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» 2017 Offensive Personnel Analysis

It's a three-receiver league, but for the first time since 2010, the frequency of 11 personnel actually went down last year. Was it a blip, or sign of things to come?

25 Sep 2014

SDA: Offensive Advantages

by Chad Peltier

No matter which game you turn on this week, you're likely to see highlight-reel offenses. In ten of the 12 offense-defense matchups previewed below, the offense has the advantage. We may be in the age of the offense, but are there any signs of the eventual tilt back to balance?

For that we will probably have to look towards the west coast, where Stanford travels to Washington. The Stanford Cardinals have allowed just 13 points over three games, ranking in the top ten in both FEI and S&P+. Only one SEC team -- Ole Miss -- ranks in the top ten of both the FEI and S&P+ rankings, a sharp departure from the conference's traditional M.O. Despite the Big Ten's struggles out of conference, the conference has five teams in the top 20 of Defensive FEI and three in the top ten of the Defensive S&P+.

But elite defensive teams aren't playing top-notch opponents this week. Instead we get the offensive powerhouses like Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Missouri -- all of whom play in the SEC, a sign of that conference’s complete 180. There's bound to be some offensive regression and defensive improvement once conference play begins, but this could truly be a cannibalistic year for the SEC.

One final note before we get in to the previews. The statistical comparison boxes have been updated this week to include FEI Field Position Advantage and non-opponent adjusted efficiency (both offense and defense), Rushing S&P, and Passing S&P. The opponent adjusted scores (overall F/+, S&P+, and FEI) are still partly influenced by preseason projections, but will be completely based on 2014 data in Week 7.

Texas Tech (+14) at Oklahoma State -- 7:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPN)

Overall Texas Tech Oklahoma State
Overall F/+ 58 19
Field Position Advantage 108 91
S&P+ 49 20
FEI 66 15
When Texas Tech has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 25 31
Efficiency 34 30
Rushing S&P+ 38 18
Passing S&P+ 28 48
When Oklahoma State has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 90 28
Efficiency 116 54
Rushing S&P+ 124 63
Passing S&P+ 10 24

Texas Tech and Oklahoma State kick the college football week off tonight in the first of two fairly high-profile Thursday games. They have the same record, but Oklahoma State is the superior team. Texas Tech fits the typical Big 12 team profile: high flying passing offense and relatively inept defense. The Red Raiders remain one of the most unbalanced non-service academy FBS teams, with the 14th-most passing attempts per game and averaging just 29 rushing attempts per game (123rd overall).

The Oklahoma State and Texas Tech offenses compare nicely to one another, with Texas Tech 25th in S&P+ and Oklahoma State 28th. The problem for the Red Raiders is that the Pokies are more balanced not only between running and passing on offense, but between the talent levels on offense and defense overall. In fact, the Cowboys defense is actually ranked a little higher than its offense using opponent-unadjusted efficiency rankings. Unadjusted, the defense’s strength is against the run, which may not be much help later tonight. The Red Raiders will need to turn tonight into a shootout in order to win. The passing offense has been much more efficient (13th in success rate) than explosive (51st in IsoPPP) so far this season, but they’ll need to consistently move the ball against a defense that has been excellent on a per-play efficiency basis (16th), good on standard downs (31st), and poor at preventing explosive plays (103rd). In short, Texas Tech’s offensive strengths don’t match up all that well against the Cowboys, and their terrible field position (108th) and turnover margin (-1.33 per game) won’t do them any favors. Coach Kliff Kingsbury will need the Red Raiders to exploit the Cowboys’ weaknesses defending explosive plays while maintaining a high per-play and drive efficiency.

The other matchup between the Pokies offense and the Red Raiders defense is less interesting because the outcome is more certain: lots of Cowboys points. Even the one area where it seems like the Red Raiders have a defensive advantage -- Passing S&P -- is largely a result of playing two FBS teams that rank in the bottom 15 in passing yards. Besides large advantages in S&P+, possession efficiency, and Rushing S&P, the Red Raiders are particularly bad at defending the red zone, allowing touchdowns on 70.1 percent of opponent red zone trips. That may actually be the key for the Pokies tonight on offense -- maximize red zone trips. So far the Pokies are converting just 50 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns, but field goals may not cut it if the Red Raiders are insistent on turning this into a shootout.

