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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Texas A&M Aggies

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The Tide hits the road for their third "biggest game of the season"... of the season.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Football Power Index (FPI) Ratings are courtesy of ESPN
All other statistics are courtesy of Football Outsiders, home of the F/+ Combined Ratings for college football.
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) was created by Brian Fremeau; check out his website BCFToys for other goodies.
The S&P+ rating was created by Bill Connelly; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.
Hat tips to Addicted to Quack's kalon and FO's 7th Day Adventure column for the inspiration.

So how’d last week go?

Well, I think it’s safe to say we know what we’re getting with the Tide defense at this point — lights-out, suffocating, elite, nigh-insurmountable excellence against both the run and the pass. Arkansas’ loftily-regarded offense was completely hapless last Saturday, and only scored because of an unfortunate interception deep in Alabama territory,[1] and a late not-officially-garbage-time-but-totally-garbage-time score where everything that could go wrong went wrong on the play. These two scenarios appear to be the way to score on Alabama this season, as most of Ole Miss’ points came in the same ways.

1 | And their deplorable excuse for a head coach flopping his way to a phantom unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Cam Robinson.

The offense, on the other hand — meh? They got enough done to knock off the Razorbacks, but poor line play kept the running game in check, aside from when Coker was running from pressure. Calvin Ridley continued his supernova routine, and is now firmly entrenched as the Tide’s #1 option through the air. He’s also more productive than Jones or Cooper through his first six games, which, is, you know, exciting.

Aren’t you supposed to be previewing something, nerd?

Right! The Alabama Crimson Tide hit the road again, this time visiting the SEC’s new largest cathedral of college football in Kyle Field, home of the Texas A&M Aggies. The game is on Saturday, October 17th, at 2:30 PM CDT / 3:30 PM EDT, and will be televised on CBS. That’s right, another lovely afternoon with Uncle Verne and Gary.

The Goods

Overall Quality
TEXAS A&M ALABAMA THE EDGE
F/+ 39.1% (11) F/+ 61.1% (2) ALABAMA
FPI 21.5 (6) FPI 23.8 (3) PUSH
FEI 0.221 (6) FEI 0.266 (2) PUSH
S&P+ 15.2 (15) S&P+ 29.6 (2) ALABAMA
Home Spread 4.0 ALABAMA

The Matchup on Defense
TEXAS A&M ALABAMA THE EDGE
OS&P+ 40.4 (9) DS&P+ 7.4 (2) PUSH
Rush OS&P+ 127.9 (17) Rush DS&P+ 182.1 (3) ALABAMA
Pass OS&P+ 114.4 (40) Pass DS&P+ 169.1 (1) ALABAMA
SD OS&P+ 122.6 (17) SD DS&P+ 176.8 (2) ALABAMA
PD OS&P+ 107.9 (61) PD DS&P+ 156.7 (9) ALABAMA
OALY 132.5 (6) DALY 131.4 (6) PUSH
OASR 87.4 (87) DASR 156.6 (15) ALABAMA

The Matchup on Offense
TEXAS A&M ALABAMA THE EDGE
DS&P+ 25.1 (48) OS&P+ 37.0 (17) ALABAMA
Rush DS&P+ 102.7 (65) Rush OS&P+ 123.2 (22) ALABAMA
Pass DS&P+ 153.7 (5) Pass OS&P+ 119.9 (25) TEXAS A&M
SD DS&P+ 116.4 (27) SD OS&P+ 122.1 (19) PUSH
PD DS&P+ 144.9 (13) PD OS&P+ 117.2 (43) TEXAS A&M
DALY 98.6 (71) OALY 112.4 (34) ALABAMA
DASR 281.9 (1) OASR 155.4 (30) TEXAS A&M

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.
Statistics current as of October 14th, 2015.

Wondering what all these terms are?

Overall Quality

F/+: The F/+ combined ratings combine FEI and S&P+ into one metric that serves as Football Outsiders' official rankings for college football. For a more detailed discussion of F/+, check out this section of the PTN Football Primer.

FPI: The Football Power Index, an overall team quality metric produced by ESPN. Presented as a scoring margin, FPI weights factors such as offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiencies, as well as turnovers and big plays, and also includes opponent adjustments.

FEI: The Fremeau Efficiency Index, an overall team quality metric that is drive-based and opponent-adjusted. For a more detailed discussion of FEI, check out this section of the PTN Football Primer.

S&P+: Another overall quality metric constructed primarily from a play-by-play perspective, the S&P+ rating underwent big changes prior to the 2015 season. Check out the primer article for more details.

