Baylor vs. UCF Stats Preview

Ronald Martinez

The stats pretty clearly bill this one as a matchup of titanic offenses with one defense far above the other. Where do your Bears land? Let's find out.

It's been nearly 4 weeks since my last Stats Preview (for Texas), and I'm excited to be back again with my charts and figures. I'm also more than a little sad that this will be the final Stats Preview of the 2013-2014 season. We've come a long way from the Wofford game and enjoyed the best Baylor team in history at every step. Now we get to finish things off in our first BCS bowl ever against Blake Bortles and UCF.

Since this is the final Stats Preview of the season, I decided not to make major changes to the charts below to match what Bill C is doing in his bowl previews. That said, I really like what he's doing. Check out the preview for tonight's Holiday Bowl to see what I mean. There will be one like it for Baylor, I'm sure.

A Few Notes:

If you're a Knights fan (welcome back!) or someone who hasn't seen my stats posts before, I already know the labels in the EDGE column are totally arbitrary. With that out of the way, here's what they mean:
EVEN = 10 or fewer ranking spots difference
Lowercase = 40 or fewer ranking spots difference (because UCF is an acronym, I'll use Knights instead for this one)
UPPERCASE = 40 or more ranking spots difference.

There are a few situations where I've deviated based on the actual values for each category.

2013 FootballOutsiders Metrics for the Baylor Bears vs. the Central Florida Knights. If you want to compare Baylor's numbers below to those from the last preview, hit the link above for the Texas game.

Overall:

Category

Baylor (11-1)

UCF (11-1)

EDGE

Overall F/+ Rk 7 (30.8%)
24 (18.8%)
Baylor
Overall FEI Rk 7 (.238)
23 (.160)
Baylor
Overall S&P+ Rk 3 (270.3)
29 (228.9)
Baylor
Field Position Advantage 16 (.538) 27 (.530) EVEN

The Bears rose just barely in FEI while staying basically the same in S&P+, meaning we jumped a single spot in the combined measure, F/+, to #7. UCF is ranked 24th in overall F/+, one spot behind Oklahoma and 4 spots ahead of Kansas State. It's worth noting that these ranks were last updated following the games of 12/7 and Kansas State is likely to move up again after their demolition of Michigan in the BWW Bowl.

Looking at the individual units:
1. Baylor O (19.5%)
2. UCF O (13.4%)
3. Baylor D (12.4%)
4. UCF ST (2.8%)
5. UCF D (2.7%)
6. Baylor ST (-1.1%)

A clear #1 unit in this game in the Baylor offense followed by a 2/3 within a percentage point in F/+ of each other. Baylor's ST clearly lags and could have an impact on this game when compared against UCF's.

When Baylor Has the Ball:

Category

Baylor Off

UCF Def

EDGE

Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk
12 (.493)
42 (-.166)
Baylor
Raw OE/DE
6 (.652)
29 (-.254)
Baylor
First Down Rate 6 (.806)
74 (.686)
BAYLOR
Available Yards Rate 8 (.605)
35 (.415)
Baylor
Explosive Drives 2 (.288)
4 (.058)
EVEN
Methodical Drives 78 (.137)
78 (.157)
EVEN
Value Drives 11 (.534)
17 (.286)
EVEN
Offensive/Defensive S&P+
2 (142.8) 69 (103.8)
BAYLOR
Play Efficiency
5 (135.8)
88 (94.9) BAYLOR
Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 3 (133.9)
67 (101.1) BAYLOR
Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 8 (144.7) 112 (82.8) BAYLOR
Rushing S&P+ Rk 15 (120.3) 108 (86.5) BAYLOR
Passing S&P+ Rk 2 (157.9)
63 (101.3) BAYLOR
Drive Efficiency 2 (149.8)
48 (112.8) BAYLOR
Difference in Net Points
3 (1.53)
48 (-1.21) BAYLOR

One day this offseason, I'm going to sit down and figure out what happened with the Baylor offense and FEI this year. A big part of it, obviously, was related to injuries. Without Tevin Reese and Spencer Drango for the last four games and with Glasco Martin and Lache Seastrunk limited, though mostly playing, our offense clearly took a step back in terms of efficiency. We saw an uptick in 3&outs, which go directly into the First Down Rate, our explosive plays down the field clearly dropped off, and we saw more drives end outside the opponent's 30 yard line. All that seems clear. Why there is such a disconnect between FEI, which sees our offense as the 12th best in the country at this point, and S&P+, which still has us a firm second, is a different, much more difficult question.

