clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Statistically Speaking: Utah vs. Arizona State

New, comments

Four quarterbacks, one game. When Taylor Kelly has struggled with injuries, Mike Bercovici has stepped in and led the Sun Devils to victories, leading some to wonder if Kelly should get the keys to the offense back without a fight. Meanwhile, Travis Wilson appears to have taken command of the QB controversy in Salt Lake City, but one still questions how quickly he might get the hook if he begins to struggle. This week we'll take a look at all four quarterbacks, and try and get a sense of what to expect from ASU.

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly will look to extend the Sun Devils' dominance of the Utes.
Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly will look to extend the Sun Devils' dominance of the Utes.
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another must-win for the Utes. It's become a regular feature of this year's demanding schedule, and it shows no signs of letting up with Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona in consecutive weeks. Before we take a look at this matchup, we are going to explore the four quarterbacks who have taken snaps for these two teams. We'll try to answer the question of what degree Wilson has separated himself from Kendal Thompson, and see if Bercovici has been good enough to challenge Kelly for the starting role.

Surplus QBs

On Saturday, Travis Wilson showed up with a vengeance, turning in an efficient 194 yard performance on 34 drop backs (including two sacks). He made big plays in big moments, capping off his performance with a long run down the left sideline and a short pass to Kaelin Clay. He was lifted aloft by Ute fans storming the field, and has seemingly sealed control of the quarterback competition in Salt Lake City.

Or have we just forgotten Kendal Thompson's similar final drive against then no. 8 UCLA? Thompson also made big plays in critical moments, leading the Utes systematically down the field, and well within striking distance for the leg of Andy Phillips and a Utes victory. Has Wilson really separated himself from Thompson, or is that recency bias talking?

Let's take a look at the numbers:

Passing


Comp/Att


Comp. %


TD/INT


Yards per Att.


Passer Rating


Wilson


81/143


56.6%


8/0


7.18


135.43


Thompson


28/47


59.6%


2/2


6.4


118.89


Wilson's performance against USC closed the gap in completion percentage and started to separate himself with regard to yards per attempt and passer rating. It's been said before, but it is truly remarkable that Travis Wilson is the only FBS quarterback with 0 interceptions on the season. He'll almost certainly get picked off at some point this year, but given last year's struggles his ability to protect the football really stands out.

3rd and 7+


Comp/Att


Comp. %


TD/INT


Yards per Att.


Passer Rating


Wilson


13/25


52%


1/0


7.16


125.34


Thompson


3/11


27.27%


0/1


2


25.89


Wilson hardly changes his play in high-pressure passing down situations. His completion percentage dips a little, but yards per attempt remains constant and impressive. Thompson's numbers drop off a cliff, although a larger sample size would hopefully correct some of this. Nevertheless, Wilson has proven himself to be cool and collected at critical moments, and his performance against USC solidified that reputation.

Rushing


Attempts


Yards


YPC


TD


Sacks


Explosiveness Rate


Wilson


50


105


2.10


1


7


10%


Thompson


51


164


3.22


1


10


17.6%


Thompson is an explosive runner, but he isn't terribly efficient. He also has a tendency to take sacks frequently, which hurts his rushing numbers. Wilson's limited success on the ground last week was offset by his inability to pick up Su'a Cravens blitzes, and two costly sacks kept him from making strides in his traditional rushing numbers.

QBR


Pass EPA


Run EPA


Sack EPA


Pen. EPA


Total EPA


EPA/Action Play


Wilson


18.2


-3.9


-4.5


.6


10.4


.05


Thompson


-1.4


-1.0


-5.7


2.3


-5.8


-.05


QBR, an overall ESPN statistic that seeks to measure the amount of points a player is worth to his team, thinks little of Travis Wilson and even less of Kendal Thompson. Wilson is a competent passer, but his running game has cost the team. Meanwhile, this statistic thinks that with the exception of being able to draw pass interference flags, Kendal Thompson has cost his team points with every snap.

Thompson's numbers are very grim at this point. It would take a remarkable turnaround in efficiency to bring his numbers above league average. A frank analysis of these numbers make me wonder not if Wilson or Thompson should be starting, but if the coaching staff needs to consider making a change and putting someone else on the board as the backup QB. Thompson has had ample chance to earn the starting job, but his struggles on passing downs and inability to make up for it with truly excellent running ability are clear.

A similar controversy has taken hold at Arizona State, but rather than featuring two quarterbacks who can't demonstrate that they are ready to start in the Pac 12, ASU has two signal callers who both have looked excellent, raising doubts about whether Taylor Kelly should keep the job in light of Mike Bercovici's success on the field. The numbers illuminate this issue: the Utes want to see Bercovici taking snaps.

Passing


Comp/Att


Comp. %


TD/INT


Yards per Att.


Passer Rating


Kelly


56/93


60.2%


8/1


8.65


159.17


Bercovici


101/163


62%


10/2


8.11


147.88


These two players have remarkably similar numbers. Both have over 8 yards per attempt and excellent passer ratings. They each protect the football well and complete over 60% of their passes. Perhaps, like the Utes, passing down numbers will separate them?

3rd and 7+


Comp/Att


Comp. %


TD/INT


Yards per Att.


