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Advanced Stats Preview: Baylor Bears vs. West Virginia Mountaineers

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Taking a closer look at Saturday's matchup through the lens of the Football Outsiders Advanced Stats.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the first expanded Advanced Stats Preview of the season. As you know, we’ve taken a deeper look at the offensive and defensive lines through the Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics, and while that’s been a fascinating look, it only gives us a portion of the story. This week I’m expanding the advanced stats and doing a bit of a reworking of the way that we look at them for this game. I’d appreciate feedback on the format, and I’ll explain it as we go.

If you’re new to these posts, welcome. I’ll do my best to explain the stats we’re using in line. I’m hoping to do another Advanced Stats Primer like the one I did a year ago to refresh everyone’s memories. I thought about doing one this week, but 1) I ran out of time, and 2) FEI isn’t fully out yet. Once it’s out, I’ll figure out how I’m going to incorporate it into this post and do an overview of everything.

If you’ve never seen one of these, we’re comparing the advanced statistics from FootballOutsiders. For this post, I’m pulling the stats from Bill Connelly’s excellent Advanced Statistical Profiles pages. We’re comparing stats against one another and giving one team the edge in a totally arbitrary manner. With that out of the way, here’s what the values in the EDGE column mean:

  • EVEN = 10 or fewer ranking spots difference
  • Lowercase = 11–39 ranking spots difference
  • UPPERCASE = 40 or more ranking spots difference.

Overview Stats

Stat Baylor WVU EDGE
F/+ 13 (37.6%) 25 (26.4%) Baylor
S&P+ 22 (14.0) 8 (18.7) wvu
FEI 4 (0.228) 41 (.076) Baylor

if you’ve paid any attention at all to S&P+ this year, you know that it’s been just the teensiest bit volatile in the early season; not just for Baylor, but for several teams. The theory is that Baylor’s being dinged on the basis of Strength of Schedule and Field Position. As Baylor’s SoS improves, so will their position. While seeing the Bears so low in one advanced metric is disconcerting, especially considering that nearly every other advanced stat ranks them highly, after spending some time with the raw stats factored into S&P+, I’m confident that we’ll see a correction in the coming weeks.

While the high level numbers are interesting, the individual metrics paint a much more interesting picture.

When Baylor Has the Ball…

If you didn’t know, Bill C. did a significant reworking of S&P+ this past offseason. The stat used to be based on Success Rate, an efficiency measure, plus an explosiveness metric called IsoPPP (the points per play based on specific values assigned to each yard line, filtered for "successful" plays), while filtering out garbage time and including opponent adjustments (the "+") in an attempt to consider strength of schedule. This year, he’s included two more metrics: Field Position, which is a measure of the average starting field position, and Red Zone Efficiency. For his calculations, anything inside the opponent’s 40 yard line is the Red Zone. These mirror his Five Factors for success; the fifth is turnovers, but since he doesn’t use them in his calculations for S&P+ we don’t talk about it here. I am, however, including offensive vs. Defensive S&P+ here also.

Factor Stat Baylor West Virginia EDGE
S&P+ 2 (47.9) 14 (17.1) Baylor
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 5 (1.55) 123 (1.26) BAYLOR
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 1 (62.2%) 4 (28.1%) EVEN
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 89 (28.7) 41 (27.6) wvu
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 1 (6.42) 22 (3.70) Baylor

It should come as no surprise to anyone who watches Baylor’s offense that it is scary good (dare I say it - SR–71 good?). S&P+ even recognizes it. It considers the Bears offense to be #2 in the nation AFTER opponent adjustments. They’re the most efficient offense in the nation with a success rate over 62%. But West Virginia’s defense has been stingy thus far. Their opponents have been successful only 28% of the time. The Mountaineers’ problem has been that when their opponents are successful, they’re also explosive. That could spell real trouble for WVU in this game.

Before we move on, just take a look at that Finishing Drives metric. It’s the average points the offense scores on each trip inside the opponent’s 40 yard line. 6.42. That basically means that the Bears are scoring a touchdown on nearly every trip inside their opponents 40. That’s simply incredible. Let’s move forward.

