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Charting the Tide, Defense and Special Teams | Mississippi State Bulldogs

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NINE SACKS. NINE.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Connelly invented all of this; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.

But first, a little bit of well-deserved gloating.

As you know, prior to each week’s game we run a little series here called Processing the Numbers, in which I throw tables of metrics at you, blather on for several paragraphs about said numbers, and then pick Alabama to win because I’m a massive homer.[1] Those paragraphs tend to be peppered with predictions and “keys to the game” and the like, which are kind of hit or miss as game flow is difficult to project with just numbers. Picking the winner straight up? No biggie. Against the spread? More difficult, but I can usually beat a coin toss, for what that’s worth. Actual happenings in the game? Ehhhhh.

1 | Also, because they should win just about every game they play.

Ah, but then every so often this happens:

Punting is the weak spot on the Builldogs’ special teams, with the 91st ranked unit per the FEI metrics. Jones has been close to breaking one several times this season, and in this opponent he may have the best opportunity yet to pull that off.

And then, this happened:[2]

2 | Nice of the REC to finally come through, isn’t it? Uh, I mean, NOTHING TO SEE HERE JUST A GREAT RETURN ROLL TIDE.

See! See! There’s value in these numbers! It has nothing to do with the continued gelling of the punt return unit, or a noticeable upward trend in the effectiveness of Cyrus Jones when he has an opportunity to return a punt, or that probability suggests if you fling darts blindfolded eventually you’ll hit a bullseye. Nope, all the numbers.

Confused?

  • Air Yards — The down-the-field or vertical yardage gained on a pass play as a result of the quarterback’s throw (i.e., prior to the receiver’s involvement), as measured from the line of scrimmage. So for forward passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage, the Air Yardage would be negative. This metric is also tracked on incomplete passes — underthrown balls are measured from where the ball lands, and overthrown balls from where the intended receiver is. Balls tipped at the line or thrown away are not measured. The companion statistic on completed passes is yards after catch — the sum of Air Yards and yards after catch on a completed pass equals the yardage gained on the play.
  • Catch Rate — The number of balls caught over the number of targets for an individual, or how often a receiver makes the catch when targeted.
  • Disruptive Plays — A sum of sacks, stuffs (tackles for loss on a ballcarrier, as opposed to a QB on a pass play), blocked kicks/punts, passes defensed/broken up, interceptions, and forced fumbles. Think of these as things that got you multiple helmet stickers when you were playing peewee.
  • Distance Splits — Aside from the quarterback performance chart (which is in terms of Air Yards), all distances refer to the yardage to go for that particular down, not how much yardage would be required for a successful play (see Success Rate).
  • Percent of Total for Rushing and Passing Splits by Down — These numbers refer to the percentage of first down plays that were a rush, second down plays that were a pass, and so on, NOT the percentage of rushes that were on first down. For example, the sum of first down pass frequency and first down rush frequency will be 100%, but the sum of first, second, third, and fourth down rush frequencies will be well in excess of 100%.
  • Garbage Time — Defined as when a game is not within 28 points in the first quarter, 24 points in the second quarter, 21 points in the third quarter, or 16 points in the fourth.
  • Pass Direction — One the quarterback performance chart, the pass directions (left, middle, right) refer to the third of the field the ball was thrown to, as defined by the hash marks, relative to the direction the offense is moving (i.e., from the quarterback's perspective). 'Left' throws are to the leftmost third, 'middle' throws are to the area between the hashes, and so on.
  • Run Directions — See the figure below. Defensive letter gap terminology is on the top in blue, and offensive hole terminology is on the bottom in green. Rushes are coded as 'Left Tackle' if they head through the left B and C gaps / the 3 and 5 holes, and so on.
  • RunDirection

