By the (Advanced) Numbers: Hokies Back on Their 'Heels

Virginia Tech travels to the Tar Heel state for a Coastal clash against North Carolina.

If in mid-August I told you the Hokies would start the season 3-2, the offense would look only marginally better than last year, and the defense would have growing pains due to inexperience, what would you have thought? My guess is a number of fans would have found that to be a fairly obvious and pedestrian prediction.

But here we are, and somehow it doesn't feel anything like what would have been imagined. That's part of the emotional roller coaster of fandom...even when the total picture isn't all that surprising at end of season, the highs and lows can be intense. This season feels especially so — not because anyone would have been surprised to start 3-2, but because the rest of the season feels so uncertain, and it's hard to say exactly how Virginia Tech might play each week.

So what do the numbers say about this weekend and the rest of the season?

Where the Season Stands

Virginia Tech is currently 3-2. The actual and predicted score difference and odds of winning each game are:

The odds of each possible regular season win total are now:

The rest of the season could go in various different directions. The Hokies are currently estimated to have at least a ⅓ chance to win each game, and at most a ⅔ chance. There is about a 1 in 4 chance that the team either doesn't make it to a bowl game, or runs the table. Really almost anything is within reason. Most panic-inducing is, at the moment, Virginia is only an underdog because the game is in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech Leads the Nation In...

...Kickoff efficiency.

Before the wheels fell of on Saturday, the game began with freshman Jordan Stout kicking the ball off for a touchback. Not a touchback where the returner took a knee, or where the ball bounced out of the end zone. But one where the ball landed several yards past the end zone, fitting for someone in Joey Slye's shoes.

94% of Stout's 33 kickoffs have been touchbacks, the 2nd-highest rate nationally, and the unit's average kickoff distance is 3rd-nationally at 64.94 yards. The team is delivering exactly what Justin Fuente wants from his kickoff unit — no opportunity for a game-changing play. Just opponent drive after opponent drive starting at the 25-yard-line.

Rankings and Computer Predictions

The computer rankings and predictions for each team:

While the rankings make it look like the two teams are worlds apart, keep in mind two important points:

  1. The game is in Chapel Hill, buying North Carolina about 3 points.
  2. Teams cluster towards the middle. The difference between the 47th-ranked Hokies and 98th-ranked Tar Heels by S&P+ is about 13 points, while the gap between top-ranked Alabama and the Hokies is about 24 points.

The odds of a 5.5-point favorite winning is 66.0%.

Next is a look at any overall offensive or defensive advantages:

I get the frustration not scoring from 1st-and-goal at the 1 against Notre Dame. No question it was a squandered opportunity. But I don't get the criticism of Brad Cornelsen and putting the loss on his shoulders. The Hokies are currently the 40th-rated offense and 59th-rated defense. Neither of those smell like Virginia Tech football of recent years, but that's because the defense has not been this bad and the offense has not been this good.

The offense's percentile performance across all games in college football to this points have been 10th, 77th, 59th, 93rd, and 57th. The defense? 81st, 73rd, 10th, 83rd, 23rd. The defense lost to Old Dominion and Notre Dame, not the offense.

Special Teams

Tech has slipped to 16th in overall special teams — a very good rating still, but this week will match up against the 14th-ranked UNC special teams.

Who To Watch Out For

Despite relatively good recruiting for several years, UNC is not exactly stacked with playmakers...or at least statistically they aren't making plays. But there are certainly some threats to keep an eye on:

  1. Jr RB Antonio Williams averages 6.5 yards per carry.
  2. Jr WR Anthony Ratliff-Williams is a boom-or-bust threat. He catches only 44% of passes thrown his way, but averages 20.2 YPC.
  3. Sr DE Malik Carney has 5.5 TFL, 6.5 run stuffs, and two forced fumbles.

Statistical Key to the Game

Well, both Virginia Tech losses to this point have been on the defense, and breakdowns have allowed opponents to break some explosive plays. Last week I wrote Virginia Tech would have to hold Notre Dame to 3 plays or less of 20+ yards. The Irish then had 5 such plays, and we know how that turned out.

This week I'm doubling down on the same stat. Bud Foster has to find a way to stop the major lapses that are giving opponents easy points, or Hokies will be the ones trying to disregard a hurricane game.

Statistical Prediction

I trust the Hokies to bounce back, although there are some serious issues on this team that I doubt will be resolved this season. North Carolina is not a great team, but neither are the Hokies and anyone expecting a blowout is probably setting themselves up for disappointment. But the offense will put up points, and the defense should do enough to deliver a win.

Virginia Tech 37, North Carolina 31

As always a thanks to Football Outsiders, cfbstats.com, and Minitab Statistical Software.

Comments

I get the frustration not scoring from 1st-and-goal at the 1 against Notre Dame. No question it was a squandered opportunity. But I don't get the criticism of Brad Cornelsen and putting the loss on his shoulders. The Hokies are currently the 40th-rated offense and 59th-rated defense. Neither of those smell like Virginia Tech football of recent years, but that's because the defense has not been this bad and the offense has not been this good.

The offense's percentile performance across all games in college football to this points have been 10th, 77th, 59th, 93rd, and 57th. The defense? 81st, 73rd, 10th, 83rd, 23rd. The defense lost to Old Dominion and Notre Dame, not the offense.