Anyway, there's not a lot from the chart above not to like if you're a Baylor fan. I can't say the same for the Knights. Baylor holds significant advantages both running and passing the ball according to S&P+ over the UCF defense, which struggles mightily on passing downs. A big part of that, I imagine, is their rank (47th) in pass sacks against an defensive schedule FEI has as 79th best in the country to date. If Baylor can marginalize their pass rush on obvious passing downs, something it should be able to do even without Drango at LT, it's hard to see just how UCF keeps Baylor from scoring consistently absent awful luck in turnovers. If past performance presages future results, Baylor should be able to move the ball on the ground and through the air, churning up yards and first downs. Were I a UCF fan, I'd be particularly worried, given Baylor's tendencies in bowl games and on the road, about the ability of my rush defense (108th by S&P+) to stand up to Martin and Seastrunk. If they can't stop that on standard downs, their weakness on passing downs probably won't matter.

Interestingly, despite their problems defending both run and pass, UCF simply does not give up explosive drives. They're also not bad at all in giving up big plays. It's a rather amazing statistic quirk probably indicative of a bend-but-don't-break philosophy that emphasizes forcing opposing offenses to work their way down the field rather than give up the home run. Coupled with UCF's rather conservative offensive tempo (which we'll get into in a minute, don't take that to mean they're at all bad), you get a team that wins a lot of games in the 30s and 40s. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see UCF do as so many teams before them and attempt to take away the deep ball, especially with Reese back and relatively healthy, with their safeties, resolving to make Bryce Petty beat them through accuracy and execution rather than huge bombs down the field.

The bottom line here is that Baylor's advantages in this matchup are difficult, if not impossible, to ignore. This side of the ball is a mismatch, and there is little solace for UCF in the fact that Baylor's offense is probably healthier right now than it has been since the game against Texas Tech. Add in the fact that UCF's defensive coordinator left to coach Rhode Island and you get a situation where the band might start getting tired.

When UCF Has the Ball:

Category

Baylor Def

UCF Off

EDGE

Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk
19 (-.395)
21 (.392)
EVEN
Raw OE/DE
17 (-.389)
14 (.471)
EVEN
First Down Rate 9 (.571)
23 (.742)
Baylor
Available Yards Rate 16 (.367)
5 (.613)
UCF
Explosive Drives 43 (.108)
13 (.217)
Knights
Methodical Drives 44 (.142)
28 (.183)
Knights
Value Drives 20 (.300)
3 (.580)
Knights
Offensive/Defensive S&P+
15 (127.5) 12 (125.1)
EVEN
Play Efficiency
23 (114.0)
12 (123.9) Knights
Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 27 (112.6)
25 (114.4) EVEN
Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 21 (120.6) 6 (147.7) Knights
Rushing S&P+ Rk 26 (114.7) 10 (125.2) Knights
Passing S&P+ Rk 29 (113.3)
15 (124.2) Knights
Drive Efficiency 13 (141.0)
5 (126.3) EVEN
Difference in Net Points
2 (-2.03)
18 (.63) Baylor

Make no mistake about it, Baylor fans-- we're facing probably our most efficient opposing offense of the season on Wednesday in the form of Blake Bortles and the UCF Knights. As I talked about in the First Look last week, their absolute rankings don't jump off the page like their efficiency ratings do. Don't be fooled, that is largely by design. Though UCF uses numerous spread concepts, they are extremely deliberate, nigh Snyder-like, in doing so. Some offenses rack up stats by running lots of plays, hiding their inefficiency through large totals. UCF is the exact opposite. For the sake of comparison, Baylor ran 989 plays in our 12 games this year. UCF ran just 800 in theirs. That's fewer than 106 FBS schools, including everyone in the Big 12. We've talked a lot this season about KSU's organizational commitment to possessing the ball. UCF is very similar.

