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Arkansas vs. Eastern Illinois Box Score Breakdown

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What can we learn from Chad Morris’ debut as Head Hog?

NCAA Football: Eastern Illinois at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s 55-20 win over Eastern Illinois answered some of the questions that fans had about Chad Morris’ first team. Others, however, were left unanswered, and it’s still not clear just how good this team will be.

Every Sunday I’ll be looking beyond the box score at some of the advanced stats we use to evaluate the team. Today’s post will include explanations of the numbers we use.

Expected Value (EV) is our most valuable statistic. It’s essentially how many points each part of the game contributed to the final score. The methodology is complicated, and while I’m happy to explain in the comments if anyone wants to know the details, just know that it calculates how much “value” was added by each part of the game.

Offense EV consists of Rushing, Passing, and Penalty numbers. The Hogs ran the ball poorly and threw it well, as you probably saw if you watched the game. EIU didn’t do anything particularly well, and their minus-5 Passing EV is largely due to three turnovers during pass attempts (turnovers and failed third downs cause EV to plummet).

Special Teams EV consists of Placekicking, Kick Return, and Punt Return numbers. Arkansas did not attempt a punt return, but De’Vion Warren added 0.4 points through his returns (Kick Return EV is generated by returning a kick past the 25, and lost by your return coming up short of the 25. No KREV is generated by touchbacks, on-side kicks, or kicks out of bounds). Placekicking EV consists of extra points (worth 0.03 when made, and minus-0.97 when missed) and field goals (value depends on distance: the offense gets most credit for short field goals, while the kicker gets most credit for long ones).

Arkansas also generated 3.7 points from its defense: Bumper Pool’s 60-yard fumble return added 2.9 points, while Briston Guidry’s fumble recovery in the end zone was valued at 0.8 points (it’s worth so little because the quarterback was already in the end zone when he fumbled).

Ty Storey is the game’s MVP by a large margin. His performance added 13.2 points. His top two receivers, La’Michael Pettway and Jordan Jones, torched the Panther secondary. The running backs had rough nights, with Devwah Whaley’s touchdown helping get him into positive EV.

These four numbers often tell a big story. Average Starting Field Position and Turnovers are self-explanatory, but the other two can get confusing.

Leverage Rate is the percentage of plays run on standard downs. Standards downs are first downs, second and 7 or fewer, and third/fourth and 3 or fewer. Basically, the higher the leverage rate, the better the offense was at staying “on-schedule.” In this case, the numbers are roughly even.

Adjusted Third Down Conversion Rate is the difference between the expected third down conversation rate and the actual third down conversion rate. Think of it this way: converting a 3rd-and-13 and a 3rd-and-1 both count as one conversion, but the 3rd-and-13 conversion was more impressive, and thus should be worth “more” if we’re evaluating the third down offense. I use a logarithmic equation to figure out the percent chance of converting each third down based on the yards to go, and then compare that with how many third downs were actually converted. In this case, Arkansas outperformed its expectations (Actual: 46.7%, Expected: 43.5%), while EIU underperformed (Actual: 33.3%, Expected: 44.1%).

There’s not much to add to this chart of quarterback numbers. Cole Kelley’s 42-yard touchdown pass to Austin Cantrell in the fourth quarter gave his numbers a boost after an abysmal start, but Storey had the offense rolling while he was out there.

Success Rate is the percentage of plays that qualify as “successful.” Successful plays gain 40% of the yards to go on first down, 70% of the yards to go on second down, and conversions on third and fourth downs. So a 2-yard gain on 1st-and-10 is not successful, while a 6-yard gain on 2nd-and-6 is successful. Somewhere around 50% success is ideal for an offense, although explosive offenses may sacrifice success for more big plays (Bret Bielema’s offense was built around maximizing success rate, while Morris’ is less dependent on play-to-play success).

Pettway and Jones were dominant, combing for 225 yards, 15 EV, and 10 successful plays. Kansas transfer Chase Harrell had an excellent debut as well.

The numbers aren’t as friendly to the running backs. T.J. Hammonds had the longest run of the night (10 yards). Whaley’s touchdown put him in positive territory. Chase Hayden and Rakeem Boyd didn’t do much with their carries. It’s hard to blame any of these backs as the offensive line had trouble holding blocks and the Panther defense played like it would rather be beaten by the pass than the run.

Opportunity Rate is the percentage of runs that gain at least six yards. Implied here is that these runs include an “opportunity” for a breakaway. All great backs have high opportunity rates: 40% over a season is a good goal. Bonus Yards per Opportunity is the average number of yards gained beyond six on opportunity runs. So Hammonds’ 10-yard run includes four bonus yards. Explosive backs generally have high bonus yard numbers.

Drawing Conclusions

  • The quarterback competition is probably over, at least for now. Coach Morris was probably hoping for some separation, and he got it immediately in this game. It’s a long season, so obviously we have not seen the last of Kelley, but Storey should clearly be the starter next week against Colorado State.
  • We’re already seeing John Chavis’ footprint on the defense. I wrote about Chavis’ havoc-based defense in the offseason. The Hogs forced five turnovers and held EIU to a minus-10.8% adjusted third down conversion rate. If these numbers carry over to the rest of the season, this defense will improve.
  • The run game must improve. With a couple exceptions, the current staff inherited a bare cupboard up front, and this year’s team may have to pay the price for that. The line looked solid in pass coverage, but really couldn’t open up holes.

Up next is Colorado State (0-2). The Rams are off to a disastrous start, having been blitzed by Hawaii and rival Colorado. They’ll be hungry for a season reset next Saturday in Fort Collins.