Passer Rating


Kelly


8/21


38.09%


1/1


6.47


98.6


Bercovici


15/29


51.7%


0/1


5.37


90.01


There isn't much separation here. Kelly's completed fewer passes, but his higher per-attempt average and TD give him the edge in passer rating. One thing these numbers serve to illuminate is how impressive Travis Wilson's passing down performance is. Most QBs, even excellent ones like Kelly and Bercovici, experience a significant drop off on 3rd and long. Wilson's ability to continue executing really stands out.

Rushing


Attempts


Yards


YPC


TD


Sacks


Explosiveness Rate


Kelly


34


175


5.15


2


10


32.3%


Bercovici


24


30


1.25


0


7


4.1%


These rushing numbers show why Bercovici is a much more appealing matchup. Bercovici is a traditional passing QB, crossing the line of scrimmage only when necessary. Kelly, by contrast, is a dangerous runner, combining explosiveness and efficiency.

QBR


Pass EPA


Run EPA


Sack EPA


Pen. EPA


Total EPA


EPA/Action Play


Kelly


15.7


7.8


-6.7


.9


17.7


.13


Bercovici


21.3


1.2


-4.2


1.9


20.4


.10


The QBR stat closes the gap between these two players, giving Bercovici a lot more credit for his passing ability and highlighting Kelly's issues with taking too many sacks. Ultimately, QBR sees this issue as a wash, but the coaching staff of ASU will likely favor Kelly's dual-threat capabilities. Regardless of who starts, the Utes defense is going to have their hands full.

Advanced Stats Primer:

Unlike the pollsters and fans, advanced stats have not been impressed by the Utes’ big wins in recent weeks. This is despite an impressive performance against USC, where the Utes posted a high success rate, and their points were hard earned and not the result of luck (a certain fumble return for a TD not withstanding). Whether these stats are confused by the way the Utes use field position as their most potent weapon, or if it’s related to the way the Utes defense works, the Utes continue to slip slightly in advanced rankings, creating a larger gap between them and their competition.

F/+ rankings

The Utes come into this game ranked 32nd in the nation in F/+, while Arizona State is an impressive 18th. Both UCLA and USC are ahead of the Utes in this ranking system (keep in mind that these aren’t polls, so head-to-head results have no effect). No rating system is perfect, and the Utes appear to be exposing some flaws in F/+.

FEI


Offense


Defense


Special Teams


Overall


Utah


78th


5th


3rd


5th


ASU


10th


31st


31st


10th


FEI, which gives weight to strength of schedule, special teams, turnovers, and efficiency, loves the Utes. Utah’s offense is ugly, but their defense and special teams are things of beauty, and FEI gives the Utes the edge over ASU here.

S&P+


Offense


Defense


Overall


Utah


91st


38th


60th


ASU


29th


42nd


32nd


S&P+ is not as fond of the Utes, which isn’t surprising given that it devalues strength of schedule and doesn’t include a special teams component. The lack of a strength of schedule adjustment is what accounts for the lack of respect this stat gives to the Utes D, ranking them only 38th despite having held explosive offenses like Washington State and USC to less than 30 points.

Behind the Line


Adj. Sack Rate


Adj. LY


Utah’s D


4th


33rd


ASU’s O


109th


99th


FootballOutsider.com’s advanced stats also highlight a mammoth mismatch in this game- protecting the line of scrimmage. The Utes ability to get after the quarterback and behind the line is well documented, but these numbers show that Arizona State struggles mightily in this area when they have the ball. Utah’s colossal strength is lined up against ASU’s biggest weakness in this case, a factor that may decide the ballgame.

ESPN Efficiencies

Offense (RK)


Defense (RK)


Spc.T (RK)


Overall (RK)


FPI (RK)


Utah Last Week


3.45 (62)


7.09 (25)


7.87 (1)


19.00 (14)


14.0 (26)


Utah This Week


2.47 (63)


9.05 (15)


6.33 (1)


17.85 (19)


14.3 (25)


ASU


10.55 (32)


3.86 (39)


.32 (60)


14.73 (29)


18.8 (26)


These numbers are better for the Utes than F/+, although after factoring in home field advantage, FPI gives Arizona State a 56.4% chance of winning the game.

Vegas and Massey

Vegas opened close, with the Sun Devils favored by 2.5. The line has shifted significantly, and ASU is now favored by six. 97% of money bets have been on the Utes, and ESPN’s pick center agrees that the smart money is on Utah to beat this wide spread. The Massey ratings put the Utes at 22, but ASU is slightly favored, coming in at 18.

Stat-Head Prediction

This is another challenging game to predict, with advanced statistics suggesting a close matchup that will hinge on a few meaningful plays. The Sun Devils have the home field advantage and a clear edge at quarterback, while the Utes bring a defense that excels at doing things that Arizona State has struggled to prevent lesser defenses from accomplishing.

This game feels a lot like the UCLA game to me. The Utes are on the road against a balanced, talented squad with a lot to play for. If the Utes manage to get to Kelly or Bercovici a half dozen times or more, they will be on pace to win this game. However, I think that such an incredible defensive performance is an outlier, even for this Utes’ D-line. I don’t think the Utes will be able to do quite enough to keep with Arizona State.


30-24 ASU