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Baylor vs. West Virginia Advanced Stats Preview

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What FEI and S&P+ say about this Saturday's game between the Baylor Bears and the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the fourth full-blown Stats Preview of the 2014 season. This time our adversary is the Mountaineers, and our goal: to see 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 the preview for Iowa State from three weeks ago.

A Few Notes:

If you're a Mountaineers 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 that I will try to explain in more detail below.  Also, some context may be necessary with specific stats, and as always you can mouse over the stat label for additional information.

If you're a connoisseur of my past stats previews, you'll notice right away that several of the stats in the charts below have changed.  There are a couple of reasons for that: 1) We're far into into the season now that Drive and Play Ratings have returned, displacing Success Rate and IsoPPP, and 2) Everything is now opponent-adjusted.  That made a huge impact on some of our rankings, which you'll see below.  Really, the point isn't the numbers themselves so much as the comparison between them.

2014 FootballOutsiders Metrics for the Baylor Bears vs. the West Virginia Mountaineers. Hit this link to last week's post to see where we were a week ago vs. now.

Overall:

Category

Baylor (6-0)

WVU (4-2)

EDGE

Overall F/+ Rk 7 (26.6%)
50 (7.5%)
BAYLOR
Overall FEI Rk 8 (.230)
56 (.049)
Baylor
Overall S&P+ Rk 6 (244.2)
23 (225.7)
Baylor
Field Position Advantage 23 (.539) 72 (.490) BAYLOR

The Big 12 continues to gain strength in the 2014 F/+ rankings such that Baylor, the only undefeated team in the conference, is actually third in the conference behind OU (4th overall) and TCU (5th), a team we just beat.  The top 3 teams in the rankings are all SEC schools, but it is good for the Big 12 that none of our top 3 will play each other until Baylor-OU on 11/8.

Looking at the individual units (in this game):

1. Baylor Defense (#9 -- 16.1%)
2. Baylor Offense (#18 -- 11.4%)
3. West Virginia Offense (#26 -- 9.1%)
4. West Virginia Special Teams (#61 -- .1%)
5. Baylor Special Teams (#80 -- -.8%)
6. West Virginia Defense (#74 -- -1.6%)

When Baylor Has the Ball:

Category

Baylor Off

WVU Def

EDGE

Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk
20 (.377)
82 (.166)
BAYLOR
Raw OE/DE
8 (.521)
69 (.034)
BAYLOR
First Down Rate 16 (.758)
49 (.627)
Baylor
Available Yards Rate 5 (.608)
61 (.434)
BAYLOR
Explosive Drives 9 (.227)
72 (.134)
BAYLOR
Methodical Drives 12 (.212)
59 (.134)
BAYLOR
Value Drives 9 (.536)
62 (.365)
BAYLOR
Offensive/Defensive S&P+
14 (120.0) 37 (109.0)
Baylor
Play Rating
22 (125.8)
35 (114.7) Baylor
Std. Downs S&P Rk 29 (120.8)
30 (116.1) EVEN
Pass. Downs S&P Rk 17 (139.6) 53 (110.4) Baylor
Rushing S&P+ Rk 57 (108.4) 59 (103.5) EVEN
Passing S&P+ Rk 9 (145.5)
17 (126.8) EVEN
Drive Rating
12 (117.9)
26 (111.7) Baylor

FEI and S&P+ disagree about just how big of a mismatch this side of the ball should be Saturday mostly because they disagree markedly on how good West Virginia's defense is.  The reason: opponent adjustments, as always.  WVU's defense is only average in preventing first downs or value drives, gives up a relatively high percentage of explosive drives, and a lot of available yards.  All of those things are bad against Baylor's offense, which might not be ranked as highly as you expected but is probably trending upward (despite what the stats say) with the return and resurgence of Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman, as well as the continued development of K.D. Cannon.

On that note, it's important to remember a couple of things with respect to our offense.  First, because of the way the TCU game went in the fourth quarter, we actually slipped into "garbage time" down 21.  That means the drive where we ran the ball 5 times in a row with Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin and scored easily doesn't count in the rankings, though everything after that does.  It's just one drive, so it probably doesn't make a tremendous difference in a season's worth of data, but it might.

We're taking a clear step down in opponent defensive strength this week, something that should make you happy when you consider what we did to TCU.  There is not a single category on this side wherein WVU holds even a slight edge over Baylor, which is coming off its best offensive performance of the season and is getting healthier every day.  I'm not saying we're definitely going to light up WVU because I don't know that we will, but it certainly looks like the opportunity exists for Bryce Petty and company to grab yards in huge chunks and first downs by the boatload.

