This is a nice coronation of both programs that had the gumption to step out of their comfort zones in Div II and move lock step into FCS. Their counter parts at USD & UND are reaping the “benefits” of coming to the party late. College Game Day probably won’t be setting up shop in Grand Forks or Vermilion any time soon. To the victors go the spoils.
Sitting at past half way in the regular season and three games into Valley play is there anything we can deduce about this critical game between the No. 1 and No. 3 big dogs of the FCS football world? Let’s dive in.
The Blue Bunnies look very similar statistically to last year after seven games if you throw out the “let down” game after they lost a close one to the Bison (Indiana State 54-51). In fact they were more impressive defensively last year. Defensively they held six teams with an average Sagarin rating of 121.5 (this would fall within top 25 FCS teams) to 16.7 PPG, 334.5 total yards and stymied teams that had run for 210 YPG against all other opponents to 131 rushing yards.
This year against foes that average 160 Sagarin rating (don’t make the playoffs unless they are the auto bids from one of the weaker conferences), they have 291.3 total yards, 101.8 rushing and 15.6 PPG. Even though these stats are slightly better than last years, I can’t ignore the strength of schedule component.
Can we break their games down further? Sure. They have played three games versus FBS (should have beat the Gophers) and top 25 Sagarin rated FCS clubs (YSU & So. IL). Against this level of competition they fell back into their historic pattern of giving up more than 20 PPG (22). This is good defense, but I don’t believe it wins you National Championships as long as Code Green is around. Remember the only non NC year for the Herd is 2016 and we gave up 16.6 PPG.
How has Code Green fared against top 25 FCS Sagarin teams (we have trouble getting FBS clubs to let us beat them)? We have surrendered 12.4 PPG versus the five teams we played that were so ranked (UND, Delaware, U C Davis, IL State & UNI). Five versus three shows we have faced a tougher schedule so far. In Valley play (no common opponents to date), SDSU has yielded 20 PPG and the Herd only 5.7 PPG. Their games versus YSU and So. IL were in doubt until the 3rd & 4th QTR. All three of our games were over early in the 3rd QTR.
The margin of victory for SDSU in their FBS/top 25 FCS games is 29-22 and in Valley play it is 36-20.3. The Bison top 25 spread is 39-12.4 and in Valley play it comes in at 35-5.7. In summary you can see the Bison have a better resume coming into the game.
What are some other differences we can see in these two FCS super powers? I think the Rams are a better overall unit than their offensive line. I base this on third and fourth down conversion rates. On 3rd downs we are 5th in the FCS at 52.3% and 6th in the nation on 4th downs at 80%. The Jacks are 39th in nation on 3rd downs at 40.8% and 73rd in FCS with 4th down attempts at 44.4%. This is man up, smash mouth football time and we have performed significantly better than the Rabbits.
Another two indicators of offensive line strength are sacks given up and tackles for loss (TFL) allowed. The Herd is 9th in FCS in least sacks, while SDSU is 72nd. TFL’s allowed has the Rams shining at 5th in the nation versus the Jacks coming in at 63rd. Finally our offensive line superiority is seen in that we rank 6th in red zone scoring with 92.9% efficiency. The Blue Bunnies rank 55th with an 80% success rate in the red zone.
What are some of the ways Code Green flexes its muscle versus the “no name” defense to the south? Buck up time can be seen in 3rd & 4th down allowance rates. Code Green is 4th in FCS in allowing 3rd downs at 28.3% and 12th ranked in allowing 4th down conversions at 33%. SDSU comes in at 24th in FCS on 3rd downs, allowing them 33% of the time (good), but not so good on 4th downs, allowing opponents to convert at a rate 53.8% (72nd in FCS).
Summary: playing a tougher schedule, the Herd has achieved better results in sustaining drives, stopping opponents drives and point spreads versus “ranked” teams (+26.6 PPG for Bison to 7 PPG with Jacks). Winning by 4 scores is a lot better than winning by 1.
I think the last big differentiation is the level of QB play between Lance & Gibbs. Gibbs lost two games to injury. These would have been helpful in his growth and assimilation development, since they were against weak teams. Gibbs versus the three tough opponents has only completed 55.2% of his passes. I feel SDSU will try to expand his run game against Code Green, but he is no Tre Roberson or Eli Jenkins. He is not quick twitch and off to the races. I see him more like a big wild-cat formation QB. I base this on his stats to date. Gibbs has 33 carries for 77 total yards. Upon further review, these numbers are mitigated downward in that 63 of this total came on one play versus YSU, where two defenders ran into each other freeing him for a late TD instead of an 8 yard gain to seal their victory with 1:52 left in the game. Translated down to realsville: in his other 32 carries, he has gained only 14 yards. Folks that isn’t dynamic running.
Our guy is 4th in FCS with 70% completion rate and no int’s to date (not forcing throws, good decisions). In the five games against ranked opponents this only fell to 68%. I am still thinking that 68% is better than 55.2% by at least a little bit. What do you think? Trey’s run game isn’t even in the same universe. Trey leads the Herd in rushing with 65 carries for net yardage of 487 yards at 7.4 YPC. This is what a running threat looks like.
What should this produce on Saturday Game Day? B-Mac, the Hero Sports/JMU fan, says the Blue Bunnies will prevail 17-16 over SU. Sagarin’s various prognosticators have the Herd between 4.5 & 7 point favorites with a range of 64-69% chance of winning. I still agree with Coach Entz, the next team to beat the Bison, will be the Bison. They have to play a substandard game. I think they show up.