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Box Score Breakdown: Arkansas 33, Ole Miss 21

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Breaking down another dominant defensive performance

Mississippi v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Back in the my undergrad days the University of Arkansas, I was a head football coach.

I coached my fraternity’s annual sorority flag football tournament. My first year I was the head coach of Alpha Delta Pi. Our quarterback’s grandmother died and she missed the tournament for the funeral. It was not good. We went 0-3. I chewed out the entire offensive line for missing a block and I still feel bad about it.

My second year I coached Kappa Kappa Gamma. I installed a 7-man version of Steve Spurrier’s Fun-N-Gun offense and we ran it with wristbands in a hurry-up, no-huddle approach. It was fun. On the first day, we lost a close game and then won 30-6 in the second game. On the second day, the actual tournament began. We were matched with Zeta Tau Alpha, and a buddy informed me 15 minutes before the game that Zeta was running a Cover 3 defense. Somehow they installed a freaking zone for their sorority girls. I spent five panicked minutes trying to teach my quarterback how to read a zone. It was useless. Final score: Zeta 41, Kappa 0. My poor quarterback threw five picks, four of which were returned for touchdowns.

That’s basically what happened on Saturday in Fayetteville.

Both Mississippi schools hired offensive gurus and hyped up their gunslinger quarterbacks, but it appears that their kryptonite is a defense that is simply patient enough to let them execute their offense. What Arkansas did to both Ole Miss and Mississippi State isn’t easily replicable. Okay, maybe the MSU performance is, because Mike Leach is too stubborn to develop a real rushing threat. But what Arkansas did to Ole Miss, very few teams can do. Alabama couldn’t. The Hogs left five defenders in the box against five blockers and still contained the run, forcing Matt Corral to throw into Barry Odom’s heavy traffic zone. The speed at which Arkansas’ defenders react to everything that happens is incredible. There are not many teams that can do that to a Lane Kiffin offense.

This was a dominant defensive performance. Twenty years ago, giving up 440 yards would not be considered a dominant defensive performance. But those days are gone. So this was a modern dominant defensive performance. This game was the epitome of what it looks like to play defense at the highest levels of college football in 2020.

Grading the Hogs

  • Offense: D+. Worst performance of the season by the offense. Kendal Briles knew the Hogs needed to run the ball, but the weird option stuff was not the way to do it. Briles is in a predicament because Arkansas’ offensive line is really not good at run blocking. I guess he thought the option stuff was a way around that. I think that will work with K.J. Jefferson or Malik Hornsby, whoever is quarterback next year. But that’s not Feleipe Franks’ game.
  • Defense: A+. Is there a grade higher than A+? As we’ll see in the EV numbers below, Arkansas’ defense was directly responsible for creating 27.6 marginal points, which is amazing.
  • Special Teams: D. This is still a problem. It’s already cost Arkansas one game* and it’s likely going to cost the Hogs another if it doesn’t get fixed. Another kickoff went out of bounds, though we can probably blame the wind for that. But not being in punt safe... what? I think that’s Sam Pittman’s call. Like we said after the “chasing points” thing last week, he’s still learning how to be a head coach. But whoever was responsible for punt formation... c’mon man.
  • Overall: B+. The defense score weights up a pair of D’s in the other phases. Overall, this was a solid performance, but it’s amazing that the Hogs beat a West rival by double digits and really didn’t play that great in two phases of the game.

Advanced Stats

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

Arkansas’ defense generated 27.6 marginal points. “Marginal” here means spread... so basically, Arkansas’ defense gave the Hogs a 27.6-point advantage against Ole Miss. The Hogs’ D gets credit for 13.9 Defense EVA (that’s the two pick-sixes), for 15.2 Offense EVA (that’s holding Ole Miss to 15.2 points worse than the average FBS team would score), and for minus-1.5 Forced Field Position EV (that’s because the defense left the Hog offense with mostly-bad field position; it’s a side effect of a bend-don’t-break approach).

On this chart, the Ole Miss fake punt (a 47-yard run worth 4.21 EVA) is charged to Ole Miss’s Punt Return EVA, so it falls under special teams, instead of falling under Rush EVA. However, in the rushing advanced stats below, the play is included as a run play.

The adjusted final score is Arkansas 12, Ole Miss 6. The interpretation of this stat is “if Arkansas and Ole Miss were both perfectly average FBS teams, the final score would have been 12 to 6”. Arkansas gets downgraded from 33 points (actual) to 12 points (adjusted) because Ole Miss’s defense is terrible and the Hogs should have played much better. Against an average defense, they presumably would have scored fewer. And Ole Miss’s point total gets dropped from 21 (actual) to 6 (adjusted) because holding a high-powered offense like Ole Miss to 21 points is the equivalent of holding an average FBS offense to 6 points.

