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And you thought you wouldn't have anything to talk about...MSU 2010

 

In a way it was fitting that the Mississippi State Bulldogs decided to wear black uniforms last night in yet another disappointing performance against the LSU Tigers.  As I watched the Tigers slaughter our beloved Bulldog offense, I truly felt as if I were attending a funeral.  Having said that, I hope MSU burns the black uniforms and never considers adorning them again until we have earned the right to do so.  Obviously, there is still quite a bit of work to do on offense.

From Dawgfan246 on the exquisitely named "For Whom the Cowbell Tolls." His whole post is here. Being that the crew from Starkville only rolls in every few years, I'm not as familiar with their work as that of the perennial western division opponents. But sweet merciful Meridian Campus, I like the cut of this guy's jib. Calls a spade a spade where motivational fluff is concerned, a no frills almost Munsonian pessimism tightly wrapped in lucid prose. Well said sir. I think I speak for the Bulldawg nation when I say, "I'll drink to that."

Well as long as we're being dragged into the past on a receding tide of misguidedly bedizened and overmatched offenses, let us recall summer 2006. Those were simpler times we were a year into Willie Martinez's tenure and lived in blissful ignorance of its future; likewise the one year anniversary of Deadspin had passed and the signs of its transformation into TRL were unimaginable. Tebow had not yet run left much less right, and Matt Hinton was rolling as Sunday Morning Quarterback. He rolled deep. 

Under his original Nom de Blog, SMQ penned three years worth of insight and analysis. Damn near all of it was worth a read. Today I would like to revisit one of his, in my opinion, best offerings. I won't rehash the entire article, but briefly: Hinton calculates a winning percentage for the teams with the 20 best and 20 worst performances in each statistical category. He then calculates the difference between the winning percentage of the 20 best and 20 worst teams. He then ranks the categories in descending order of disparity. His goal is to quantify what winning teams did well, what losing teams did poorly, and how much it matters for each category. It's easier with an example.  

Assume we want to look at rushing yards per carry. We would take the top twenty teams in rushing yards per carry add up their total wins and losses and calculate a winning percentage. We would do the same for the bottom twenty teams. We would then look at the difference between the winning percentage of the top twenty and the bottom twenty. The larger that difference, SMQ posits, the more meaningful the statistic. They ran the analysis for the 2005 season and the results are as follows:

Category Top 20 Teams Bottom 20 Teams Margin
Third Down Efficiency .719 .242 +.477
Total Offense .730 .257 +.473
Pass Efficiency Defense .770 .303 +.467
Rush Defense .766 .318 +.448
Total Defense .736 .340 +.396
Third Down Efficiency Defense .725 .350 +.375
Rush Offense .664 .304 +.360
Fourth Down Efficiency .682* .332 +.350
Turnover Margin .644 .303 +.341
Fourth Down Efficiency Defense .650 .397 +.253
Pass Offense .641 .459 +.182
Time of Possession .632 .468 +.164
Fewest Yards Penalized .522 .568 -.046

As SMQ points out and as I will reiterate "correlation is not cause." So when you see that the twenty most penalized teams had a slightly higher winning percentage that the twenty least penalized (as they did), you should not start rooting for penalties. It simply means that the teams that were most penalized and the teams that were least penalized won with about the same frequency.

Of the top five, total offense, rush defense, and total defense probably do not surprise you. But third down efficiency and pass efficiency defense surprised me. How about that fourth down efficiency was more correlated with wins than pass offense, and for all the talk of keeping the ball away from high powered offenses, time of possession doesn't correlate that strongly with wins.

So if we accept SMQ's work as at least interesting enough to continue discussing, and if you doubt SMQ you can just click on out of my post, let's return to our friends from Starkville. Let's compare Georgia and Mississippi State for four meaningful categories in SMQ's analysis: third down conversion %, Total Offense, Rush Defense and Pass Efficiency Defense. We'll look at the last three years for each team: 

 

 

3rd Down Coversions

 

Total Offense

 

UGA

MSU

UGA Advantage/(Disadvantage)

 

UGA

MSU

UGA Advantage/(Disadvantage)

2008

42.00%

33.00%

27.27%

 

396

223

77.58%

2009

40.00%

34.00%

17.65%

 

