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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Arkansas Razorbacks

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World's largest offensive line!

Nelson Chenault-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?

Outstanding. Although the Bulldogs ran a bit better than you thought, and the offense, outside of Jake Coker and Calvin Ridley, was still just a bit off, the Crimson Tide put in about as dominant a performance as you’ll ever see over a quality opponent. Nick Chubb got his yards in garbage time, but the Tide front-seven limited him and Sony Michel just enough in the first half to ramp up the pressure on Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey, and the result was Georgia managing just a field goal before garbage time commenced in the third quarter. A blocked punt by Minkah Fitzpatrick and an interception by Eddie Jackson were both returned for touchdowns, and Ridley broke out with two more through the air to push the Tide to a 38-10 victory.

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

Right! The Alabama Crimson Tide return to Bryant-Denny Stadium to face the Arkansas Razorbacks in a rematch of one of last year’s closest contests for the Tide. The game is on Saturday, October 10th, at 6 PM CDT / 7 PM EDT, and will be televised on ESPN and WatchESPN.com.

The Goods

Overall Quality
ALABAMA ARKANSAS THE EDGE
F/+ 66.7% (1) F/+ 21.9% (30) ALABAMA
FPI 23.9 (4) FPI 14.4 (23) ALABAMA
FEI 0.28 (1) FEI 0.069 (44) ALABAMA
S&P+ 33.1 (1) S&P+ 14.2 (17) ALABAMA
Home Spread -16.5 ALABAMA

The Matchup on Offense
ALABAMA ARKANSAS THE EDGE
OS&P+ 39.0 (14) DS&P+ 29.2 (74) ALABAMA
Rush OS&P+ 130.7 (16) Rush DS&P+ 113.4 (40) ALABAMA
Pass OS&P+ 138.8 (6) Pass DS&P+ 87.6 (102) ALABAMA
SD OS&P+ 135.6 (5) SD DS&P+ 90.7 (98) ALABAMA
PD OS&P+ 127.5 (27) PD DS&P+ 112.4 (47) ALABAMA
OALY 110.0 (44) DALY 131.3 (12) ARKANSAS
OASR 187.0 (24) DASR 61.6 (111) ALABAMA

The Matchup on Defense
ALABAMA ARKANSAS THE EDGE
DS&P+ 5.9 (2) OS&P+ 43.4 (4) PUSH
Rush DS&P+ 167.1 (4) Rush OS&P+ 123.3 (23) ALABAMA
Pass DS&P+ 153.4 (5) Pass OS&P+ 156.7 (1) PUSH
SD DS&P+ 166.1 (2) SD OS&P+ 129.6 (13) ALABAMA
PD DS&P+ 134.1 (21) PD OS&P+ 151.9 (6) ARKANSAS
DALY 125.7 (18) OALY 119.4 (27) PUSH
DASR 110.0 (51) OASR 434.9 (7) ARKANSAS

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.
Statistics current as of October 7th, 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.[1]

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.

1 | This last one’s not true.

So, what do we know?

Overall Quality

Despite a dominating performance in Athens, the Tide actually fell back to the pack a bit in the overall metrics, dropping slightly in F/+, FEI, and S&P+,[2] but improving slightly in FPI. The drop in FEI probably has much to do with a diminishing emphasis on 2014’s results, where the Tide finished third overall with a 0.303. FEI influences the F/+ ratings of course, so those two make sense. But what about S&P+?

2 | While maintaining the #1 ranking in all three.

Although S&P+ underwent significant offseason changes, and is no longer simply success rate and points per play adjusted for opponent strength, those two factors are still hugely important in the current formula. As part of all the new offerings available on the S&P+ component pages at FootballOutsiders, there is now a “Success Rate+” and “IsoPPP+”, which are opponent-adjusted measures of efficiency and explosiveness, respectively.

As you might expect given the loftiness of their overall S&P+ rating, the Tide place highly in both the defensive and offensive versions of these metrics. As discussed in Charting the Tide this week, however, there were a few holes in the Tide’s performance on Saturday. The offensive versions of these metrics got a bit worse after facing Georgia, but the defensive metrics both improved. That makes sense, as Georgia’s reputation coming in was as a high-powered offense with a somewhat suspect defense.

