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Russell Athletic Bowl Advanced Stats Part I: Tar Heels Offense vs. Bears Defense

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In the first part of our Advanced Stats Preview, we're looking at the North Carolina Offense vs. Baylor's Defense according to F/+, FEI and S&P+, the metrics from Football Outsiders.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to your Advanced Stats Preview: Russell Athletic Bowl Episode Part I: The Phantom Awakens. Or something like that. Whatever, it’s Star Wars Week. Because these posts typically take lots of words and by the end I’m usually all "UGHHHHHH I’m out of energy and you guys aren’t reading this anyway so I’m just going to rapidly close this thing out and nobody will care." This time, though, I want to give each side of the ball its proper due, so I’m going to split the post into two, dealing with each side of the ball in turn. I’m also going to add some stuff in from the Advanced Stats Profiles that Bill C. puts out, just to have some more fun with it.

I started writing this before the information about Stidham dropped on Monday night and subsequent news that hit Tuesday. Because of the quarterback uncertainty, I’d planned on starting with the UNC offense vs. Baylor defense; I’m going to stick with that plan because I’m still not entirely sure what I want to say on that side of the ball.

Last week Bill Connelly did his own Advanced Statistical Preview for the game. It was good, but it was a lot of tables and not much talking. So, I’m still going to do this. I hope you enjoy it.

For any Tar Heels reading this preview or if you’ve never looked at one of these in depth, we use a completely arbitrary "EDGE" ranking system in these posts. If the two teams overall ranks for a particular stat are < 10 ranks apart, the Edge column shows "EVEN." If the teams are between 10 and 40 ranks apart, you’ll see the team with the advantage in normal case. Any disparity over 40 ranks apart is in all caps.

Overvew

Stat Baylor North Carolina EDGE
F/+ 12 (35.00%) 21 (29.90%) EVEN
S&P+ 14 (15.8) 30 (10.7) Baylor
FEI 15 (0.159) 9 (0.179) EVEN

Given how the injury situation for the quarterback position unfolded in the last few weeks of the season, I’m not surprised to see F/+ and FEI show us as evenly matched. According to a tweet I saw by Bill C., the Tar Heels have been hampered by the same issue in S&P+ that troubled us in the early goings of the season: strength of schedule adjustments. While our numbers ended up righting the ship somewhat once we got into conference play, North Carolina’s continued to plague their ranking in S&P+ for the remainder of the season. That said, FEI is also opponent-adjusted, and it thinks much more highly of the Tar Heels, putting them at 9th overall in the country. Given the QB uncertainty and with Johnson at the helm (whom I’d still call a relative unknown at this point), I’m comfortable calling this matchup even or even giving a slight nod to North Carolina.

When North Carolina Has The Ball…

Footprints

  • Std. Downs Run Rate: Percentage of standard downs that were running plays.
  • Pass. Downs Run Rate: Percentage of passing downs that were running plays.
  • Adj. Pace: Part of the offensive footprint, this takes into account both the number of plays a team attempts and the type of play. Since passes, on average, take up less time (thanks to the fact that 30–50 percent of them are incomplete and stop the clock), pass-heavy offenses are prone to run more plays, therefore limiting the effectiveness of a general plays-per-game measure. Adj. Pace takes a team’s run-pass ratio into account.
  • % of Solo Tackles: Fairly Straightforward. The percentage of tackles made against the offense that were unassisted. In other words, what’s the percentage of tackles where the ball carrier was taken down by one person?
  • Overall Havoc Rate: The percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up). NOTE: QB Hurries is not tracked at this level because there’s too much inconsistency to the stat at the collegiate level.
  • DL Havoc: Havoc Rate only for the Defensive Line.
  • LB Havoc: Same, for linebackers only.
  • DB Havoc: Secondary havoc rates only!
  • PD to INC: A defensive personality stat, this looks at the percentage of an opponent’s incomplete passes that you either intercepted or broke up. This isn’t necessarily a quality stat, just a look at general aggressiveness levels.
UNC Offense Team Rk Nat’l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 60.2% 64 60.5%
Pass Downs Run Rate 35.6% 49 34.0%
Adj. Pace –4.5 106 +0.0
% of Solo Tackles 71.2% 94 74.7%
Baylor Defense Team Rk Nat’l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 68.5% 7 60.2%
Pass. Downs Run Rate 33.9% 66 33.8%
Overall Havoc Rate 17.7% 37 16.1%
DL Havoc Rate 7.4% 14 5.1%
LB Havoc Rate 2.6% 116 4.5%
DB Havoc Rate 7.5% 24 6.3%
PD to INC 30.1% 86 32.8%

