By the (Advanced) Numbers: Rating the U

Whether or not Khalil Herbert is ready to go and penalty yards might make a difference in a projected close Virginia Tech-Miami matchup.

It's hard to move forward to the Miami game without first cleansing the wound suffered against Liberty.

Obviously the focus has been on the end of the game, but before diving into that let's cover the game up until that point. It certainly felt like the Hokies were losing that game, but the statistics don't really back that up. While Liberty outgained Virginia Tech by 48 total yards (5 of which are negated by penalty yard differential), the Hokies had a clear efficient advantage in both passing (+0.8 YPP) and rushing (+1.5 YPP). Tech also gained 69% of available yards to Liberty's 66%. Given the stats, according to Bill Conneley's post-game win probability the Hokies were 68% likely to have won the game.

Want to talk about Malik Willis?

Hooker matched his passing yardage and touchdowns on three fewer attempts, and out rushed him by 48 yards on just one additional attempt. But on social media I read gripe after gripe about how he could have been playing for Tech, from a fan base apparently too distraught by another letdown performance to appreciate how good the quarterback at the helm of the Hokies is now. Put another way, Willis would be Hooker's backup.

On to the end of the game. There's an obvious information bias in knowing that the Hokies blocked the first field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown, but let's back up to the game management in general. The Flames lined up for what would be a game-winning field goal from 59 yards and at that point, Justin Fuente must quickly decide the strategy for the final seconds of the game. There are four paths, and each has its own probability of a Hokie win.

  1. Block the field goal attempt and return for a touchdown
  2. Field goal misses and the Hokies score a touchdown on the single play remaining time allows
  3. Field goal misses, the Hokies don't score, and the game goes to overtime
  4. Field goal is made and the Flames win the game

I realize there are some other remote possibilities (such as field goal is made but Hokies return the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown) but none that would seem to have any reasonable likelihood. So let's break down the probability of each, assuming no timeout is called:

  1. Nationally, about 2.5% of kicks have been blocked this season. Now longer kicks are a little easier to block because of lower ball trajectory, but it's hard to imagine the odds of this scenario happening any higher than the 5-10% range.
  2. Here you are talking about Virginia Tech needing to score a 51-yard touchdown given a single play against a team who only needs to stop a touchdown and is in full prevent defense. We don't have enough data on this exact scenario, but the Hokies have scored touchdowns on offense 4.4 times per game on 67.9 plays, so that's a 6.4% chance if you ignore yardage and defensive scheme, both of which substantially drop this number. At best this option is in the 1-2% chance range.
  3. A higher-rated team that has slightly outplayed the other opponent during the game has a higher than 50% chance to win in overtime, but let's be conservative and say overtime is a 50% chance of a win.
  4. Liberty ranks 73rd nationally in field goal percentage at 66.7%, but given small sample size perhaps they get the benefit of the doubt and we use national averages. provides a dataset of kicks made and attempted by distance, and from that a model can estimate the chances of an average kicker making a 59-yard field goal: 25.6%.

Ignoring the timeout call, the best path to a win is clearly to take the game to overtime and settle it there. So playing the odds, you simply let the field goal play happen, obviously trying to block it, but knowing it is a fairly low probability kick anyway.

But Fuente did call a timeout, and it's worth questioning what purpose that served no matter what excuses were provided to the media after the game. The only justification for calling a timeout there is that you believe that timeout will increase the odds of #3, or will increase the odds of another outcome beyond the odds of #3. The former is unlikely to matter significantly — studies on whether icing a kicker is effective have provided mixed results, and otherwise personnel is pretty irrelevant since the chances of making the kick are on the kicker and holder and the chances of winning in overtime have nothing to do with that play.

As for the latter, Fuente cited wanting to have the right personnel in for a blocked kick. Even if we didn't know the first kick was blocked, that's trying for an incremental increase in the odds of a low probability play and doesn't seem worth it. By far your best odds of a win are not chaos — they are to simply let Liberty take the kick, try your best to block it, and then play it out in overtime.