Games are played on both sides of the ball, and especially in close games the defense and offense often feed off each other. Blanket statements like this are just too black and white to not account for the effects they can have on the other side of the ball. I would agree that the defense eventually caved in both games (ODU 4th quarter, ND after the big 97 yarder) but that ignores the number of points we left on the field through various offensive mishaps in the Notre Dame game and the completely unacceptable first half offensive performance against ODU where we scored 14 points on a horrendous defense, one of which was a 1 play 87 yard TD run. Our offense managed one meaningful drive against a winless G5 defense in the first 30 minutes of a football game.

I will say that overall I have much more confidence in our offense this season, even if it's just a small sample, false confidence in the gunslinging of Ryan Willis and his willingness to push the ball downfield and throw into tighter windows.

I do feel like defense lost against odu. Against Notre Dame I think losing was a Virginia tech team effort.

The defense gave up a record number of yards in this game. Sometimes things are really black and white, not gray as you suggest. Offense scored 35 points, which no matter the competition, puts the team in a position to win. The ODU game falls on the defense, the offense accomplished what it needed to do.

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

I'm not defending the defense against ODU, the 4th quarter was the absolute worst single quarter performance I have ever watched from Virginia Tech.

I agree 35 points should have been enough to win, but that is an unacceptable amount of points to score in context of both the quality of the ODU defense and the fact that we NEEDED to score more and could not. We punted or turned the ball over on 5 of our 7 real drives in the first half (discounting the kneel out drive). Three of our touchdowns came on schematic and execution failures by ODU. The offense was not impressive in that game.

In general I agree with you, and I balked a bit while editing before publication, but I believe Joel is looking at that through a statistical lens only. In which case, it's easier to agree with him.

No doubt points were left on the field, but let me frame it a different way:

Notre Dame has played Michigan, Ball St., Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and Stanford. Virginia Tech gained more yards than any of them, gained more yards per play than all but one, and scored more points than all but one. Sure the team could have scored more and blew at least one big opportunity, but I don't know how anyone paints that as anything other than a pretty good offensive performance.

The defense on the other hand gave up more points than all but one, more yards than all but two, and more yards per play than all but one.

Yes the offense should have scored from the one yard line, but hard to paint that loss as being anywhere close to equally due to the offense and defense.

Thanks for publishing despite your better judgment!

I'm giving UNC more than 6. Hokies by two touchdowns. Thanks again for the good read.

JP

Sr DE Malik Carney has 5.5 TFL, 6.5 run stuffs, and two forced fumbles.

Maybe good news, this is Carney's game to be suspended.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

Yeah that was my understanding when they announced the suspensions.

The BS part is that UNC was allowed to count their hurricane canceled game toward the players suspensions. We all know that UNC can't play in a little rain, that game should 100% not be counted.

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

Virginia Tech 37, North Carolina 31

via GIPHY

I just don't see how UNCheat is going to score 31 points on us.

If you're not sure if my comment warrants a "/s", it probably does.

ODU scored 49.

Have you not been paying attention this season? Our offense literally needs to score 50+ in order for me to feel somehow comfortable that we might win. This defense is historically bad*(I figured as much).

*for a Foster coached team

If a tree falls in Scott Stadium does it make a sound?

I am holding out hope that there will be a 2012-type second half of the season revival in the defense and I expect our numbers to look a lot better by seasons end, even if they still aren't up to VT standards, which they likely won't be.

ODU played their Bowl Game against us. UNC is just treading water until basketball season starts.

UNC only broke 30 once this season, in a 38-35 win over Pitt.

They lost to Cal 24-17
They lost to ECU 41-19
They lost to MIami 47-10

They dodged a bullet by not having to play UCF due to the hurricane.

UNCheat is not a high powered offense (20.25 ppg vs 28.7ppg for ODU). Even if they had the game of their season against us (like ODU had), I still don't see them breaking 30 points.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

That's all good and stuff but we were saying the same thing about ODU. I really don't care what unc has done to date. This VT defense has real potential to be Foster's worst ever. I think it's perfectly reasonable to predict unc scores 31 points on this unit. Let's hope they don't, of course, but let's not kid ourselves either. Our defense is bad. I won't take what other offenses have done for granted. VT needs to be able to score 50 points in every game from here out because no one knows what we'll get out of our porous D

If a tree falls in Scott Stadium does it make a sound?

I agree completely. No chance I'm feeling good about the defense's ability to win us a game the rest of the season. I'm not totally pessimistic on their eventual ability to produce but I don't think we should rely on them this year. Offense, just score 50+ a game to make me feel better.

porous D

sounds like a euphemism for an STD

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

As the ODU game showed us, and we should pay close attention to is it doesn't really matter how our opponent did against other teams. ODU got stomped by Liberty, then they outplayed us. We need to prepare for their strength and take advantage of their weaknesses. We need to not think teams will roll over and give up because we rated better than them.

If I get what the 'percentile performance' statistic is saying, our D was on average better than 79% of other teams in games with Deablo and better than 16.5% of other teams in games without him? If I'm reading that right, it certainly lends some statistical support to my (and others') idea that Deablo's health is critical to this defense.

You'll be excited to hear then that we might be without Deablo again this weekend!