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Statistically Speaking- OSU at Utah

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Gary Andersen is coming back to Utah. There's no reason to think the team he's bringing to Salt Lake has a hope of beating the Utes, but does his experience with Whittingham's staff give him a secret edge that will keeper it closer than the experts expect? No. No it won't.

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Gary Anderson knows Whit's every move. Does it matter?

If you’ve watched "The Drive" this year, you’ve noticed some eerie similarities between the approaches of Coach Andersen and Coach Whittingham. Andersen uses the same phrases at the same times, unabashedly cribbing from Whittingham’s coaching philosophy. Imitation is the highest form of flattery and all that. Coach Andersen is using the exact same ‘process’ day in and day out, because he has watched Coach Whittingham win a whole lot of games with it. He’s not the first coach to imitate his mentor; certain coaching trees have propagated across all of college football. Coaches have seen their approaches impact dozens of offshoots; of active coaches in the modern era, the most prolific trees belong to Nick Saban, Bill Snyder, Bobby Bowden, Mike Gundy, and Urban Meyer.

Fans and analysts go back to the idea of a coaching tree all the time. Does their knowledge of the system grant them an advantage? Kalani Sitake knows the team inside and out, and Coach Andersen understands Whittingham’s strategy and approach. This extra knowledge, the thinking goes, gives the ‘branch’ coach on the tree an equalizer against the ‘root’ coach on the tree.

If that’s true, we’d expect to see it across football. I took five major modern coaching trees and sorted through them for games in which the ‘root’ coach played one of their protégé ‘branch’ coaches (anyone who coached directly under them) while the branch coach was a head coach. Since 2005, there have been thirteen such matchups.

I checked these matchups against the team’s end of season F/+ score. If there’s an advantage to being a former branch coach, you would expect to see closer losses and the occasional upset. That’s not what the data shows. Seven of the matchups featured games where the root coach had a better team than their opponent, measured by F/+. The root coach won those matchups by an average of 18 points and didn’t lose a single game. The other six matchups featured branch coaches who had created better teams than their mentors. No branch coach lost, and they won by an average of 22.5 points. It’s obvious when you look at the data; rather than closer than expected matchups, the exact expected result occurred. The correlation coefficient of .79 is a very tight relationship. If anything, the preexisting relationship between coaches made the results more predictable.

It doesn’t really make sense that Gary Andersen would have an advantage over Kyle Whittingham. After all, Whittingham is as much an expert on Andersen as anyone; he taught him everything he knows. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to who has the better team. This year, it’s not even close.

Advanced Metrics Overview

The loss hurt Utah as much in advanced metrics as in the polls. The offense that showed up felt like it had stepped right out of 2013, and the defense couldn’t keep up with all of the short fields. The defense held up okay, but the advanced statistical profile of the Utes’ offense looks much more like the nine win team most expected this season, not the eleven or twelve win squad that the Utes had looked like through the first few games. It’s not a death sentence to the Utes’ chances by any means; there’s no reason they can’t win every one of their remaining games, starting with this one.

Oregon State is truly terrible. The defense appears to be borderline serviceable, although every metric shows them to be in the bottom half of the nation. The offense, meanwhile, is completely inept. There’s no reason to expect Oregon State to score points against an extremely talented and well-coached Utah defense; one of the best the Utes have ever fielded. That’s not even considering that the Beavers are going to have to do without their starting quarterback.

Vegas and the polls

The Utes opened as massive favorites; Vegas was giving them about three touchdowns. That line has grown even more in the direction of the Utes, who are now favored by 26.5 points. Utah dropped to 13th in the Massey aggregator rankings following their loss, reflecting the steep drop in analytical and eyeball metrics after a rock bottom performance. It doesn’t much matter, though, as the Beavers are ranked 95th. The gap is about as big as it ever gets.

Stat-Head Pick

The Utes definitely have a rivalry brewing with the Beavers. There’s a history of close, excellent games and now a coaching tie that promises to increase the passion and intensity. Gary Andersen is going to build a tough, talented team in Corvallis. He just doesn’t have one this year. The Utes are much, much, MUCH better than the Beavers. There’s no reason this game should be close. Something weird will happen that will get the Beavers close enough to put a kick through the uprights, but more than ten points allowed would be a real failure by the D.

Utah 41, OSU 3.