The Razorbacks’ 2017 season opener was, in many ways, boring. I guess that’s a good thing: Baylor’s opener against an FCS school wasn’t boring at all, and now the Bears are 0-1. When playing a team you should beat by 40, boring can be good.
I was among the meagre 36,000 fans to take in the beatdown at War Memorial Stadium. I’m aware that there’s not much to glean from a 49-7 win over an FCS school, but a season opener is the ideal time to unveil my new formatting for advanced stats, so I went all-in. Comments on how I can improve presentation are appreciated, as always!
Perhaps it will help to quickly recap what each of these stats are. I’m probably only going to do this once, so in the future, if you’re confused, refer back to this article.
- Success Rate: percentage of offensive plays that are “successful.” A successful play gets 40% of the yards to go on first down, 60% on second down, and 100% on third and fourth downs. For example, a 7-yard gain on 1st-and-10 is successful; a 3-yard gain on 3rd-and-6 is not. This is a useful measure of general offensive efficiency and the ability to stay “on schedule.”
- Expected Value (EV): the “value” (points, basically) added by the offense. A touchdown may be worth 6 points, but it’s not very accurate to assign all 6 points to the scoring play itself, since it took an entire drive to get to that play. This figure measures how close each play moves you to scoring by taking into account how each play changes the down, yards to go, and yardline.
- Line-Yards (LY): rushing yards, but with each run “capped” at a maximum of 6 yards. A single 80-yard run can often skew stats and betray how efficient a run game is. By capping all runs at 6 yards (so an 80-yard run and a 9-yard run are both valued at 6 yards, while a 4-yard run still counts as 4 yards), you get a more accurate measure of how good the run-blocking is from play to play.
Other stats will be explained as I use them.
Here is the game’s EV chart. Arkansas earned 27.5 points from field position. They added 11 points via the rushing game, 3 points via the passing game, 7 points from Henre’ Toliver’s fumble return, 0.3 points from penalties, and 0.2 points from made extra points.
If you’re wondering about the 6.97 figure: touchdowns are worth 6.97, because that’s 6 points and the chance to kick an extra point, which is made 97% of the time. If the kicker makes the extra point, he gets the other 0.03 points (hence Arkansas’ 0.21 placekicking points: 7 extra points at 0.03 for each). If he misses, he loses 0.97 points.
The game largely shows what we expected: an improved running game playing against a bad run defense. Arkansas’ defense clamped down on FAMU’s subpar passing attack.
And here’s the game splits. There’s a lot of stuff here, so let’s break it down.
- Arkansas’ offense was hyper-efficient. The 2014 and 2015 teams were very efficient and not very explosive. In 2016, something flipped. The run game, led by Rawleigh Williams III instead of Alex Collins, was a little more explosive, but at a major efficiency cost: Arkansas fell from 2nd to 102nd in rushing success rate from 2015 to 2016. That’s a staggering drop. Arkansas, with this offensive system, cannot afford to be boom-or-bust. I know it’s an FCS team with a bad run defense, but Arkansas showed a concentrated effort to be efficient in the run game. A 75% rushing success rate is solid regardless of opponent.
- The Hogs remain good on second down. The Razorbacks added nearly a half-point per second down play for the game. A good second-down offense has been the trend under Bret Bielema. That first-down EV is a little low, though. That was a problem in 2016, largely due to run-game inefficiencies.
- The defense was swarming. The opponent was weak, but Arkansas’ defense really clamped down. Nearly half of FAMU’s total yards and more than one-third of its successful plays came in the fourth quarter against Arkansas’ backups. From the preview:
The switch to the 3-4 defense has bee the talk of the offseason, with good reason. As a big X’s-and-O’s guy, I love the chatter. But games aren’t played on the chalkboard. Four of the front seven will make their first career start on Thursday and WLB Dre Greenlaw is the only player who’s started a game prior to 2016... and even he’s coming back from an injury that sidelined him for the final 8 games of last year. As you can imagine, there’s reason to be concerned that guys won’t even get to the right place. Schemes take a while to implement. If guys are out of position, before or after the snap, it might be a sign to temper expectations of defensive improvement, at least early in the year.
Consider that test passed. It’s a minor test, but it’s a good sign that the defense looked faster and more confident in the 3-4 scheme.
Solid numbers for Arkansas’ running backs, namely Chase Hayden, who was fantastic. I’ve highlighted Devwah Whaley’s disappointing EV per carry stat: it’s low because getting stuffed on 3rd-and-1 on the opening drive cost the Hogs 2.68 points. The easiest way for a running back to lose EV is to fail in should-convert situations.
Also note David Williams’ numbers. If his yards per carry numbers (3.3) appear disappointing, the advanced stats didn’t seem to notice, as he earned a 71% success rate and 0.36 EV per carry. Basically, he got the yards that were available to him.
I’ll have more stats on Arkansas’ running backs in the TCU preview coming up this week.