By the (Advanced) Numbers: This Herd May Hurt

Once again the Hokies must contend with a havoc creating defensive front. Virginia Tech must not add to its national lead of plays of 70+ yards given up to have a chance to beat Marshall.

Last Friday the Hokies lost to the Cavaliers several times until they didn't. I'm generally not superstitious (outside of the proven fact that Virginia Tech's performance is definitively tied to whether I am sitting or standing, whether I have shoes on, and whether I am consuming alcohol), but after the Commonwealth Cup it is hard to believe there aren't outside forces conspiring to ensure it the streak never ends.

The win was huge, not only because it gives the Hokies hope of a continued bowl streak, but because it at least temporarily halts any narrative that the Hoos are on the way up and the Hokies on the way down. Any recruit considering a commitment to UVA has to now question what they were sold on. The Cavaliers obsessed over beating Virginia Tech all season, and openly so. Putting your sole ambition out there publicly is like squeezing toothpaste from the tube — it's easy to get it out but you can't ever put it back in. The state, region, and conference knew the goal and saw the team fail spectacularly at it in what may have been their best shot for years.

The Hokies still need one more win for bowl eligibility. On one hand, Whit Babcock came through with a 12th game that makes sense regionally (and may even result in and early exit of the ECU series). On the other, Marshall is a pretty good team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Thundering Herd is 8-3, but one of those losses was to Southern Miss in a game in which they outgained the Golden Eagles by a full yard per play, but turned the ball over two additional times and scored 2.83 points per scoring opportunity to the opponent's 5. Marshall has five games this season with a defensive performance above the 90th percentile for all games in FBS football this season. They only have two games not in the top half of overall performances all season.

In other words, now isn't the time to start looking at bowl projections.

Where the Season Stands

Virginia Tech is currently 5-6. The actual and predicted score difference and odds of winning each game are:

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

More on the (grossly overstated in my opinion) odds of beating Marshall in a moment...

Virginia Tech Leads the Nation In...

Consecutive Commonwealth Cup victories and bowl appearances, b****.


Rankings and Computer Predictions

The computer rankings and predictions for each team:

While the Thundering Herd is generally considered the better team by computer rankings, home field advantage is outweighing the rating difference for most computers. However, the margin is quite thin, and this game is anything but a certainty. Also, the Hokies are 4-7 against the spread this season. The odds of a 4.5-point favorite winning is 63.2%.

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

For better or worse, the Hokies are roughly evenly split on offensive and defensive ability. The Thundering Herd, on the other hand, are the third most imbalanced team in the country with one of the weakest offenses and strongest defenses. Can Virginia Tech take advantage of the weak offense while defeating the stout defense?

When Virginia Tech Has the Ball

Here is an explanation of S&P+ ratings, and FEI ratings. Most statistics are now opponent-adjusted.

Who has the advantage in the passing and rushing game when the Tech offense has the ball?

The Hokies offense can generally be described as "meh" running, passing, on standard downs, and on passing downs. The Herd defense however is very good, with the only weakness coming on passing downs. This may present an opportunity for the Hokies to keep the chains moving.

What style offense do the Hokies use and what style will they face?

The highlight of the Marshall defense is havoc rates, especially on the defensive line.

Offensive and defensive line performance are compared using Football Outsiders' metrics:

The Virginia Tech offense is closest in personality to:

  1. Temple
  2. UCLA
  3. Illinois

The Marshall defense is closest in personality to:

  1. Miami
  2. Penn State
  3. Michigan

FFS.

When Marshall Has the Ball

Again, examine pass-run comparisons first:

The Thundering Herd offense isn't anything special, but then again it is much better rated than the Hokies defense it will face. Can Bud Foster's unit avoid getting embarrassed by a weak offense?

What style offense do the Thundering Herd use and what style will they face in the Hokies defense?

You may not be aware, but Virginia Tech really, really sucks at preventing big plays. The team has given up 8 (!) plays of 70+ yards this season, more than any other team in the country.

Offensive and defensive line performance are again compared using Football Outsiders' metrics:

The Virginia Tech defense is closest in personality to:

  1. Air Force
  2. Baylor
  3. Oklahoma State

The Marshall offense is closest in personality to:

  1. Bowling Green
  2. Louisiana Tech
  3. Eastern Michigan

Special Teams

First we look at the Hokies kicking units:

Virginia Tech special teams have really fallen back to the pack as the season has progressed, capped by a stretch of six straight missed field goals extending from the Notre Dame game through Virginia.

When the Herd kick:

The Herd's kickoff and punt games are quite good, although the Hokies generally avoid any impact of a good kick returner by kicking 90+% of kickoffs for touchbacks.