  • Success Rate — A 'successful' play is defined as gaining 50% of required yardage on first down, 70% of required yardage on second down, and all of the required yardage on third and fourth downs — required yardage is another term for the distance required for a first down on a given play. Success rate is simply how often a team is successful.
  • Target — The intended receiver on a pass play. All pass plays have intended receivers, with the exception of passes that were tipped at the line, thrown away, or otherwise thrown in such a manner as to render identification of an intended receiver impossible.
  • YAC — Passing Yards After Catch, the amount of yardage gained by the receiver after catching a pass. YAC + Air Yards = Passing Yards.
  • iPPPIsolated Points Per Play, the amount of Net Equivalent Points gained per successful play. This is the best explosiveness metric the advanced stats community currently has; read more about it here.
  • Line Yards — The number of rushing yards on every run attributable to the offensive line’s efforts. Read more about it here.
  • Highlight Yards — The number of rushing yards on every run attributable to the running back’s efforts. Line Yards + Highlight Yards = Rushing Yards. Read more about it here.
  • Opportunity Rate — The percentage of carries where the back has an opportunity to accrue Highlight Yards; read more about it here.
  • Running Back Rating (RBR) — An overall quality metric for running backs, this is the product of Opportunity Rate and Highlight Yards per Opportunity.

Individual Performance

Disruptive Plays
Player VS.
MSU
2015
Season
Total PBUs STFs INTs Sacks FFs BKs Total
Allen, Jonathan 4 2 2 --- 9 2 --- 15
Fitzpatrick, Minkah --- 7 1 2 2 --- 1 13
Humphrey, Marlon 1 8 2 2 --- 1 --- 13
Foster, Reuben 3 8 2 --- 1 --- --- 11
Jackson, Eddie --- 2 2 5 --- 1 --- 10

Observations

So, a few weeks back in College Station the defense notched a total of 23 disruptive plays, which is, you know, a lot of disruptive plays. I thought at the time that would be the most they’d put up this season, as most of that was a product of the Aggies imploding before our very eyes.

On Saturday they tallied 25, including 10 defensed passes, nine sacks, three forced fumbles, and three stuffs. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the nine sacks is the most since 1998 against Vanderbilt, which was back when Vanderbilt was a guaranteed win. This, against an offensive line that was a solid 28th overall in offensive Adjusted Sack Rate. This, against a quarterback that had never been sacked more than three times in a game in his entire career. This is just stupid, yall. As of this writing, the Tide is second in the country in both sacks and defensed passes per game;[3] needless to say, they are the only defense in the top-10 in both metrics. Stunning.

3 | Which, by the way, is not a claim either the 2011 or 2012 defenses can make.

But, this is the individual section, and there are a lot of names to be called. Jonathan Allen had the big week this time out, notching three sacks and a forced fumble to lead the team with four disruptive plays on the afternoon. Just behind him was Reuben Foster and his three pass break-ups; Ryan Anderson also had three disruptions with a couple of sacks and a forced fumble. Tim Williams and A’Shawn Robinson added two sacks apiece, and Geno Matias-Smith forced the third fumble. Jones and Tony Brown broke up a couple of passes each; Reggie Ragland and Keith Holcombe notched one apiece as well. Da’Shawn Hand picked up two stuffs in a very quick bit of work at the end of the fourth, and Dillon Lee stoned Dak Prescott behind the line on State’s failed fourth-and-goal attempt in the first quarter. Lastly, Marlon Humphrey collected Prescott’s second interception of the year to end any realistic chance at a comeback from the Bulldogs.

Overall Defensive Performance

Quarter Breakdown
Metric 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
Plays 25 163 33 202 17 137 0 43
S. Rate 24.0% 31.9% 24.2% 28.7% 47.1% 26.3% --- 32.6%
iPPP 1.8 1.0 1.2 1.0 1.2 1.3 --- 2.0
Pass % 50.0% 49.0% 66.7% 62.5% 71.4% 66.1% --- 57.9%
P. S. Rate 27.3% 34.2% 25.0% 30.0% 60.0% 29.8% --- 45.5%
P. iPPP 2.2 1.3 1.4 1.2 1.4 1.6 --- 2.3
Rush % 50.0% 51.0% 33.3% 37.5% 28.6% 33.9% --- 42.1%
R. S. Rate 27.3% 32.9% 30.0% 30.6% 50.0% 25.6% --- 25.0%
R. iPPP 1.4 0.7 0.8 0.8 0.7 0.5 --- 1.2

Observations

For the second week in a row, the Tide polished off a well-regarded team by the end of the third, so no results from the fourth quarter again this week. The first half was all big plays for the Bulldogs, as they managed just a 24% success rate overall but picked up a whopping 254 yards, nearly half of which came on three completions — hence the high iPPPs. Still, that low success rate was a product of the Tide defense bowing up inside the red zone, and despite all those yards the Bulldogs managed just a field goal before halftime.

