We’ve got a bit of a double-post today. We’re six games into the season, so it’s time for a brief midseason report, then we’ll check out Auburn.
I teased Points Above Normal (PAN) in the Alabama recap and decided to go ahead and calculate it. PAN is basically an opponent-adjusted form of EV. I stole the idea from a blog at MGoBlog, a Michigan fan site that has a bunch of great statistical work. I wanted to calculate PAN because I wanted to see if Cole Kelley actually performed decently against Alabama, given the quality of Alabama’s defense. He had a minus-15.8 EV, but Alabama does that to a lot of teams.
So let’s see how Kelley did, and I’ll show you how PAN is calculated as we go:
- Alabama’s defense is allowing minus-0.32 EV per Pass this season
- Kelley totaled minus-15.8 EV in 50 dropbacks, or minus-0.27 EV per Pass
- That means Kelley was +0.05 EV per Pass (0.32 - 0.27) and over 50 plays he was 0.05 x 50 = +3 PAN per Pass
Basically, Kelley managed to add 3 EV more than the average quarterback does against Alabama, given his number of plays. I suspected he actually played decently given the level of competition, and the numbers agree here.
Here is Arkansas’ PAN for each game this year:
The Hogs are 0-4 in these games, but they actually played better against TCU and Texas A&M than the collective average of all other FBS teams those squads have faced. These numbers make more sense when you consider that these four teams are 21-2 in other games (actually its 23-4, but I removed Alabama-Texas A&M and South Carolina-Texas A&M for obvious reasons), with their losses against UCLA and Kentucky, and their wins including Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Florida State, Florida, and NC State.
Passing seems to be Arkansas’ strength, while rushing defense seems to be the biggest weakness. Outside of one good game against Texas A&M, the run game has disappointed. Outside of one bad game against Texas A&M, the pass defense has been decent. The Hogs can’t seem to get it together.
I’ll keep tracking PAN throughout the season.
- Very good against the run. The Tigers are solid all-around on defense, but their rushing efficiency defense is among the nation’s elite.
- Good standard-downs run game. Gus Malzahn’s offense is build on an efficiency-based, early-downs run game coupled with an explosive passing attack. The passing attack has been all over the map, but the Tigers run it well on early downs and are very good at staying on schedule.
- Great placekicker. Daniel Carlson, who I believe recently re-signed another 6-year deal to stay on the Plains through 2023, has hit multiple 50-yard field goals this year. The contract part might be sarcasm.
- Can’t protect their quarterback. You thought Arkansas was bad at protecting the quarterback? The Hogs are 110th in Adjusted Sack Rate. Auburn is 124th. More than 10% of Jarrett Stidham’s dropbacks end with him on the ground. The Hogs showed a surprising amount of pressure in the first half against Alabama. They’ll need it on Saturday.
- Offense is bad when knocked off-schedule. This is a recurring issue for Gus Malzahn, and it could end up being the factor that sinks an otherwise-solid tenure in Auburn. Without a spectacular playmaker (a la Cam Newton), the offense lacks solutions when it falls behind the chains. Stidham is not that guy, although the lack of protection could be a factor. If it’s third down and more than 3 to go, the punter better be ready to go in.
When Arkansas has the ball
We’re doing things a little different this time. In order to calculate PAN, I had to calculate everyone’s season-average EV, so I thought I’d post it here. I’ll use EV for standard/passing downs stuff and then use Success Rate and other numbers for pure rushing and passing breakdowns.
The Arkansas run game may can generate a little bit of success on standard downs, but that’s about it. Passing Downs EV is almost always negative (since most third downs are not converted), and the Hogs actually aren’t really bad here on offense, it’s just that Auburn is really good.
Arkansas doesn’t break many long runs, and Auburn isn’t keen to giving them up anyway. I’ll be disappointed if Arkansas can’t carve out at least 100 and ideally 150 rushing yards, but it’s possible that the Hogs won’t be able to.
I’ve said it several times but it must be said again: Devwah Whaley should not be the main back. He has the lowest EV on the entire offense (-14) and is in a sophomore slump. He might break out of it and I’m sure he will at some point, but in the meantime his 10-carries-per-game average needs to drop.
Auburn limits explosive pass plays and gets after the quarterback. That isn’t a good combination for Arkansas. The Hogs will need a lot of Passing PAN (+5 at last) to overcome this disadvantage.
When Auburn has the ball
Auburn’s offense is entirely dependent on Standard Downs Rushing EV. If they fail to get close to that marker (0.21 EV/Rush) then their offense comes apart and the Hogs should be able to get them off the field. But there’s bad news: rushing efficiency defense is Arkansas’ biggest weakness. The Hogs couldn’t get TCU’s run game off-schedule. Arkansas has posted negative Rushing Defense PAN in every Power-5 game this season. So yeah, this might take a miracle.
The Hogs are 129th in Standard Downs Line-Yards per carry. The football staff should consider sending Rice a fruit bouquet or something, because the Owls are the only team worse in the FBS.
I don’t see a whole lot of hope here, unless the Hogs can seriously get some havoc. All-out run blitzes with receivers left on islands may be Arkansas’ best hope.
If the Hogs do manage some stops... there is good news.
The Tigers can’t protect Stidham, and he’s only pedestrian when he does get the throw off. The Hogs don’t generate a lot of sacks, so early-downs pressure has to carry over into passing situations.
Keys to the game
- Sell out to stop the run. Auburn’s offense goes glitchy when the Tigers can’t run the ball on early downs. If Arkansas can’t stop the run, there is realistically nothing else the Hogs can do to avoid a 3- or 4-touchdown loss. It starts and stops here.
- Generate a big play, somewhere. Arkansas is still sitting on two (2) punt return yards this season. Special teams and the run game just don’t generate big plays, and it’s killing the Hogs. Regardless of who plays quarterback, I don’t think Arkansas can consistently drive the ball on this Auburn defense. They’re gonna need some help.
- No stupid penalties. The Hogs lost 2 points (EV) against Alabama due to penalties. This is not supposed to be something we’re talking about on a Bret Bielema team, but here we are. Can’t run the ball, can’t play defense, commit too many penalties... just like we all expected, right?