By the (Advanced) Numbers: Playing Cards

Whichever team has a better result running the ball/and stopping the run figures to help decide Virginia Tech's road trip at Louisville.

Virginia Tech lost to Wake Forest on Saturday. Reaction from fans was swift and strong, and in my opinion pretty misguided. Two themes quickly emerged:

  1. Losing to Wake Forest was inconceivable to many fans and comparisons to the meltdown against Duke and/or the ODU loss were rampant. If you fall into the category, humor me for a moment while I attempt to lob out some perspective and reality that maybe you don't want to hear. Virginia Tech was a 28.5-point favorite against Old Dominion and a 10-point favorite against Wake Forest. Since 1980, 23% of 10-point favorites have lost the game outright. Hardly a shocking result, and laughable to include in the same conversation as a 28.5-point favorite that has lost less than 3% of games during the same time span.
  2. Every game seems to be a referendum on Justin Fuente now. Those that want to move on from Fuente put every loss entirely on him, and those that believe he is building something great find no blame at all on him. Of course the truth is somewhere in the middle. But in this loss, the mistakes were uncharacteristic for this team so it's difficult to put that on coaching. Hendon Hooker, who I'm not sure has thrown an interception in his life, threw three. One of the lesser penalized teams in college football gave up 112 yards, many on poor decisions that led to personal fouls and even an ejection. A field goal kicker who led the country in accuracy two weeks ago missed two. I certainly lean in the direction that Fuente is not on a trajectory to compete for conference championships, but blaming him for this loss feels lazy to me.

One more point on the loss before looking ahead to the next game: it wasn't as bad as it seemed. The Hokies outgained the Demon Deacons by 127 yards on a higher yard-per-play average. They converted more third downs (5/16 - 3/15). Virginia Tech gained 54.7% of available yards to Wake Forest's 50.7%. Make no mistake, however: a -3 turnover differential is very difficult to overcome, especially as two of them came after the team had driven 55 and 50 yards down the field and was in good position to score points. Further, most penalty yards are completely avoidable, and personal fouls are a really dumb way to let the other team move up the field. The Hokies shot themselves in the foot in a game that they otherwise would have won comfortably. It could also have been worse — three fumbles were all recovered by maroon and orange.

Time to pick those heads up, Hokies, and turn attention to the next slight underdog on the schedule, Louisville. The Cardinals are on an interesting run in October, having first been embarrassed 27-46 by Georgia Tech only to play a surprisingly tight contest against Notre Dame — a 7-12 loss — and then a convincing win against Florida State last week by a margin of 48-16.

So what to make of those results?

Final scores often hide what the underlying performances were really like, so has Louisville turned a corner and is a team to be feared? Or was the poor showing against Georgia Tech a better sign of what to expect?

Brian Fremeau's game splits shows the percentage of available yards gained by each team. And In Louisville's case, the results are pretty telling for a couple of these. Against the Yellow Jackets the Cardinals gained 52.2% of available yards to the opponent's 57.4%. A difference to be sure, but not as big of one as would be expected in a 27-46 loss...Louisville actually outgained Georgia Tech, but three turnovers sunk the ship (sound familiar?). And Notre Dame thoroughly dominated in this measure, 62.3% to 40.2%. The Irish only had 7 offensive drives, one of which ran the clock out and another in which they failed to convert a 4th down on Louisville's 13-yard-line.

Long story short, Louisville has mostly performed to mediocre expectations and presents another opponent that Virginia Tech will be favored against but not heavily so. Should the Hokies falter again, I'm sure the reactions will be thoughtful and reasonable.

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:

6-8 wins appears to be the settled on range the Hokies are most likely to fall into, which at least makes this a likely winning season. That said, with two losses already on the books and a remaining matchup against Clemson, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the season is considered a big success.

Based on FPI, the odds of each ACC team beating the ACC teams on their schedule is:

There are no longer three clear tiers in the ACC as teams start to spread out. Short of COVID causing a leader to not qualify, the title game is looking to most likely be Clemson against the winner of Notre Dame-UNC. It is early, however, and lots of football still to play. Virginia Tech winning out (2.76% chance) gives them a head-to-head tiebreaker against Miami, and based on their prior loss it doesn't seem inconceivable that UNC beats Notre Dame but loses to another team. In a four-way tie for second among VT, Miami, UNC, and Notre Dame, where the other UNC loss is to Miami, VT is in a good position.

