In our Sunday Topics for Discussion thread, the majority of you who commented agreed that Texas A&M's win over Arizona State was the most impressive of the weekend. I come to you today bearing a bunch of stats, and I do not intend to give you a hackneyed, counterintuitive, "well, actually" thought piece on why you should be pumping the brakes on the Aggies.
I'm telling you that TAMU won this game in some ways in spite of itself, and that it probably can get a lot better than what we all saw on Saturday evening. Buckle up.
This review is based on Bill Connelly's Five Factors of winning, and it doesn't include each team's final drives that came after A&M went up 38-17 as those came in garbage time. That's why some of the numbers below won't match the box score. Also, sacks count as run plays.
Other than A&M's run game, nothing here for either offense really stands out.
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
The Aggie defense did do a great job at limiting explosive pass plays, something that was an issue at times last year. The explosive run rate isn't anything special, but it's good to see it not be sky high or anything.
The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.
These teams ran a ton of plays, but that wasn't because the offenses were being outstanding. It was because both like to go fast, and when teams agree on that subject, you're going to get a lot of plays. Neither was all that efficient. At some points, it felt like watching two sports car drivers floor it with the parking brake engaged.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
Of the run/pass/overall figures, only the Sun Devils' rushing success rate even made it up to average. The rest of the figures are easily below average. They're not disastrous, but they're not anything to brag about either.
That's why I was saying above that A&M won in spite of itself in some ways. The defense was excellent against the pass. It was OK but not great against the run. But the offense was quite inefficient, especially before really turning it on at the end of the game.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR|
If you're only going to be efficient in one quarter of a close game, the fourth is the one to do it in. However, those middle quarter rates for the Aggies are putrid. ASU got more efficient as the game went on, but even at its best, it still was below average. As good as John Chavis's defense looked, it still has room to grow by not allowing that late game improvement.
I haven't broken down success rate by down before, and I don't intend to do it every time. But when charting out this game, I couldn't help but notice how bad A&M's offense was on first down.
|Team||1st Down SR||2nd Down SR||3rd Down SR|
Just imagine how the game could have been for the Aggies if they weren't so awful on first down. Big points to the defense for locking things up on second and third down, though.
Efficiency by Player
There is a general feeling that the Aggies have a quarterback controversy of some sorts now after both guys played a significant number of snaps.
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
The case for Murray is inextricable from his ability to run because that's not a good line right there. Allen's is a lot better by the traditional metrics, though he did take several sacks and had a similar success rate.
Kirk had a breakout game, and his special teams brilliance supplements what you see here. That said, his success rate wasn't good and his rate of catching balls when targeted isn't good either. Seals-Jones's yards per target rate and success rate are terrible. The catch rates for Noil and Ratley aren't good either. The only guy who had the full package of catching passes when targeted for good yardage with a great success rate was Reynolds, last year's leading receiver. He's still good, folks, even if Kirk overshadowed him for a day.
Anyway, this table further illustrates A&M's offensive issues. I have real complaints about something for four of the six guys listed. Think about how the game could have gone without those complaint-worthy things.
I think here's the point of the program where I mention the offensive line. Kevin Sumlin is finally out of Mike Sherman offensive line recruits, and say what you want about Sherman, but he was one of the best O-line recruiters I've ever seen. Allen took three sacks, and both Carson's YPC and success rates are not good. If the offense is going to correct all these issues I'm naming off, better line play is going to have to come along.
As for the QBs, Allen made some positive things happen with his legs, but he's no Murray. This is the table that's causing those quarterback battle questions, not the passing one above.
On the other side of the ball, Mike Bercovici completed 60% of his passes. That's the only nice thing I can say, as his YPA rate was 4.4, his passing efficiency was 106.4, his success rate was 20.9%, and he took eight sacks (the ninth was in garbage time). Of the four guys who had more than two targets, Devin Lucien's mediocre 6.3 yards per target was the best.
The Aggies were the most impressive against running back De'Chavon Hayes. He had a success rate of 0% on a team-high nine targets while gaining just 1.4 yards per target. He also carried the ball seven times for 0.9 yards per carry and a success rate of 28.6%. That's a rough night for the junior. Fellow running back Demario Hayes had a YPC of 4.9, but his success rate wasn't much better at 31.3%.
The starting field position for the teams was about the same.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
|Texas A&M||Own 31||25||31.6%|
|Arizona State||Own 29||12||16.0%|
The inefficiency of the offenses shines through here. Despite only needing about 20 yards per drive to hit the opponent's side of the field on average, neither ran all that many plays in enemy territory.
The inefficiency reveals itself here too.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points|
In the Five Factors reviews I did for South Carolina-UNC and Auburn-Louisville, the teams involved averaged ten drives apiece. These teams had 16 each in part because they were going quickly and in part because they just didn't sustain drives for very long.
I guess I should credit the teams for generally getting points when having the opportunity to do so, but they weren't very good at manufacturing those opportunities. A&M's rate of getting inside the opponent's 40 on just 37.5% of drives would easily be the lowest of these three games I've done Five Factors treatments for if not for ASU's abysmal 25%.
The Sun Devils get a slim advantage here, as A&M's two interceptions and a lost fumble outnumber their two lost fumbles. The turnovers were pretty disastrous for ASU though; one was returned for a touchdown, while the other came immediately following an Allen interception that set the team up 29 yards from pay dirt.
All of this comes down to just how good Arizona State truly is, considering we just went through Texas A&M having a blockbuster opener last year. The general consensus so far seems to be that this year's ASU is better than last year's South Carolina, and it's in no small part because the Aggies didn't breeze through this game like they did in 2014's first game. Keep in mind, though, that the Gamecocks were ranked six spots higher in the preseason AP Poll than the Sun Devils were this year. We really don't know all that much right now.
Still, there is plenty to be optimistic about here in regards to A&M. Going into the game, the defense was the side of the ball with the most questions. The worst I can say about its play is that it was merely acceptable against the run. Against the pass, it was incredible by most measures. All quarterbacks who must face the Aggies probably are already having nightmares about Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall.
It was actually the offense that had the most issues in this one. Part of it is that many of the primary guys are still young. Nine Aggies touched the ball as a quarterback, running back, or pass catcher, and all but two (Carson and Reynolds) are underclassmen. Some inefficiency is probably to be expected, though the line is a bit worrisome. And let's not lose perspective here. I'm talking about inefficiency and inexperience after one of the weekend's most impressive wins.
In short: if you believe that Sumlin can get the offense's problems worked out, the sky's the limit for this team.