The third quarter was a different story, however, as State began to find their stride and really started taking it to the Tide. Prescott was able to find holes in all levels of the secondary, and at one point the Bulldogs had first-and-goal from the Alabama 7. A false start, two consecutive sacks from Allen, and an incompletion later, and the Bulldogs were settling for another field goal.

Formation / Playcall Breakdown
Call Plays Percent of Total Success Rate iPPP
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
Shotgun 73 97.3% 81.3% 28.8% 29.8% 1.2 1.2
Pistol 2 2.7% 3.1% 50.0% 47.1% 4.3 1.0
Under Center 0 0.0% 15.2% --- 24.1% --- 0.9
No Huddle 62 82.7% 53.6% 30.6% 31.2% 1.3 1.2
Huddled 13 17.3% 46.4% 23.1% 27.3% 1.8 1.1
Play Action 11 14.7% 13.9% 27.3% 39.5% 2.6 1.7

Observations

I personally really enjoy charting games from the hurry-up spread teams, because even though there are usually more plays to chart, and in particular more passing plays, the pre-snap stuff is really easy to figure out. They’re always out of the shotgun, they’re always going no-huddle, and usually they aren’t using tight ends in funky alignments where I have to decide whether the guy’s actually a back or a receiver on the play.[4] Mississippi State fits that bill, as aside from two plays run out of the Pistol Prescott worked exclusively out of the Shotgun. They did not huddle one time — all 13 of those plays were out of timeouts, at the start of drives, etc. The 54-yard completion to Donald Gray at the end of the first quarter — you know, the one where he blatantly pushed off of Humphrey — was run out of the Pistol, which is why the iPPP is so high. As stated on the last chart, this was low success rates with big, big gains when it was successful.

4 | Unlike, say, the Tide, who deploy Richard Mullaney and O.J. Howard in particular all over the damn place.

Personnel Breakdown
Group Plays Percent of Total Success Rate iPPP
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
10 25 33.3% 28.4% 20.0% 26.6% 1.5 1.1
00 22 29.3% 12.2% 36.4% 31.8% 1.0 1.0
11 20 26.7% 30.4% 30.0% 31.5% 2.1 1.1
01 2 2.7% 1.8% 50.0% 30.0% 0.9 1.6
02 2 2.7% 0.4% 100.0% 100.0% 0.5 0.5

Observations

The big personnel departure compared to most of the Tide’s opponents was a lot of empty backfield looks, specifically the five-wide variant (00 personnel). This was the case last year, and was largely due to the threat of Prescott running the ball — many of those were preludes to designed quarterback runs. This year, State opted to pass — or attempt to pass — out of this set more often than not, as only three of the 22 plays were designed runs for Prescott. His other “runs” out of this set were scrambles or sacks. 11 personnel was the most explosive set, but again much of that came on the completion to Gray.

Down and Distance Matrix
Distance Metric Down
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
Short
(0-3 Yds)
Plays 1 3 4 16 2 27 2 5
S. Rate 0.0% 33.3% 75.0% 68.8% 50.0% 51.9% 50.0% 60.0%
iPPP --- 0.4 0.9 1.3 0.3 1.0 1.0 0.4
Medium
(4-6 Yds)
Plays 0 2 4 36 3 33 0 1
S. Rate --- 50.0% 75.0% 25.0% 66.7% 45.5% --- 0.0%
iPPP --- 0.6 1.6 1.0 0.7 1.0 --- ---
Long
(7-10 Yds)
Plays 27 201 14 94 8 53 0 1
S. Rate 25.9% 29.4% 7.1% 22.3% 37.5% 18.9% --- 0.0%
iPPP 1.4 1.0 1.7 1.3 2.4 1.7 --- ---
Very Long
(11+ Yds)
Plays 1 16 4 33 4 23 1 1
S. Rate 0.0% 6.3% 25.0% 30.3% 0.0% 21.7% 0.0% 0.0%
iPPP --- 2.1 1.1 1.5 --- 1.9 --- ---