To start out, this tells us that UNC is pretty much exactly average regarding runs/passes on standard downs. Meanwhile, they run it slightly more on third downs than the average. What’s interesting to me here is that given how the UNC offense is both explosive and efficient, they are in the 100s in pace. For reference, Texas, Baylor’s most recent opponent, is ranked 3 spots ahead of UNC in Adjusted Pace. That’s right, the Texas offense is faster paced than UNC. They’re just way, way less successful than the Tar Heels. I’m guessing that there’s something in the adjustments for run/pass ratio that comes into play there.

The stats for Baylor’s defense shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s paying attention. Their defensive line is Top 15 in the country in terms of Havoc rates, and the secondary’s numbers reflect what we’ve been seeing this season: this secondary is much, much better than last year’s squad. The numbers also reflect what we’ve discussed quite a bit this season also: the weakness of the Baylor defense is the linebacking corps. They have improved as the season has gone on, though, so it’s not all terrible there.

One more thing that intrigues me: UNC is well below average in the % of solo tackles metric. Spread offenses typically rely on creating one-on-one matchups in space, usually leading to a high percentage of solo tackles made. The UNC offense is undoubtedly a spread offense, though, like Baylor, it deals significant damage both through the run and the pass. UNC just isn’t as effective at getting into one-on-one matchup situations and creating that space.

S&P+ Factors

  • S&P+: The offensive/defensive components of S&P+.
  • IsoPPP: IsoPPP is the Equivalent Points Per Play (PPP) average on only successful plays. This allows us to look at offense in two steps: How consistently successful were you, and when you were successful, how potent were you?.
  • Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.
  • Average Field Position: This is mostly self-explanatory, with one important note: An offense is measured by its defense’s starting field position, and vice versa. Special teams obviously play a large role in field position, but so do the effectiveness of your offense and defense. So in the team profiles, you’ll find Defensive Starting FP in the offensive section and Offensive Starting FP in the defensive section.
  • Points Per Trip Inside 40: Mostly self-explanatory. This measure looks not at how frequently you create scoring opportunities, but how you finish the ones you create. And yes, for the purposes of this stat, the "red zone" starts at the 40, not the 20.
Factor Stat North Carolina Baylor EDGE
S&P+ 22 (38.2) 60 (27.2) North Carolina
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 17 (47.10%) 35 (38.10%) North Carolina
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 4 (1.47) 42 (1.21) North Carolina
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 29 (32) 77 (30.2) NORTH CAROLINA
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 20 (5.32) 88 (4.87) NORTH CAROLINA

As I said above, UNC’s offense is both efficient and explosive. Larry Fedora’s offense is in its third year at UNC, and each year they’ve improved. This year, Marquise Williams has emerged as one of the better quarterbacks in the nation when he’s on. This table gives us the indication that UNC’s offense is much, much stronger than our defense, and while that’s generally the case, Baylor’s defense is a squad that I still feel has been trending upwards at the end of the season. Other than the very first drive against Texas which involved a completely blown coverage, the defense gave a fantastic performance. The only other touchdown they gave up to Texas came after Chris Johnson’s fumble (the play in which he was injured) on the Baylor 22. Still, this is one of the best offenses that Baylor’s faced all season.

