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Statistically Speaking: Utah vs Oregon State

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The Utes have played the Beavers five times since 2007, and are 0-2 in Corvallis. Can the Utes turn this trend around and leave the state of Oregon with a win?

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham looks to notch his first win in Corvallis and first Pac-12 winning record tonight against Oregon State.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham looks to notch his first win in Corvallis and first Pac-12 winning record tonight against Oregon State.
Kevork Djansezian

Except for last year's wild finish in Salt Lake City, the home team is 4-0 in the last five meetings of the Beavers and Utes. The Utes played the Beavers twice before joining the Pac 12, and three times since becoming a member. The splits between these games are striking: The Beavers outplayed the Utes in both '07 and '08, coming away with a comfortable victory in Corvallis in 2007. In 2008, the Utes would start slow, but rise up late in the fourth quarter, mounting an impressive comeback victory in regulation. This moment was an essential springboard to the eventual rout of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but Oregon State played a better game for most of the night. In '07, the Utes managed 2.9 yards per play compared to 5 yards per play for the Beavers. In 2008, the Utes offense was much better with 4.9 yards per play, but the Beavers performed exceptionally well, tallying 6.4. Oregon State's ability to get after the QB stands out in these games, where the Beavers sacked Brian Johnson a total of 8 times while the Utes only managed to get to the OSU QB for three sacks.

In the Pac-12, the story has been very different. The Utes outgained the Beavers at home, both in 2011 (4.9 Yards Per Play vs, 3.5) and in 2013 (7.5 Yards Per Play vs, 6.8). On the road, the two teams were deadlocked at 4.2. Turnover margin has been the deciding factor in two of these games; the Utes turned the ball over four times in 2012 and had 3 memorable interceptions in 2013. In 2011, Jon Hays managed the game and avoided turnovers and the Utes cruised to an easy 27-8 victory. In the losses, the Utes managed 1 sack between two games while Travis Wilson was sacked 6 times. In the win, Hays was sacked twice while Mannion was pounded, with the Utes D tallying up 6 sacks.

The Utes' struggles in Corvallis have been the result of two different challenges. In the early going, the Utes were outmanned and struggled to keep pace with a consistent, well-coached Pac 12 team. Lately, the Utes have been their own worst enemy, by making big mistakes and allowing big, game changing plays from the Beaver defense. If the Utes can avoid mistakes, turnovers, and sacks against the Beavers, this long-term analysis indicates that they should be able to win the game.

Advanced stats tell a similar story, with the Utes holding a substantial advantage in ESPN Efficiency, FEI, and F/+. What's unique about this matchup is that the advanced statistics don't gel with what we see in the basic per-game and counting stats, which show us a Beaver defense that can really lay the lumber.

Basic Analytics:

Oregon has impressive total numbers. They have given up 663 rushing yards and 994 passing yards, good for 22nd and 11th in the country respectively. While their numbers are inflated by playing only 5 games, they still have a solid showing in per-play stats, giving up 4.25 yards per carry and an excellent 5.3 yards per attempt passing. When basic numbers don't match up with advanced analytics, the first place to look is the offenses they have played, but the Beavers have played some solid teams. FEI ranks the defense's schedule as the 15th toughest through this point in the year.

Those are numbers that a strong defensive unit puts up, but a variety of advanced metrics don't agree. These metrics show a team that is at best average on each side of the ball.

ESPN Efficiency:

FPI (RK)

OffE(RK)

DefE (RK)

SpclTE (RK)

Utes wk 5

13.0 (25)

3.45 (62)

7.09 (25)

7.31 (1)

17.84 (23)

Utes wk 7

14.1 (22)

4.11 (55)

7.02 (26)

7.87 (1)

19.00 (14)

UCLA

5.6 (50)

2.40 (67)

-1.48 (69)

0.56 (54)

1.49 (66)

(ESPN's FPI gives the Utes a solid 64.6% chance to win this game.)

The win over UCLA was a good thing for the Utes' efficiency numbers, although they took a bit of a dip over the bye week. Most of the Utes advanced stats took a dive on Saturday as the Utes' 4 FBS opponents all struggled, going 1-3 and being outscored by more than a touchdown on average. The lone win was Michigan's awful, unconvincing victory over ailing Penn State. The only thing about this game that looked good were the moves of dance sensation/kick returner Dennis Norfleet.

