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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | LSU Tigers

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Well, here we are. One game season time, folks.

Derick E. Hingle-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?

Last week saw perhaps the most dominant win of the season for the Tide. Not only was the opponent held scoreless, they were so afeared of the mighty crimson machine they failed to show up whatsoever. This is, of course, fairly typical for Bye, as they’ve failed to win a single game in the long and prolific history of their program.

Two weeks ago, the Tide faced the most despicable, revolting sports entity in this country or any other, The Viles,[1] and managed to outlast an outstanding defensive effort from the opponent and abysmally bad offensive line play to come away with a 19-14 victory. Derrick Henry once again carried the offense with 143 yards on 28 carries, and senior Jake Coker threw the ball efficiently, collecting 247 yards on just 27 attempts. ArDarius Stewart and Adam Griffith were the big heroes, however, as the former broke out of a season-long funk to grab five tough catches, including a 29-yarder on the final scoring drive, and the latter converted both of his field goal attempts amid another great day on kickoffs. J.K. Scott had perhaps his best performance of the season as he continues to distance himself from whatever malady affected his early play.

1 | That would be our neighbors to the immediate north, for anyone trickling in here from ATVS.

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

Right! Next up, the Alabama Crimson Tide play in the game of the century of the year of the week, as they welcome the undefeated LSU Tigers to Bryant Denny Stadium. The game is on Saturday, November 7th, at 7:00 PM CST / 8:00 PM EST, and will be televised on CBS. That’s right, get ready for more Uncle Verne and Gary losing their minds when LSU makes the most rudimentary of plays, at least when they aren't mangling the players' names.

The Goods

Overall Quality
ALABAMA LSU THE EDGE
F/+ 54.7% (2) F/+ 49.2% (3) PUSH
FPI 22.6 (6) FPI 22.1 (8) PUSH
FEI 0.255 (3) FEI 0.254 (4) PUSH
S&P+ 22.9 (2) S&P+ 19.0 (6) PUSH
Home Spread -6.5 ALABAMA

The Matchup on Offense
ALABAMA LSU THE EDGE
OFEI 0.44 (26) DFEI 0.54 (23) PUSH
OS&P+ 33.6 (36) DS&P+ 22.7 (34) PUSH
Rush OS&P+ 116.6 (27) Rush DS&P+ 129.2 (12) LSU
Pass OS&P+ 116.1 (31) Pass DS&P+ 136.8 (5) LSU
SD OS&P+ 118.1 (19) SD DS&P+ 119.9 (19) PUSH
PD OS&P+ 109.5 (48) PD DS&P+ 176.5 (1) LSU
OALY 111.2 (34) DALY 122.7 (9) LSU
OASR 112.2 (47) DASR 115.6 (41) PUSH

The Matchup on Defense
ALABAMA LSU THE EDGE
DFEI 1.09 (1) OFEI 0.95 (9) PUSH
DS&P+ 10.7 (3) OS&P+ 41.7 (6) PUSH
Rush DS&P+ 149.1 (3) Rush OS&P+ 126.7 (9) PUSH
Pass DS&P+ 156.8 (1) Pass OS&P+ 118.2 (25) ALABAMA
SD DS&P+ 156.8 (1) SD OS&P+ 113.5 (29) ALABAMA
PD DS&P+ 137.6 (10) PD OS&P+ 139.7 (8) PUSH
DALY 122.4 (10) OALY 116.4 (17) PUSH
DASR 175.3 (5) OASR 96.1 (68) ALABAMA

The Matchup on Special Teams
ALABAMA LSU THE EDGE
FVE 0.12 (20) FVE 0.0 (67) ALABAMA
STE -0.07 (105) STE -0.03 (88) LSU
FGE -0.42 (114) FGE 0.67 (4) LSU
KE -0.15 (12) KRE -0.05 (89) ALABAMA
PE 0.16 (110) PRE -0.05 (84) LSU
PRE 0.19 (12) PE 0.3 (124) ALABAMA
KRE -0.32 (127) KE 0.09 (103) LSU

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.
Statistics current as of November 4th, 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

FVE: FEI Field Value Efficiency, 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.

So, what do we know?

Overall Quality

The Tide’s glorious, unending dominance over Bye and a tough win over the Viles ensured their lofty placement in the advanced stats remained essentially unchanged. The only move of significance was a drop to 6th in FPI, though that has much to do with FPI’s love of the Big-12 and a big bump for USC following a beatdown of former darling Utah. This particular system projects one more loss for the Tide during the regular season, but projects two more losses for both LSU and Mississippi State, so I’m not sure from whence said loss comes.[2] The FootballOutsiders metrics collectively have the Tide at #2 overall, a good bit behind clear #1 Clemson, who possesses the nation’s most impressive victory against Notre Dame back in early October.[3] As the stock response to Tuesday evening’s vitriol regarding the Tide’s occupation of the #4 spot in the initial playoff rankings goes, "this will all work itself out in the end."

2 | It ain’t from API or Charleston Southern, so...

