklahoma State, Wisconsin-Iowa, Arkansas-Auburn, Arizona State-Washington, Duquesne at Hawaii, oh my. I rescind my prior comments about a thin week - I’ll be working my DVR hard this weekend.

What are you watching this week? Any games I missed? What are your thoughts about the Texas matchup? What are your thoughts about which TCU player the Steelers should draft this year? (Really, please don’t talk about that last one again.)