Rushing

  • Rushing S&P+: The offensive/defensive components of S&P+ for rushing plays only.
  • Success Rate: Same thing for success rate: rushing plays only.
  • IsoPPP: The explosiveness metric for only rushing plays.
  • Adj. Line Yards: Measures the success of offensive/defensive lines. One of only two opponent-adjusted numbers for offensive/defensive lines, this is presented on a scale in which 100.0 is perfectly average, above 100 is good, below 100 is bad.
  • Opportunity Rate: The percentage of carries (when five yards are available) that gain at least five yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job, so to speak.
  • Power Success Rate: The percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.
  • Stuff Rate: The percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.
Rushing Stats North Carolina Baylor EDGE
Rushing S&P+ 15 (116.1) 8 (122.6) EVEN
Rushing Success Rate 14 (48.40%) 50 (40.00%) North Carolina
Rushing IsoPPP 11 (1.25) 9 (0.9) EVEN
Adj. Line Yards 7 (120.5) 13 (116.3) EVEN
Opportunity Rate 23 (43.20%) 25 (34.30%) EVEN
Power Success Rate 113 (56.10%) 32 (60.00%) BAYLOR
Stuff Rate 8 (15.10%) 20 (23.90%) North Carolina

This is a strength-on-strength matchup on this side of the ball. UNC’s a run-first spread offense team that likes to be potent both on the ground and through the air, much like Baylor (when looking at results, not necessarily implementation). Marquise Williams and Elijah Hood are your threats here. UNC runs a read-based offense, including the zone read, a lot of run/pass option stuff, etc. Williams and Hood are an incredibly effective duo out of the backfield, and it shows in these numbers. This is a really good rushing attack.

Baylor developed a bit of a reputation early as being soft against rushing quarterbacks, something that is a seasons-long issue. However, despite losses to TCU and Texas, they were much more effective against the rushing quarterbacks towards the end of the season, even against TCU and Texas, as well as Oklahoma State (when they ran Walsh). But, like I said before, Williams, when he’s on, is one of the more lethal rushing quarterbacks in the country. The Bears need to keep him contained and off-balance so that he’s forced to use his arm to beat them. The knock against Williams is that he can be inconsistent, and the "bad Marquise Williams" can tend to throw bad interceptions and cough up the ball on fumbles. Keep him from getting comfortable in the ground game, and you’ve got a good chance to shut him down.

Given the nature of the UNC offense, do you think we see more of the 3–3 stack that’s been successfully employed at points this season?

Passing

Passing Stats North Carolina Baylor EDGE
Passing S&P+ 23 (120.9) 34 (110) North Carolina
Passing Success Rate 27 (45.50%) 27 (35.70%) EVEN
Passing IsoPPP 9 (1.75) 112 (1.63) NORTH CAROLINA
Adj. Sack Rate 27 (153.1) 53 (107.4) North Carolina

If you’re shocked by the disparity between efficiency and explosiveness for the Baylor passing defense, you’ve not been paying attention. Texas had 151 yards passing against Baylor. Over a third of those came on one play. This seems to have happened at least once per game, with maybe the exception being (for obvious reasons) TCU. Regardless, while UNC’s rushing attack is the more potent threat, at least by the numbers, their passing attack remains very good. It’s a top 25 passing attack by the numbers that, while it doesn’t have the gaudy numbers, it is highly explosive, ranking fourth in yards per completion (Baylor remains first). I didn’t mention him in the First Look post, but Mack Hollins (weirdly, SB Nation's player page lists him as a DB) is one of the more explosive threats of the receiver corps. He leads the team in overall yardage, yards per catch and yards per target. Even though he’s got fewer targets than Ryan Switzer, Quinshod Davis and The Great Bug Howard, he’s the most explosive and leads the receivers in touchdowns. Baylor’s secondary will be tested significantly.

That said, this is also where you can see "Bad Marquise" show up from time to time. While the UNC offensive line is extremely good at preventing sacks (they gave up only 14 sacks on the season), that is partly due to Williams’ mobility. Additionally, Williams doesn’t seem to handle pressure well; Clemson was able to put pressure on Williams while keeping containment, forcing Williams to make bad decisions and inaccurate throws. The Bears will need to put pressure on him quickly, yet not allow him to escape and make good things happen with his feet. Essentially, the Bears are going to have to have one of their best defensive games of the season.