Virginia Tech Leads the Nation In...

Virginia Tech (sort of) STILL leads the nation in yards per rush at 6.2. Only Michigan has gained more, but Michigan's season just started and their number is based on a single game. What a weird qualifier to write heading in to the last weekend in October.

Louisville allows a well-worse-than-average 4.9 yards per rush, a number so poor that the next team on the list is Virginia Tech — a team that is well known to be completely incapable of stopping the run.

Bonus stat: The Hokies have more runs of 20+, 30+, 40+, and 50+ yards than any other Power 5 team. The only teams ahead in any of those categories are Army and Tech's next opponent, Liberty. I'm sure more will come on that in next week's post.

Rankings and Computer Predictions

The computer rankings and predictions for each team:

Virginia Tech was not punished much for the showing against Wake Forest, perhaps because from an efficiency and final score standpoint the game wasn't that bad. The resulting predictions are fairly consistent and clustered right around the current spread, with most predicting a narrow Hokie victory. The odds of a 3.5-point favorite winning is 60.4%. For those who seemed to have trouble grasping probability, let me be clear: losing to Louisville would not be some incredibly unlikely event to throw around as program-defining disaster.

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

Louisville fits a similar profile to the Hokies, with a pretty good offense and an average-at-best defense. But Virginia Tech maintains a slight edge in each and as a result is obviously the slight favorite, even on the road.

Who To Watch Out For

I've checked multiple sites to be sure, and am confident in saying Lamar Jackson is no longer the QB for Louisville which is great. My understanding is that he went to the NFL but was unlikely to do much there since he's just a running QB. I'm not a big NFL fan so I haven't followed up to see if he's ever even seen the field since being drafted.

  1. RB Javian Hawkins is 13th nationally with 115 yards per game (15.7 behind Kahlil Herbert) and gains 5.97 YPC (2.78 behind Kahlil Herbert)
  2. QB Malik Cunningham has the 27th highest passer rating in the country at 150.81 (117.19 behind Tayvion Robinson)
  3. The LB tandem of Dorian Etheridge and Monty Montgomery have combined for 16.5 TFL (no one for VT is touching that, but Tech is 21st national in TFL allowed per game)

Statistical Key to the Game it stopping the Louisville run, or not getting the Hokie run stopped? Malik Cunningham is a good quarterback but I'd be surprised if any opposing team watched tape of Virginia Tech and decided they better avoid trying to run. Similarly, Wake Forest provided somewhat of a blueprint for slowing the Hokies down.

I'll stick with both and go with YPC differential — whichever team is able to gain more yards per carry is likely controlling the line of scrimmage and will walk out with the win.

Statistical Prediction

Hooker had a bad game last week, but is still a really good quarterback and likely to bounce back. Similarly, the Louisville defense is not great at stopping the run and really did not perform nearly as well against Notre Dame as the scoreboard would indicate. Much like last week, it's easy to see this one as a higher-scoring affair but I trust Virginia Tech to right the ship and Herbert to resume his explosive ways.

Virginia Tech 38, Louisville 34

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


Hi Joel. Have some of the tables not been adjusted from the prior week? Has Boston College as 82.5% chance of a win and has us favored over Miami. BC should be 100% and I would think we would not be favored over Miami after WF loss.

But what really surprised me was that a 10 point favorite loses 23% of the time. Would not have guessed it was so high.

Recovering scientist working in business consulting

Good catch on the BC game not being updated - will have a corrected table up soon!

FPI really isn't nearly as high on Miami as the polls are. It has Virginia Tech as 2 points better on a neutral field, and this game is a home one for the Hokies so that provides an extra boost (although this season everyone's having a difficult time figuring out what home field advantage is worth). Feels like they are better than that to me too though although maybe I'm just getting biased by the most recent result.

There's a table of record against the spread at I think it's surprising to most of us how often reasonably heavy favorites lose.

I would imagine home field advantage wouldn't necessarily be something that affects a team in-game like crowd noise usually would, but you still have to factor in traveling from Florida to Virginia. I'm sure there are other, non-in-game factors that could affect this too.

I've seen what looks like legitimate analysis showing it went down due to less crowd influence on refs, and another showing it's gone up due to difficult travel for away teams.

For now I've assumed it was unchanged.