Looking at the S&P+ components, it’s pretty clear the Tide took the biggest hit on rush defense. Georgia’s rushing offense was by far the best the Tide has faced so far this season, and although they were limited prior to garbage time, they still piled up successful carries in the first half. Not a big deal, as the Tide are still one of the finest rush defenses in the land, but it did impact the overall S&P+ rating a bit.

As far as the opponent is concerned… well, there’s a pretty significant difference according to all four quality metrics. S&P+ has it the closest with only a 16 spot difference, but it’s still a shutout for the Tide. Vegas agrees, with a stout 16.5 point spread in favor of the Tide.

When Alabama Has The Ball

With a hyper-efficient performance from Coker on Saturday and an equally explosive one from Ridley, the Tide passing offense is now considered among the country’s elite with the #6 ranking per S&P+. The Tide didn’t have as great a day running the ball, however, and backslid to #16 overall in offensive Rush S&P+. The overall offensive rating didn’t change much, but the Tide is now slotted as the 14th-best offense in the country this week; in all three cases, the Tide has a significant edge on their opponent.

In fact, the only area where the Tide doesn’t pick up the edge is in Adjusted Line Yards, where the Razorbacks possess the 12th-best defense in the country. That seems incongruous with their poor ranking on standard downs and middling ranking against the run, but digging through some of the other advanced stats at our disposal reveals a possible answer.

The Razorbacks defense rates 15th overall in stuff rate, which measures the rate at which running backs are tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. While they don’t accrue a ton of tackles for loss, when you consider the slow, clock-eating tempo of their offense and how that affects the number of plays their defense sees, it begins to make sense. Remember, for ALY negative gains are given a 20% penalty, so stuffs have a big impact on a defense’s rating in ALY.

That being said, given the complete profile of the Razorback defense, expect a similar type of performance to the one we saw last Saturday in Athens. Arkansas is not a great pass rush team, ranking just 111th overall in Adjusted Sack Rate, so even with Dominick Jackson struggling in protection expect Coker to have ample time to throw. Arkansas’ secondary is also among the country’s worst units, so expect those throws to be successful. And don’t expect a ton of third downs, because as noted this is not a great defense on standard downs either. Once this game rolls around to the fourth quarter, if it's even remotely close, expect a whole lot of Derrick Henry bringing the pain.

When Arkansas Has The Ball

Here, surprisingly, Alabama does not have a resounding advantage on the Razorbacks. Despite all of their struggles as a team this season, the Arkansas offense is among the nation’s very best, ranked #4 overall in OS&P+. The main reason for this is the greatly improved play of Brandon Allen, who is averaging 9.7 yards per attempt with a 66% completion percentage. When your offensive identity is based on running the ball, you’ll take that level of performance from your quarterback any day of the week.[3]

3 | I mean, really you’d take that period. That guy’s come a long way since 2012.

That improvement has the Arkansas Razorbacks — yes, the throwback offense that seeks to bludgeon you with huge offensive lineman and bruising running backs — rated as the #1 overall passing team in the country according to S&P+. Not Baylor, not TCU, not Texas A&M, not some school out west — the Arkansas Razorbacks. As we’ve seen numerous times with Alabama this season, it’s amazing what can be accomplished on play-action passes when you have a strong rushing offense.

This will be a fascinating matchup, as the Tide’s improved secondary play has them among the top-5 defenses against the pass in the country, for the first time in approximately forever.[4] The improvement is everywhere: talent infusion in the secondary provided by Fitzpatrick and fellow freshman Marlon Humphrey and Ronnie Harrison; improved coverage from inside linebackers Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland; and most notably a higher rate of passes batted down by the defensive line. It’s awfully hard to complete passes when you can’t even get them past the line of scrimmage.

4 | Way back in 2012, which is actually a year sooner than I thought. That defense was stunningly good, almost like 2011's.

Strangely enough, despite their reputation and all that success through the air, the Razorbacks are a good-but-not-great team on the ground, rated #23 overall in Rush OS&P+. The loss of Jonathan Williams in the preseason was significant, and while Alex Collins has continued his excellent play and freshman Rawleigh Williams III has provided a nice spark, it’s not the same as the juggernaut everyone faced last year. You can make the argument that personnel in the backfield is irrelevant when you have the world’s largest offensive line opening holes,[5] but the Tide actually has a bit of an edge in ALY, albeit one just shy of significance.

