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

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Time for Part II of the Advanced Stats Preview for the Russell Athletic Bowl. How does Baylor's offense match up against UNC's defense according to the Football Outsiders advanced metrics?

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Part II of our Advanced Stats Preview for the Russell Athletic Bowl! I’m pretty sure that last week’s preview left some folks feeling the need for some encouragement. The matchup on the defensive side of the ball was not exactly ideal, but that’s been the case all season long, for the most part. But that being said, the last preview left some folks hoping for some news to raise their hopes in this game against the Tar Heels. I mentioned in that preview that I was going to hold off on publishing this one until this week in the hopes that we would get some more information on the starting quarterback front. Well, this weekend we got that news.

All of the Injuries

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that on Saturday we received news that Jarrett Stidham would not be ready for the bowl game. While it hasn’t been 100% explicitly confirmed that Stidham will NOT play, he hasn’t been practicing, and there’s just no way that he could be out of a walking boot, practicing, and game-ready in a week’s time. While the news last week was that he hadn’t been completely ruled out yet, I think it’s safe to assume that to be the case at this point. But that’s not where we end the story.

We also learned on Saturday that starting RB Shock Linwood would be out due to a Linsfranc injury in his foot, having had surgery last week. What’s more, Biletnikoff winner Corey Coleman is out for the bowl game with a sports hernia; he apparently suffered it “before” Oklahoma (I’m guessing that means either against K-State or during practice), which makes a whole lot of sense, given that he didn’t score another touchdown after K-State and just didn’t look like the same player. It’s a major loss for the both the Bears AND the fans, who will be deprived of a final game with Coleman in a Baylor uniform.

So, not only are the Bears missing their top two quarterbacks, they’re also missing their top running back and the best wide receiver the school has ever seen. Wonderful. Anyway, let’s get started.

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.

When Baylor 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.
Baylor Offense Team Rk Nat’l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 63.0% 45 60.5%
Pass Downs Run Rate 51.0% 7 34.0%
Adj. Pace +13.9 1 +0.0
% of Solo Tackles 82.9% 12 74.7%
UNC Defense Team Rk Nat’l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 64.8% 25 60.2%
Pass. Downs Run Rate 34.9% 54 33.8%
Overall Havoc Rate 15.0% 84 16.1%
DL Havoc Rate 4.4% 81 5.1%
LB Havoc Rate 3.5% 88 4.5%
DB Havoc Rate 7.0% 37 6.3%
PD to INC 40.5% 8 32.8%

None of the stats in the Baylor table should shock you. They run a surprisingly high amount of the time in obvious passing downs, and frequently pass on standard downs. They run the fastest offense in the country, and they create ridiculous space and force solo tackles. WHEN THEIR QUARTERBACKS ARE HEALTHY. Ugh. Yes, it’s going to be one of those days again.

The havoc numbers for UNC’s defense are largely pedestrian, but take a look at their DB Havoc rate and their Passes Defensed-to-Incompletions ratio. Their secondary is really aggressive, and without a doubt the best part of their defense. With a quarterback starting his third* game, that’s not the most encouraging thing if you’re really hyped up to see some Corey Coleman K.D. Cannon or Jay Lee touchdown catches and the typical Baylor offense.

*I say third, but one of those games was in a monsoon and another he didn’t even get through a full quarter before getting injured, so really this is more like his first start. Right? Right.

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 Baylor North Carolina EDGE
S&P+ 4 (43) 65 (27.5) BAYLOR
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 8 (49.40%) 100 (44.90%) BAYLOR
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 13 (1.39) 3 (1.08) North Carolina
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 53 (30.5) 35 (28.1) North Carolina
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 2 (5.65) 13 (3.82) Baylor

If you read the entire first half of this preview, congratulations! You should probably get some sort of a medal or commendation, because I feel like there are probably seven of you that actually made it through the whole thing. Secondly, if you’re like me, you left it feeling like it’s a pretty bleak outlook on how the game will go. That could be the case. But take heart! We begin to see some advantages for Baylor.

In case you’ve forgotten, the explosiveness metric here only looks at plays that were successful (hit the nifty button to see the definition of “successful”). So, when you succeed, just how explosive are you? Well, North Carolina’s defense is pretty inefficient. They give up a LOT of successful plays. But that’s it. I’m calling this the “Death By A Thousand Papercuts” defense. They’re the third best in the nation in preventing explosiveness, something upon which the Baylor offense has (until very recently) relied. Granted, none of their opponents come anywhere remotely close to the explosiveness that Baylor brings to the table (South Carolina is the closest, which is ranked 22 in explosiveness this year), so it’s sort of a chicken and egg scenario there. But, given our quarterback situation, I’m not sure that you can bank on it being anything other than what the numbers say.

