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How FEI and S+P see the game: Oregon vs Utah 2013

Utah is significantly better than its record and standard stats would show. They've done as well as anyone in the country in playing top teams; the Stanford win was big, but so were their impressively close losses to ASU, UCLA and Oregon State. This is likely the toughest remaining game Oregon faces this year. Oregon has a lot of advantages - but only slightly bad luck will allow the Utes back in the game.

Mariota's legs may be the key to this game.
Mariota's legs may be the key to this game.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

FEI is the Fremeau Efficiency Index, created by Brian Fremeau. Brian Fremeau is an author at Football Outsiders, ESPN and BCFToys. FEI is an advanced statistical measure for college football that tracks drive efficiency instead of per-play success.

S+P is created by Bill Connelly. Bill Connelly is an author at SBNation, RockMNationFootball Study Hall and Football Outsiders. S+P is an advanced statistical measure which combines success rate, explosiveness per play and opponent adjustments.

How S+P sees the game:

There are some new stats from Bill Connelly this year.

Play Efficiency: the success per play based on the down and distance of the play.

Drive Efficiency: the success of scoring based on the field position created.

Difference in Net Points (DNP): the average of the points an offense scores on a given drive compared to the points it would be expected to score based on starting field position.

And the old ones:

Passing downs: second down and 8 or more, or 3rd/4th down and 5 or more.

OVERALL When Oregon
Has the Ball ...
When Utah has the ball...
Category Oregon


F/+ Rk 7 20

S&P+ 8(256.3) 24(233.6) 6 (133.6) 22 (122.6) 21 (122.7) 31 (111.0)
Play Efficiency

3 (141.2) 20 (118.8) 31 (112.4) 28 (112.1)
Rushing S&P+

2 (143.7) 21 (121.3) 49 (107.7) 22 (119.7)
Passing S&P+ 7 (142.1) 18 (123.6) 37 (111.7) 31 (115.0)
Std. Downs S&P+

3 (140.6) 27 (116.7) 45 (106.1) 12 (125.4)
Pass. Downs S&P+

9 (143.5) 8 (136.6) 17 (125.9) 52 (104.9)
Drive Efficiency

11 (126.1) 21 (126.4) 17 (132.9) 34 (110.0)
Difference in Net Points

5 (1.60) 62 (-0.51) 3 (-2.40) 53 (0.00)

Much like last year we dropped pretty hard after losing. Not surprisingly, the biggest drop was on offense. What might surprise is what specifically - while Oregon's rushing offense took a big hit, the biggest loss was on drive efficiency. This game was a monstrously bad game for Oregon's sealing the deal and was highly atypical compared to other games. As Bill Connelly said, Oregon doesn't have a Stanford problem; they have a lack of fumble recoveries and not completing 4th down problem.

That being said, those are not problems that are simply avoidable. I talked about this earlier in the year - both the fumbling and the 4th down conversion rates are off from last year and have become a pattern. And if Oregon doesn't get better it can cost us against good teams - and Utah is a good team.

Similarity scores for Utah

Utah is similar to UCLA (34th) and Washington (28th) in offense. They're worse than Stanford and significantly better than most other opponents Oregon has faced. They are significantly better in virtually every category than Washington save passing downs, where they are simply middle of the road. Where they suffer - and where you would not be that surprised if you have heard of any Utah games - is their drive efficiency and difference in net points. They are a perfectly 0 net points between what they should score and what they do. I had to check my program 3 times to make sure it was outputting correctly.

Utah defensively is closest to...Oregon, actually (21st). Washington is 17th. In particular, Utah is better against passing downs than Washington, better against rushing than Washington and worse against the pass and on standard downs than Washington - but not by much.

Similarity scores for Oregon

Much like last week, we can say that Utah has faced a very strong Arizona State offense (8th). And Utah did excellently against them. ASU is significantly different than Oregon; Oregon is strong across the board save drive efficiency and to a lesser extent passing downs; ASU is only 23rd on standard downs but an absurd 2nd (and 184.6) on passing downs.

Oregon is also similar to ASU on defense (24th) and worse than Washington - which I'm not sure means a lot given the pasting that Washington got and the lack of pasting that ASU got. Oregon is much worse on standard downs and rushing defense than ASU was; Oregon is still excellent at drive efficiency and net point differential. As we saw with Stanford, when you rely on sacks, negative yardage plays and turnovers for your defense to work and you don't get them, it becomes a long day.

Oregon's offense vs Utah's defense

From a defensive standpoint Utah matches up almost as well as Stanford did on strength vs. strength. They're better than Stanford was against the run (Stanford has since moved up, of course) and almost as good on passing downs. That being said, the Oregon offense has almost a 20 point advantage on rushing, passing and standard downs. When we see this kind of balanced defense - good at everything, great at nothing - and Oregon doesn't have a primary massive advantage anywhere, I figure we'll go back to what we're doing best - running the ball. Marcus Mariota's injury is obviously a concern here; how well we run is certainly impacted by that - but we still have significantly good weapons across the board. I expect that we'll have a bit more of a mix than last week (where we virtually abandoned the run) and will get some success. Because of the DNP differential and the DNP values, I do expect Oregon to finish drives a lot more as well; Utah just doesn't cause nearly as many turnovers or create nearly as many stops as other teams do. They're very much the opposite of a defense like Oregon's.