5 | They average 6’5”, 328 lb. Yeah.

Given the overall superior rushing offense that was just stopped by the Tide on Saturday, there’s a high probability that a similar result will play out in Tuscaloosa. Collins and the new Williams are no Chubb and Michel, and while they will likely still pile up yards on the ground, this game will be lost or won through the air. That mauling offensive line is outstanding at protecting their quarterback, as they rate 7th overall in Adjusted Sack Rate — Allen’s been sacked just twice this season. That allows Allen time to throw on passing downs, and he’s been very successful at doing so, producing Arkansas’ significant edge there according to PD OS&P+. Stopping opposing offenses on third down has been an irritating problem at times for this defense, but they showed tremendous improvement in that regard against Georgia, forcing the Bulldogs offense into 11 three-and-outs. The game plan is the same for Arkansas — limit the run, force the quarterback to beat you, and get off the field on third down. The Tide is up to the challenge, but don’t expect Arkansas to go as quietly as Georgia did.

Special Teams

At first glance, this seems like it could be cause for concern. As has been discussed often in this space in others, something seems off with J.K. Scott. He is well off the torrid pace he set as a freshman, and the prevailing wisdom is that there may be an undisclosed injury limiting his performance. We get rare glimpses of the ridiculous distance and directionality that made him such a weapon a year ago, but the balance consists of average punts with the occasional shank. On the other side, you have the #2 team in the SEC in terms of returning punts. Both D.J. Dean and Jared Cornelius[6] have uncorked a 40+ yarder on the season, so this is not something to take lightly.

6 | Who is out with an injury.

Fortunately, Scott is (usually) still getting plenty of air under the ball, and that hangtime has allowed the Tide’s punt coverage unit to limit opponents to just 3.6 yards per punt return, also good for 2nd in the conference. It’s unlikely punt returns will play a big role for Arkansas, but look out if Dean gets loose — we all saw what a swing special teams TDs can be last week.

Cyrus Jones has done an adequate job fielding punts this year, not making any huge mistakes but not really breaking any open either. His final return against Georgia was also his best, and with the league’s worst punter (in terms of gross yardage per punt) and 11th-ranked coverage unit coming to town, he may have an opportunity to finally get out and do some real damage in the return game.

I can’t even recall the last time Adam Griffith failed to make a field goal.[7] He’s made his last four kicks over the past three games, so hopefully whatever issues he was dealing with in the first two games are behind him. He’s been fairly consistent with his kickoffs all season, and whatever linedriveitis plagued him against ULM did not appear in Athens.

7 | That’s not true, it was against MTSU.

Kick returns are a wash, as both teams average and allow comparable yards per return. Neither team is particularly adept at either facet of kick returning, so… well… Damien Harris sure looked decent returning kicks last week!

Any intangibles to consider?

There is a slight chance of rain Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, but nothing like what the Tide played in last week. Should be nice and cool either way, as fall is finally beginning to roll into the South.

Aside from the unfortunate shoulder injury to Robert Foster, the Tide is good and healthy heading into this one. Jonathan Allen is still dealing with his recurring shoulder issue, but will play through it again this week. The Razorbacks are starting to run out of wide receivers, as Keon Hatcher, Cody Hollister, and the aforementioned Cornelius are all out – all of whom started at least one game this season.

Alabama leads the all-time series 15-8[8], and is in the midst of a seven-game streak over the Hogs. It’s interesting to note how back-and-forth this series was before the arrival of Nick Saban, with no team stringing together more than two wins in a row.

8 | Two Tide wins were vacated in 2005 and 2007.

Swanson Giddiness Index

Bacon.

The Picks

Despite all of Arkansas’ struggles this season, they are a dangerous team coming off a huge win on the road in Knoxville. It’s tempting to look at the Toledo score and write them off, but the advanced metrics know better. However, we saw a preview of how this game is going to go last week. Alabama is built to stop teams like this, and while the better conditions and quarterback play will keep the margin tighter, the Tide will cruise to victory regardless.

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

ROLL TIDE