When WVU Has the Ball:

Category

Baylor Def

WVU Off

EDGE

Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk
12 (-.577)
30 (.295)
Baylor
Raw OE/DE
7 (-.570)
53 (.113)
BAYLOR
First Down Rate 3 (.469)
6 (.791)
EVEN
Available Yards Rate 4 (.294)
24 (.527)
Baylor
Explosive Drives 38 (.094)
39 (.164)
EVEN
Methodical Drives 24 (.078)
67 (.134)
BAYLOR
Value Drives 9 (.230)
20 (.484)
Baylor
Offensive/Defensive S&P+
9 (124.2) 18 (116.7)
EVEN
Play Rating 17 (125.8)
14 (130.8) EVEN
Std. Downs S&P Rk 34 (114.3)
2 (138.9) West Virginia
Pass. Downs S&P Rk 11 (154.0) 55 (110.4) BAYLOR
Rushing S&P+ Rk 41 (112.4) 29 (122.8) West Virginia
Passing S&P+ Rk 11 (.137.8)
12 (137.7) EVEN
Drive Rating
5 (128.6)
18 (114.3) Baylor

Despite the fact that Baylor's defense is ranked more highly than the offense by the advanced metrics, this side of the ball is much closer than the other.  Here, Baylor will face an offense that is extremely good on standard downs, nearly as good on passing downs, and just generally good overall.  With Trickett throwing to all-everything WR Kevin White, WVU will score points.  Just know that now.  I like the matchup of Xavien Howard against White in terms of challenging Howard and giving us at least some chance to stop him, but he's going to get his because he's really good.

I know I sound like a broken record in these posts at this point, but the key here is pretty clear: We can't let WVU run the ball on us with any kind of success.  Based on the stats, they have a bit of an edge in that area that would contribute directly to success on standard downs, if/when they get ahead of the chains.  If Baylor can stop Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood from getting going on first down, putting Clint Trickett into predictable situations on second and third down where he has to throw, that gives us our best chance to prevent sustained drives and give the ball back to our offense.  One thing we absolutely must guard against is dumpoffs and screens to backs out of the backfield.  Smallwood and Shell are actually the #4 and 5 receivers on the team, respectively, through those types of plays, and WVU is not shy about doing it when they think they can catch the defense off-guard.

The good news is that what seems like the biggest bugaboo for the Baylor Defense this year-- mobile QBs-- doesn't exist in this game.  As we talked about last night on the WVU Preview Podcast, though Trickett has athleticism and some escapability, WVU will not use him in the running game nearly as much as ISU did with Sam Richardson or TCU with Trevone Boykin.  Instead, theirs will be an offense designed to get the ball out as quickly as possible to negate our pass rush and give their playmakers a chance to make defenders miss in space.  It's the hallmark, so much as there is one to an offense as variable as his, of what Dana Holgorsen tries to do.

Special Teams:

Category

Baylor

WVU

EDGE

F/+ Special Teams
80 (.1%)
61 (.8%) West Virginia
Special Teams Efficiency
83 (-.558)
61 (.093)
West Virginia
Field Goal Efficiency
95 (-.341)
16 (.596)
----
Punt Return Efficiency
56 (-.056)
119 (-.360)
----
Kickoff Return Efficiency
14 (.061)
5 (.237)
----
Punt Efficiency
79 (-.042)
102 (.059)
----
Kickoff Efficiency
116 (.055)
107 (.009)
----
Opponent Field Goal Efficiency
10 (-.992)

125 (.898)

----

Somehow, we managed to make all of our field goals, including a game-winner, and drop drastically in special teams efficiency.  The reason?  We're awful at kickoff coverage.  Just terrible.  One of the reasons for that, according to Briles, is having to use special teams studs like Taylor Young elsewhere on defense.  Another, I'd imagine, is that we're just bad at it.  Considering that is the one place where WVU apparently doesn't suck on special teams, that's not a good thing.  The only good news is that WVU is also pretty terrible at it, so we might get to see a lot of big returns in a game that should feature a pretty good amount of offense, anyway.

Baylor's Field Goal Defense vs. WVU's Field Goal Offense = STRENGTH ON STRENGTH, BABY.

As always, I leave out putting anything in the EDGE category for all but one of these categories because it wouldn't really make sense. Our kickoff team doesn't kick off to their kickoff team, for example.

The Bottom Line:

As of this writing, Baylor is an 8-point road favorite over WVU, down from 9.5 at the open.  I feel pretty comfortable saying that Baylor will win and cover that spread, and Bill C's Week 8 F/+ Projections agree, predicting that Baylor will win by 30 points (!!) on Saturday.  I don't know if I'd go that far, but I strongly believe that Baylor will simply have too much offense for WVU to handle and the Mountaineers will have to make themselves one-dimensional to try to keep up, playing directly into our hands defensively.

Statistical Postmortem -- TCU

Before the game, I predicted a "low-scoring game where the Bears emerge victorious," something we absolutely did not see.  I whiffed pretty hard on that.  TCU's offense probably outperformed expectations based on the stats going in, but so did Baylor's, particularly late.  We were able to throw more than anybody could have predicted against TCU's defense, which gave up the most 20+ yard TDs of any team in the last 4 years per ESPN.