Here’s how ridiculous the SEC is: the proper response to seeing No. 10 Georgia on the schedule is "Whoa. Thank goodness. An easy one."
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly the response this matchup should elicit, but still, statistically, Georgia is the best matchup for Arkansas this season among SEC opponents. Arkansas is 0-3 against top 10 opponents – losing by an average of 10.7 points per game – and 3-0 against everyone else, winning by an average of 41.7 points per game.
After seven weeks, Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall switch to all-weighted numbers. If you recall last week, only the Offense S&P+ and Defense S&P+ values were weighted for strength of opponent, and the component and sub values were raw; but now everything is weighted, meaning that stats such as overall success rate and isoPPP are posted only on a per-game basis.
Instead, we’ll meet a stat called Drive Efficiency, or the percentage of yards gained per drive versus the expectation. For example, if a team starts at the 25, they have 75 possible yards to gain. If an opposing defense is giving up an average of, say, 60 percent of available yards, and the offense gains all 75 (100 percent), then they will be above average for this stat. Let’s check it out:
Offense’s time to shine
|ARK off||UGA def|
Arkansas’ Offense S&P+ peaked at 4th in the NCAA prior to the Texas A&M game, but has declined after two straight losses. Arkansas didn’t drop much in any of the stats, given the expectations against Alabama’s defense (#1 against the run, #16 against the pass).
The interesting figure here is Georgia at 71st in Rushing Defense S&P+. If that is indeed true, then the Bulldog run defense is significantly worse than Auburn, Alabama, or NIU. I love when we can find things in the stats, such as NIU's rushing attack averaging 324 rushing yards per game but only ranking 81st in Rushing S&P+. We saw that NIU's rushing attack was overrated, and sure enough the Hogs shut it down. I'd love to say that's what this is: a sign that Georgia's run defense is overrated. If it's true the Hogs will win this game easily. But I'm not sure I can buy it. I have a hard time believing the Hogs will run over Georgia on Saturday. If they do, we'll come back to these numbers as prophetic.
Here’s how the strength of opposing units stack up:
|Rush Def S&P+||Rush Off S&P+|
|Tex Tech||96th||16th||S Carolina|
Well, well. The only good rushing team the Bulldogs have faced beat them.
Raw yards don’t always sum up efficiency, but here’s how Georgia’s rushing defense has fared versus the season average for their opponents:
|vs UGA||Season||% Margin|
The Dawgs’ rush defense has had two good games (Clemson and Missouri), leading to wins in games that were supposed to be close. The two bad games (South Carolina and Tennessee) led to a loss and a near-loss against two inferior teams.
Here’s Arkansas’ rushing offense against the expected:
|vs ARK||Season||% Margin|
Arkansas has been pretty consistent, exceeding the opposing defense’s average by 25 to 75 percent in every game. Given Georgia’s average of 101 rushing yards against per game, that would equal 125 to 175 rushing yards. Arkansas will probably need the north end of that, if not over 200 yards, to win this game.
Finally, here are the passing numbers versus Georgia’s season average.
|vs UGA||Season||% Margin|
These are very similar to the rushing figures. Two great games, three ‘meh’ games.
Can the defense carry the Hogs again?
|UGA off||ARK def|
Whoa. Where’d that defense come from? Arkansas’ Defense S&P+ jumped up 30 points after the Alabama game. The Hogs are 10th nationally in drive efficiency defense. Georgia’s offense runs behind that 6th in Rushing S&P+, but if Todd Gurley doesn’t play, Georgia’s rushing efficiency will drop off significantly.
The Arkansas defense numbers that high means our season-by-season graph now looks like this:
The Hog defense has held four straight opponents below their season averages for success rate, rushing yards, and passing yards. Here’s the SOS for Arkansas’ run defense against Georgia’s run offense:
|Rush Off S&P+||Rush Def S&P+|
|Tex Tech||35th||63rd||S Carolina|
Roughly equal here. Here's how Arkansas' run defense has performed vs. the season averages of its opponents:
|vs ARK||Season||% Margin|
One bad game followed by no one being able to run on the Hogs. And for the pass defense:
|vs ARK||Season||% Margin|
Once again, one bad game followed by four good ones, although giving up 361 pass yards to Texas A&M isn't exactly a "good" game.
These numbers make this look like a fairly low-scoring game, even if Todd Gurley plays. If he doesn't, Georgia's going to have the throw the ball. As you saw from the S&P+ rankings, Hutson Mason isn't a bad passer, but he's not great either. If the running game has been slowed, I'm not convinced Georgia's going to be able to dice up Arkansas' pass defense.
Key stat of the game 1: Turnover margin
Last week’s key stat of the game (yards per point) turned out to really be the key stat, as Arkansas outgained Alabama by over 100 yards and still lost. This time, it’s simple: don’t turn the ball over. Force turnovers.
|Tex Tech||3||2||+1||+2||0||2||S Carolina|
Both teams were tied in turnover margin until last week, when Arkansas lost it for the first time in 2014 and Georgia went +5. The Dawgs have yet to lose it this season. Arkansas doesn’t have to win the turnover margin to win the game, but the Hogs can’t lose it.
