Deep Stats: Containing the Cats

By Craig Fritz on December 29, 2018 at 10:00 am
Penn State Defensive End Yetur Gross-Matos
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Generally, traditional stats and advanced stats paint a similar broad-stroke picture of the Kentucky Wildcats. They thrive on an aggressive defense (21st nationally in total defense) and are less than spectacular on offense, ranking 100th nationally in total offense. Likewise, S&P+ (opens a Google spreadsheet) has Kentucky at 92nd nationally on offense and 21st nationally on defense. So will this be a slugfest with lots of punts? Maybe, but with a month to plan, I get a sense that James Franklin and his staff will conceive ways to neutralize the Wildcats' biggest threats.

When penn state is on offense

Kentucky Havoc
Position Havoc Rate
DL 93
LB 1
DB 27

Trace McSorley and Ricky Rahne must absolutely know where all of of Kentucky's game-wreckers are on every play. You already are aware of likely first-round pick Josh Allen, who was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. But Mark Stoops has two other excellent linebackers in senior Jordan Jones (-16.5 percent marginal efficiency) and sophomore Jamar Watson (-7.1 percent ME), two tremendous safeties in Mike Edwards (14.7 percent ME) and Darius West (18.1 percent ME), and a lock-down corner in Derrick Baity, Jr. (17.7 percent ME). When Kentucky goes to five DBs, Edwards moves to the nickel, and sophomore safety Davonte Robinson (-2.6 percent ME) further strengthens the Wildcat pass defense.

All that said, there are plenty of cracks and crevices for McSorley and company to operate. Weirdly, even with a pretty stellar secondary, Kentucky is not great on passing downs (2nd-and-8 or more, 3rd/4th-and-5 or more), ranking 51st nationally. If they don't get a sack in those situations (almost 10 percent of the time), they give up plenty of efficient and explosive plays. They also don't do a great job at forcing 3rd-and-long (85th nationally), and allow a ton of 3rd-and-short situations (106th nationally). The remarkable stat is they only allow success on 57 percent of those 3rd-and-shorts, good for seventh in the country.

when penn state is on defense

Kentucky Passing S&P+
Category Rank
Passing S&P+ 99
Passing explosiveness 115
Sack rate 100
Big play rate (20+ yards) 97
Blitz down success rate 118
3rd-and-long success rate 129

The Nittany Lions will have to deal with a solid rushing front, which almost never takes hits behind the line of scrimmage (18th ranked stuff rate). All-SEC First Team running back Benny Snell highlights the attack, with quarterback Terry Wilson chipping in nearly 700 yards on the year on just 100 carries. Outside of that, Kentucky really struggles to move the chains, especially through the air. The chart is just a glimpse of the terrible numbers from the UK passing game. They're not very efficient overall (71st nationally), and they are one of the least explosive teams in the country (107th). Wilson will dink and dunk all over the field, and completes a remarkable amount of passes (68 percent), but they are prone to getting behind the chains. Brent Pry's unit has had some of their best games of the year against teams with aerial challenges, even after absorbing some early chunk-play rushes (Wisc/Pitt/Illinois).