It’s time for this week’s deep dive into the numbers in this week’s matchup between the Idaho Vandals (3-3) and the Aggies (2-3). This is a pivotal game for both clubs as the two teams try to inch their way toward bowl eligibility. For Idaho, a win would put them within two wins of that magical six-win threshold with five games remaining. An Aggie win would put them halfway there with half the schedule remaining. It goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway, this is a matchup between two historically bad football programs. How bad? This is just the second time (the first since the very first matchup in 1971) that both teams come into the head-to-head meeting coming off a win in their previous game. The next 21 times these two teams have met, at least one of the two (usually both) have lost their previous game.
A cursory look at Idaho’s statistics makes you wonder how they’re 3-3. They’re averaging just 20 points per game while allowing 37.8. They average just 3.96 yards per rushing attempt and have thrown for just 1,151 yards in six games (191.83 yards per game). They’ve turned the ball over 15 times while forcing just nine turnovers and their third down conversion rate is just over 31 percent. That begs the question, what is Idaho doing to win these games? All three of their wins have been by a field goal — 20-17 over Montana State, 33-30 at UNLV and 34-31 last week at UL Monroe on a last-second field goal. Their three losses have been blowouts but their three losses have also come against teams with a combined record of 13-3.
So what can we expect from the Vandals? When they have the ball on first down, they’re nearly as likely to throw it as they are to run it. They’ve run 172 first down plays, 95 have been runs and 77 passes. Of those 172, just 21 have been “explosion” plays (runs of 10+ yards or more and passes of 15+ yards or more), the Aggies have been slightly better with 32 explosion plays on first down out of 178 plays. Those numbers break down to Idaho having a gain of 10+ yards one out of every eight plays they run while the Aggies have a gain of 10+ yards one out of every five plays they run. Defensively both teams are not good in terms of those same explosion plays with Idaho surrendering 10+ yard games 23 percent of the time while the Aggies are giving up 10+ yards on a play 24 percent of the time.
When Idaho is faced with third down and short (1 to 3 yards for a first down) they, just like most teams, will try to run the ball. Idaho has faced 22 such instances and run the ball 16 times while throwing six times. They’ve converted 11 of the 22 third and short situations, nine first downs on the ground and two through the air.
When Idaho is faced with a third and intermediate (4 to 6 yards to gain a first down) they are much ore likely to throw the ball. They’ve faced that situation 16 times and have thrown it 12 times, completing seven passes and converting six first downs through the air and one on the ground (6 of 16 on third and intermediate — a 37.5 percent conversion rate).
When Idaho is faced with a third and long (7 or more yards to gain a first down) they surprisingly have run the ball nearly as many times as they’ve opted to throw it. They’ve had 50 third and longs and they’ve thrown it 29 times and run it 21 times. They’re just 10 of 29 passing converting five first downs while they converted four first downs on the ground (9 of 50 on third and long — an 18 percent conversion rate).
If the Aggies can get Idaho into third and intermediate to long, they’ve got a really good shot at getting off the field.
Defensively when the Aggies have the ball, teams have been just as likely to run the ball as pass the ball on first down against Idaho. Teams have rushed 106 times for 605 yards (5.71 yards per attempt) and thrown the ball 99 times completing 65 times for 820 yards. They’ve surrendered 46 first downs and as we eluded to earlier, teams are having pretty good success gaining large chunks of yardage against Idaho, particularly on first down. The Vandals have surrendered 49 explosion plays (again, 10+ yard gains) out of the 205 1st down plays they’ve defended — a 24 percent clip. Not good.
When the Aggies are faced with third down they’ve been moderately successful with a 40.4 percent conversion rate. Idaho’s opponents are converting nearly 46 percent of their third downs (by way of gain and penalty).
When Idaho’s opponents face a third and short (1 to 3 yards to gain) they’ve had success both on the ground and through the air converting eight first downs on the ground (out of 13 runs) and five times through the air on 6 of 9 passing — a conversion rate of 59 percent (13 of 22).
When Idaho gets teams into a third and intermediate (4 to 6 yards to gain) they’re having a little bit more success stopping them, they’ve allowed 10 of 23 (43.4 percent) conversions. Teams have run the ball seven times getting three first downs and thrown it 16 times completing nine passes while converting seven first downs.
Where Idaho’s defense has stood tall is on third and long (7 or more yards to gain). They’ve forced 40 third and longs with teams converting just 13 times (32.5 percent). Teams have run the ball 12 times on third and long gaining three first downs while passing it 28 times, completing 17 of those with 13 going for first downs.
One other interesting stat to point out. Opposing teams have snapped 271 plays from their own 40 yard line or better compared to just 171 plays inside their own 40 (39 yard line to their own endzone). Teams are spending a LOT of time on the plus side of the field against Idaho. Offensively Idaho has not spent a ton of time on the plus side of the field. They’ve snapped the ball 180 times from inside their own 39 yard line and just 182 from their own 40 yard line to the opponent’s redzone.
One thing Idaho does do fairly well is score given the opportunity. They’re 15-of-20 (75 percent) when they get to the redzone and they’ve converted 12-of-14 field goal attempts. The Aggies have not faired quite as well in the scoring department with scoring just 17-of-24 times they’ve been in the redzone (70.8 percent) and are just 6-of-9 in the field goal department.
Bottom line here is that on paper the Aggies have the offense to put a lot of points on the board in this game. Whether or not they do so will depend a lot on what kind of day Larry Rose III has. In two games against Idaho he has run the ball 42 times for 367 yards (8.7 yards per carry) with six touchdowns. Granted, four of those touchdowns and over 200 of those yards came in last year’s wild come-from-behind victory but the fact of the matter is he is a one man wrecking crew almost regardless of who he is playing against and it would be wise for the Aggies to go to him early and often.
Tyler Rogers did not play against the Vandals last season due to injury and in 2014 against Idaho had a game to forget. He came in late, threw five passes, two of them were picked off as the Aggies lost 29-17.
For whatever reason the Aggies have really struggled against Idaho in Moscow. The last win there came in 2002 and the Aggies have gone into Moscow with teams that on paper should have beaten Idaho only to lose.
On paper this feels like a game the Aggies should win fairly easily but as we just noted, that hasn’t been the outcome the Aggies have gotten particularly at Idaho.