The keys to a Red Raiders upset will be in not turning the ball over, holding the Pokies to field goals, and connecting on a few explosive plays.
F/+ Pick: Oklahoma State

UCLA (-3) at Arizona State– 10 p.m. Thursday (Fox Sports 1)

Overall Arizona State UCLA
Overall F/+ 25 22
Field Position Advantage 33 42
S&P+ 24 34
FEI 24 10
When Arizona State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 6 23
Efficiency 15 59
Rushing S&P+ 2 32
Passing S&P+ 14 42
When UCLA has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 68 60
Efficiency 35 48
Rushing S&P+ 65 76
Passing S&P+ 46 90

This top-15 matchup of undefeated Pac-12 South squads should go a long way in determining the division champion (but good luck staying awake if you’re watching it on the east coast). Outside of Miami-Nebraska last week, we may not have seen a game with two more evenly-matched up opponents according to FEI and S&P+. With only South Carolina and Clemson (and 0.4%) separating the two in the F/+ rankings, the two teams are evenly-matched on offense and defense.

Arizona State hasn’t asked their quarterbacks to do too much yet because the ground game has been so effective. D.J. Foster is averaging 9.4 yards per carry (against admittedly light competition so far, with Colorado being their toughest opponent) and pacing the second-overall S&P rushing attack. An efficient rushing attack and a quarterback who has yet to throw an interception this season has led to a high possession efficiency and an 81 percent touchdown rate in the red zone. So far, the Sun Devils have been efficient on both a per-play and possession basis. They’re running the ball well, not turning the ball over, and finishing drives. Of course, they go up against a Bruins defense that has been stout against the run as well. The only potential problem is that the Bruins have been much more effective per play than per possession, allowing a 56 percent red zone touchdown rate and ranking 59th in defensive efficiency. In fact, the Bruins have been as much bend-or-break as bend-but-don’t-break, with a stout per-play efficiency, but poor (83rd) IsoPPP.

The Bruins offense hasn’t shown much to make the Sun Devils nervous, besides the fact that their own defense is fairly mediocre. Brett Hundley has been efficient even though the passing game overall has been much less effective at consistently moving the ball than preseason polls predicted. The Bruins have leaned heavily on sophomore Paul Perkins, giving him just over 20 carries per game and recently involving him as a pass target as well (with five receptions for 69 yards against Texas). But for Hundley and the Bruins not putting up Heisman-level efficiency scores, the Sun Devils have been just as average on defense. In fact, regardless of the advanced statistic you choose, they’ve been consistently mediocre. Their worst defensive ranking is Passing Downs S&P, though it’s not clear if whichever quarterback the Bruins trot out with the first team (could be Hundley, but with his injury Mora has left the option for either Jerry Neuheisel or redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard to start) can take advantage.
F/+ Pick: Arizona State

Missouri (+6) at South Carolina -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Missouri South Carolina
Overall F/+ 26 23
Field Position Advantage 57 90
S&P+ 28 23
FEI 16 23
When Missouri has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 31 62
Efficiency 25 118
Rushing S&P+ 57 104
Passing S&P+ 20 109
When South Carolina has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 36 10
Efficiency 58 9
Rushing S&P+ 75 56
Passing S&P+ 26 39

During the preseason, few would have guessed that these two SEC East teams would be unranked when they faced off. After the Aggies’ demolition of the Gamecocks it seemed like Missouri could pass for 400 yards against the confused Gamecocks secondary. Following the Tigers’ run-in with the Hoosiers, though, Missouri too looks very vulnerable. On paper this game captures the new SEC (home to three of the top five scoring offenses and five of the top ten FEI offenses) fairly well: two top offenses and highly variable defenses.

Missouri’s offense will look a little different this week. While the Tigers had been relying mainly on sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk now that former star running back Henry Josey is in the NFL, the Tigers are shifting around their entire offensive line because of senior left guard Anthony Gatti’s knee injury last week. He’s not the only down-and-out member of the Missouri offense either, with receiver Darius White also out for the game. We don’t know how the new lineup will perform, but the passing game was very efficient at moving the chains before all of the injuries. The Tigers offense has relied on short and medium-range passing to move the chains, and it has done that effectively. Texas A&M used a similar short and medium-range attack, but was able to produce multiple explosive plays because of errors in the Gamecocks secondary. The Gamecocks defense looks fairly abysmal in all but opponent-adjusted S&P+, but this is due to facing two of the top ten S&P+ offenses in four games, as well as East Carolina at 33rd. But as Steve Spurrier said post-game last week, Vanderbilt is not a good offensive team (104th in S&P+, 114th in FEI), but was still able to score 34 points and gain 279 total yards (granted, two of those touchdowns were kickoff returns by Darrius Sims).

