Roasting the Redbirds!!
I feel in my writing an obligation to get it right. This means being open to critique and retrospection. I find too much emotional “fiction” in the sports commentary world instead of a reasoned, informed opinion. The further we get into the playoffs; I want to take a short look back on my analysis from the previous week. Last week I said of Nicholls: “If the Herd doesn’t score 40+, they took a nap. If Code Green doesn’t shut their run game down and hold them to 14 points or less, they took the day off”. We scored 37, but with our regular kicker suspended, we missed two FG’s & extra point. We did take a nap. We should have had at least one more TD in the first half.
Code Green held them under 14 points. Defensively we gave up more than I thought we would in the run game, but we had to make adjustments for their 6’4” NFL quality WR. Holding a team that’s averaging over 410 YPG to 265 and shutting down a good QB and passing game in the 220 YPG area to 94 yards, is getting the job done. All in all, just a tad short of what I thought would happen.
Now onto more familiar territory for this week. No one was expecting Illinois State to make it to the quarter finals after losing their starting QB and then followed by a season ending loss to the enigmatic Penguins of Youngstown State by a score of 21-3. To say they looked bad in that game is an understatement. They were held to 142 total yards of offense and 30 (yes 30) passing yards. How could they compete in the playoffs?
Three things were forgotten. First, IL State is from the MVFC, currently the best FCS conference in the country. Once in the playoffs there is a good chance of facing a lesser team than you faced during the regular season. Second, the Redbirds are one of the best defensive teams in the FCS. The Herd back in 2011 wasn’t an offensive juggernaut. They were exceptional at defense. Modern sports writers consistently discount defensive prowess and over rate offenses, especially passing. Finally, the birds have an NFL quality RB in James Robinson running behind a huge offensive line.
The combination of lower class opponents (OVC & Southland), this beast running for 507 yards and your defense limiting the opponents to 10 PPG, has led the Redbirds to the task of having to beat the Bison on the road this Saturday. What can we expect?
Even when Brady Davis was in the lineup at QB, the Redbirds have been offensively challenged all year. Their total offense is only at 309 YPG (ranks 110th in FCS). What makes it even worse is that this runs over 75 YPG under what the teams they played gave to all other offenses. Scoring offense comes in at a paltry 21 PPG (99th FCS) and passing a pathetic 123.8 YPG (117th FCS). Only rushing at 185.1 YPG (33rd FCS) is in the black, thanks to James Robinson.
Isn’t it amazing how a team with an ugly duck offense can be 10-4 because of playing great defense. Only 3 out 35 teams ranked 90th or below in total defense had a winning record and none made the playoffs. Seven teams ranked 90th or below in total offense had winning records and two made the playoffs and two more were bubble teams. Good defense gets you to the playoffs
NDSU overall is second in total offense at 488.8 YPG, fourth in rushing at 298 YPG, first in passing efficiency and fourth in scoring offense at 39.8 PPG. Our season totals mimic what we accomplished versus the Redbirds in the first meeting when we scored 37 points, totaled 484 yards, rushed for 293 and Trey’s passing efficiency was great, completing 12 of 15 passes. When it comes to offense, they are an efficient plow horse; The Bison are a thorough bred race horse.
Defensively IL State ranks fourth in scoring defense at 16.5 (14.9 PPG when factoring out the Bison). They are twelfth in Total Defense (TD) at 307.1 YPG (293.6 YPG versus all others), 15th in rushing defense at 116.6 YPG (102.5 versus non-Bison teams). The Bison rank 1st in scoring defense (12.3 PPG), 2nd in Total Defense at 273.5 YPG, 39th in rushing defense at 132.8 YPG and 1st in pass defense with 140.8 YPG. We also are number one in defensive pass efficiency (102.2). Both teams have salty defenses.
Overall offensive and defensive statistics are just a starting point for me. They give a beginning gauge of a team. The problem is this is where most analysis stops at the pundit and TV commentary level. Let’s dig a little deeper and see what we find. Since we are in the same conference, we have played six common opponents (they didn’t play USD and we didn’t play Indiana State). How did we match up?
On the defensive side there is a slight advantage to the Bison. We gave up 4 points less (12.5 to 16.5 PPG) versus these same six conference foes. Total yardage was about 24 yards less (286.2 to 309.8 YPG). Rushing defense favored the Redbirds by about 24 yards (149.2 to 125.7 YPG). Code Green won the passing defense comparison 137 YPG to 184.2 (47.2 YPG). Both teams stopped their common opponent’s offenses.
Now to what swings this game massively into the Bison column. The Redbirds against these common foes managed these stats: 256.8 YPG TO, 18 PPG, 140 YPG rushing and 116.8 YPG passing. All these stat lines are far below what these teams gave up for the year on defense (365.9 TD, 26.2 PPG, 167.4 YPG rushing and 198.5 YPG passing). In four of these games they still had their experienced QB. These offensive stats would place them as one of the worst offenses in the country.
The Herd’s report card for offense is off the chart in comparison. Trey and company gained 477 YPG TO, 37.5 PPG, 291.7 YPG rushing and 185.3 YPG in passing. This is more than double the yardage, points and rushing against the same teams. Why do you think Vegas have it a 23.5 point spread? They don’t pull their numbers out of unnamed orifices, do they?
The other clincher for me is a subset within these six teams. We both faced three top 25 defenses in UNI, SDSU and YSU. These defenses totally shut down IL State. They could only get 210 YPG TO, 13.3 PPG and gain 112 YPG rushing. The Ram led Bison offense gained 444 YPG TO, 310 YPG rushing and 41.7 PPG. Folks, that is better than doubling the total yardage and tripling rushing and scoring. The final clincher is, we did that to them in the first meeting also!!
I could go on and look at how each fared against top 25 Sagarin/playoff teams, but all we would see is the same type of disparities, except that Code Green played much better versus such fare (288.4 YPG Total Defense to 338.3 YPG and scoring 11.3 PPG to 19).
Some side stats that get some publicity is the Redbirds have set the school sack record at 50. Eighteen came against two teams. They got one the first time around (Trey ran out of bounds for a 1 yard loss). The other is they have generated 33 turnovers. They also have turned it over 25 times themselves, so just a plus 8 there. They have give up 30 sacks, we have only 10. Our turnover ratio is +15 (turned it over 5 times to 20 take aways).
What’s my take come Saturday? Sagarin has the point spread between 21.8 & 23.5 with a 91% win chance. Eigen has it at 22 points and also a 91% win factor. Vegas latest odds favor the Herd by 23.5 points. I think the Bison beat the spread. I think Robinson can be contained by Code Green. One dimensional teams don’t do well against the Herd. A redshirt freshman QB who is 12 for 26 for his career with two starts is a very unlikely candidate to upset the Bison in the Dome. Next!