Offensive Metrics

Off. F/+: The offensive component of F/+.

OFEI: The offensive component of FEI.

OS&P+: The offensive component of S&P+.

Rush OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at running the ball.

Pass OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at throwing the ball.

PD: Passing Downs, defined as later downs with medium yardage or more to go (3rd, 4th downs in excess of 5 yards to go), as well as 2nd down with more than 8 yards to go.

SD: Standard Downs, defined as all downs that are not Passing Downs.

SD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.

PD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.

Defensive Metrics

Def. F/+: The defensive component of F/+.

DFEI: The defensive component of FEI.

DS&P+: The defensive component of S&P+.

Rush DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at stopping the run.

Pass DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at defending the pass.

SD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.

PD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.

Special Teams Metrics

FPA: FEI Field Position Advantage, a measure of how much field position value a team earned against its opponents.

Fremeau Special Teams Efficiency Components - The special teams component of F/+ is based on Brian Fremeau’s Special Teams Efficiency, which is made up of the following five components of special teams play (per FootballOutsiders):
FGEField Goal Efficiency, the scoring value per field goal attempt earned by the field goal unit as measured against national success rates.
PREPunt Return Efficiency, the scoring value per opponent punt earned by the receiving team as measured against national return rates.
KREKickoff Return Efficiency, the scoring value per opponent kickoff earned by the receiving team as measured against national return rates.
PEPunt Efficiency, the scoring value per punt earned by the opponent's receiving team as measured against national return rates.
KEKickoff Efficiency, the scoring value per kickoff earned by the opponent's receiving team as measured against national return rates.

Line-Specific Metrics

ASRAdjusted Sack Rate, which is a version of sack rate (defined as sacks / [sacks + passing attempts] ) that has been opponent-adjusted. The metric is scaled based on an average rate of 100; the higher the rate the better. ASR is calculated for both the offense (OASR) and defense (DASR).

ALYAdjusted Line Yards, which is a measure of success in the running game specific to the line. This is accomplished by taking each carry by running backs only and weighting the yardage as follows:

  • Runs for a loss are weighted 120%.
  • Runs for 0-4 yards are unweighted.
  • Runs for 5-10 yards are weighted 50%.
  • Runs for 11 or more yards are not included.

After the weighting process, the runs are further adjusted for game situation and opponent, and then averaged out per carry, resulting in adjusted line yards — a more detailed explanation of the entire process is available here. ALY is calculated for both the offensive line (OASR) and the defensive front seven (DASR).

The Swanson Giddiness Index

Easily the most accurate predictor of success in college football, the Swanson Giddiness Index is a qualitative, completely unsupportable metric that is presented via the tone of that week's image/animated gif of Ron Swanson — beloved Parks and Recreation character and official spirit animal of Processing the Numbers.

Wondering what all of this means? Check out the PTN Primer!

For even more advanced statistics goodness, check out the Advanced Stats Profile Index and the Alabama Profile.

The Disclaimer

For the first seven weeks or so of the season, these metrics are based partially on a few projection factors, namely recent program performance, the effects of roster attrition, recruiting rankings, and sweet, sweet voodoo.[2]

As the season progresses, data from games played will be factored in, with a progressively lighter emphasis on the projection factors. Starting about midseason, these metrics will be based purely on games played this season. At that time, we’ll also get splits for offense, defense, and special teams, as well as insights on how teams handle passing and short-yardage situations and how they manage field position.

2 | This last one’s not true.

So, what do we know?

Overall Quality

Unfortunately, Georgia and Wisconsin are having problems winning football games, so even though the Tide put Arkansas in a chokehold last week, they dropped back to the consensus #2 team in the country across the overall quality metrics. FootballOutsiders has Clemson #1 overall now, but FPI is still on the Big 12 bandwagon, with Baylor and TCU ahead of the Tide.

Texas A&M is a bit farther down the pecking order, with S&P+ comparatively low on them at 15th overall, with a rating just over half of Alabama’s 29.6 mark. That a pretty big edge for the Tide, which is also present in F/+. FEI and FPI both have the Aggies 6th overall, which is a push. Despite the locale, Vegas has the Tide winning by four, suggesting they consider the Tide a touchdown favorite on a neutral field.