Rushing

Rushing Stats Baylor WVU EDGE
Rushing S&P+ 27 (120.1) 5 (148.3) wvu
Rushing Success Rate 1 (65.6%) 6 (26.8%) EVEN
Rushing IsoPPP 39 (1.13) 124 (1.36) BAYLOR
Adj. Line Yards 51 (106.8) 17 (126.4) wvu
Opportunity Rate 1 (57%) 27 (32%) Baylor
Power Success Rate 33 (75%) 9 (42.9%) wvu
Stuff Rate 3 (11.3%) 60 (20.6%) BAYLOR

For my money, the game is decided right here. Baylor’s rushing attack has only gotten stronger as the weeks have gone by, but they haven’t faced a defense this strong yet. WVU employs an attacking 3–3 stack to keep offensive linemen off balance and prevent the entire offense from establishing a rhythm. It was a resounding success for WVU last year; they held the Bears under 100 rushing yards and the entire offense never found its groove. But this isn’t 2014, McLane Stadium isn’t Morgantown, and this Baylor rushing attack is leaps and bounds better than its 2014 counterpart.

While WVU’s defensive line holds the edge in Adjusted Line yards and in preventing a power run game, the Bears simply haven’t gotten snagged behind the line of scrimmage much thus far, and they’re the best line at getting at least 5 yards per rush.

Passing

Passing Stats Baylor WVU EDGE
Passing S&P+ 23 (120.4) 17 (130.4) EVEN
Passing Success Rate 1 (58.1%) 11 (29.4%) Baylor
Passing IsoPPP 3 (2.12) 94 (1.57) BAYLOR
Adj. Sack Rate 9 (241.2) 86 (86.5) BAYLOR

Nobody’s doubting this, but Baylor’s passing game is pretty ridiculous. It’s successful and explosive, and the offensive line doesn’t give up many sacks at all. WVU’s very good in pass defense, if a bit prone to giving up the big play. Karl Joseph going down sure does hurt them here. If Corey Coleman and company can shake free of the disruption at the line of scrimmage, you could see the receiving corps have a very big day.

Situational S&P+ Stats

Standard Downs Baylor WVU EDGE
Standard Downs S&P+ 10 (126.3) 6 (140.9) EVEN
Standard Downs Success Rate 1 (66.3%) 4 (30.9%) EVEN
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1 (1.48) 118 (1.33) BAYLOR
SD Line Yards per Carry 1 (4.49) 37 (2.5) Baylor
SD Sack Rate 13 (1.2%) 29 (7.3%) Baylor
Passing Downs Baylor WVU EDGE
Passing Downs S&P+ 74 (101.7) 17 (134.7) WVU
Passing Downs Success Rate 4 (42.5%) 27 (24.3%) Baylor
Passing Downs IsoPPP 22 (2.03) 61 (1.71) Baylor
PD Line Yards per Carry 20 (4.02) 32 (2.63) Baylor
PD Sack Rate 1 (0%) 109 (3.1%) BAYLOR

To refresh your recollection, S&P+ considers 2nd-and–9 or more, 3rd or 4th-and–5 or more as passing downs. Everything else is standard. Everything either even or Baylor lean here, with the exception of Passing Downs S&P+. That number is… inexplicable to me. I’m not sure how exactly Passing Downs S&P+ is calculated any more (to figure in Red Zone efficiency and Starting Field Position), but I cannot fathom how opponent strength or weakness can drop you that far down, when two of your base metrics are ranked in the Top 25. But I digress.

The stats are pretty clear to me. Baylor’s offensive line holds the edge pretty much across the board (save power success rate), which should help them be successful. If the Bears can dominate WVU’s defensive line, that sets them up well for explosive plays, which WVU is not good at defending against, even when they know it’s coming on Passing Downs. While the WVU defense might slow the Bears down off their 60+ point pace that they’ve been on this season, I don’t see them stopping the Bears.

When WVU Has the Ball…

What, you thought we were done? Hahahaha! We still have to go through this exercise for the other side of the ball, you pleb. Dang, this really is going to be a long post.

Factor Stat WVU Baylor EDGE
S&P+ 22 (35.8) 100 (33.9) WVU
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 86 (1.22) 73 (1.26) Baylor
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 31 (45.8%) 34 (35.9%) EVEN
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 59 (30.6) 94 (30.7) wvu
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 87 (4.5) 49 (4.27) Baylor

If you didn’t know, S&P+ really doesn’t like Baylor’s defense. Bill C. speculates that this is because of field position and strength of schedule adjustments. The field position certainly isn’t great, but there is no way that this defense is slightly better than the bottom 25. They can give up the explosive play now and again, but they’ve been getting much, much better at that as this season has hit its stride. Let’s look at the details.