Most expected Dylan Thompson to fall short of Connor Shaw’s passing efficiency, but the senior has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,140 yards for the 39th-ranked passing S&P Gamecocks. The Gamecocks are another case of the raw efficiency rankings being far below the opponent-adjusted score. Despite merely good but not great performances from running backs Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds, the Gamecocks rank in the top ten in both the S&P+ and FEI. Missouri’s defense is slightly better when adjusting for opponents (Indiana, despite being a bottom-tier Big Ten team, has a 48 percent success rate), but will likely find trouble defending Davis and Wilds as the game wears on. Missouri’s defensive strength looks to be in pass defense, where they rank in the top 26 in both Passing S&P and Passing Downs S&P, but you can imagine the Gamecocks running game eventually wearing the Missouri front down into the fourth quarter, similar to how Indiana’s three running backs combined for 246 yards and three touchdowns (including Tevin Coleman’s 44-yard run on the game-winning fourth quarter drive). This looks like one of those last-team-with-the-ball-wins type games for the SEC East lead.
F/+ Pick: South Carolina?

Stanford (-4.5) at Washington– 4:15 p.m. (Fox)

Overall Washington Stanford
Overall F/+ 47 7
Field Position Advantage 10 2
S&P+ 51 6
FEI 43 6
When Washington has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 34 1
Efficiency 69 6
Rushing S&P+ 43 8
Passing S&P+ 50 6
When Stanford has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 75 56
Efficiency 18 62
Rushing S&P+ 44 75
Passing S&P+ 76 13

Stanford enters this matchup with the Huskies as favorites by a little more than a field goal, even though they sit 40 spots higher than Washington in the F/+ rankings. Accounting for the standard three points for playing at home, that means that Vegas collectively has Stanford as just a touchdown better than Washington. The Cardinals are just three points away from being undefeated this year and have been led by their elite defense, which has allowed just 13 points all season and ranks first in Defensive S&P+.

Between strong defensive performances and an offense that, while not posting Andrew Luck-levels of efficiency, has averaged 43 yards per possession, Stanford has earned a second overall Field Position Advantage ranking. Like a Jim Tressel Ohio State or older Alabama team, the Cardinals win with defense, special teams, and field position. The Huskies, meanwhile, aren’t offensive superstars. While better on a per-play opponent-adjusted basis, they are reliant on explosive plays with a low success rate and average rushing efficiency. Their running backs average 4.4 and 4.2 yards per carry, but they’re run enough that it has mostly made up for poor efficiency. But more than anything, the Washington offense has been inconsistent, scoring 17 points against Hawaii, then 44 against Illinois two weeks later. The Stanford defense won’t allow the Huskies much room to work, and punter Korey Durkee should get plenty of work.

Stanford’s offense has the edge over the Washington defense according to S&P+, but not according to the unadjusted defensive efficiency component of DFEI. The Cardinals offense has been consistent (45 percent success rate) and efficient passing (13th Passing S&P and 4th on Passing Downs S&P), but has struggled in the run game. That will likely be fine, though, as the Huskies defense has been more susceptible through the air anyway (Illinois passed for 279 yards at almost ten yards per attempt against the Huskies). However, if there is one area where Stanford is really outmatched, it’s in the red zone on offense, where they have scored touchdowns just 43 percent of the time, which is 112th in the country. The lack of a threatening ground game might have something to do with that. But the way the Cardinals defense is playing, they could probably not attempt a single running play the entire game and still have a chance.
F/+ Pick: Stanford

Tennessee (+19) at Georgia -- 12 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Tennessee Georgia
Overall F/+ 62 14
Field Position Advantage 40 1
S&P+ 46 16
FEI 74 13
When Tennessee has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 85 40
Efficiency 79 62
Rushing S&P+ 101 46
Passing S&P+ 99 83
When Georgia has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 29 7
Efficiency 26 13
Rushing S&P+ 30 3
Passing S&P+ 31 76

The other big SEC East matchup this weekend pits traditional rivals Tennessee and Georgia against each other. Despite growing confidence in Butch Jones, the Volunteers enter as 19-point underdogs and rank 48 spots behind the Dawgs in the F/+ standings.

