Fun by the Numbers: Advanced Statistics for Texas A&M vs. Arkansas

Hello and welcome to Fun With Numbers, your weekly check-in for what advanced stats have to say about the Texas A&M Football team and their opponents. We’re now three games into the season, and we’re starting to get a better understanding of the teams from a statistical standpoint. As team play starts across the board, we’ll start to get more clarity on things and feel more comfortable with our numbers.

The numbers told us we were looking at a defensive fight, and they were right. The Aggies managed to survive following one of Jimbo’s most disappointing losses at Aggieland and defeat the Miami Hurricanes 17-9. Let’s take a look at these advanced stats box scores courtesy of Bill Connelly.

Aggie’s offense was better under Max, but she still has a long way to go. Acane got his touch and made plays when the ban was in place, and Ainias took over the game as receiver. But the Aggies fell through the chains multiple times, making seven plays of 3’s and 7+’s and only had a 14% success rate in those positions. Fortunately, the defense held strong in the red and cleaned up a lot of yards after contact numbers from last week. That, plus being on the lucky side of this week’s staff turnover battle helped the Aggies out with the win.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement, but it’s never a bad thing to beat a Power 5 opponent on the field on the big stage.

The Aggies travel to Jerry World for the annual neutral location game Nobody Wants Anymore, to take on the top 10 teams of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas is currently 3-0, riding 21 points in the fourth quarter which allowed them to avoid collision and burn against Petrino-led Missouri. Sam Pittman continues to be one of the most impressive coaches of the last couple of years, embracing the need for top coordinators, transfer gatekeepers, etc., looking to build on last season’s successful 9-4. Aggies are preferred by 2.5 points according to Vegas, and both are SP+ and FEI like Aggies by about 3.5 points.

Let’s dive in.

Agee attack vs razorback defense

Despite the change in QB, Aggie’s offense remains a problem. While showing some great playability, the Aggies failed to have any semblance of Jimbo’s brand competence in 2022. A big part of that is the lack of OL propulsion up front. If you feel this is one of the worst shows we’ve seen up front during Fisher’s tenure, take some comfort in knowing the numbers back that up. 2.31 streak yards/carry, 6 TFL/game allowed (the 91st in state equivalent), and 104 in the country in front of 7 havoc allowed. It’s bad and should improve quickly, and maybe an Arkansas defense that wasn’t great to start the season is exactly what we need.

Barry Odom is a great defensive coordinator, and there are a lot of great pieces to this Arkansas defense, but it’s hard to lose 40% of your production from last season even when playing the transfer gate as Arkansas does. They weren’t great against running, even with transfers by Drew Sanders (6.5 TFL, 2 Fumbles Forced, 5.5 bags) and 5 senior Bumper Pool mooring the front 7, and they were prone to big plays, giving up touchdowns at 35, 47 and 62 yards that season.

It seems possible that one of these faltering units is the panacea for the other.

Aggie defense against Razorback attack

On the other side of the ball, Aggie’s defense continues to improve and live up to their billing. The two big weaknesses we’ve seen so far from Dworkin’s set are the occasional struggle against running and the failure to create plays of ruin. It’s easy to see both things being fixed as the season goes on. There are a lot of talented youngsters in Front 7 and they will continue to grow, and bringing back guys like McKinnley Jackson, Andre White and others from injury will only help matters down the road. It’s also not like this defense isn’t getting a zero boost, they’ve had 3 TFLs and 6 QBs rushing against the Hurricanes this past week. We’ve seen this a few times with Elko’s defenses over the years, slow starts in terms of sacks, but by mid-season the dash of passes usually came home.

They are facing an Arkansas offense that will surely test their ability to stop the run. The Razorbacks miss Treylon Burks in terms of receiving, and they make up for it by running the ball in 63% of touchdowns (9 in the country). 30% of the Razorback’s lunges this season belong to mobile QB KJ Jefferson, but the Hogs do a lot of damage in the air when they need to. Jadon Haselwood (21% of targets, .779 PPA) and Matt Landers (20% of targets, .934 PPA) are the main weapons when Hogs need to air them, and Raheim Sanders is a talented 76-yard TD catch back (most of those yards come after the catch) is a big reason the Razorbacks didn’t drop an FCS game last week.