Rushing

Rushing Stats WVU Baylor EDGE
Rushing S&P+ 37 (116.4) 10 (131.3) Baylor
Rushing Success Rate 34 (46.7%) 39 (37.3%) EVEN
Rushing IsoPPP 99 (0.99) 22 (0.91) BAYLOR
Adj. Line Yards 8 (128.2) 29 (114.3) wvu
Opportunity Rate 16 (45.2%) 12 (29.5%) EVEN
Power Success Rate 10 (84.2%) 40 (60%) wvu
Stuff Rate 15 (14.9%) 23 (25.3%) wvu

This could be a good matchup for the Bears. They’re very good against the run and haven’t given up many big plays on the ground. That said, With Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell in the backfield for WVU, I imagine that we’ll see CPB load up the box to stop WVU’s rushing attack in an attempt to force QB Skyler Howard to make plays through the air to his young receiving corps. As I said in the first look post, that’s a tactic that OU and Oklahoma State both used to a modicum of success. We’ll see if the Bears can do the same.

WVU uses a read option base for the run, so you may see Skyler Howard keep the ball some, too. He's third on the team in attempts at yards (64 att., 148 yds.) but his yards per carry isn't the world's greatest. Because the NCAA stats count sacks as negative rushing yards, I can't say for certain what his actual numbers are there. Read option offenses have posed somewhat of a challenge for this defense in the early goings, so it will be interesting to see how they match up against this threat.

Passing

Passing Stats WVU Baylor EDGE
Passing S&P+ 21 (121.2) 44 (108.3) wvu
Passing Success Rate 36 (44.6%) 31 (34.1%) EVEN
Passing IsoPPP 57 (1.5) 117 (1.73) WVU
Adj. Sack Rate 116 (61.2) 52 (109.6) BAYLOR

The numbers aren’t exactly loving Baylor’s pass defense, but this is a case where I feel like these stats aren’t backing up what my eyes are seeing. Other than the one deep pass for the TD against Kansas (which was a great throw and catch, not much to be done about it), the Bears defense isn’t giving up much on the deep balls, and we’ve seen several interceptions this year where they were few and far between in 2014. Also, one thing working in the Bears favor is pressure. The Mountaineers are some of the worst at giving up sacks. While Baylor is middle of the pack in that regard, they do more in creating havoc (not the stat) in the backfield, even when they don’t get the sack. If they can force the Mountaineers into relying on Howard’s arm, then get into the backfield to keep him unbalanced, the Bears could make this a very long morning/afternoon for them.

Situational Stats

Standard Downs WVU Baylor EDGE
Standard Downs S&P+ 32 (111.7) 11 (131.4) Baylor
Standard Downs Success Rate 33 (51.4%) 18 (38.5%) Baylor
Standard Downs IsoPPP 67 (1.08) 17 (0.93) BAYLOR
SD Line Yards per Carry 26 (3.29) 11 (2.18) Baylor
SD Sack Rate 127 (11.8%) 60 (5.3%) BAYLOR
Passing Downs Baylor WVU EDGE
Passing Downs S&P+ 23 (130.8) 63 (102.9) WVU
Passing Downs Success Rate 53 (32.2%) 89 (31.6%) wvu
Passing Downs IsoPPP 76 (1.73) 87 (1.9) wvu
PD Line Yards per Carry 52 (3.37) 118 (4.27) WVU
PD Sack Rate 64 (6.5%) 25 (10%) Baylor

Well, that’s an interesting split. Everything comes up Baylor on Standard Downs. But once the Bears are successful on those early standard downs and things shift into passing mode, everything becomes West Virginia. I have to wonder how much of this is based on early play versus what we've seen in recent games. Sure, they've given up a few conversions on passing downs in recent weeks, but I can't shake the sense that our pass defense is much improved over last season's unit. Again, if they can pressure Howard and keep him off balance, I like our chances.

Final Thoughts

The numbers here are interesting, and show two pretty evenly matched teams in spots. That said, the numbers do not account for home field advantage, something that swings heavily in Baylor's favor in this game. The Mountaineers lost their only tilt on the road thus far to Oklahoma. Can they bounce back and give the Bears a run for their money?

I think the blueprint is clear for the Bears in this game. On offense, dominate up front to establish the run. Take advantage of the injury to the secondary and the receiving corps depth to spread the ball around. On defense: stack the box to stop the run, then harass Howard with your front and make him beat you through the air. Do these things and you have a recipe for success.

Again, I’d love your thoughts and feedback about this post. I’ve switched things up, and while it may make the post a bit longer, I’m interested to hear what you think!