Key stat of the game 2: Yards per point
This one gets carried over after perfectly summing up Arkansas’ loss a week ago. The primary reason for this is that Georgia’s offense does a great job of maximizing points from yards gained. Arkansas has had a couple of good games, but has slipped badly in the last two weeks.
|Tex Tech||499||49||10.18||11.66||35||408||S Carolina|
Arkansas’ last two weeks show an unsurprising pattern of missed opportunities, as the Hogs’ points haven’t properly matched up to yards gained. Georgia is brutally efficient at maximizing yards into points.
Keys to the Game
1. Break even or win the turnover battle. A win would be really nice, but it’s not completely necessary unless Arkansas fails in other areas. Losing could be disastrous. Georgia hasn’t lost it yet, and has lost a game in which it went +2 (South Carolina).
2. Record fewer than 15 yards per point. Same as last week, Arkansas needs to maximize its yards. The Hogs are 0-3 when recording more than 15 yards per point, so this is kind of necessary. Holding Georgia above 15 yards per point would almost guarantee a victory, but it’s not completely necessary.
3. Win the spike rate. Arkansas lost it badly last week (44.1 percent to 28.3 percent). That means 44.1 percent of Arkansas’ offensive snaps went for no gain, lost yardage, or a turnover. Against a team running a similar offense, Arkansas needs to win it this week.
4. Win the field position battle. Arkansas also lost the field position battle badly last week, averaging 12 yards worse per possession (37 to 25) in starting field position. Alabama has a great punter, but Arkansas is not interesting in letting D.J. Dean actually field punts. Sam Irwin-Hill didn’t have a great game punting the ball, either. Georgia’s offense sans Todd Gurley lacks explosiveness, so forcing the Dawgs to drive the length of the field for every point is essential.
5. Hold Georgia below 33 percent success rate rushing, and under 9.5 isoYPP rushing. Arkansas held Alabama to 24 percent and 7.83 isoYPP rushing, so this should not be a tall order. Against Alabama, Arkansas loaded up the box, shut down the run, and forced Blake Sims to win the game with his arm, which he was barely able to do. Hutson Mason doesn’t have the benefit of a dominant defense or ultra-talented receivers, so if Arkansas can shut down Georgia’s run game, the Hogs should win, perhaps by a large margin.
What can we learn from Georgia-Missouri?
Georgia walloped Missouri 34-0 without Todd Gurley, and we learned quite a bit.
Many pundits took the final score as a sign that Georgia would be fine without Todd Gurley, but the results indicate anything but. Gurley was averaging over eight yards per carry, and backup Nick Chubb, who rushed 38 times, gained only 3.8 yards per carry. In the first half, where Georgia built a 20-0 lead and pretty much shut things down, the Bulldog offense did the following:
Sacks and quarterback scrambles are counted as passes. Hutson Mason did a nice job of moving the chains with short passes, but there’s nothing in those stats to indicate that the running game was particularly impressive. The 26.1 percent success rate is pretty far below the national average and is nearly as bad as what Alabama managed against the Hogs (24 percent).
Georgia jumped out to its lead in part because Maty Mauk threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Georgia started at the Mizzou 47 and 25, midfield, and at its own 35 and 41, all in the first half.
So Georgia’s offense doesn’t seem fine or even nearly as good without Todd Gurley. Given the way Arkansas has been swallowing up rushing attacks in recent weeks, stopping Georgia on the ground shouldn’t be an issue. But once the Hogs commit the extra guys to do so, can they keep from being short-passed to death by Hutson Mason? The answer has been mostly yes against the last four teams Arkansas has played, but we’ll see on Saturday.
Playing without middle linebacker Brooks Ellis, who has been fantastic all season, will probably have an effect. Against Alabama, Darius Philon single-handedly ate up so many blocks that Alabama blockers were unable to get to the second level, and Ellis and Martrell Spaight came unblocked to destroy most run plays. Without Ellis, Josh Williams needs to step up, and Spaight needs to clean up everything.
Finally, has Georgia’s defense turned a corner? Missouri’s offense has been badly regressing, struggling in a loss to Indiana – which just gave up over 500 yards of offense to IOWA – and struggling for three and a half quarters against South Carolina, another bad defense. So maybe Georgia’s shutdown of Mizzou was a blip on the radar, and the defense that frequently gets torched for long passes and is very average against the run is the defense that shows up on Saturday. We’ll see.
What is clear is this: the stats I’ve presented every week indicated that Arkansas was certainly an underdog against Texas A&M, and a candidate to lose by about 15-20 points against Alabama. As you can see from the charts, the S&P+ numbers on both sides of the ball are nearly a push this time. There’s no way Arkansas can get a "moral victory" out of Saturday. Win or it’s a disappointment, especially if Gurley doesn’t play.