Oregon's defense vs Utah's offense

This one concerns me a bit. The advantage that Utah has on offense isn't great, but what does exist is against the worst part of our defense. (see, Jared, you were right - our passing defense doesn't suck, it's our rushing defense that is horrible!) The Utes have about a 16 point advantage on running and a 20 point advantage on standard downs. Between that and what we saw against Stanford and combined with the Utah quarterback's natural inclination to share receptions with the opposing team, I suspect we'll see a lot of the excellently named Bubba Poole and Travis Wilson running, with a fair amount of success. If they get into passing downs, however, they are likely to be stopped almost immediately. They simply can't recover that well from long downs and distances. The trick as always is how to get them there. Essentially Oregon must allow Utah to make the mistakes that they so desperately want to do and consistently do from game to game. Oregon is very, very good at this; the -2.40 difference in net points indicates that Oregon consistently stops teams from scoring despite having good field position. The drive efficiency differential points to this as well. Utah is capable of doing a lot provided they can do the one thing they've been able to do only once this season - stop shooting themselves in the foot.

How FEI sees the game:

Some definitions from the FEI site. For offense, these are the drives that the offense does. For defense, these are the drives that the defense has allowed. Also note that these are not weighted by defensive strength or anything like that, so they correspond best to raw overall numbers.

First down rate: the % of drives that result in at least one first down.

Available Yards: the ratio of yards gained by total yards to go

Explosive drives: the % of drives that average at least 10 yards per play.

Methodical drives: the % of drives that take 10 or more plays

Value Drives: the % of drives that start on their side of the field and make it to the opposing 30 yard line or better.

Field Position Advantage (FPA): the share of the value of total starting field position earned by each team against their opponents.

OVERALL When Oregon has the Ball ... When Utah has the ball...
Category Oregon


F/+ Rk 7 20

FEI Rk 6(.262) 12 (.214) 10 (.560) 22 (-.390) 13 (-.455) 19 (.358)
Field Position 9(.559) 77(.490)


7 (.722) 55 (-.111) 4 (-.607) 95 (-.325)
First Down rate

5 (.820) 25 (.600) 26 (.604) 114 (.563)
Available Yards rate

3 (.671) 54 (.437) 23 (.378) 102 (.372)
Explosive Drives

8 (.236) 47 (.105) 12 (.066) 73 (.116)
Methodical Drives

105 (.101) 80 (.162) 2 (.077) 67 (.143)
Value Drives

1 (.653) 46 (.351) 8 (.268) 75 (.366)
Special Team rank 32(1.481) 25(1.810)

Field Goal efficiency 111(-.458) 24(.467)

Punt Return efficiency 1(.507) 25(.054)

Kickoff return efficiency 43(-.093) 78(-.210)

punt efficiency 110(.123) 15(-.247)

kickoff efficiency 55 (-.180) 65(-.150)

What? Oregon's special teams improved? Well, that's what you get for recovering an expected onside kick and having a FG block as well as good punt returns. Beyond that, however, Oregon's overall ratings dropped. The nice thing about FEI is that FEI is fine with losses to great teams (and Stanford is a great team), so Oregon's ratings didn't decrease all that much; the game ended up being the 10th best game this season for any team. Even Stanford didn't rate that high (30th). Craziness.

Game Factors: the best and worst of the teams

As before, there is more explanation and examples over at Football Outsiders.

Oregon's highs and lows

high on offense: Washington (10th overall, 2.210)

low on offense: California (798th, -.223)

Standard deviation (throwing out the Cal game): 138

high on defense: California (64th overall, -.702)

low on defense: Colorado (383rd overall, .074)

Standard deviation (throwing out the Cal game): 119

As weird as it sounds, Oregon's variability on offense increased significantly despite having the 35th best performance of the year against Stanford. Why? Well, mostly because the Colorado and Virginia games got that much worse looking. So we have 5 offensive performances that were in the top 60 all year - and then two that are above 300. Weird. With that in mind, Oregon's offense has had 4 of the 5 top 60 performances in the last 4 weeks. It's likely that those are more indicative of where Oregon can go and what Oregon regularly does. Note also that because we're adding another 60+ games every week, the rankings will fluctuate; what is consistent will be changing quite a bit as the season goes on.

Defense is more consistent - but sadly, more consistently bad. Oregon now has 5 performances of 300th or worse, and only two that are better than the top 150 (Washington and UCLA). Oregon can get lucky and get a great defensive performance - but it's more likely that we will do something mostly okay to good.

