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Baylor vs. Texas Advanced Stats Preview

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What FEI and S&P+ say about this Saturday's game between the Baylor Bears and the Texas Longhorns.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the second full-blown Stats Preview of the 2014 season.  This time, we're talking Texas, specifically the Longhorns, and what the advanced stats from FootballOutsiders.com think about the game.  In case you're new here and need a primer on why I do things this way, I'll refer you to last week's preview for Iowa State.

A Few Notes:

If you're a Longhorns fan 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 = 11-39 ranking spots difference
UPPERCASE = 40 or more ranking spots difference.

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

2014 FootballOutsiders Metrics for the Baylor Bears vs. the Texas Longhorns.  Hit the link above to last week's post to see where we were a week ago vs. now. 

Overall:

Category

Baylor (4-0)

Texas (2-2)

EDGE

Overall F/+ Rk 9 (21.3%)
54 (3.1%)
BAYLOR
Overall FEI Rk 16 (.193)
55 (.044)
Baylor
Overall S&P+ Rk 6 (251.4)
50 (209.5)
BAYLOR
Field Position Advantage 6 (.590) 77 (.486) BAYLOR

Just about any way you slice it, Baylor will play a thoroughly average Texas team this Saturday.  The two major metrics, FEI and S&P+, basically agree on where Texas falls, ranking them 55th and 50th, respectively.  That's in contrast to our own situation, where there's still a bit of disagreement but things are starting to coalesce.  Baylor is down this week from #6 a week ago (my chart last week was actually wrong and I'm blown away that nobody told me), mostly because S&P+ thinks our offense didn't actually have that great a day against the Cyclones.

When Baylor Has the Ball:

Category

Baylor Off

Texas Def

EDGE

Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk
--
--
--
Raw OE/DE
9 (.624)
6 (-.709)
EVEN
First Down Rate 12 (.806)
31 (.592)
Baylor
Available Yards Rate 3 (.662)
19 (.334)
Baylor
Explosive Drives 17 (.222)
44 (.102)
Baylor
Methodical Drives 7 (.222)
69 (.143)
BAYLOR
Value Drives 8 (.586)
22 (.262)
Baylor
Offensive/Defensive S&P+
18 (117.4) 37 (109.5)
Baylor
Success Rate
6 (54.2%)
56 (39.9%) BAYLOR
IsoPPP 2 (1.27)
7 (.63) EVEN
S&P
1 (.688)
28 (.445) Baylor
Std. Downs S&P Rk 2 (.689)
32 (.476) Baylor
Pass. Downs S&P Rk 1 (.731) 37 (.420) Baylor
Rushing S&P Rk 11(.603) 84 (.490) BAYLOR
Passing S&P Rk 1(.758)
9 (.390) EVEN

Make no mistake about it, Baylor fans, the Texas defense is almost definitely better than any we've faced this season and the best we will face for at least a week.  FEI simply loves them, ranking their defense over even our offense based mostly on their ability to stop sustained drives (by limiting available yardage and value drives).  They are somewhat susceptible to methodical drives, probably because they are #84 against the run, but decent enough against explosive plays, ranking 44th.

The obvious strength-on-strength matchup in this game will come when Bryce Petty throws the ball to a member of Baylor's fully-stocked and healthy wide receiver corp.  That will pit the #1 passing offense by S&P+ against the #9 defense with the real battle coming on the line.  There, an OL that has allowed zero sacks in four games will combat a defense, led by DT Malcom Brown, with 17.  Something has to give.  The only chance Texas has defensively is to outperform against our running game and then draw even or somewhat so against the pass.  Otherwise, our offense is simply too good on the whole and will score points.

A couple of things:

  1. Though recent adjustments cost us ranking points in offensive S&P+, our game against ISU bumped our rushing offense up to #11 from #19.  We remain the clear #1 in passing S&P+.
  2. Baylor has exactly the same percentage of explosive and methodical drive.  I'd be surprised if Briles knew that, specifically, but I bet he'd be happy about it, if he did.
  3. Our .806 First Down Rate means that we either gain a first down or a touchdown on 80.6% of our drives.  That's down slightly from this point last year.
  4. We are gaining 66.2% of available yards on our drives.  For an example, if you start on your own 30, you have 70 yards available.  We're gaining 2/3 of the field available to us on every drive.

