Mississippi State vs. Rice: By the Numbers

By the Numbers Preview - Rice

by Prediction? Pain

There's no way to get around it: Rice's numbers are gaudy. It's the 18th best school in the country according to U.S. News and World Reports. Its engineering and natural-sciences research is ranked No. 1 in the world, and its general scientific publications come in ranked close behind at No. 6. Its computer-, chemical-, biomedical-, and mechincal-engineering graduate programs are all ranked in the Top 25. It boasts a ridiculous 6-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, and admits only 17% of undergraduate applicants. Only the bottom quarter of its freshmen made below a 31 on their ACTs, and 82% of those students were in top 5% of their high school classes. And then there's the school's $4,840,000,000 endowment.

Simply put-damn.

Wait . . . bowl game . . . football numbers.

Ok; let's start again. All I've heard about Rice is that they run the ball-a lot-and that they won ten games. But what can more detailed stats tell us? Well, a few noteworthy things, it turns out.

First, here's Rice's offense in a numerical nutshell:

There’s no way to get around it: Rice’s numbers are gaudy. It’s the 18th best school in the country according to U.S. News and World Reports. Its engineering and natural-sciences research is ranked No. 1 in the world, and its general scientific publications come in ranked close behind at No. 6. Its computer-, chemical-, biomedical-, and mechincal-engineering graduate programs are all ranked in the Top 25. It boasts a ridiculous 6-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, and admits only 17% of undergraduate applicants. Only the bottom quarter of its freshmen made below a 31 on their ACTs, and 82% of those students were in top 5% of their high school classes. And then there’s the school’s $4,840,000,000 endowment.

Simply put—damn.

Wait . . . bowl game . . . football numbers.

Ok; let’s start again. All I’ve heard about Rice is that they run the ball—a lot—and that they won ten games. But what can more detailed stats tell us? Well, a few noteworthy things, it turns out.

First, here’s Rice’s offense in a numerical nutshell:

Offensive category

NCAA Rank

Rushing Offense

Yards per game

16th (240.15)

Yards per carry

44th (4.68)

Passing Offense

Yards per game

103st (185.4)

Yards per attempt

54th (7.3)

Team passing efficiency

114th (51.1%)

Total Offense

49th (425.6)

Scoring Offense

51st (31.4)

Sacks Allowed (per game)

98th (2.54)

Tackles for Loss Allowed (per game)

92nd (6.62)

3rd Down Conversion %

61st (40.1%)

Turnovers

Fumbles lost

63rd (9)

Interceptions thrown

29th (9)

Red Zone TD %

7th (76.47%)

Big Plays

10+ yards

25th (204)

20+ yards

59th (57)

So yes, they run the ball a bunch. But aside from that, what a strange looking offense on paper. First of all, the passing game—yikes. With such few passes (and such a low efficiency rating), how are they even half-way decent at getting big plays? I mean, 4.68 yards per carry is solid (for a frame of reference, State is one spot behind Rice in ypc nationally), but for how much they run it and for the number of over-ten-yard plays they’ve had, you’d think it’d be more. And indeed, it probably should be—of the top twenty rushing offenses in the nation, Rice has the lowest average yards-per-carry. In fact, it is one of only two top twenty rushing teams that is not also in the top twenty in yards per carry (the other is Nebraska).

Further, with such a successful running game, how the hell do they manage to allow so many sacks and TFLs? Once again, it’s run-centric brethren don’t have the same problem—of the top twenty running offenses, Rice has the lowest sacks-allowed and TFL-allowed rankings. It’s kindred spirits like Army, Navy, Air Force, Arkansas, Auburn, and Georgia Tech are all in the top thirty nationally in either or both statistical categories.

Does this bewilderment continue with the Owls’ defense? Not really . . . .

Defensive category

NCAA Rank

Rushing Defense

Yards per game

55th (155.38)

Yards per carry

51st (4.05)

Passing Defense

Yards per game

13th (195.7)

Yards per attempt

38th (6.7)

Opponents’ passing efficiency

7th (50.1%)

Total Defense

24th (351.1)

Scoring Defense

32nd (22.9)

Sacks (per game)

101st (1.46)

Tackles for Loss (per game)

104th (5.08)

Opponent’s 3rd Down Conversion %

16th (33%)

Turnovers

Fumbles recovered

22nd (11)

Interceptions

38th (14)

Red Zone TD Defense

64th (60.5%)

Big Play Defense

10+ yards

18th (147)

20+ yards

43rd (51)

That’s a generally solid all-around unit, highlighted by good big-play defense, solid ball-hawking tendencies, and a freaking salty pass defense. And it’s not like C-USA is just a bad passing league. For example, only one of the fourteen teams in the conference had a team passing efficiency rating below 50%, and eight of the fourteen teams had one over 55%. So Rice’s gaudy passing efficiency defense isn’t due to a down year for C-USA QBs. It’s just good.

The sack and TFL numbers don’t seem to fit, but maybe they’re not really reflective of the D-line’s quality. Remember, for instance, that State’s national sack-per-game ranking is even worse (108th), and I think many fans finished the season fairly pleased with the front-seven. (Though to be fair, State’s TFL rank (68th) is quite a bit better than Rice’s.)

So what do these numbers tell me? That State just needs to play its game. Run the ball; force Rice to make plays in the passing game; let our D-line create negative plays; and take care of the ball.

Should be good stuff, Rice’s $4.8 billion nest-egg and army of research engineers notwithstanding.

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