Greetings, fellow BSDers! Against my better judgment, I am going to try to resurrect our weekly opponent preview, based on a series of advanced metrics. These metrics, pulled from CollegeFootballData.com's API, provide some interesting insights into what to look for during upcoming games, and I think they were fairly accurate during the 2019 season. So, after a 2020 hiatus, here is a way-too-early look at PSU and Ball State.
When Penn State Is on Offense...
If you need a refresher on the metrics we'll look at, you can look back at one of the original advanced metrics fanposts here. In each of the plots I generate below, blue = "good" and not blue = "not good." Each metric indicates whether PSU or the opponent has an advantage in the specified area (hence the blue/not blue), and by how many ranking spots (the number on each line). The more blue, and the higher the numbers, the better.
Right now, we are just one game into 2021. We played #12 Wisconsin in Camp Randall; Ball State played the fightin' Leathernecks of Western Illinois. So I'm not sure there is a ton we can learn from the 2021 metrics just yet. However, I still think 2020 can give us a sense of what to suspect--the 2020 metrics were, in fact, extremely predictive of the defensive slobberknocker we all witnessed in Madison this past weekend.
As a result, here are the advanced-metrics comparison for when Cliffdog and the O take the field against Balls Tate:
Zoinks. That's a lotta red.
Granted, this is not as much red as last week, but still--perhaps we aren't out of the woods. A quick look at the data suggests that Ball State does a pretty good job of defending the pass: they hold down the number of explosive plays, limit second-level and open-field yards, and force their opponents into more obvious passing downs. However, Penn State also appears to have an advantage in average play success rate. What this amounts to, I think, is that Ball State is going to try to limit us on the big plays, make us be patient, and hope our short pass and run game falters.
Last week, we sucked running the ball. But, last week, Ball State sucked at defending against the vaunted WIU rushing attack. Suffice it to say that: 1) we need to run the ball well this weekend, and 2) if we don't, we have bigger problems on the O line than anticipated.
When Penn State Is On Defense...
One of the biggest reasons why Ball State took home the MAC championship last year was their offense. They boast a well-respective staff on offense, and they do a good job of getting their playmakers in space. However, even as iffy as our defense was last year, the stats are not as lop-sided as you might think:
In actuality, they look pretty good for us. While BSU holds a slight advantage on success rate (and, unsurprisingly, therefore stayed "on schedule" more than our defense allowed last year), we nevertheless should be expected to limit them on explosive plays. If you recall, we sucked on passing downs last year, routinely giving up big-time conversions on the easiest of screen passes. That didn't happen against Wisconsin, so I am hopeful that the "Explosiveness on Passing Downs" bit will not be a major concern (\furiously knocks on wood). Moreover, our secondary seems to be head and shoulders better than last year, and even with last year's squad, our DB havoc rate compares pretty evenly with BSU.
So, what does that leave? Well, it seems to me that Ball State is going to try, early and often, to establish the run. Not only was it important to BSU last year, but it was their only saving grace against WIU. Last week, we played the run fairly well . We need to continue that this week, albeit against a completely different set of schemes. With Brooks out for the first half, don't be surprised / don't punch a hole in your TV screen when we inevitably are gashed for 15-25 yard gains early in the game. Just as long as they don't become 40 yarders and/or scores, we should be okay. Here, it sure would be nice to have Beamon active!
Taken together, what flavor of game should we expect? Some have said Buffalo 2019, and that sounds about right to me. Some frustrating ability for the opponent's offense to move the ball early, followed by Pry & Co. closing the door. Decently high scoring (eventually) for the offense, but it may take a while to get there. And it goes without saying perhaps, but we cannot afford to turn the ball over here.
Ultimately, it is hard to know how much BSU was holding back, especially on offense, against WIU. Probably a decent amount, frankly--we are going to be their Super Bowl (much like Akron 5b). But if we play similarly to last week, and especially if we make some mild improvements, I think we can score mid 30s and hold them to mid 10s. Score predictions aren't my thing, but here's to a weekend of lower blood pressures than last!!