The “adjusted final score” stat is mostly useless, but it is interesting to see how each week’s performance changes. The Hogs were +6 this game. Will they be higher or lower next game?

The other stats show you how well each offense did given the quality of their opponent’s defense. So Arkansas’ offense generated 28 fewer points than they should have (that’s what minus-27.6 PAN means), and the Hogs were 27% less efficient than they should have been (that’s what minus-27% marginal efficiency means). You get the picture. This was not the shootout we expected and as a result there’s a lot of red here.

For the second straight week, the Hogs’ offense performed well on standard downs. Actually, given how bad Ole Miss’s defense is, they didn’t perform well, but they at least weren’t horrible. They still can’t run the ball, running on exactly 54% of standard downs for the second straight game (they’d like to be over 60%), and posting a line yards per rush on standard downs of well under 2.0 for... well, they’ve done that every game this season. Out of 77 teams that have played an FBS game this year, the Hogs rank 60th in line yards per rush on standard downs, 57th in overall line yards per rush, and 77th (dead last) in overall opportunity rate (percentage of runs that gain six yards or more). When you’re that bad, running the ball on early downs doesn’t do much for you.

Speaking of running, here’s how the ground game turned out:

Bad. None of the Arkansas numbers are good. The Ole Miss numbers are a mixed bag: the success rate, line yards, and opportunity rate numbers are pretty good, but the bonus yards number (average yards gained beyond six on opportunity runs) is bad, that’s even with the 47-yard run on a fake punt included.

Rakeem Boyd wasn’t quite as bad as he probably looked. He got a touchdown and a third-down conversion to save his EVA numbers. But his 2.3 line yards per rush is decent. A 7% opportunity rate is hideous, and both Boyd and Trelon Smith hit that figure. As I discussed in the Stats Study, the Briles offense doesn’t really need a lot of big runs, but efficiency is required, and low success rates (29% for Boyd and 36% for Smith; at least 40% is a low-end goal) and low line yards (2.3 for Boyd and 1.9 for Smith; 2.5 is a low-end goal) are not going to cut it.

Ole Miss was interesting. They came in with Jerrion Ealy as the power back and Snoop Conner as the speed back. I figured that power backs would give Arkansas’ defense more trouble, and that proved correct, as Ealy had a solid game (good line yards, good success, low stuffs) while Conner had a rough time.

This was Franks’ worst game, given the raw numbers and the quality of the defense. Franks was sacked on 18% of passing downs dropbacks (way too high), and all of them were coverage sacks, where Franks tucked or scrambled after his first read or two weren’t open.

The 49% passing success rate wasn’t horrible (well, it was for Ole Miss’s defense, but baby steps). Ole Miss took away the deep balls and forced the Hogs to complete short ones. At least three drops hurt Franks’ stats, but he was also inaccurate on a couple of throws and simply didn’t throw it far too often. Without All-22 video, I can’t tell you whether or not there were open receivers on the plays where Franks didn’t get a throw off or threw it away.

My guess is that the Hogs recognized that they needed to attack Ole Miss’s horrible run defense, so they decided to add a bunch of option stuff to attack the edge with the run in order to alleviate the offensive line struggles. When that didn’t work, the whole game plan looked wonky. When the deep throw isn’t there, this is not a good offense.

Three cheers for Treylon Burks, who outperformed his counterpart, Elijah Moore. Burks was the entire offense at times, as he played a critical role in both of Arkansas’ offensive touchdown drives. Also, check out tight end Kenny Yeboah, who had a monster game against Alabama. He had one target and it was incomplete.

Win Probability Added (WPA)

This stat tracks the changes made by individual players to ESPN’s Win Probability over the course of the game.

Here are the major individual Arkansas offensive performers:

  • Treylon Burks +28%
  • Hudson Henry +4%
  • Mike Woods +3%
  • Trelon Smith -1%
  • Rakeem Boyd -5%
  • Feleipe Franks -34% (his worst game of the season)

And for Ole Miss:

  • Elijah Moore +21%
  • Jerrion Ealy +18%
  • Braylon Sanders +14%
  • MoMo Sanogo +14% (stupid fake punt)
  • Jonathan Mingo +13%
  • Kenny Yeboah -1% (nation’s most productive tight end did nothing)
  • Snoop Conner -11%
  • Matt Corral -90%

Basically, Ole Miss was much better on offense than Arkansas except for all of Corral’s interceptions. No surprises there.

Up Next

Arkansas has a much needed open date next week before heading to College Station to play Texas A&M in a battle for second place in the SEC West (crazy, right?).

The open date comes at a good time. Burks was only 80%, according to the coaches. Bumper Pool, Montaric Brown, and Dorian Gerald did not play, and Grant Morgan (19 tackles, 3 TFLs, sack, pick-six) is still banged up. Getting all of those guys back and healthy will be huge for the Hogs as they move into the meat of the season.