While I haven’t seen it described this way, I would imagine that this is exactly what your typical “bend, don’t break” defense would look like according to S&P+. You may give up successful plays, but you keep the ball in front of you and prevent massive plays. Once you get into your own territory, you stiffen and prevent your opponent from finishing drives. That’s exactly what the numbers tell us that this Tar Heels defense does. Terrible efficiency numbers, amazing explosiveness and borderline-elite defense inside their own 40 yard line.

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.
  • season goes on (or teams that get devastated by early injuries after looking great).

Rushing Stats Baylor North Carolina EDGE
Rushing S&P+ 36 (108.9) 106 (88.5) BAYLOR
Rushing Success Rate 9 (50.40%) 114 (47.40%) BAYLOR
Rushing IsoPPP 73 (1.05) 36 (0.99) North Carolina
Adj. Line Yards 24 (110.9) 116 (87.9) BAYLOR
Opportunity Rate 1 (47.90%) 92 (40.70%) BAYLOR
Power Success Rate 25 (74.10%) 59 (64.90%) Baylor
Stuff Rate 4 (14.30%) 115 (15.10%) BAYLOR

Hey, that’s what I like to see! With uncertainty at the quarterback position, you really want to be able to fall back on an excellent rushing attack should the need arise. Well, the need arose against Texas in just about the worst way possible, and the rushing attack answered in fun ways. If the Bears struggle to get the passing attack going, they can fall back on their rushing attack to keep things moving if necessary. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them mix in some of the “WildBear” offense that they installed during the second half of the Texas game, or some variant. They’ll have had 3 weeks to draw up new and inventive plays on this front, so keep an eye out for it.

This is bread-and-butter stuff here. If the UNC offense does UNC offensive things, then I don’t think Baylor can solely rely on this aspect of the game to win. That said, it’s good to know that if necessary, the Bears possess the tools and ability to control the ground game and go all Bill Snyder on the Heels if they absolutely have to. Here’s hoping they don’t.

Passing

  • Passing S&P+: The offensive/defensive components of S&P+ for pasing plays only.
  • Success Rate: Same thing for success rate: passing plays only.
  • IsoPPP: The explosiveness metric for only passing plays.
  • Adj. Sack Rate: The other opponent-adjusted on this page for offensive/defensive lines; a version of a team’s sack rate – sacks divided by (sacks plus passes), presented on a scale in which 100 is perfectly average, above 100 is good, below 100 is bad.
Passing Stats Baylor North Carolina EDGE
Passing S&P+ 6 (132.1) 65 (100.5) BAYLOR
Passing Success Rate 14 (47.90%) 73 (41.60%) BAYLOR
Passing IsoPPP 4 (1.94) 5 (1.22) EVEN
Adj. Sack Rate 14 (193.1) 87 (87.6) BAYLOR

Welcome back to the Mr. Shruggy portion of the post, where we look at a massive advantage for Baylor and say, “I have no idea if this is remotely reliable.” After what looked like a really sharp outing in relief for an injured Stidham against Oklahoma State, Johnson played in a monsoon where nothing can be determined from his play (in my personal opinion). Then, In 4 possessions against Texas, Chris Johnson attempted 3 passes, completing two of them, for 15, 4, and 1 yards. I don’t know what you can glean from that, either.

What I do know is that given the matchup on the other side of the ball, Baylor cannot afford to not have a passing game in this contest. The Bears’ wide receivers are too talented to be shut out of this game even without Coleman. I’m looking for Jay Lee and K.D. Cannon to be factors in the offense, plus I’m interested to see how Briles & Son, Inc. get the young blood receivers involved in the game. It’d be nice to see Davion Hall, Chris Platt, and Ishmael Zamora take larger roles as we start looking towards the future for this team.

Honestly, I am expecting this game to begin offensively the same way that I thought that they’d start out the Texas game: Get Johnson comfortable with some easy reads and throws, WR and RB screens and the like, and then let him take a shot or two. CJ has a cannon for an arm if he can make the right decision. While others argue that the key to victory is the rushing attack, I kinda think that it’s this aspect of the offense. Get the WR corps involved in the offense early, force UNC to stay spread out. Then you can use the rushing attack to its full effect and be inventive on that side of the ball. If the Tar Heels’ aggressive secondary can keep the Baylor passing attack at bay, they can make the Bears one dimensional and focus on the rushing attack.