It is especially painful for fans to know that by accident that scenario did play out, and the Hokies' best turned out to deliver the low probability outcome only to be undone. I won't deep dive into the subsequent play call that allowed the Flames to instead win on a 51-yard-field goal, but those eight yards upped the field goal chances to 43.4%. The Hokies were then in a position where allowing the kick to happen was a high risk proposition, and instead needed chaos for a chance at victory. It didn't happen.

Nothing will make us forget that outcome, but beating an (overrated?) 9th-ranked Miami team sure would help with the healing...

Where the Season Stands

Virginia Tech is currently 4-3. The actual and predicted score difference and odds of winning each game are:

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

So a 2% chance fans have seen their last win of the regular season, but almost an 8% chance they've seen their last loss. That's the rosiest I can paint this picture.

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

Clemson is still in great position for a rematch against Notre Dame in the ACCCG, but it feels odd that the team with the greatest chance of putting that in peril is...Virginia Tech. Both Miami and UNC are sitting on one conference loss, so a Hokie win against Clemson (currently about a 20% chance) makes this an interesting race if either were able to win out.

But let's get more unrealistic and interesting. Suppose Virginia Tech wins out (7.6% chance). That leaves Clemson, Miami, UNC, and Wake Forest with at least two losses. But Miami plays UNC, so 2-loss Miami makes UNC also a 2-loss team. The Hokies would have the tiebreaker among the 2-loss teams in every scenario except for Wake Forest running the table (which would leave UNC, Clemson, VT, Wake Forest; WF would win the tiebreaker at a 2-1 records against the others) which is perhaps the least likely outcome among those.

To summarize, VT running the table combined with Miami beating UNC is a likely ACCCG game appearance for Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech Leads the Nation In...

I can't believe I'm about to write this after last weekend's result but it's just so timely.

Virginia Tech is tied for last in the nation in opponent field goal percentage, having allowed opponents to make every field goal attempted this season.

The qualifiers and commentary on that fact are so obvious and painful I won't even bother to write them.

I will, however, provide some additional statistical quirks to the fact. Despite a 100% opponent field goal rate, Virginia Tech has given up fewer field goals per game than all but six Power 5 teams that have played at least five games. In fact, with no qualifiers, the Hokies are 9th nationally in opponent field goal attempts per game at just 0.9 — opposing offenses are feast or famine against the team. In the red zone, teams are scoring touchdowns 78.6% of the time, 11th nationally and the worst mark of any Power 5 team with at least five games.

Of the six trips that did not result in a touchdown, only one was an attempted field goal; otherwise teams are going for it on 4th down (as they statistically probably should), a poisonous combination against a Hokie defense that is 106th nationally in opponent 4th down conversions (76.2%).

Teams aren't trying to kick field goals against Virginia Tech on 4th down because they believe they can convert. And they are usually right.

Rankings and Computer Predictions

The computer rankings and predictions for each team:

Home field advantage is definitely playing a part and has most computers at roughly a toss-up in this game. Only one computer rated the Hurricanes higher than the polls. 23 computers rated them worse and 12 rated them more than 10 spots worse. The odds of a 2.5-point favorite winning is 57.5%.

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

Despite the Miami offense receiving plenty of attention, the Hurricanes are actually much more balanced than that and feature above average, but not elite, offense and defense. Tech features a nearly elite offense, and from what I understand also features a defense.

Who To Watch Out For

It's never a question whether the U has talent on their roster but whether they convert that talent into wins:

  1. QB D'Eriq King has received national attention for his performance thus far since transferring from Houston. As a passer, King's numbers are good but not elite — a 152.5 passer rating (31st nationally) with a 63.8% completion rate (41st) and 8.2 YPA (36th) all trail Hendon Hooker. But King adds another 58 yards on the ground at about 5 YPC, and, well, running quarterback. The good news is that he is averaging about 5 passes defended per game (INT+PBU), and Miami gives up 2.71 sacks per game (86th nationally).
  2. LB Quincy Roche has 10 TFL on the season (10th nationally).

