The result was disappointing, but the numbers indicate that there was a lot to like about Arkansas’ performance against Texas A&M.
Ultimately, Arkansas is going to have to start winning games like this. A loss in this fashion in two years or so and Bret Bielema will start to feel some heat. But for this season, against a clearly more talented opponent, a tussle to the finish with a top-10 team is progress. Even in defeat, the numbers indicate that this team is far better than its 2013 version.
Let’s run back through Bill Connelly’s Five Factors:
|First 3 quarters||52.00%||44.23%|
A few things to see here. First, the nation’s two best teams in success rate clashed on Saturday…and neither came close to its season average. The Aggies were sitting at 55.3 percent and the Hogs at 54.7 percent. Both defenses played well, and both offenses shot themselves in the foot on multiple occasions.
Second, Arkansas’ offense fell apart in the fourth quarter. It’s worth noting that neither the run nor the pass worked in the fourth quarter, so trying to blame this on Brandon Allen or Jim Chaney’s playcalling is misguided. Arkansas posted a rushing success rate of just 31.8 percent in the second half and overtime. That’s not how you play smashmouth football. A big run by Jonathan Williams that would have probably ended things was called back by a tripping call on Dan Skipper, and after that the offense came apart, posting only three successful plays for the remainder of the game.
Third, so much for Spike Rate as the key stat of the week. The Razorback defense broke up nine Aggie passes (20 total incompletions) and made a few TFLs against the run. Arkansas’ offensive spikes got more frequent as the game went on. Only one rushing play went for no gain or a loss in the first half, and five such runs suffered that fate in the second, none bigger than the stuff on fourth-and-one to end the game.
Fourth – and this will be a recurring theme throughout this post – you can’t put this game on the defense. At all. No part of it. Sure, they busted late and ended up surrendering 523 yards of offense. Doesn’t matter. They played more than well enough to win. The offense is what unraveled late.
ADVANTAGE: Arkansas for three quarters, Aggies in the fourth and OT.
The "yards per play" statistic can be misleading, because it’s so closely tied in with success rate. If a team goes 10 plays for 80 yards, that’s a solid 8.0 yards per play. But if those ten plays were an 80-yard pass and nine incomplete passes, that means the offense stalled on three whole drives before getting those points. So the 10 percent success rate (one in 10 plays was successful) largely negates the 8 yards per play.
Instead, we use isoYPP, or isolated yards per play. This is the yards per play of all plays that were successful. This allows you to separate yards per play (explosiveness) and success rate (efficiency). In the above example, the success rate is 10 percent and the isoYPP is 80, because only the successful play was counted.
Unsurprisingly, Texas A&M wins the isoYPP battle. The Hogs took a rushing advantage, but the Aggies, who saw just 44.2 percent of their passes be successes, averaged 21.8 yards on the 18 passes that were successful.
ADVANTAGE: Texas A&M
3. Starting Field Position
|Avg SFP||Own 27.5||Own 26.5|
Nothing much to see here, as the starting field position was almost dead even. The Aggies started the game at the Arkansas 49, but that was it for advantageous field position.
Each team had one. Arkansas’ (a fumbled quarterback-center exchange) killed what was looking like a scoring drive, while the Aggies’ came in the fourth quarter and almost ended their shot. Arkansas is still +2 on the year and hasn’t lost the turnover battle yet after losing it in 8 of 12 games last year.
5. Finishing Drives
|Points per Opportunity||4.7||5.0|
Both teams had 14 drives (counting OT but not end-of-half drives). Value drives must reach the opponents’ 30. The Aggies were best in the NCAA with 69 percent of drives being value drives. To hold them to less than half is an impressive feat by the Arkansas defense. Methodical drives must last 10 plays. Arkansas led the NCAA with 34 percent of drives being methodical. On Saturday: zero. Zip. Zilch. Not a one. When HUNH coaches say they don’t care about time of possession, what they mean is they don’t care about time of possession as long as the other team isn’t racking up methodical drives. Because the Hogs couldn’t play keepaway, the Aggies kept getting chances even while Arkansas won the TOP. Kevin Sumlin was right this time: time of possession was meaningless, because Arkansas’ end-game of controlling the clock was unsuccessful. Explosive drives must average at least 10 yards per play. Advantage Aggies, but this stat is mostly the inverse of methodical drives.
Scoring opportunities are the number of times a team reaches the opponent 40. Arkansas got there six times, scoring four touchdowns, missing a field goal, and floundering in overtime. The Aggies made it seven times, with five touchdowns, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs.
