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Box Score Breakdown: Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 27

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Arkansas looked like a competent SEC team on both sides of the ball, but couldn’t quite finish off a win

NCAA Football: Southwest Classic-Texas A&M vs Arkansas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it happened again. The Hogs lost a close game against Texas A&M. Arkansas may have fallen to 2-3, but at least most Hog fans are no longer feeling like the train is off the tracks. The Hogs obviously need to start actually winning SEC games soon, but it’s hard not feel at least a little relieved by the strong Razorback performance.

Texas A&M fans aren’t feeling so good. The Aggies are paying Jimbo Fisher a lot of money to be 12-6 with two close wins over Arkansas.

Let’s dive into the numbers and see who should be feeling good. Let’s start by evaluating our prediction:

  • Projected Score: Texas A&M 38, Arkansas 13
  • Actual Score: Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 27
  • Adjusted Score: Arkansas 31, Texas A&M 21

The 40-14 prediction mentioned in the preview was down to 38-13 at kickoff due to minor coding tweaks. The adjusted score tells us that Arkansas played better than Texas A&M given how good the two teams actually are. It’s calculated the same way as the score prediction, except the actual game PAN replaces the season-average PAN used in the prediction. It’s a good measure of a moral victory: a team that covers the spread is likely to win the adjusted score, and more they cover it by, the larger the adjusted score margin.

More on the statistical details is coming up.

Grading the Hogs

  • Cheyenne O’Grady: A. He had 8 catches for 91 yards and remains Arkansas’ most reliable offensive weapon. Tight ends generally don’t break tackles, but O’Grady routinely drags tacklers with him after the catch.
  • Ben Hicks: B+. Good for Hicks, who acquitted himself well, completing 15 of 27 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown against a strong defense. It’s a shame that he and the offense couldn’t quite finish the deal, but it’s good to know that Hicks is capable of running the offense.
  • Treylon Burks and Mike Woods: B+. With Trey Knox out, Burks and Woods were Arkansas’ physical downfield threats. Burks also had a big punt return, but he can’t get an A until he gets pre-snap and procedural penalties under control: he had two more on Saturday.
  • Defensive Ends: B. Gabe Richardson, Mataio Soli, and Jamario Bell spent a lot of time in the backfield causing problems for the Aggies. Arkansas had been struggling to impact opponents’ passing games, but it was nice to see a little more havoc.
  • Finishing Drives: D-. We’ll discuss this in detail below, but the Hogs missed a field goal, threw a pick into the endzone, and had a turnover on downs. If any one of those three drives end differently, the Hogs win the game.

Advanced Stats

(Confused by any of these stats? Check out the glossary.)

Quick recap

  • The Hogs were eye-openingly effective on first down, a down they’ve struggled with for two years. This allowed the offense to avoid third-and-longs and keep driving. Despite a quarterback change due to injury, seven of 10 offensive drives went deep into Aggie territory, and the Hogs gained a decent 49% of all available yards.
  • Unfortunately, as has been the story all year, the Hogs couldn’t finish those drives. The seven good drives yielded just 20 points.
  • Texas A&M had some offensive issues. The Aggies ran the ball effectively, but failed to generate big plays and couldn’t throw on early downs thanks to a ferocious Hog pass-rush.
  • Unfortunately for the Hogs, that same pass-rush didn’t show up on passing downs, and Texas A&M picked the Hogs’ secondary to pieces when forced to throw.

I guess if you have a young defense that is going to get scored on a bunch, then scoring some points of your own is a good plan. The Hogs now have three defensive touchdowns in four FBS games. If you subtract the Defense EVA (+5.1) from Texas A&M’s Offense EVA (+5.2), you get basically zero, which means that Arkansas’ defense made Texas A&M effectively look like an average FBS team.

Those drive-level stats tell the story of the heartbreak. Arkansas gained a higher percentage of available yards (49% to 47%) and had more scoring chances (7 to 6). Unfortunately, the Hogs couldn’t finish.

Here’s how the Aggies’ six scoring chances ended:

  • Touchdown
  • Touchdown
  • Touchdown
  • Touchdown
  • Field Goal
  • Interception

That’s 5.2 points per scoring chance.

For Arkansas’ seven scoring chances:

  • Touchdown
  • Touchdown
  • Field Goal
  • Field Goal
  • Missed Field Goal
  • Interception
  • Turnover on Downs

That’s 2.9 points per scoring chance. For the fourth time in five games, the Hogs have failed to average even a field goal on possessions where they gained a first down inside the opponent 40. Part of it is playcalling. Part of it is execution. The Hogs will have a hard time winning without finishing drives.

The standard downs numbers were a really nice surprise. The Hogs entered Saturday ranking 98th in Standard Downs EVA per Play, but were actually decent on standard downs against the Aggies (you can also see that in the bar graph above), while Texas A&M really struggled. Sacks were a huge part of A&M struggling, as all five Hog sacks came on standard downs.

It was a different story on passing downs. Last year’s Arkansas defense was decent on third downs, ranking 42nd in marginal third down defense. This year, things haven’t worked as well. Ole Miss was +11% and Texas A&M was +19%, converting 50% (5 of 10) when the distances of their attempts suggested they should have converted 31%. Part of the problem: despite five standard downs sacks, the Hogs had zero sacks on passing downs. Their lone third down sack came on a third-and-3 and still allowed the Aggies to kick a field goal.

Now here’s our first true advanced box score of the season, featuring all opponent-adjusted numbers:

Arkansas generated +3.8 PAN, which means the offense contributed about 3.8 points more than what Texas A&M’s defense was allowing on the year. The passing game (+6.2 Passing PAN, +6% passing marginal efficiency) was particularly strong, while the run game at least generated a few big runs, something that didn’t happen against San José State but is basically a requirement for the Chad Morris offense to work correctly.

Neither team could generate many big plays, but the Hogs really did a nice job of making the Aggies sustain long drives. Texas A&M finished the game with -30% marginal explosiveness, including -41% on bonus yards per opportunity run. That meant that despite the Aggies moving the ball fairly well, they had -6 PAN, meaning that given the Aggies’ starting field position and the quality of Arkansas’ defense, the Aggies’ offense contributed six fewer points than expected.

Film Study

#1 - Improved offensive line

After struggling to protect the quarterback against both Colorado State and SJSU, the Hogs’ offensive line responded in a big way, allowing both Hicks and Nick Starkel to have plenty of time to throw.

I was particularly impressed by the play of senior left tackle Colton Jackson, who missed the SJSU game but was back in force on Saturday:

You may be surprised to know that when there’s plenty of time to throw, Arkansas has very good receivers, and quarterbacks who are capable of making throws like this one:

Here’s hoping there’s more of that to come.

Conclusions

If the Hogs can move the ball, limit turnovers, and keep the lid on big plays, they’ll put themselves in position to win a couple of conference games this year. To actually win those games, they’ll have to finish some drives.

Arkansas entered this game at -8.7 Adjusted Scoring Margin — our most significant measure of overall quality — which ranks 96th in the FBS and 13th in the SEC (ahead of only Tennessee). That number will certainly rise after a strong performance on Saturday. Our numbers suggest that Kentucky (+7.4) is about 10 points worse than Texas A&M and Arkansas’ worst remaining SEC opponent, so the game in two weeks looms large if the Hogs want a chance at a bowl.

Until then, it’s time for the Hogs to get healthy and get ready for the stretch run of the season.