Georgia has the advantage in every category but one: Passing S&P. This is because the Dawgs’ starting quarterback Hutson Mason averages just 140 yards per game. But he hasn’t really needed to throw for more, since his offense ranks fourth in scoring offense (with 48.7 points per game), seventh in Offensive S&P+, and 13th in Offensive Efficiency. With the platoon of running backs that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has, sometimes it’s best to just listen to Dawgs fans and “Run the damn ball, Bobo!” But to assume that Georgia can just run all over every opponent, especially one that has actually played well on defense in Tennessee, is wrong. The Volunteers defense has played well enough to enter the top 30 in both S&P and Defensive Efficiency, allowing opponents to convert just 23.3 percent of third downs (second overall). Their third down defense is excellent -- Oklahoma averaged just under 7 yards to go on third down -- but their red zone defense is suspect. Opponents have scored touchdowns on 67 percent of red zone trips, which is dangerous for a Georgia offense that can just hand the ball to whichever running back or fullback happens to be standing behind Mason. We really don’t know what Mason is capable of either, so it’s not guaranteed that the Volunteers will be able to either make Georgia one-dimensional in the first place or whether that would really hurt the Georgia offense’s production anyway. Tennessee will have to respect Georgia’s play-action passing game or get burned by the mostly unknown but underrated Georgia receiving corps.

The Georgia defense also has the statistical advantage over the Tennessee offense, but that doesn’t mean the Volunteers aren’t dangerous. Quarterback Justin Worley has improved and receiver Marquez North is one of the top at his position in SEC. Even though most of the offensive metrics have Tennessee well in the bottom quarter of the FBS, the lone almost-bright spot is in IsoPPP. The Volunteers will need to hit some big plays through the air against an admittedly young and inexperienced Georgia secondary. If the Volunteers do connect on several big plays or Huston Mason throws his first interception of the season, then I could see this one being close into the fourth quarter, but otherwise Georgia rolls and hopes that Missouri narrowly beats the Gamecocks.
F/+ Pick: Georgia

Arkansas (+15.5) at Texas A&M -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Arkansas Texas A&M
Overall F/+ 34 5
Field Position Advantage 28 75
S&P+ 31 5
FEI 38 4
When Arkansas has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 3 21
Efficiency 6 55
Rushing S&P+ 1 11
Passing S&P+ 33 28
When Texas A&M has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 98 4
Efficiency 87 1
Rushing S&P+ 61 4
Passing S&P+ 102 5

Vegas only has these two combining for 72 points, but I don’t see how that’s possible with the third- and fourth-ranked S&P+ and sixth- and top-ranked offenses duking it out in the SEC West. Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks have surprised a lot of people by looking like an upstart in the most difficult division in college football, rolling to 3-1 after losing to Auburn in the opener. In fact, the Tigers were the only ones to stop the Razorbacks at all, holding them to just 153 yards on the ground.

Outside of Auburn, the Razorbacks haven’t had the most difficult competition in the world, but what is remarkable is that they have averaged third in scoring average, third in Offensive S&P+, and sixth in Offensive Efficiency, while having the 114th-ranked passing offense. The thing is that, while Brandon Allen hasn’t been asked to do a lot -- the Razorbacks parallel Georgia in that way -- he has been fairly efficient when he has needed to pass (33rd in Passing S&P). This is one of the best defenses that Kevin Sumlin has fielded at Texas A&M -- especially against the run -- so Allen may be called on to do a little more than in previous weeks.

Texas A&M is still the offensive juggernaut we’ve come to expect, but there are indications that defensive improvements may give this squad a higher ceiling than even the Johnny Manziel-led teams had. The Aggies rank in the top five of every offensive category Football Outsiders tracks except for IsoPPP (22nd) and Pass Downs S&P (10th). The Razorbacks, on the other hand, haven’t been able to stop their FBS opponents, especially allowing Auburn quarterbacks to throw for 293 yards and backup Jeremy Johnson to average 15.2 yards per attempt. In fact, the Razorbacks are third-to-last opponent red zone touchdown percentage, allowing close to 91 percent of opponents to score touchdowns in the red zone. That’s not good when Texas A&M has converted more than 84 percent of their own red zone attempts into touchdowns (fourth overall). While both teams have offensive firepower, the Aggies have the edge on defense and are more well-rounded on offense, and should win any shootout.
F/+ Pick: Texas A&M



Underdog Spread Favorite F/+ Pick F/+ vs. Spread Pick
Texas Tech 14.5 Oklahoma State Oklahoma State Texas Tech
Tennessee 17 Georgia Georgia Tennessee
Vanderbilt 17 Kentucky Kentucky Vanderbilt
Maryland 4 Indiana Indiana Indiana
Arkansas 10 Texas A&M Texas A&M Texas A&M
NC State 19 Florida State Florida State NC State
Washington 8 Stanford Stanford Stanford
Cincinnati 17 Ohio State Ohio State Cincinnati
Missouri 5.5 South Carolina South Carolina Missouri
Duke 7 Miami-FL Miami-FL Duke
Arizona State 4 UCLA Arizona State Arizona State

Record last week outright: 7-4
Record last week against the spread: 8-3
Season outright: 32-14
Season against the spread: 24-22

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 25 Sep 2014