Just on paper and stats, this offense aligns well with what the Aggies faced last week against Miami, an effective rushing attack that didn’t show much explosiveness early on.

special teams

Nick Constantinou continues to play well with the Aggies, averaging 44 yards in gambling and hooking Miami’s 20 inside three times last week. Kicker Randy Bond hits his only field goal, so he might be the guy Aggies sees for 3 pointers going forward. The faint kick almost led to disaster, and it looks like we’re good for at least one season, so hopefully we’ll get him out of the way.

Max Fletcher was dealing with kicking duties for Hogs in 2022, averaging 38 yards for a kick but landing 6 (of 12 total) inside the 20-yard line. Bryce Stephens (the other reason the Razorbacks didn’t drop last week’s FCS game) is a threat in the second leg, and Cam Little made 2 out of 3 FGs to start the year.

2021 marked the first time in the Aggies SEC membership that they outperformed the Razorbacks, ending A&M’s 9-game winning streak. I’m not sure which side is feeling more pressure, the team that wants to start their own streak, or the team that is looking to restart. Except for one of the John L. Smith years, this game is always wild. I don’t expect this to be much different.

There is a lot to worry about here. Barry Odom is a great DC who has some solid pieces to work with. If Max and the rest of the attack can’t take advantage of Hog’s weaknesses in the secondary while getting enough protection up front, the defense could be on the field too much in an effort to stop a hasty attack. Basically, this could be an App State game again.

But let’s be optimistic, and say that this did not happen. There are several reasons why this team looks better on both sides of the ball than it did last week.

In terms of attacking, it would help to get Evan Stewart (15% of goals, .553 PPA/Pass) back from suspension (along with Chris Marshall) to get someone else besides Ainias who could actually press the defense. Another week with Bryce Foster back in Center means hopefully more incremental improvements with this OL, and I’d like to see we continue to bring in these young TEs to help out in the block game, as well as provide additional targets for Max if young WRs are struggling with the breakup. The Aggies will run the ball a lot, and they will probably struggle at times, but if the passing game is a little better than it was last week, I think they’ll be able to move the ball against the Razorback defence. Max will need to be decisive but not force things to avoid stuffing Hog Havoc numbers.

Durkin’s group is definitely the best defense the Razorbacks have faced all season, and despite their struggles in the race, I think they can still hold. The young grow quickly, and the secondary is good enough to feel comfortable piling the box up a bit in their early drop. I think the second level is where the Aggies suffer, especially when KJ decides to put the ball in and run. The LBs will be tested in containment and assignments, and the Aggies are clearly missing out on having Andre White in the job, and he may not be back this week either.

My expectations: Do I think that all of that (better passes, better front lines, magically better LB play, etc) happens for the whole match? No, but this team is constantly showing flashes of potential. And sometime in 2022, I think it will come together. Why not this week? I think the Aggies won 27-21, won and covered for the second week in a row.

It started hot last week with this WKU play, but ended up with the other two picks. You know what they say, the only way to get out of the hole is to keep digging.

Duke in Kansas Under 64 (SP+: 60, FEI: 72.9) – Who would have thought that both teams would be 3-0 at this point? Leipold is proving to be a great hire for the Jayhawks after a 1 year up and down Aggie DC Mike Elko was young on his tenure, but had an impressive win over Northwestern under his belt. I think this is going to be a good game, and I’d love for the Jayhawks to win, but I see it’s going to be like 31-27 to get the bottom line.

Auburn -7 vs Missouri (SP+: Auburn by 10, FEI: Auburn by 8)– Auburn is coming off an all-out defeat by Penn State last week, but they’re at home again and playing for a Missouri team that wasn’t quite as impressive to start the season. Tank Bigsby should have a great day against this defensive run.

Finally, I’ll take Aggies -2.5 Against pigs, for reasons already mentioned, and because scared money makes no money.

Thank you for always sticking with Fun With Numbers, through good times and bad. Let’s hope for more good as the season progresses. Check out these links below if you are interested in learning more about advanced stats in college football.

  • FootballOutsiders.com A powerful compilation of all things football analytics.
  • Bcftoys.com For Brian Fremeau’s FEI data and other fun projects from him.
  • ESPN.com It is home to all of Bill Connelly’s SP+ info (plus FPI ratings). You’ll need to subscribe to ESPN+ for most of its services these days.
  • CollegeFootballData.com is a great site for data and charts that you can download and play with on your own time, in case Fun With Numbers doesn’t fill the statistical void in your life. Most of my data comes from here.
  • Six Kat Kat It is another great site. A solid blend of stats and football concepts.

Questions? comments? criticism? You know where to leave them.

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