Utah's highs and lows

high on offense: Stanford(13th overall, 2.065)

low on offense: USC(505th, .377)

standard deviation: 187

high on defense: Arizona State(8th overall, -1.255)

low on defense: Utah State (804th, 878)

standard deviation: 278

Utah State sticks out like a massive sore thumb for Utah; it was the first game and nothing comes remotely close to that level of badness for Utah. Remove that one value and their deviation drops from 278 to 193. They are trending up on defense - three of their 4 best performances came in the last 4 weeks. On offense, they're almost as inconsistent but their overall offense is fairly poor; multiple scores over 400, one over 500. Their best game is unsurprisingly against Stanford. As said earlier, Utah can be a worldbeater if they limit their mistakes. They've only done that once this year, at home.

Similarity scores for Utah

Utah is closest to (gasp) Stanford (#17) on offense. HIDE YOUR WIFE HIDE YOUR CHILDREN. This is mostly because they have played the hardest schedule in the nation against defenses and done...good. Not great, just good. Their raw efficiency is 95th, which is what you'd expect just watching their highlights, but no one looks good when going up against some of the best teams in the nation week in and out. If you're curious, Stanford has only faced the 14th hardest schedule and their raw efficiency is a full 44 ranks higher.

Utah is shockingly not great on defense. They're closest to UCLA (19th) and Washington (25th). All three of those teams have faced a top 25 schedule on defense, so they're quite comparable across the board - and the big differences are that Utah allows much fewer drives that get at least one first down (so 3 and outs) and is better in general at stopping methodical drives. They are, however, the worst of the three at stopping explosive drives by a significant factor; fully one of every 10 drives has at least one explosive play.

Similarity scores for Oregon

Oregon is closest to Arizona State (6th). Oregon is significantly better than Stanford. While Oregon's overall efficiency isn't as high as ASU, their raw efficiency is 21 ranks higher and more importantly .423 points higher. ASU's high rank is once again due to who they've faced; they've faced the 6th hardest schedule out there. Oregon has faced the 43rd hardest.

On defense, Oregon is closest to UCLA (19th) and ASU (8th). Man, ASU shows up here a lot, don't they? And much like the offense, the raw efficiency is huge but the schedule is weak - only 6th this time.

Oregon's offense vs Utah's defense

Utah is one of the few opponents that is just okay (and not horrible) at stopping methodical drives but is not good at all against Explosive drives. Stanford was 21st against explosive drives; Washington 20th, and UCLA 3rd. Utah? 47th. Oregon should get some big play opportunities against an aggressive but somewhat undisciplined Utah defense. Utah, however, will get a lot more punts than many of Oregon's opponents have seen, likely due to drives stalling early before getting anywhere. The overall difference here between Utah and Oregon is quite large and significantly larger than Stanford; I would expect Oregon to be able to get a lot of good drives off, similar to the UCLA and Washington games.

Oregon's defense vs. Stanford's offense

I (and FEI) were both clearly wrong on how Oregon's D would handle Stanford. It adjusted, dropped Oregon's defense by about .200 points and we'll move on. Oregon and Utah are shockingly even here; Oregon has a small advantage. Tendency wise, Utah tends to do best on methodical drives when not shooting themselves in the foot. I would expect what success Utah to have will be on long, slow, plodding drives. Yes, that sounds as depressing to me as I'm sure it does to you. That being said, Utah does not have the physical talent to execute the plan that Stanford did even if they ran that way, and Oregon should get significantly more negative yardage plays.

Special Teams

Special teams for once are oddly even - at least on first glance. There are some pretty big advantages for Utah here. In particular, Oregon's punting unit is kind of horrible this season. Utah's return team is pretty awesome. I would expect Utah to get significant returns by Geoff Norwood, though the shorter punts may help here some. Utah is also one of the better punt teams in the country, so Bralon Addison likely won't be getting a ton of success.

And shocking no one, Oregon's field goals aren't great.

So what does this all mean?

From the numbers, Oregon has significant advantages across the board. S+P has Oregon with big advantages on offense all over the place and good matchups on defense. FEI thinks that Oregon's offense should run all over the place while matching up well on defense. Utah makes a lot of mistakes; Oregon capitalizes and causes a lot of mistakes.

So why does this game worry me so?

Partially it's because Utah has shown that if they play a perfect game they can play with anyone. They have the talent and the ability; they just don't always have the focus. Utah is a classic trap game, where a team with a poor record rises up and beats the hell out of a team that didn't see it coming. And perhaps trap is the wrong word; "letdown" is better. This is as much a game that indicates the character of the Ducks and of Mark Helfrich as anything this season, including the Stanford game: can Oregon bounce back after a physical mauling? Can they make Utah consistently inconsistent? If Utah wins or gets close, it will be because of bad turnovers and 4th down conversions; if Oregon wins big, it will be because of an avalanche of turnovers early that cause Utah to be out of the game before it starts.

Currently Oregon is a 26 point favorite. I don't see that happening, and the numbers really don't either. Oregon should win provided that Utah does not play out of their mind and Oregon plays an average game for them, but I see it being significantly closer than a 4-TD game, especially with an injured Marcus Mariota.