It's been updated. Good catch, thanks.

Another shootout, oof. Let's go

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
“I served in the United States Navy"


We thought that about the Wake game...

Should the Hokies falter again, I'm sure the reactions will be thoughtful and reasonable

The odds of a 3.5-point favorite winning is 60.4%

So more heartburn for this game! Got it.

"The Big Ten is always using excuses to cancel games with us. First Wisconsin. Then Wisconsin. After that, Wisconsin. The subsequent cancellation with Wisconsin comes to mind too. Now Penn State. What's next? Wisconsin?" -HorseOnATreadmill

Some of the heartburn will be gone after halftime when we have a 28-10 lead and Lewey has fumbled twice, one for a scoop and score by the good guys.

I like where your head is!

"The Big Ten is always using excuses to cancel games with us. First Wisconsin. Then Wisconsin. After that, Wisconsin. The subsequent cancellation with Wisconsin comes to mind too. Now Penn State. What's next? Wisconsin?" -HorseOnATreadmill

It is no secret that the team with the most points will win the game.

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it." - K

I thought it was TOP.

Who's moderating this group for offensive content?

Hokie Club member since 2017

a number so poor that the next team on the list is Virginia Tech — a team that is well known to be completely incapable of stopping the run.

I told him I’d crawl on my hands and knees to be the DL coach at Virginia Tech. Now, all of a sudden, I’m sitting in this chair and I told him I’d still crawl on my hands and knees to work here. I just want to be here.
JC Price

Look on the bright side - it's like we get to face our own run defense! We should be chomping at the bit!

At least our run defense started showing up in the second half last week. Hopefully that's a trend and not an outlier, but we'll find out tomorrow.

Should the Hokies falter again, I'm sure the reactions will be thoughtful and reasonable.

.... this is the most perfectly written thing I've ever seen on this site

THANK YOU for writing out what I've been trying to tell IRL friends for the past week who have been flying off the handle on the coaches for what was, to me, a decently called game on both sides of the ball where we just executed uncharacteristically poorly (for this season at least), plus shot ourselves in the foot by gifting WF 100+ yards of penalties and 3 turnovers. Will Stewart over at TSL also had a pretty good take on it that boiled down to "Well, you've got a team of 80+ college-aged students...sometimes you're going to come out flat, and just can't get the momentum of today's game on your side" (as you'd expect, basically nobody in the comments agreed with him in the same way that I expect many people here won't agree with me).

Even playing a poor game based on my personal eye-test, we still outgained WF by over 100 yards, had 200+ yards rushing, and the defense started to make adjustments and really come together in the second half. To be completely honest, the thing that I feel was different this time was that a lot of the players (and coaches - they're probably even more at fault for this, though personally I can't blame them because I felt that way too) likely approached this game with an internal sigh of relief because, for the first time this season, we were nearly at full strength. For the first 4 games of the season, we were coaching and playing like our hair was on fire - people were missing, everybody was looking out for everyone else and just trying to execute 100% because they knew that if they went down (mainly on D), there was literally nobody behind them. On offense, the guys have played the past few weeks without their QB1 and saddled with the knowledge that our defense was incredibly weak with all of the players out, and played with a passion to help the D and keep them off the field. It's the same sort of fire you get from players on the big teams (I think it was Marcolini who mentioned it about Clemson this week? Might've been someone else) who get plenty of motivation knowing that if they don't execute as a starter, they'll be benched for a talented backup.

I think the guys walked into this one feeling "safe" - that's not how you want to feel going into a football game. I think they'll probably take a LOT from last week's game into this one, especially the realization that even if last week was the first game that felt normal, it's still not. Nothing is. We're still fielding players who have missed enormous chunks of practice and camp, we're still not quite there on a number of concepts that players normally would've been drilled on in spring and fall camp - we're still just a little bit behind the curve overall. I think a lot of the sloppiness and penalties came from the frustration of realizing that was the case mid-game, and realizing that maybe you're not quite in the right mindset in a game where the other team has come to play.

Hopefully the whole team comes into tomorrow's game feeling a little more threatened, and a bit more cognizant of the precarious position they're still in. Playing with their backs against the wall has given them fire all season - now they need to translate that fire to these more "normal" games.

Should the Hokies falter again, I'm sure the reactions will be thoughtful and reasonable.


Onward and upward

Lovin a dose of sass with my stats.