Statistical Key to the Game

Number of healthy Khalil Herbert's playing? Because I feel good about anything over 0.5.

One of the most ignored statistical aspects in football is penalty yards. Yards are yards, and a team that is penalized 30 more yards than their opponent has a 30-yard differential; they now have to outplay the opponent to make up those yards. Miami ranks 108th national in penalty yards per game at 75.4, and 110th in penalties per game at 8.6. VT commits 5.9 for 53.9. I'm not sure how predictive it is (or more a function of who you play) but the two teams rank 12th and 16th nationally in opponents penalty yards per game.

Situationally, the value of those yards might be more or less. For example, a penalty that gives your opponent an automatic first down on a 3rd-and-23 they weren't otherwise going to make is much more costly than the direct penalty yards. Similarly, a false start on a short field goal wasn't particularly damaging.

Let's be honest, the Hokies are unlikely to bottle up the Miami offense completely, or steamroll their defense. In a game this close, just a few critical mistakes can sink someone's ship. For me, penalties may very well do that in this game — the team that has more opponent drives sustained by penalties and more offensive drives stalled by them may put themself at too much of a disadvantage to overcome. And the Hurricanes are more likely to be that team.

Statistical Prediction

There was something about the Liberty game that just felt like it was going to be a loss.

And I don't know why, but there is something about the Miami game that just feels like a win.

Virginia Tech 37, Miami 34

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


I admire the optimism.

Come for the data, stay for the weekly irrational optimism that's been served for years:

I feel like this is the comment I got last season or two season ago...I don't remember how that game went but I appreciate the deja vu

(add if applicable) /s

Keonte Jenkins better start, Rock better be back, and our d line better have a pulse for this to happen.

Not sure how meaningful it is, but TechSideline posted the roster cards for the game and Jenkins is not shown as starting but Herbert is.

There would be nothing more Fuente's VT than to lose to Liberty and then beat Miami by a comfortable margin on Saturday.

I'm looking at the alternating W-L pattern and projecting forward and seeing:

W - Miami
L - Pitt
W - Clemson

Feels about right.


I am not sure what to do with my hands now

Doesn't UNC have 2 losses in conference? Did I read something wrong here?

You are correct - for some reason I have the NC State/UNC result switched and will correct.

The FSU game is wrong for UNC, The Duke game is wrong for NC State

Actually a whole weekend of results is missing (October 17)...will update ASAP.

This all seems silly considering the likelihood of beating Clemson, but aren't the most unrealistic scenarios the most fun?

Assuming VT wins out... Miami, UNC and Wake all play each other with at least 2 losses, so either they all eliminate each other or only 1 team is left standing with 2 losses (Miami is the only one that doesn't play ND). That would mean a 3 way tie between VT, Clemson and the remaining team.
If that team is Miami, VT wins the tiebreaker with a 2-0 record against the other teams
If it's UNC, UNC wins the tiebreaker with a 1-0 record (Clemson 0-1, VT 1-1)
If it's Wake, all 3 teams would be 1-1 against the others. The record against common opponents would also be the same at 2-0 (Miami and UVA). I'm not sure what the next tiebreaker is... ranking maybe? so that would be Clemson?

There's also the oddball scenario where Wake and UNC both beat Notre Dame and now we have a 4 (or 3) way tie at 2 losses for 2 spots. Wouldn't that be the most #goacc scenario for 2020?

You forgot a scenario on the field goal try, a fake that could have scored a touchdown. The fake would likely have had a higher success percentage than the field goal itself and more importantly is a more logical reason for Fuente to be concerned with personnel and call a timeout.

