Here we are in game week for the Natty again. The National Pundits top three contenders, Sam Houston State, South Dakota State and JMU have turned in their gear once again. How cheaply do the pundits bet against the Herd? Opinions are like bung holes, everybody has one, but some smell much better than others by this time of year.
Let’s do away with the conventional wisdom that The Bison and the Bobcats are the mirror image of each other stat wise. Strength of schedule is key in making any type of legitimate comparison. The Bobcats faced five dogs. Drake, San Diego, No. Colorado, Cal-Poly and Idaho State which had a combined Sagarin rating of 220. We played one plus 200 Sagarin team, Valparaiso, and we evaporated them 64-0. The Bobcat’s beat these five teams by an average of 41.8 to 8. So the stats that you’ll see come Saturday will be how MSU averages scoring 30 PPG and only gives up 13.4 PPG (2nd in the FCS right behind the Bison). Those are inflated stats!
In writing my preview for the Butler game in 2019 I dug into the records that showed the Bison had only played 8 teams 220 or over in Sagarin. Going into Butler our average margin of victory was 58.4 PPG to 2.1. Adding in Butler and Valparaiso this year, the Margin is now 58.8 PPG to 2.7. In 11 years we have played ten teams this bad. The Bobcat’s played five this year alone.
Taking the nine legitimate teams they played, whose Sagarin ratings were right around the thirteen teams we played minus Valpo, and their scoring spread drops to 23.4 PPG scored and 16.4 PPG given up. That’s only a 7 point margin of victory. Allowing only 16.4 PPG is still salty defense.
Our worst margin of victory during our 11 year reign of terror in the FCS was in 2016. We scored 29.1 PPG to 16.6. Our non-conference schedule was tough as hell. Charleston Southern, Iowa (another FBS win) and E Washington with three NFL WR’s on that roster. Our worst year produced a 12.5 PPG margin of victory.
In analyzing the Herd’s chances versus the Bobcats, us beating Valpo 64-0 means nothing, other than we took care of business against an undermanned team and got plenty of reps for underclassman. MSU’s pounding five cream puffs means the same, nothing!
Let’s look to the stats that have greater meaning. How did these teams fare against playoff teams and sub 149 in Sagarin? Starting with the Bobcats, they faced six such teams. In order of playing them it was Wyoming, Weber, E Wash., Montana, Sam Houston and the Jacks (U T Martin didn’t make the grade at a 156 Sagarin. They were the OVC’s auto-qualifier). They were a combined 4-2, losing a close game to Wyoming 19-16 and being soundly beaten by the Griz the last game of the year 29-10.
Analyzing these games show a razor thin margin of victory. They averaged 22.5 PPG while surrendering 18.5 PPG. That’s not dominating your opponents in any stretch of the imagination. Total yardage wasn’t stellar either, MSU averaged 343.2 YPG while giving up 348.3 YPG. What saved the Bobcat’s bacon was they outrushed these opponents 170 YPG to 93.2. A 20-11 sack advantage and a 10-4 TO advantage kept MSU in the win columns.
How did the Herd fare against teams ranked under 149 Sagarin? First we faced 9 versus the six of MSU. They were UND, UNI, Mo. State, SDSU, YSU, USD, SIU, ETSU and JMU. We were 8-1 against these squads. Our stats are even more impressive. We outscored these foes 31.3 PPG to 15.8. In total offense we gained 411.4 YPG while yielding only 296.9. We out rushed these foes 254.8 YPG to 97.2. We had a 29-10 sack advantage and were 11 to 7 in TO’s.
Our resume’ against 50% more tough teams is vastly superior to MSU’s. That is a statistical fact!
What about Touchdown Tommy? How big of an x-factor is he? Mellott definitely has a much bigger “it factor” compared to whom he replaced, Matthew Mckay. Mckay was not a dog by any stretch of the imagination running the ball for 316 yards (4.1 YPC) and throwing for 153-246-3 (62.2% completion rate) for 2021 yards and 16 TD’s. To date Mellott is 26-50-0 (52% completion rate) for 461 yards and 4 TD’s. In the run game he has shown bright by carrying the rock 110 times for 705 yards (6.4 YPC) and 10 TD’s.
I think the biggest factor to his success against Sam Houston and the Jacks was they didn’t prep for the pass game and even executed it poorer still. Mellott was 6/11 for 165 yards. That’s 27.5 yards per reception. Those are video game types of numbers. You won every deep ball. I’ve watched the video twice and am amazed at the lack of coverage by the Bearkats. They were stride for stride with the WR, but never looked back for the ball? The Jack’s did the same. Tommy had 10 completions for 233 yards (23.3 YPC). I’ll go on the record, if MSU gets between 23.3 and 27.5 yards per completion, we lose.
Even with this passing anomaly, the Bobcats still needed to generate 4 sacks and 3 TO’s versus SHSU while giving up no sacks and no TO’s. It was 28-0 in the 2nd quarter. The jacks gave up three sacks and 2 TO’s while garnering none of these.
I’ll give the Bobcats their due, they punched these two teams in the nose without so much as a whimper from either of these squads. Both the Bearkats and Jacks have a history of coughing up big hair balls in the playoffs and they did it again.
I am not of the persuasion that the Herd is going to start stinking up the field with the quality of play for the Natty. Why should I?
So both teams have a large portion of the season with a QB who won’t be the starter come Saturday. The transition to “TD” Tommy began at Idaho in the second to the last game of the season. He was the predominant QB run game versus Idaho with 13 carries for 68 yards (5.2 YPC) and 1-2 passing for 2 yards. He also ran the ball the most against the Griz carrying the rock 7 times for 27 yards. These last five games, including their 3 playoff victories show a scoring spread of 25.8 PPG to 17. They won the total yardage race by 354.8 YPG to 321. Again these aren’t dominating stats. They won in the trenches by out rushing these opponents 221.4 YPG to 88 and winning the sack and TO war 20/7 and 8/3.
How has the Herd done in the last five games? We have outscored our opponents 37.2 PPG to 13. We have out total yardage these foes 472.4 YPG to 266.4. We outrushed these folks by 319.6 YPG to 75.6 (none got over 100 yards). We won the sack race 17/6 and the TO margin by 6/3. Our average Sagarin rating was 113.8, MSU’s was 118, so we weren’t playing weaker opponents.
Two other statistical advantages we have are in the punt return and kickoff return games. The Herd rank 8th in the FCS in punt returns to MSU’s 95th. We rank 35th in kickoff returns to 119th for the Bobcats. If they get sloppy in coverage, we will burn them.
This leads to my final point on the Natty game analysis. We have been without Christian Watson for the whole of the playoffs and that is a big difference in how efficient our passing game is. If he isn’t back our margins of victory drop, PERIOD!
Let me show you my analysis. Since Cam took over at QB in the 4th quarter of the Mo. State game thru the seasons last regular game versus USD (4.25 games), the Herd has amassed 504.4 YPG in total offense, 291.3 YPG rushing, and 41.3 PPG in scoring. Cam is 61/83 in passing for 211 YPG (73.5%), he’s rushed for 154 yards (4.4 YPC). Watson & Sproles have combined for 124.2 YPG and 5 TD’s in these 4.25 games. If Watson is back, our passing game is at full strength.
My money is on the Bison to bring home another Natty. Go Bison!!