ADVANTAGE: Texas A&M, only because Arkansas had 0 methodical drives
Don’t even try to blame the defense
Here’s the biggest reason you cannot blame the defense for this one.
Second and Third quarters: 5 drives, 220 yards, 7 points
Fourth quarter: 5 drives, 198 yards, 14 points
That’s the Texas A&M offense over the final three quarters of regulation. In the second and third quarters (half the game), the Aggies had the ball five times, totaling 220 yards and scoring just seven points. The Aggies then had as many opportunities in the fourth quarter alone as they had in the previous two. Remember: the defense doesn’t control when the other team gets the ball. That’s the offense’s job. Arkansas’ inability to move the ball (18.1 percent success rate) gave Texas A&M five cracks at tying the game in the fourth quarter. Good smashmouth offenses don’t allow an opponent five drives in one quarter. And it’s not like Arkansas’ defense folded. Carroll Washington picked off a Kenny Hill pass to buy the Arkansas offense some time, but nothing ever materialized.
Meanwhile, for the Arkansas offense:
Second and Third quarters: 5 drives, 222 yards, 14 points
Fourth quarter: 4 drives, 63 yards, 0 points
That’s not winning football.
Lots of silver linings here: the defense played really, really well, given the circumstances. Texas A&M recorded its lowest passing success rate since the LSU game last season and the sixth-lowest of the Kevin Sumlin era (31 games). Arkansas’ defensive performance against Texas Tech was no fluke. Once again, an Air Raid quarterback looked lost for half the game against the Hog secondary. And defensive coordinator Robb Smith isn’t doing anything really fancy: the Hogs are playing a fundamentally sound defense, using mostly Cover 2 and rushing four. The pass rush is decent, although it tends to vanish late in games due to a lack of depth (that will come). The linebackers are excellent at stopping the run and playing the middle of the field. The cornerbacks do a great job on the edge. The safeties are okay at not getting burned (still work to do here).
Brandon Allen didn’t look great, but the film indicates it’s hardly his fault. Still, he totaled a passing success rate of 40.7 percent. Not great (needs to be around 50 percent), but it’s better than his 36.3 percent mark last season. The real problem is the receivers. They can’t get separation against SEC defensive backs. That’s why almost all of Arkansas’ non-play-action passing attempts are to the sideline, where they have a chance to shield the DBs with their body. Teams with good receivers can throw over the middle (a la Petrino in 2010-2011), and teams with bad receivers cannot. Potential playmakers like KJ Hill and Deon Stewart will arrive next season, and Keon Hatcher, Cody Hollister, Drew Morgan, Jared Cornelius, and Kendrick Edwards will bolster a much-improved group next year, but expect this to remain an on-going issue unless someone has a breakthrough.
Speaking of Edwards, the offense staff determined that Demetrius Wilson, either by injury or unsatisfactory play, wasn’t the best option at X-WR and started Edwards instead. If you’ll recall, X-WR was Arkansas’ problem last season, as Javontee Herndon (a natural flanker) struggled to man it. It’s an ongoing problem. When Arkansas is in two-TE sets throwing off play-action, an X-WR is not needed, but in shotgun in passing situations, it’s a must. Arkansas clearly isn’t there yet, as Allen always looked to sideline routes from shotgun. My way-too-early diagnosis is that Edwards will eventually be the X. He has the size, speed, and hands to play the part. He may take the starting job this year (perhaps he already has), and almost certainly will by next year.
I’ll have Arkansas’ updated S&P+ numbers and rankings in time for the Alabama game preview in a week. Arkansas might have the same record through five game as it did in 2013 (3-2), but there’s no doubt this team is much better. Time to learn to finish games.
Here are the game's final rushing and passing figures. Arkansas had a slight rushing edge, but Texas A&M actually had better line yards per carry (yards per carry if all rushes over 6 yards are capped at 6 yards, to better account for what the offensive line is actually responsible for). This means that Texas A&M's line did a better job of opening up holes than Arkansas' line, although the number of men in the box plays a major part. Arkansas hit more big plays to inflate its rushing figures. That 3.1 line yards per carry is way too low. It needs to be around 3.5 or more.
If anyone has any questions about any of these statistics, how they are calculated, or what they mean, just drop a comment and I'll try to get give a good answer.
|Pass Downs SR||23.08%||29.17%|