When Texas A&M Has the Ball

HOSS FIGHT! When Kevin Sumlin shepherded the Aggies into the SEC back in 2012, the Tide got their offensive foil in Texas A&M’s up-tempo, Air Raid-inspired attack.[3] This is the game where we find out if the Tide’s now-#1 ranked pass defense (!) is a mirage or a legitimate return to the heights of 2011. You’d think that would be overstating the impact of the Aggies aerial prowess, which S&P+ has pegged at just 40th overall. However, the Tide never seems to have issues with efficient passing offenses — it’s the up-tempo teams with matchup nightmares at the wide receiver position that truly give them fits. When the Aggies announced their arrival as national contenders in 2012, it was on the back of Mike Evans, a 6’5", 231 pound beast who moves better than his size would suggest. The Tide’s lone loss of the season was against Ole Miss, who features a fleet of speedy receivers measuring 6’3" or greater.

3 | Sorry little brother, that’s never been nor will it ever be the Gus Bus.

This year’s Aggies have two receivers that fit that bill in Ricky Seals-Jones and deep threat Josh Reynolds, at 6’5" and 6’4" respectively. Oddly enough, neither of those gentlemen are who you need to be concerned about, however, as Texas A&M has their own budding star of a five-star freshman receiver in Christian Kirk. The Arizona native has more than lived up to his recruiting hype, as he currently leads the conference with 519 receiving yards across 32 catches, good for a stout 16.3 yards per reception. At 5’11" he’s more of a speed and quickness guy as opposed to the jump ball monsters that tend to be problematic for the Tide, but he appears to already be the most talented of the Aggies’ deep group of receivers.

Unlike last year, Texas A&M has competent quarterback play to go along with that receiver talent, as Kyle Allen is also living up to the hype in his second year in College Station. Stuck behind the departed Kenny Hill to start the 2014 season, the latter’s implosion against Alabama last year led to Allen getting the nod for good. After growing into the job over the remainder of the regular season, Allen capped 2014 with an outstanding effort against West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl, and the sophomore has continued that strong play in 2015. He’s currently the conference leader in quarterback rating,[4] and a big part of Kirk’s[5] emergence is well-timed, well-placed passes from Allen.

4 | For whatever that’s worth…

5 | Who also hails from Scottsdale, though they attended different high schools and, as far as I can tell, never played each other in prep ball.

So no, this is not the lethal pass offense that finished 1st and 4th in Manziel’s two years at the helm, but it’s every bit as dangerous to the Tide until proven otherwise. It’s tempting to point to last season’s 59-0 shellacking and say the Tide’s figured out Sumlin’s attack, but personally I need to see it again before I’m a believer.

That being said, there are reasons to think that this won’t be a repeat of 2013’s 49-42 shootout, the last time the Tide were in College Station. For one, despite a greatly improved rushing offense currently pegged at 17th overall per S&P+, the Aggies are moribund on passing downs at #61 in PD OS&P+. You’ll also note the Tide are "merely" 9th-overall in the defensive version of that metric, which is a huge edge for Alabama. A big part of that is the vastly improved pass rush, which is now #15 in DASR. Pass protection appears to be an achilles heel for the Aggies, and we all saw what this front seven can do against a good offensive line last week, let alone a bad one.

A potential narrative is beginning to emerge here — A&M’s success on standard downs evaporates with their run game, and it’s all on Allen and the receivers to score points. When Tim Williams and Reggie Ragland aren’t coming to take his lunch money, Allen has a decent day and puts up more yardage than anyone would like to see, but the Tide force just enough three-and-outs to keep the score low and the offensive expectations manageable. That’s the direction the Ole Miss game was headed before all the turnovers and unicorn TDs changed the equation, and I have a feeling that’s what’s going to happen here as well.[6]

6 | Hopefully, minus the turnovers and unicorn TDs.

When Alabama Has the Ball

I mentioned turnovers, and the one aspect of this matchup that should terrify any Tide fan is the 281.9 in the Texas A&M column next to DASR. This is the nation’s best pass rush, led by two of the three top sack men in the conference in Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. The two have combined for 12.5 sacks on the year, which is 3.5 less than the Tide have as a team. If that wasn’t cause enough for concern, consider it in the context of the Tide offensive line’s performance last week against Arkansas, and their generally uneven play over the course of 2015. Scared yet?

For all that talent rushing the passer, however, the Aggies are not a good rush defense by any stretch, rating out just 65th overall per S&P+ and 71st overall in defensive Adjusted Line Yards. That’s a big edge to the Tide on both accounts, and as a result expect to see a lot of carries for Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry. Pass rush does very little for you if the opposing offense is able to just run it down your throat instead, and Henry out of the Pistol is the very best way to do that. He’s due for a 100+ yard game;[7] Texas A&M has allowed a 90+ yard rusher in four of their five games on the season.

7 | A benchmark he hit in Games 1, 3, and 5, but not 2, 4, or 6.