Situationals

Standard Downs North Carolina Baylor EDGE
Standard Downs S&P+ 13 (119) 6 (121.9) EVEN
Standard Downs Success Rate 23 (51.30%) 25 (42.00%) EVEN
Standard Downs IsoPPP 4 (1.35) 11 (0.98) EVEN
SD Line Yards per Carry 5 (3.45) 21 (2.51) North Carolina
SD Sack Rate 46 (3.80%) 18 (6.80%) Baylor
Passing Downs North Carolina Baylor EDGE
Passing Downs S&P+ 29 (118.7) 58 (104.6) North Carolina
Passing Downs Success Rate 28 (35.20%) 70 (31.00%) NORTH CAROLINA
Passing Downs IsoPPP 21 (1.99) 67 (1.77) NORTH CAROLINA
PD Line Yards per Carry 7 (4.03) 97 (3.54) NORTH CAROLINA
PD Sack Rate 8 (3.80%) 36 (8.80%) North Carolina
Miscellaneous North Carolina Baylor EDGE
Q1 S&P+ 7 (127.8) 46 (104) North Carolina
Q2 S&P+ 12 (125.6) 16 (123.3) EVEN
Q3 S&P+ 12 (127.5) 13 (125.3) EVEN
Q4 S&P+ 13 (120.5) 59 (102.8) NORTH CAROLINA
1st Down S&P+ 2 (129.4) 21 (116.7) North Carolina
2nd Down S&P+ 23 (119.8) 49 (107.1) North Carolina
3rd Down S&P+ 19 (119.4) 15 (120.9) EVEN

NEW INFORMATION! The "Situationals" table felt very repetitive to me this season. While it gives interesting information for standard and passing downs, it didn’t give me a whole lot of new things to talk about. So, I’m throwing in the "Miscellaneous" section this time, which is what Bill C. calls the "Situationals" in his preview. It’s breaking down S&P+ numbers by quarter, and it shows, for my money, one of the absolute keys to this game. North Carolina is at their best in the first quarter, according to S&P+. The Bears’ defense is weakest in the bookends of the game according to those same metrics. Baylor needs to do what it did the majority of the season and keep UNC’s offense from exploding early.

Early on, the Baylor defense was pretty bad in the early stages of games but improved steadily as the game went on after making adjustments. These were early criticisms in the non-conference slate, but things started to pick up for the Bears. The Bears gave up more than 7 points in the first quarter to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State before surrendering 17 points to Texas in the first quarter of the last game. Baylor has to avoid a repeat of that game, something that I believe to be doable; they just have to not give up the massive touchdown play on blown coverage thing that’s happened on several occasions this season.

One other point here: In terms of S&P+, North Carolina is second best in the nation. This will be another key for the Bears’ defense. While their 1st down S&P+ number is very good, they’re excellent on standard downs overall. The Bears will have to be sharp on 1st downs all game long in order to slow down UNC’s offense.

FEI

FEI Stats North Carolina Baylor EDGE
FEI 9 (0.82) 28 (0.49) North Carolina
Efficiency 12 (1.03) 46 (0.06) North Carolina
First Down Rate 5 (0.828) 30 (0.674) North Carolina
Avail. Yds. % 10 (0.582) 30 (0.4) North Carolina
Explosive Drives 4 (0.262) 24 (0.092) North Carolina
Methodical Drives 122 (0.09) 18 (0.099) BAYLOR
Value Drives 17 (0.49) 15 (0.286) EVEN

If you’ve stuck with me this long, then you’re not at all surprised by the FEI numbers. It doesn’t matter if the metric is per-play (S&P+) or drive-based (FEI), the advanced stats love North Carolina’s offense. In fact, the FEI stats for UNC’s offense mirror Baylor’s offense to an extent: highly explosive, efficient, very good at chewing up yardage, but absolutely abysmal when it comes to Methodical Drives. UNC scores fast or it doesn’t score at all. 9% of its drives all season last at least 10 plays. That’s not many at all.

Conclusion, Part I

If you weren’t aware, UNC’s offense is good. Really good. Watching the ACC Championship game, I was struck by how familiar it actually felt. They’re of course different from Baylor, but it seems like the offensive philosophy is still similar to what Baylor does. They will test the Bears’ defense early and often. If the Bears can’t sustain pressure on Marquise Williams while preserving containment around him, they could be in for a long afternoon/evening in Orlando. Force Williams to beat them with his arm and rely on an improved secondary to make plays, and the Bears can give their offense a shot at winning this game. A couple turnovers wouldn’t hurt, either.

That’s it for this side of the ball. I’d originally anticipated putting the second half of this post out later this week, but I think I’m going to give it a few more days and put it out at the beginning of next week. Thanks for tuning in!