There are a couple of different ways this could work out in this game. One is that they realize their defensive weaknesses and seek to slow things down even more, limiting our possessions generally as a way to keep us off the board. This seems likely, if not given, especially with UCF's offensive efficiency. With their ability to run and pass, UCF should be able to string together a few longer drives, at least. On the other side, because of our own offense operates tempo-wise, it's entirely possible that UCF surpasses their season averages in this game even with our defense playing well. They may not want a huge number of possessions for either side, but their defense may not be able to stop it from happening, either.

Looking more closely at the numbers, there's a few things we should probably be concerned about with respect to Bortles and company. First and foremost, the Knights don't have an obvious weakness on offense upon which we can capitalize. They run the ball better than they pass according to S&P+, probably as a result of teams loading up to stop Bortles and leaving William Stanback and Storm Johnson to run free. Baylor's DL limiting the run as best it can without Eddie Lackey and Brody Trahan will be critical to avoid UCF killing us with play action. It may seem strange to say against a team run by a QB likely to go in the first round, but I believe strongly that Baylor's first goal should be to stop the run. Even though UCF is extremely good on passing downs, they are almost by definition more favorable for an opposing defense than standard downs. Our defensive philosophy all season has been to challenge opposing QBs to beat us down the field through aggressive alignments and a scheme designed to take advantage of our team speed on defense. That Bortles, the best QB we've faced this season, is capable of making us pay for that aggression doesn't make it a bad plan. It's who we are.

Special Teams:

Category

Baylor

UCF

EDGE

F/+ Special Teams
90 (-1.1%)
18 (2.8%) UCF
Special Teams Efficiency
90 (-.610)
18 (1.597)
UCF
Field Goal Efficiency
82 (-.101)
18 (.493)
----
Punt Return Efficiency
88 (-.134)
82 (-.063)
----
Kickoff Return Efficiency
39 (-.078)
35 (.009)
----
Punt Efficiency
98 (.021)
93 (.009)
----
Kickoff Efficiency
65 (-.132)
1 (-.359)
----
Opponent Field Goal Efficiency
18 (-.275)
116 (.456)
----

I've come to the conclusion that we're just always going to be bad covering punts. Elite offense, legitimately great defense, can't find our rears with either hand on punt coverage. That's who Baylor is right now. At least we're pretty good at preventing opponent field goals, probably because teams don't take many knowing they need touchdowns and Shawn Oakman's giant maws are waiting for their feeble attempts to kick through him.

So much interesting info here that I have no idea how to use. UCF has a tremendous advantage on special teams derived mostly from the fact that they are insanely good on kickoff coverage. If you are expecting a game-breaking return from Corey Coleman or Levi Norwood on a kickoff, you're probably going to be disappointed. Punt returns may be a different story, since their punt coverage is almost as bad as ours and I have a sneaking suspicion that our return numbers would be significantly better without the early muff against West Virginia.

The Bottom Line:

This game could play out in a number of ways. It seems obvious that both offenses will have success against the opposing defense, as you'd expect from teams led by Bryce Petty and Blake Bortles, respectively. Both run and pass the ball extremely well and are very efficient. If you're expecting an Alamo Bowl-esque shootout, however, you're probably going to be disappointed. That's not who UCF is, though I can't say for sure it's not who they could be. I'm comfortable saying based on the numbers above that I like the matchup of Baylor's offense against UCF's defense more than Knights fans should like the reverse. Our defense is simply better than theirs based on everything we know to date. That more than anything else is why Baylor is a big favorite in this game and should be expected to win. UCF will probably score on drives seemingly breaking the bounds of time and space, but we'll put up points faster than we give them up. That is, of course, the ultimate goal.

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