The best thing about these numbers is the climb in offensive efficiency. If the Utes want to compete in the wide-open southern division, they are going to need to improve the offensive unit to at least the 40th ranking or so. By week 7 these numbers start to move a little less, but the Utes' have made significant changes in strategy and potentially personnel that may drive a sizeable shift. The Beavers defense is an excellent test, and should help demonstrate if the rushing attack is the result of solid play by the Utes, or if UCLA was little more than an outlier.

F/+ (now with splits) -

Welcome to my favorite week of the year- the glorious week 7, where www.FootballOutsiders.com starts publishing offensive and defensive splits, as well as fascinating statistics which measure all sorts of unique aspects of a football team. For example, FEI's defensive strength of schedule statistic suggests that no one has played a more difficult slate of offenses than the Utes have, which helps to demonstrate just how special the defensive unit is turning out to be. Keep in mind that these numbers feature a sizeable adjustment for strength of schedule.

F/+

Defensive FEI

Offensive FEI

Defensive S&P+

Offensive S&P+

Utes

28th

3rd

95t

45th

90th

OSU

62nd

69th

42nd

78th

62nd

It perhaps goes without saying that the Utes are 1st in special teams efficiency; they are continuing their remarkable run while ranking 12th, 3rd, and 6th in field goal, punt return, and punting efficiency.

F/+ combines these numbers to put the Utes at 28th, with the number one special teams, 11th best defense, and 93rd best offense in the country. The Beavers meanwhile are at 57th, with an offense, defense, and special teams ranked 45th, 69th, and 73rd respectively. These numbers weigh heavily in favor of the Utes overall, although the FootballOutsiders offensive splits are a much uglier picture of the Utes than the fairly rosy 55th they have earned from ESPN.

Massey Ratings and Vegas:

The Massey ranking composite has the Utes ranked at 26th and the Beavers at 50th. The Vegas line has taken a unique path. The books opened with the Utes 1.5 point 'dogs, but have since moved to 3 point favorites in some places. The Vegas line is really an outlier here, with advanced statistics pointing to a hefty advantage for the Utes. Nonetheless, those strong per game and per play stats for the Oregon defense should give a Ute fan pause. However, we can find a satisfactory explanation for this strange disconnect in the performance of one team: the Trojans.

So where did these impressive numbers come from?

The Trojans walloped the Beavers in Los Angeles, racking up 200 rushing yards and 261 passing yards. The passing yards don't really stand out; they constitute about 26% of the passing yards the Beavers have given up. The rushing yards, on the other hand, constitute almost a third of all the rushing yards the Beavers have surrendered. USC ground the Beavers down with a steady rushing attack. They had two players get over 80 yards and a touchdown in this game. The question of whether that performance was an outlier or indicative of a problem with the Beavers run defense hasn't been answered, but the performance of the Utes on Thursday night is going to go a long way.

Stat-head prediction-

Utah has shown a commitment to running the ball, and this game appears to be an opportunity to double down on this philosophy. The Beavers feature an excellent pass defense and a run defense that looks strong on the surface, but was trampled by the only good run offense that OSU has yet faced. S&P+ ranks the rushing attacks of Hawai'i, Colorado, and SDSU as 119th, 97th, and 73rd, while the run game of USC clocks in at 28th.

The Utes run game is 60th in S&P+, a number that in my view has not yet fully incorporated the shift in focus to Devontae Booker. As the year wears on, I expect that the Utes will continue to trend upward in this facet of the game, starting to approach USC's production. Look for the Utes to keep it on the ground on 62% or more of the snaps, and to manage 4.25 or better in yards per carry. The Ute defense will stymie and stifle an Oregon State offense that has failed to impress, and the Utes will grind out win number 5, 23-10.

This prediction is predicated on the Utes taking care of the football and controlling the line of scrimmage. Oregon State has shown what happens if the Utes turn the ball over and make big mistakes in crucial moments: their solid, consistent play and good coaching allows them to capitalize on those mistakes and swing the game in their favor.