3 | Unless you’re going by FPI Game Score, in which case it appears to be Stanford over USC.

Speaking of those rankings, the Tide’s next opponent held down the #2 spot, and you can see how well they’re regarded by all four overall quality metrics. The Tide has the slightest of edges all down the line, but nothing remotely approaching significance. In fact, these teams are back-to-back in F/+ and FEI, which underscores exactly how close they are at this stage of the season. LSU’s had a two-game schedule thusfar in the form of their biannual jaunts to Gainesville and Starkvegas, but they close out the season with the filling, substantive part of the West schedule: the Tide, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. The trip to Oxford looms large in two weeks, but their toughest test of the season is this Saturday in Tuscaloosa. Vegas has Alabama installed as a 6.5 point favorite, which seems reasonable.

When Alabama Has the Ball

John Chavis skedaddled out of town in somewhat salacious fashion last season, and the keys to the Tigers defense have been handed to old friend Kevin Steele. While not the elite, lockdown group of 2011/2012 vintage, or even last year’s crew, Steele has put together a solid defensive unit that does everything well. Of particular note is their rating on passing downs, which is the best in the country according to PD DS&P+. Those downs, of course, are where the Tide have struggled mightily this season, as whatever third down affliction tormented them a year ago is still hanging around 10 weeks into the 2015 season.

Based on a middling mark in defensive Adjusted Sack Rate, LSU’s success on passing downs likely comes from their secondary, and that would seem to be supported by a #5 ranking in Pass DS&P+. It’s a secondary that lost a tremendous amount of talent last season, as Ronald Martin and Rashard Robinson were claimed by graduation and ineligibility respectively. Jalen Mills stayed for his senior year, but offseason ankle surgery kept him out of the starting lineup until the Western Kentucky game two weeks ago.

The outstanding Tre’Davious White is still around however, and he may be notching his 32nd straight start at cornerback in what may be his last season in purple and gold. He’s joined by Dwayne Thomas and true freshman Kevin Toliver, who’s quietly lived up to his lofty recruiting hype[4] and five-star rating. With Mills and Jamal Adams manning the safety spots, this is an athletic, talented group that will make life difficult for Coker, Stewart, and Calvin Ridley.

4 | Loftier than Kendall Sheffield and Minkah Fitzpatrick even, though not by much.

The front seven also has a bit of a new look due to various flavors of departure, most notably at the edges, as both ends and the WILL linebacker from a year ago have left for the NFL — likely a big reason the pass rush hasn’t been there this year. Up the middle is still as strong as it always is however, with Davon Godchaux, Christian LaCouture, and Kendell Beckwith returning as defensive tackles and MIKE linebacker respectively; they’ve got the rush defense playing at a high level with the #12 ranking in Rush DS&P+ and a #9 ranking in defensive Adjusted Line Yards. The edges are where Henry will find his yards in this one, hopefully with some assistance from the speedy Kenyan Drake.

You’ll note that the overall offense numbers call this a push with the slightest of edges, but LSU’s defense has the edge in most of the component numbers. That tells me they have some issues finishing drives, and a peek at their Advanced Stats Profile confirms just that — LSU is 101st in points per trip inside the 40 with 5.10, which is akin to giving up alternating touchdowns and field goals every time the opponent crosses their 40 yard line. Alabama is not great in that department themselves — currently 78th overall on the offensive side of the ball — but it’s still a significant edge for the Tide, and makes up for a lot of the per-play excellence that appears to tilt this matchup in LSU’s favor. The key Saturday will be mistake-free football, with no interceptions from Coker[5] and no silly pre-snap penalties from the offensive line.

5 | Those haven’t been too frequent lately, but you never know.

When LSU Has the Ball

This is where the game could get out of hand in a hurry. Generational-type talent at the running back position tends to come in pairs — Herschel had Bo, Barry had Emmitt, Adrian had Marshawn,[6] and Todd Gurley has Leonard Fournette. The latter is unquestionably the most talented back in the country, and his exploits have LSU positioned as the #9 rush offense in the country per S&P+. He’s so good that opposing defenses have no option but to load the box trying to stop him, which has done wonders for the mediocre Brandon Harris and wide receivers Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre. That validity of that strategy is about to be tested, as the Tide represent the only defense the Tigers have faced this season that may be capable of handling Fournette without stacking the box.

6 | Shhh Marshawn is the best and you know it.

We’re running out of platitudes to throw at this front seven, but every single one of them has been richly deserved. #3 against the run and with the now 5th-ranked pass rush in the country according to Adjusted Sack Rate, unlike years past this group just excels at everything. Run it up the middle, meet Darren Lake, Daron Payne, Reuben Foster, and Reggie Ragland. Run it to the edges, meet A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Reuben Foster, and Reggie Ragland. Wait too long in the pocket, meet Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, and Reggie Ragland.[7]

7 | Breathe wrong, meet Reggie Ragland. Show up, meet Reggie Ragland.