Situationals

  • Standard Downs: First down, Second-and–7 or fewer, Third-and–4 or fewer, Fourth-and–4 or fewer. SD stats are looking at components for Standard Downs only.
  • SD Line Yards Per Carry: The raw, unadjusted per-carry line yardage for a team on standard downs.
  • SD Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for standard downs pass attempts.
  • Passing Downs: Those downs that are not standard. Second-and–8 or more, Third-and–5 or more, Fourth-and–5 or more. PD stats are looking at components for Passing Downs only.
  • PD Line Yards Per Carry: The same unadjusted averages for rushing on passing downs.
  • PD Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for passing downs pass attempts.
Standard Downs Baylor North Carolina EDGE
Standard Downs S&P+ 11 (120.3) 82 (95.9) BAYLOR
Standard Downs Success Rate 4 (55.70%) 95 (49.40%) BAYLOR
Standard Downs IsoPPP 6 (1.33) 8 (0.97) EVEN
SD Line Yards per Carry 1 (3.66) 117 (3.28) BAYLOR
SD Sack Rate 15 (2.10%) 34 (6.00%) Baylor
Passing Downs Baylor North Carolina EDGE
Passing Downs S&P+ 45 (107.5) 84 (95.1) Baylor
Passing Downs Success Rate 61 (31.20%) 61 (30.30%) EVEN
Passing Downs IsoPPP 4 (2.19) 10 (1.51) EVEN
PD Line Yards per Carry 104 (2.74) 81 (3.4) North Carolina
PD Sack Rate 61 (7.00%) 96 (5.70%) Baylor
Miscellaneous Baylor North Carolina EDGE
Q1 S&P+ 5 (136.4) 78 (96.8) BAYLOR
Q2 S&P+ 64 (103.9) 81 (96.5) Baylor
Q3 S&P+ 15 (126.3) 110 (88.1) BAYLOR
Q4 S&P+ 41 (108.3) 75 (97.3) Baylor
1st Down S&P+ 18 (118.1) 93 (94.4) BAYLOR
2nd Down S&P+ 25 (118.2) 98 (91.8) BAYLOR
3rd Down S&P+ 35 (113.8) 57 (104.8) Baylor

Standard Down success will be a big deal for Baylor; thankfully, they’re incredibly good at it. Being successful (getting at least yards) on 1st down means they can lean the rushing attack in the shorter yardage situations. If they can avoid getting cute (running the ball with LaQuan McGowan on the 50 yard line, multiple WR passes, etc.) and stick with what works, they should be able to move the ball against UNC.

FEI

FEI Stats Baylor North Carolina EDGE
FEI 11 (0.79) 56 (0.12) BAYLOR
Efficiency 5 (1.35) 40 (0.12) Baylor
First Down Rate 17 (0.79) 85 (0.742) BAYLOR
Avail. Yds. % 9 (0.583) 70 (0.467) BAYLOR
Explosive Drives 2 (0.275) 27 (0.097) Baylor
Methodical Drives 83 (0.123) 116 (0.185) Baylor
Value Drives 10 (0.508) 73 (0.393) BAYLOR

More of the same here, and I honestly don’t know how much we can trust these numbers at this point.

Conclusions and Final Thoughts

Since the announcement that Stidham, Coleman and Linwood won’t be playing in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the line according to Vegas Insiders has shifted from Baylor –3 to +2.5. I’m not surprised by that at all, though I am a bit surprised that the line is that low. I guess that Vegas has faith in the Bears to keep the score close and not get totally blown out of the game.

As far as the injuries go, I think the most important one was also the least surprising announcement: that Stidham would not play. That surprised no one that was paying close attention, but it has the largest impact on the game. I believe that the situation is much like UNC’s with Marquise Williams: If we get good Chris Johnson for the 29th, then I think the Bears have a very good shot at winning the game, possibly even comfortably. Coleman hurts because it always hurts to lose such a dynamic playmaker, but the rest of the receiving corps can pick up the slack and make plays. I’m confident that Johnny Jefferson, Devin Chafin and Terence Williams can pick up the slack in the rushing attack for Linwood. The big question is whether Johnson can keep the offense humming.

Once again, I just don’t know whether we can trust what these numbers tell us. Sure, the running game looks to be a solid advantage for the Bears, but will they be able to execute it quickly enough to keep pace with an explosive Tar Heels offense? Will the defense be able to come up big in spots to give the offense a chance?

We’ll find out Tuesday.