“Hogs dominate Aggies” was the deadline everyone was hoping to read last week. Better late than never, I guess.
The Hogs dispatched New Mexico State 42-24 on Saturday to get back to 2-2. The Aggies (2-3) are a decent team and have a legitimate chance at six wins or more, which is way better than what they usually do in Las Cruces.
Still, as you’ll see in the numbers, this game was never remotely in doubt, even as New Mexico State pulled to within 28-17 early in the third quarter. I think there are a couple different stats you’ll see that — even against New Mexico State — offer a hint that this team is closer than you might think to being what the coaches want it to be.
NOTE: For all stats, Arkansas’ final drive that included a 33-yard run by Devwah Whaley was omitted due to junk time recording guidelines.
We’ll build on this in a second, but New Mexico State stayed alive through explosive plays. They averaged 15.5 yards per successful play (isoYPP). That’s not amazing, but it’s pretty good. Here’s the catch: the 44% of plays that were successful totaled 355 yards. The other 56% of plays — 29 in all — netted exactly zero yards. Arkansas’ defense didn’t play particularly well, but they never let the Aggies get on schedule and that was more than enough to win.
Arkansas’ offensive numbers are downright ridiculous. Not ridiculous meaning “really good”, but ridiculous meaning “really bizarre.” Take a look:
Here’s why the game was never in doubt: Arkansas had an 84% success rate in the first half. All told, 32 of the Hogs’ 38 offensive plays were recorded as successful. Those 38 plays totaled 337 yards and helped the Hogs score 28 points and punt zero times. Production dropped off dramatically after halftime with the game in the bag, but Arkansas easily could have scored 70 had the offense kept its foot on the gas.
Also look at the run stats. These numbers are so bizarre they almost broke the definition of “success rate.” The Hogs posted an 81.6% success rate on run plays... and only averaged 4.0 yards per run. Arkansas’ longest (recorded) run was 12 yards, and the vast majority were 3 to 6 yards. Zero explosiveness, brutal efficiency.
From the game preview:
Bad against the run. They are decent at preventing big plays, but their 3-4 front is not disruptive at all: they’re 75th in Rushing Success Rate, 98th in line-yards per carry, 106th in opportunity rate, and 76th in stuff rate (hitting backs in the backfield).
What Arkansas doesn’t do well is 80-yard runs, but the Hogs seem to always get at least 3 or 4 yards and frequently get 6- to 10-yard bursts. Expect to see a lot of that on Saturday.
This also highlights the shortfalls of the success rate formula. A play is either successful or not, so a successful 4-yard run and a successful 54-yard run are both recorded the same. We use other stats (like EV or isoYPP) to complement success rate and give a better picture. Overall, despite the 81.6% rushing success rate, I don’t think the Hogs had a great game running the ball, but I do prefer the “German train schedule” run game we’ve seen the last two weeks to the sporadic rushing attack we saw in 2016.
EV gives a more complete picture of the run and pass games. The Hogs threw it better than they ran it, which is a nice changeup after a couple tough games from Austin Allen.
The kickoff team gets some kudos. New Mexico State started inside their own 20 on several occasions.
Here was one of my keys to the game:
Find reliable targets. The Hogs will have to pass some, and with Jared Cornelius out for the year, Austin Allen needs a buddy. Right now, he doesn’t trust anyone, as evidenced by the fact that he really spreads the ball around on third down. If he had a guy he trusted, that guy would be racking up third down targets. He likes Nance for big plays, but my money’s on a comeback performance by Deon Stewart, who has had a really rough start to the year (9 targets, 3 catches, 31 yards, -3 EV). If he or the equally-bad LaMichael Pettway (5 targets, 1 catch, 7 yards, -1 EV) can’t get it going, it may be time to get some younger guys more snaps.
So, how’d they do?
Mission accomplished! Deon Stewart had the breakout game he’s desperately needed, and Jordan Jones looked nice as well. Here’s how they finished:
- Deon Stewart: 4 targets, 4 catches, 71 yards, +7 EV
- Jordan Jones: 5 targets, 4 catches, 84 yards, +5 EV
- Jonathan Nance: 8 targets, 6 catches, 58 yards, +4 EV
Nance appears to be Allen’s favorite target at this point, and this looks like the 3-wides lineup the Hogs will use. It also appears that Cheyenne O’Grady (3 targets, 3 catches, 38 yards, +4 EV) has beaten out Austin Cantrell not only in passing situations, but in most standard downs as well. Cantrell remains a solid blocker who will see plenty of early-down work, but O’Grady is the real deal as both a third-down possession target and an athletic screen-catcher.
Speaking of third downs:
Both teams had field days on third down. The defense didn’t perform well here. Based on NMSU’s yards to go, they should have converted just 30.4% of the time and they got almost twice that.
The Hogs also over-performed, and the to-go breakdown shows you how they did it. The offense hit short and medium targets but were really good on third-and-long. Why? First, Austin Allen was sacked zero times and had clean pockets throughout the game. Second, as noted above, he’s finally figuring out who his favorite receivers are. Winning on third-and-long is the first step towards Allen returning to the 2016 version of himself... except now he’s armed with a much more efficient run game.
Up next is South Carolina. They lost to Texas A&M, so they’re probably not any better than the Hogs. I don’t know whether to call this a “must-win” or not: I figured the A&M game was a must-win. At this point, I’m just cheering for fun, and I suspect this Hog team still has plenty of fun left in the tank.