358

343

4.37%

2010

40.00%

45.00%

-11.11%

 

340

361

-5.82%

2010 (SEC)

35.00%

43.00%

-18.60%

 

322

257

25.29%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rush Defense

 

Pass Efficiency Defense

 

UGA

MSU

UGA Advantage/(Disadvantage)

 

UGA

MSU

UGA Advantage/(Disadvantage)

2008

122.00

151.00

19.21%

 

119.68

115.40

-3.71%

2009

126.00

146.00

13.70%

 

132.31

130.78

-1.17%

2010

85.00

132.00

35.61%

 

139.94

121.72

-14.97%

2010 (SEC)

121.00

178.00

32.02%

 

177.00

130.00

-36.15%

 

The 2010 SEC row strips out the non conference games for the two teams. To date MSU has played Auburn and LSU in conference. 

 

So what do we see here: 

 

1) In the 2010 season to date, for the four key statistical categories, UGA has a clear advantage in two (total offense and rush defense) and MSU has a clear advantage in the other (third down conversions and pass efficiency defense). Interestingly they each have an offensive and a defensive advantage. Caveats abound here. They have not played many games, have not played the same opponents, and don't run the same systems. That said the numbers are what they are. 

 

2) Dan Mullen is a pretty good offensive coach. 

 

 

MSU Changes

 

 

 

 

 

2008 (Croom)

2010 (Mullen)

Change

%

3rd Down Coversions

33.00%

45.00%

12%

36.36%

Total Offense

223

361

138

61.88%

 

OK, I know only 3 games in 2010 so far, but two of those are conference games against quality teams. 

3) Georgia plays the run pretty well. Including Latimore's day in Columbia, UGA is giving up 85 yards per game. Same caveat applies, very early in the season, but we cannot time travel. Forwards.

Against the opponent's strengths. 

Third down conversions:

So we noted that Mississippi had an advantage in third down conversions over UGA's offense, but what about their defense? 2010 YTD UGA has allowed 16 third down conversions on 48 attempts (38%); that's meaningfully better than the 45% MSU has been getting. In the world of third down conversions 7% is about the difference from being 60th best to being 20th best. I hope to see the Dawgs get lined up and in coverage correctly. Make no mistake MSU is going to pick up some first downs, but hopefully we don't give them away. 

Pass efficiency defense

Same story for pass efficiency defense. MSU has outdone us 130 to 177 (big asterisk that we played Peyton Manning Ryan Mallet last week), so how does Aaron Murray's passing efficiency compare to MSU's defense. Murray's passer rating through three games is 143.27. Again meaningfully higher than MSU's defense has allowed. A lot goes into taking advantage of this but I'll say I hope to see third down protection and blitz pickups improve. 

Rush defense: 

MSU has averaged 155 per game to the UGA defense's 85 allowed. Let's take a quick look at the tale of the tape along the lines of scrimmage to go a little deeper. The MSU offensive line averages about 302 per man. South Carolina's by comparison is about 315. MSU outweighs us by about 20 pounds per man if Tyson is playing nose and about 5 pounds per man with Geathers or Anderson. Judging from the success UGA has had against Arkansas and the more favorable size matchup, we seem to have what we need to stop the run. 

Total offense: 

MSU's total defense is 283 yards per game to UGA's total offense of 340. I've got nothing on total offense, it's too broad. Hopefully we get the ball to the right people and they make some plays. Go Dawgs!

The point of this is that in the season thus far, both Georgia and MSU have comparative advantages in key areas that correlate with winning. However, in each of those areas, the opponent has had a stronger performance that the average in the comparative advantage category to date. Again, correlation is not cause, and we're looking at data that in the past has correlated to wins. That said, it's not abundantly clear to me that UGA is going to walk into Starkville and dominate; MSU is doing things that winning teams do, and they have been better opposition against our key strengths than average. Of course, we knew we weren't going to have a cake walk without doing any of the math. I read Afghandawg's post today that noted that facts and math will only take you so far. He is absolutely correct. The farthest I am willing to go is that I expect a fight, and the team that utilizes its strengths the best will win.

Oh, and probably neither team will be sporting black jerseys. Of that I am fairly confident. 

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