When Texas Has the Ball:

Category

Baylor Def

Texas Off

EDGE

Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk
--
--
--
Raw OE/DE
3 (-1.103)
104 (-.362)
BAYLOR
First Down Rate 3 (.391)
82 (.646)
BAYLOR
Available Yards Rate 1 (.180)
110 (.352)
BAYLOR
Explosive Drives 12 (.043)
122 (.021)
BAYLOR
Methodical Drives 1 (.000)
63 (.146)
BAYLOR
Value Drives 2 (.091)
106 (.262)
BAYLOR
Offensive/Defensive S&P+
3 (134.0) 73 (100.0)
BAYLOR
Success Rate
1 (20.9%)
86 (40.4%) BAYLOR
IsoPPP 4 (.59)
86 (.73) BAYLOR
S&P
1 (.285)
112 (.470) BAYLOR
Std. Downs S&P Rk 1 (.302)
96 (.437) BAYLOR
Pass. Downs S&P Rk 3 (.293) 87 (.509) BAYLOR
Rushing S&P Rk 1 (.253) 87 (.465) BAYLOR
Passing S&P Rk 2 (.306)
53 (.555) BAYLOR

I said a week ago that if you believed the metrics, our defense has been nothing short of dominant this season.  That's even more true now, as FEI joins S&P+ in absolutely loving Phil Bennett's group.  This is nearly a big a mismatch as we had last week against ISU, when their offense scored 7 points in the first half and only got going when they were down 4 scores.

Just from the numbers, I think we can reliably predict Baylor's defensive strategy for this game.  Because we're so good at the run and on standard downs, and Texas so relatively poor, we have a serious mismatch.  What does that mean?  We're going to do the same thing to Tyrone Swoopes that we've done to so many others over the last 17 games: dare him to beat us down the field and over the top.  That means a lot of defenders close to the line and a lot of man coverage. Sure, it'll probably also mean a few longer passes where someone just gets beat, and if Swoopes connects on those relatively low-percentage plays, fine.  That's a risk we're willing to run.  In exchange, we'll get a lot of defensive three-and-outs, quick opponent drives, and more chances for our offense.  It's so obvious a strategy, both because of Swoopes' inexperience and Texas' predilection toward short passes (they are the worst team in the country in passing yards per completion), that you can write that down in permanent ink.  It's going to happen.

It's also exactly what Texas, like ISU before it, doesn't want.  Charlie Strong knows he can't get into a shootout with Baylor.  He said so yesterday in very plain terms.  The only way Texas can win is to limit our possessions generally, keeping the score close as long as possible.  That means running the ball often and with success, something the statistics say they shouldn't/won't be able to do.  I love the matchup of our defensive line, led by Andrew Billings and Shawn Oakman, against their offensive line.  I love it.

Special Teams:

Available now for the first time!

Category

Baylor

Texas

EDGE

F/+ Special Teams
-- (---)
-- (---) ----
Special Teams Efficiency
68 (-.042)
113 (-2.797)
TEXAS
Field Goal Efficiency
123 (-1.575)
97 (-.482)
----
Punt Return Efficiency
16 (.123)
62 (-.101)
----
Kickoff Return Efficiency
3 (.228)
128 (-.565)
----
Punt Efficiency
80 (-.027)
74 (-.054)
----
Kickoff Efficiency
79 (-.122)
54 (-.185)
----
Opponent Field Goal Efficiency
-- (---)

108 (.645)

----

Avoiding the obvious elephant in our stats, Baylor's overall special teams efficiency have somehow actually improved from last season, mostly because we're fair-catching a lot of punts and have only returned a handful of kicks.  We've yet to have an opponent kick a field goal against us in non-garbage time.

I was shocked to see that Texas' special teams rank so far below our own, mostly because I was under the impression Charlie Strong carried a "defense and special teams" reputation.  He still might, but it's not reflected so far in what Texas has done.  Without Daje Johnson, whose return is still possible for our game but not yet decided, they're absolutely awful on kick returns.  They're also pretty bad on punt returns, something I didn't expect to see with Jaxon Shipley back there.

It should be noted that Baylor gets Levi Norwood back this week, and he reportedly told Craig Smoak today that he's going to force his way onto the field to return punts.  So that's something.

The Bottom Line:

As of this writing, Baylor is a 16.5 point favorite on Saturday, up from 12.5 at the open.  That's where it was yesterday, so things seem to have stabilized a bit for now.  I feel very confident that Baylor's defense will be able to stop the run against a poor Longhorn defensive line, forcing Texas to throw if they want to move the ball.  My guess is that they'll do that with a modicum of success, but it's not like we've been bad defending the pass, either.  The likelihood that Texas scores a lot of points-- more than 17-20-- seems relatively small unless the game gets out of hand early and we lose focus again in the second half.  For obvious reasons, I don't think that second part is going to happen.

On the other side, though Texas has a very stout pass defense, I expect for Baylor to be able to run the ball with success against the Longhorn front.  Unless Strong is just willing to accept that happening, things will inevitably open up in the passing game for Bryce to beat them down the field.  Methodical rushing drives are necessarily slower, however, so our score might be lower than we'd otherwise hope.

Both of these teams are an overall disaster on special teams, and I don't want to talk about that any more.

Statistical Postmortem -- ISU

Things went about as we expected in the first half against ISU as our defense clamped down on the run, the offense beat up the Cyclones on the ground, and we gained a 35-7 halftime lead.  After that ISU started having significantly more success, especially using Sam Richardson himself as a rusher.  We saw a few longer passes, exactly as we've come to expect, but still managed to keep ISU to just 212 yards passing and Richardson to 17-39.  I'd say we did pretty well in projecting how that game would go.