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Sun Belt Analytics: Which advanced stat each program must improve on in 2017

Our series continues as we tell you which metric each squad must get better at this fall.

Troy v Georgia Southern
Can Troy find Jordan Chunn a sidekick?
Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images

Last week we put up a post to try to introduce our faithful readers to some advanced analytics and how they can be used to measure results in our beloved game of college football. After giving you a specific stat each team must maintain success in, here we’ll tell you what each team must improve. With five Fun Belt teams finishing in the triple-digits per S&P+ in 2016, there will be plenty of things for everyone to work on.

Appalachian State: Defensive IsoPPP

The one thing the stingy App State defense struggled to do last fall was limit explosive plays. The Mountaineers were solid in limiting big plays in the pass game, but they were gashed on the run, ranking 108th in the country in this measure. Overall, their defense ranked 95th against splash plays but this must improve. Nate Woody’s defense has a chance to be a top 30 unit again, but to do this they must limit the big plays from opponents.

Arkansas State: Rushing

NCAA Football: Idaho at Arkansas State
Will Warren Wand and the rest of the Arkansas State backs be able to find running room this fall?
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In every statistical measure that grades rushing, the Red Wolves ranked no better than 95th and that was in IsoPPP. Overall, S&P+ had them as the 116th best rushing attack and those metrics that try to grade offensive line play (Adjusted Line Yards, Opportunity Rate, Power Success Rate, Stuff Rate) Blake Anderson’s squad ranked no better 109th and as low as 122nd. Keep in mind, there were 128 teams in the FBS last year. I know it’s been talked about ad nauseam, but the five new starters up front have to give Arkansas State something.

Georgia Southern: Explosiveness

It was a strange year for the Georgia Southern offense as they leaned towards the pass as the season went on and totally went away from running the football. Most of that was probably due to having co-coordinators who appeared to not be able to get the team on the same page. Add in the fact that the Eagles played three quarterbacks, so there was never any rhythm established. Therefore, the big plays did not come as the Eagles were 112th in explosiveness. The defense did not fair well either. Georgia Southern was 88th in this category and the Eagles never had the big plays on their side. Hopefully the defense can find some answers and the option will return the big splash plays to Statesboro.

Georgia State: Adjusted Line Yards

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina
Can Shawn Elliott fix GSU’s line problems?
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Here is a new measure that is adjusted by the talent of the opponent you are playing to grade out how your offensive line and ball carrier are doing during rushing plays. It essentially tries to grade how the line is blocking to get the runner to the second level, so yards 6-10 earned on any rush. On both sides of the football, the Panthers were really bad here as they ranked 126th on offense and 114th on offense. This helps explain why GSU was 127th in rushing offense and 98th in rushing defense. The Panthers must figure out a way to win at the point of attack so they can create some running lanes and clog gaps on the defensive front.

Idaho: Rushing Opportunity Rate

Even though backs Aaron Duckworth and Isaiah Saunders put up respectable numbers last fall the Vandals were still not very efficient. Only 35% of Idaho’s runs on offense went for five yards while the national average was 39.7%. Meanwhile, their front seven was gashed over and over again as they gave five or more yards 42.1% of the time. This means the Vandals were probably beat at the point of attack more times than often and now the offensive line will look for improvement behind tackle Jordan Rose. Meanwhile, Idaho gets most of the front seven back and these numbers have a solid shot to improve in 2017.

UL-Lafayette: Passing Success Rate

LSU transfer Anthony Jennings stepped in at quarterback for the Cajuns last fall and the passing game really struggled. Overall the Cajuns were 114th in passing as Jennings threw for 11 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. Success rate was really where this program struggled as the Cajuns fell behind the chains repeatedly last year. The yards per attempt numbers were brutal for this offense and this is an imperative number for new coordinator Will Hall and QB Jordan Davis to improve on. Meanwhile, the defense wasn’t much better as they came in at 107th. But now the Cajuns have an experienced secondary and should have a legit pass rush. I expect this number to improve on both sides.

New Mexico State: Success Rate

Staying on schedule was something the Aggies really struggled with and this should be a point of emphasis in fall camp. On offense, NMSU was under 40% in this metric, so they were always finding themselves in difficult third and long situations. Meanwhile, the defense was very bendy and therefore teams found themselves in very manageable second and third downs. To get to a bowl game, NMSU must get efficient and stay on schedule. Really just get out of the triple digits here as the explosion plays should be there for the Aggies.

South Alabama: Rushing IsoPPP

NCAA Football: Arizona Bowl-South Alabama vs Air Force
Can the USA backfield produce some big plays this fall?
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In our earlier piece, we mentioned how well the Jags were in power situations where they absolutely had to gain a yard or two. But when it comes to getting big plays on the ground, USA struggled. The Jags were 103rd in this category as they only averaged 0.99 points per successful play. Meanwhile, the defense had this same problem as they had a tendency to give up some big plays. With a possibly sketchy passing game, USA must find a way to get some big plays in the ground game.

Texas State: Explosiveness

There’s no question that there is a rebuild going on in San Marcos as Everett Withers is trying to build his preferred roster. The Bobcats will again be the youngest team in the league and all of their talent will be either freshmen or sophomores. Therefore, it’s going to very difficult to get this team to execute on a consistent basis. So you’re going to need big plays to stay competent. The Bobcats were 126th in explosiveness last year. That’s not good. As everyone is a year older, this number has to improve so Texas State can score more than 18.6 points per game. Meanwhile, it’d be nice if the defense could put some clamps on big plays as well.

Troy: Rushing Success Rate

As good as Troy’s offensive line was at protecting the passer, they had their limitations when it came to the run game. Troy struggled to get consistent gains on the ground and with only one back who carried the ball more than 60 times, fatigue could have been part of this issue. Troy not only struggled to stay on schedule, but they were bad in short yardage situations as well as the adjusted line yards metric. Finding a sidekick to Jordan Chunn will be key and we’ll see if this group can become a little better at producing efficient runs on the ground.

ULM: Rushing Opportunity Rate

I’m on record for believing the Warhawks will have a pretty strong run game in 2017. For this to happen, ULM must improve their opportunity rate as they were only 114th in the country here last fall. With an improved offensive line, we should easily see this number improve. Overall, only 34.7% of ULM runs went for at least five yards and that is a glaring weakness for a team that will be built off the ground attack. The numbers were solid everywhere else and if this improves, ULM could be sitting on a powder keg in 2017.