Who To Watch Out For

I could only find one player from Marshall that stood out in any way statistically...the defensive success is less a function of individual stars than a solid team:

  1. DB Chris Jackson (No. 3, JR, 6-0, 188) is 10th nationally with 1.36 passes defensed per game.

Statistical Key to the Game

If the Hokies lose, I think it is much more likely because the defense failed to shut down a weak offense, than it is that the offense couldn't get enough points against this stout defense. As is the running theme this season, giving up easy points on big gains is my biggest fear, and since the offense isn't likely to put up big points the team can't afford to give the easy points.

Keep the Herd to 3 or less plays of 20+ yards and Virginia Tech goes bowling.

Statistical Prediction

Don't get fooled into any narrative around Virginia Tech being the more motivated team because of the bowl streak. Marshall is a good team and knows it, and will relish the chance to show it against a Power Five opponent on a day with limited games to compete against (albeit a much less important game nationally). The Hokies won't win this on inspiration or wanting it more, but rather will need to go out and win it on performance. The d-line has been coming along and helps keep the clamps on an unimpressive offense, while the offense is forced to let receivers make plays and they readily do so.

Virginia Tech 24, Marshall 20

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

Comments

The Virginia Tech defense is closest in personality to:

Air Force
Baylor
Oklahoma State

But those teams hardly even play defense.

“You got one guy going boom, one guy going whack, and one guy not getting in the endzone.”
― John Madden (describing VT's offense?)

It is not really a joke, it is a statistical similarity that happens to appeal to those with self-deprecating humor. It's never a good thing to be in the same defensive boat as Big12 teams.

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

Anyone follow Belk Bowl on twitter, evidently they were live-tweeting their discussions on who to invite last night:

Now finish up them taters; I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters.

I'd love to go back to CLT for a bowl! Came from behind and the 16oz. millers were only $6.
Not to mention that's a short drive from Blacksburg.

They have a thread on reddit asking reddit who they should invite. Their only qualifications were fan bases that travel and 7-9 wins from the ACC and SEC, really doubt we get that bid over a number of ACC teams.

I think they would take a 6 win VT over a 7 win LOLUVA, BC, Miami, etc. We travel they don't .

A lot of fan interest in a GT Auburn old rivalry match. Auburn's solid fan base with GTs sorta okay fan base. Think that would get picked over a 6-6 VT

I didn't mention GT but if the opponent is Auburn I can see a big draw for that and GT might travel well for PJ's last game.

I think in general GT travels better than the teams I mentioned that don't travel.

That account really is an entertaining one to follow

That team sure did suck last night. They just plain sucked! I've seen teams suck before, but they were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked.

Would we be going just to be embarrassed? Who would be 'Team A'? I'd like to see us go to a bowl that wod be a good game, not one where we are way overmatched.

Are you scared Team A would have a 24pt lead at the half? /s

Amateur superstar and idiot extraordinaire.

The Marshall offense is closest in personality to:

Bowling Green
Louisiana Tech
Eastern Michigan

As in nonexistent?

You put those words together, those are my favorite words, Popeyes and bahama
- Mike Burnup

Is the Marshall D Line a feast-or-famine type? On one hand they area in the top 20% on run success and stuff success rates on the other they are in the bottom 10% in Defensive Line Yards. What gives?

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

This isn't run specific, but their leading tackler is a safety and 3 of the top five leading tacklers are safeties or DB's. That would suggest that runners are likely getting to the second level with frequency, although schematically they may play those players closer to the line. Defensive line yards get hurt when DB's make the tackle, even if they do so at or near the line.

Hopefully French's film review sheds some light on their scheme and why this might be the case.

Malik Gant, the safety you're referring to, sprints like a bat out of the hell at the first sign of a run which is why he gets a lot of tackles. A halfback pass would be wise in this game. FAU hit Marshall with a double pass last season that went for an easy touchdown because Gant didn't stay disciplined.

Marshall University student.
Virginia Tech fanatic.

So play action over the top or try the Grimsley jet-sweep pass again?

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

The highlight of the Marshall defense is havoc rates, especially on the defensive line.

Anyone else have PTSD visions of all those batted down passes late in the LOLUVa game?

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)..

Maybe a little but Snowden is an athletic freak (I'm pretty sure he was responsible for two of them).

I am still amazed at how good our defense is in power situations, but it really does show up on the field. I trust us much more in 3rd and 1 than 3rd and 7.
Also, FPI has us ranked above Marshall and a healthy favorite, so I think that's clearly the better ranking system this week.

This game is definitely not a pushover... but ODU was supposed to be one, and look what that got us. Which team will we have show up for this game? I'm counting on a P5 team and performance for our guys.

We have our serious weak points but I also see improvement and confidence.

We can outcoach them.
The difference will be in the mistakes. Can we beat them in the turnover battle and can we take advantage of their mistakes.

Some leaders, be they temporary or long term emerge.
Are they enough?

Also, not commit stupid penalties of frustration.