On those longer third downs that will surely come up once or twice in this one, the Aggies do have the edge, largely because of that pass rush. As we all saw last week, pressure absolutely affects balls that end up being thrown too, and as a result the Aggies sport the 5th-best pass defense in the country per S&P+. The slow-developing play-action passes, which appear to be the only consistently explosive plays in the Tide arsenal, are probably not a reliable option for Saturday. Unless the 2012 line shows up to block Garrett and company, going to that well too many times will result in multiple sacks for Coker; sacks cause turnovers, and I don’t know about you but I’m getting real tired of seeing those every week.

As such, this game rests on the rather broad shoulders of Henry. The short, quick throws that were so lethal with Blake Sims and Amari Cooper a year ago don’t seem to work as well with Coker pulling the trigger, and that’s exactly the kind of stuff you want to use against a talented pass rush like the Aggies’. In lieu of that, old-school, smash-mouth football that softens up the defense and keeps the opposing offense on the sidelines is probably the way to go, which means lots of Henry. That’s certainly Arkansas’ M.O., and they came very, very close to knocking off the Aggies. I think the Tide’s up to the challenge, and the defense will make it a manageable one at that.

Special Teams

He’s baaaaaaaaaaack… hopefully. I’m referring to J.K. Scott, of course, who looked back to his 2014 form last week for the first time this season. That’s extremely, extremely important against the Aggies, as Kirk is as dangerous a punt returner as he is a receiver. He’s averaging over 20 yards per return, the most notable of which was a beautiful 79 yarder he took back for a touchdown against Arizona State. I’m very interested to see what Brian Fremeau’s field position numbers look like when we get those next week, as that’s been an issue for the Tide at times this season. The Tide will need last year’s Scott to keep this guy in check, because the defense will have its hands full with the Aggies offense as it is — no need to add great starting field position for them on top of everything else.

Drew Kaser is averaging over 50 yards a punt for the Aggies, and with Cyrus Jones’ propensity for fair catches,[8] the Tide will likely be working from inside their own 20 on most drives. Adam Griffith is more or less a match for Taylor Bertolet in terms of kickoffs, and neither coverage unit is particularly stellar. Griffith is basically a coin-flip on field goals at this point; Bertolet is a solid if unspectacular kicker on placements, which sure is a nice thing to have on your football team.

8 | Which is TOTALLY FINE.

Any intangibles to consider?

Kyle Field, now supporting over 102K people, is very loud. The Aggies are one of the better home crowds in college football, with the whole Midnight Yell thing and the coordinated chants and all, and with the renovation there’s now even more of them to do that yelling. The Tide’s two best games of the season were away from Bryant-Denny, which is reassuring — but the Aggies have a definite home edge here. The weather will be a bit on the warm and muggy side Saturday, but the sky should be cloudless and rain-free.

The Tide have no significant injuries, as Robert Foster has been fully replaced by Calvin Ridley, though Raheem Falkins apparently suffered an undisclosed injury in practice this week and is questionable. Speedy Noil is questionable with an undisclosed injury, which is probably ok for the Aggies as they have approximately 25 other five-star receivers they can use instead. Linebacker Otaro Alaka missed the Arkansas game with an undisclosed injury,[9] and is questionable for this Saturday as well. I believe Alaka was a starter at some point, but as Texas A&M is apparently too flashy to put up a simple participation chart on their athletics website, I can’t say for sure.

9 | Man these guys need to stop hurting their undiscloseds, sheesh.

Inextricably linked through Bear Bryant, these two teams spent the majority of their history in different conferences, and have met just seven times over the years — the Tide leads, 5-2. Aside from that game in 2012 that never happened, Gene Stallings — yup, THAT Gene Stallings — beat Bryant’s Tide in the 1968 Cotton Bowl to cap Stallings’ lone winning season in College Station. Texas A&M: producing national title winning coaches for Alabama since 1957.

Swanson Giddiness Index

Days like today make Ron wish, just a little bit, that he’d allied himself with a B1G squad and the associated pillow-soft schedule. Ron is already not looking forward to LSU.

The Picks

As alluded to earlier, this game will either cement the Tide defense as the country’s finest, or put more fuel on the "Saban can’t defend the HUNH" fire that just needs to die and and never come back. I think it’s the former, and with Coker making minimal mistakes and a heavy dose of Henry on the other side setting up a bomb or two to Ridley, the Tide do just enough to win.

STRAIGHT UP: Alabama Crimson Tide
AGAINST SPREAD: Alabama Crimson Tide

ROLL TIDE