Observations

The Tide were particularly nasty on first down this time out, holding State to just seven successful plays on 29 attempts for the down, well under their seasonal average. Those handful of attempts where they stayed on schedule going into second down proved fruitful, as they were 6/8 on second downs of six or less yards to go and 3/5 on similar third downs. When the Tide kept them in longer yardage downs, however, the going was rough, as they went just 2/18 on second downs and 3/12 on third downs in excess of seven yards to go. The only successful fourth down was a speed option in the first quarter; Eddie Jackson had a chance to blow it up, but he slightly overran a cutback from Fred Ross and the Bulldogs extended their drive.

Front Seven Performance

Rush Splits by Down, Distance, and Direction
Metric Attempts Rush % S. Rate iPPP LY/Att.
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
All Carries 20 37.9% 41.0% 25.0% 28.9% 1.1 0.7 2.7 2.3
1st Down 7 36.0% 51.2% 14.3% 24.0% 2.2 0.8 2.6 2.4
2nd Down 8 33.3% 38.1% 37.5% 30.0% 0.7 0.7 3.3 2.2
3rd Down 3 40.0% 25.0% 0.0% 45.0% --- 0.6 1.3 2.3
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
5 55.6% 62.0% 60.0% 55.2% 0.7 0.3 3.8 1.8
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
1 33.3% 38.8% 0.0% 23.8% --- 0.8 1.0 2.5
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
11 31.8% 40.3% 9.1% 23.4% 2.2 0.8 2.3 2.4
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
3 57.1% 30.8% 33.3% 31.3% 1.1 1.2 2.7 2.6
Left
End
1 12.5% 14.0% 100.0% 42.9% 2.2 0.8 7.0 3.3
Left
Tackle
0 0.0% 12.0% --- 38.9% --- 0.5 --- 1.9
Middle 3 37.5% 40.0% 0.0% 13.3% --- 0.6 3.2 2.0
Right
Tackle
2 25.0% 20.0% 0.0% 20.0% --- 0.5 2.5 2.3
Right
End
2 25.0% 14.0% 50.0% 52.4% 1.0 0.7 3.3 3.2

Observations

Mississippi State doesn’t run much, at least not intentionally. Officially they had 34 running plays in the first three quarters, but nine of those were sacks and five more were scrambles by Prescott. Only five of the remaining 20 runs were successful, a success rate even lower than the sparkling average put up by the Tide this season. I really don’t know what you’re supposed to do as an opposing offense at this point, because this defense is equally adept at shutting down the pass as they are the run.

Opposing RB Performance
Metric Attempts Opp. Rate Hlt. Yds. / Opp. RBR
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
All Carries 20 37.5% 24.1% 5.0 3.3 1.9 0.8
1st Down 7 20.0% 23.5% 12.0 2.3 2.4 0.5
2nd Down 8 50.0% 22.2% 0.5 4.0 0.3 0.9
3rd Down 3 --- 33.3% --- 6.8 --- 2.3
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
5 100.0% 21.1% 2.5 2.1 2.5 0.4
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
1 0.0% 12.5% --- 4.8 --- 0.6
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
11 33.3% 23.0% 6.3 2.7 2.1 0.6
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
3 --- 60.0% --- 5.8 --- 3.5
Left
End
1 100.0% 38.1% 12.0 4.5 12.0 1.7
Left
Tackle
0 --- 27.8% --- 2.6 --- 0.7
Middle 3 33.3% 10.7% 0.5 5.5 0.2 0.6
Right
Tackle
2 0.0% 23.3% --- 0.9 --- 0.2
Right
End
2 50.0% 45.0% 2.5 3.0 1.3 1.4

Observations

Again, very little to note here. I don’t care about a 12 RBR on one run; you shouldn’t either.