The play has been beat into the ground at this point and honestly does little to move the needle on how I think the game was played. Emotions out of it, the decision by Freeze to even attempt the field goal was a much poorer coaching decision than the time out by Fuente.

The Super duper prevent defense with 8 seconds is a different story. I have not heard the specifics of that play discussed by coaches as much but I wonder if it was a horrible oversight by the coaches or a miscommunication amongst the excitement. Either way, it is inexcusable and the kicker still had to nail a 50 harder for which his stats would have said was very low....and in true Hokie underdog fashion he absolutely nailed it.

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

If I recall, there were offensive players that ended up having to line up after the pandemonium of the blocked kick time out. It's impossible to tell how they would have called that play in a normal situation.

After watching last night's highlight, at least that fake spike to win the game should take over craziest end of a game for the week!

I am finally loosing my faith in math, I would be surprised if we won one of our remaining 4 let alone 3. Here's to hoping for I am wrong...

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"

Caveat: I am not predicting a win, and I think -2.5 is ludicrous. But I'm holding out hope... in another thread I looked at our total drives that we had to defend against and the major stat that showed-up for this year's team is the number of drives resulting in a touchdown at almost 39%. Many of those were like the ones we saw on Saturday which are in the 9+ play area... if Miami manages to shoot themselves in the foot with some well-timed penalties on offense that may be enough to force FG tries instead of TD's, or stop the drive altogether. Even if we can cause a 7-point swing that would put us in a significantly higher statistical probability of winning.

I think the real question is if VT wins the toss will they take the ball first or defer to the second half? Because, strategically, we really should take the ball first. Our defense is a clear weakness whereas our offense is our strength. Momentum is real and the psychology of scoring first can do wonders for a bunch of 18-22 year olds. Especially on the road. I think it helped Liberty and if we let Miami start on offense first and they score (high probability) that will help them. If VT can get the ball first and drive down the field to get on the board first I like our chances.

But knowing Fuente, VT will win the toss and defer. Because deeper strategic thought seems to elude him. If Miami wins the toss I would fully expect them to take the ball first. I will denigrate Diaz if he defers.

Onward and upward

Disagree. Our offense notoriously starts slow. Opening the game with a 3 and out would be a disaster.

Doesn't matter if it's cake or pie as long as it's chocolate.

I want our offense to start with a 0-0 score. Our offense scored on their first possession against Louisville. We don't always start slow. And given that it's the clear strength of our team we should put the ball in Hooker's hands from the jump and try to score first. Because if we put our defense on the field first we are very likely to get the ball back down 7. I don't want that. If we're going to go blow for blow I want to get in the first punch.

Onward and upward

I agree with you. But I also think receiving after the half can be a huge advantage in a close game. I honestly don't know what I would tell the captains to pick on the toss.

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

It seems to be an advantage for the defense, IMO. At least anecdotally, it feels like VT plays better offense in the first quarter than in the 3rd quarter. I like our chances of scoring first at the beginning of the game than I do after half time. I could be wrong but it seems like we start just about every second half with a 3-and-out

Onward and upward

I'd argue a 3-and-out after the half is worse for momentum than a 3-and-out at the beginning of the game. Against Liberty, it felt like we wasted two possessions in a row by settling for a FG before the half then doing nothing out of the gates.

However, we also need to remember that it seems to work the opposite for other teams. Last year, miami got that BS hail mary at the end of the first half, then got the ball back to start the second and kept their almost come back rolling.

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)..

I want our offense to start with a lead. I mean yeah pick six, kickoff return, something.

this would also be good

Onward and upward

I don't care about the FG fiasco. I care that we were in that position to begin with.

Is coronavirus over yet?

I think this game hinges on turnover margin. If we commit zero and force 3, we've got a shot. Forcing a turnover is our most reliable way to stop an opponent's drive at this point!

Hokie in West Africa...sadly, I can't jump up and down hard enough for it to be felt in Lane