Fournette will provided the toughest test this group will see all season, but this is LSU, which means they have multiple hammers in the backfield with which to bludgeon you. This year it’s bruiser Darrel Williams and speedy Derrius Guice, who run behind my new favorite LSU name now that Maquedius Bain has transferred — fullback Bry’Kiethon Mouton. They all run behind a younger offensive line that’s still quite talented, good for 17th overall in offensive Adjusted Line Yards. They’re just average at protecting the quarterback, however, so expect to see a few more sacks out of the Tide, unless they resort to the strategy of some of the Tide’s more recent opponents — hold and hope for the best.

Fournette probably still goes for 100 regardless of what the Tide does, so this side of the ball will be won or lost in the air for the Tide. This is the best defense against the pass in the country, and they have a significant advantage over the Tigers in that regard. Harris is slightly above average, at least according to passer rating, but again he’s not faced a ballhawking, opportunistic group like the Tide. If the strategy the Tide employed against Nick Chubb and Georgia works here as well, you might see his first interceptions of the year, and anyone who watched the Tide’s last contest knows they’re due for one or two.

There’s not much more you can really say about this matchup. In the Tide you have the proverbial immovable object, possessive of top-10 rankings in just about every defensive metric imaginable. In the Tigers you have the proverbial irresistible force, just as talented and just as nasty. This is going to be old-school manball at its finest, folks.

Special Teams

The Tide, for once, is not at an overwhelming disadvantage on special teams, with their #105 ranking not looking too terrible against LSU’s 88th place in STE. LSU definitely has the superior placekicker, however, as Trent Domingue’s perfect on field goals in 2015, albeit on only nine attempts. Griffith has been money as of late, but that awful stretch to start the year is still weighing the metrics down considerably, and he’s yet to hit anything longer than 40 yards on the season.

That’s where the really significant edges for LSU end, however, as they are not particularly great at any other aspect of special teams. They technically have an edge when Alabama’s punting, but Scott’s come on strong in the last few games, and that #110 ranking in PE is probably not accurate of what he’s doing right now. On the other hand, LSU’s punt coverage is awful, whereas Cyrus Jones is doing outstanding work as a returner. Don’t expect much to happen on kickoffs either, as Griffith has done excellent work all season with his, and LSU is not too great with kick returns. The Tide kick return unit is basically the worst in the country, but may have an ok day as a result of LSU’s awful kick coverage unit.

Finally, the difference in field value efficiency is pretty stark, and worth discussion. This metric replaced the field position advantage metric we used last year, and incorporates value gained from turnovers and scoring efficiencies, and the Tide has a big, big edge there. Part of it is the interception returns, but the Tide also has about a 40 rank advantage in net field position, which is huge. This is exactly the type of game that could come down to a few yards at the start of the drive and the extra scoring opportunity that might create.

Any intangibles to consider?

This one’s in Tuscaloosa, which has actually been cause for concern this season as the Tide has played significantly better football on the road.[8] Complicating matters is the weather forecast, which looks ugly for Saturday, with currently a 90% chance of rain and temperatures likely in the 50s by kickoff. That sounds miserable, and as much fun as seeing the Tide live in Bryant-Denny can be, I don’t envy the faithful that will be there this week.

8 | No idea what that’s about, but it’d be nice if it went away this week.

Lots to discuss in terms of injuries, as we’re firmly into That Part of the Season. LSU’s looking pretty clean on the offensive side of the ball, but two key defenders, LaCouture and White, are probable and questionable for this one, respectively. All signs point to LaCouture playing, but White may miss his first start since week 2 of the 2013 season, which is a big deal. Eddie Jackson appears to be good to go for the Tide, but Dominick Jackson and Ronnie Harrison are both questionable, with the former being of greater concern. Brandon Greene will slot capably into the right tackle spot if he needs to, but he would likely be backfilled by penalty machine Dakota Ball at tight end, which is undesirable. Harrison has had an outstanding freshman year, but the Tide can probably get by a game or two without him.

Finally, there’s that whole team of destiny schtick that you may have read about sometime this season — LSU’s been on a four-year cycle of putting together championship teams this century, and we’re in a fourth year of that cycle. Coach Saban picked up his first championship back in 2003, with Les Miles adding his lone title in 2007. He was about to add another in 2011 before the Tide blew up the BCS and blew LSU off the field, and now it’s 2015 and the Tigers are undefeated again. That’s more than trendy enough to give one pause.

Swanson Giddiness Index

Ron’s seen all the great ones. Ron’s a little terrified of Fournette. Ron’s very terrified of whatever Les Miles is going to do to that poor grass.

The Picks

I struggled with this one for a bit — I could easily see LSU winning this game. If Coker starts chucking interceptions, forget it. If LSU gets one unicorn TD, forget it. If the refs show up to punish Saban for questioning the officiating, forget it, because the margins are that close here. I think if you played this game 100 times the Tide would win more than they lose, it’s just a matter of which roll of the dice we get Saturday. I think they get it done, but I think it’s another classic that comes down to the wire.

STRAIGHT UP: Alabama Crimson Tide
AGAINST SPREAD: LSU Tigers

ROLL TIDE