Secondary Performance

Opponent Quarterback Performance
Air Yards Metric Left Middle Right Totals
16 10 14 40
Behind
L.O.S
Comp. % 3/5 (60.0%) 0/0 (---) 6/6 (100.0%) 11
S. Rate 0.0% --- 50.0%
iPPP --- --- 1.3
0-5
Yards
Comp. % 2/4 (50.0%) 3/4 (75.0%) 0/2 (0.0%) 10
S. Rate 25.0% 50.0% 0.0%
iPPP 0.3 0.9 ---
6-10
Yards
Comp. % 2/2 (100.0%) 3/3 (100.0%) 0/2 (0.0%) 7
S. Rate 100.0% 100.0% 0.0%
iPPP 1.4 1.8 ---
11-15
Yards
Comp. % 0/2 (0.0%) 0/2 (0.0%) 0/1 (0.0%) 5
S. Rate 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
iPPP --- --- ---
16+ Yards
Comp. % 1/3 (33.3%) 0/1 (0.0%) 2/3 (66.7%) 7
S. Rate 33.3% 0.0% 66.7%
iPPP 1.9 --- 3.0

Observations

Aside from a wheel route to Brandon Holloway that went for 22 yards in the third quarter, the short game wasn’t there at all for Mississippi State. Instead, Prescott found a lot of success in the intermediate ranges, which appear to be the only routes on which the Tide regularly cede yardage. A couple of those deep throws worked out well, including the aforementioned bomb to Gray and a 41-yarder to Ross in the second half, but in general it was in the 6-15 yard range where Prescott was most dangerous. That being said… meh? Sure, he put up 300 yards, but again eight[5] attempts were defensed and a further nine were stopped before they began. Prescott is probably the best quarterback in the SEC this season, and Mississippi State managed a whopping six points despite all of his efforts.

5 | Two of the aforementioned 10 came in garbage time.

Pass Splits by Down and Distance
Metric Attempts Pass % S. Rate iPPP
VS.
MSU
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
VS.
MSU
2015
Season
All Passes 41 62.1% 59.0% 34.1% 32.1% 1.6 1.4
1st 16 64.0% 48.8% 31.3% 34.6% 1.4 1.2
2nd 16 66.7% 75.0% 31.3% 30.8% 1.6 1.6
3rd 9 60.0% 61.9% 44.4% 31.2% 1.7 1.5
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
4 44.4% 38.0% 50.0% 63.2% 1.0 2.0
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
4 66.7% 61.2% 100.0% 41.5% 1.4 1.1
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
30 68.2% 59.7% 26.7% 29.4% 1.8 1.3
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
3 42.9% 69.2% 0.0% 22.2% --- 2.0

Observations

Slightly higher success rate and iPPP than usual, but again, this was the best quarterback the Tide’s faced this season. The third down numbers are a bit sporty for my liking, but… again… best quarterback the Tide’s faced this season. Hell, this is the best player in the history of an institution that’s played football for well over 100 years, and he was just slightly above average for this defense, which means he was well below average in a national sense. This was not quite an A+ performance from this defense, but given the quality of the opponent it was pretty damn close.

Special Teams Performance

Punts and Kickoffs Performance
Metric ALABAMA MISSISSIPPI STATE
Punt Hangtime 3.95s 4.06s
Gross Points per Punt 3.53 4.14
Net Points per Punt 3.48 2.57
Kickoff Hangtime 3.54s[6] 3.99s
Gross Points per Kickoff 6.34 6.48
Net Points per Kickoff 4.21 3.21

Observations

This was not the best outing for the specialists. J.K. Scott was out-punted for the first time in several games, and only Jones’ punt return kept it from being a clean sweep for the Bulldogs. Adam Griffith was a little off as well, leaving several kicks a bit short of the end zone only to be bailed out by the outstanding Tide coverage unit. Devon Bell did not offer a single returnable kick, although he did push one out of bounds, thus giving the Tide the ball on their own 35 yard line. Griffith finally missed a field goal, but once in a while is just fine, sir. Just, uh, not in two weeks, ok?

6 | This number does not include the opening kick, because CBS thoughtfully cut in well after it left the tee.

NOTE: Obviously, the missed field goal was blocked, which is hardly on Griffith. Whoops.

ROLL TIDE