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Translating the UConn-Marshall Advanced Stats Preview

What can we learn from all the data available to us regarding this matchup?

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

In battle, knowing thy enemy is the foremost tenet. And luckily, now more than ever, researching is as easy as going to SB's Football Study Hall and checking their bowl previews.

SB Nation's Bill Connolly is an amazing writer, perhaps the smartest college football analyst in the business. His formulas and methods are immaculately constructed, and intuitively they make a lot of sense. However, while the definitions are fairly simple, as with any new statistical finding, it can be a bit overwhelming for the uneducated reader to take in.

Therefore, to help simplify things a little more, we're going to walk through Connolly's Saint Petersburg Bowl preview, and see where the numbers place UConn and Marshall as they prepare for battle on December 26th. This will be a guided reading of the preview linked above, so please feel free to open this piece in another window to serve as a supplement to the great work produced by SB Nation's Football Study Hall.


RELATED READING: Matchup Previews


Scouting the UConn Offense vs. Marshall Defense
Scouting the UConn Defense vs. Marshall Offense

Before delving too deeply into the ratings themselves, it's important to understand the methodology behind the unique S&P+ system. S&P+ takes into consideration five factors statistically shown to be crucial to winning games - explosiveness, efficiency, finishing drives, field position, and turnover margin - and leverages them for an easy basis of comparison. For the Saint Petersburg Bowl's prediction, each of these categories were compared to one another.

In this game, both defenses should be able to stop their opposing offenses - as it is clear that the defenses are far superior. However, it should be noted that Marshall's offense is slightly better than UConn's offense when it comes to efficiency across the board. Marshall also seems to be more adept at scoring in the first half (ratings 64 and 55) than in the second (ratings 103 and 125). This could show an unwillingness to adjust from half to half - or, possibly, the ability for defenses to figure out some keys to Marshall's skills over the course of a game.

When the Huskies have the ball, they will be outpaced by Marshall's aggressive, matchup-oriented defense. The Thundering Herd do a good job on standard downs, forcing runs outside and utilizing their rangy linebackers to make stops. They are also the best team in the country at preventing opponents from finishing drives once they get past the 40. Given UConn's struggles at putting up touchdowns at times, they will need to find a way to manufacture points once they get momentum going against this defense. Integrating some seam routes or pick plays could go a long way in terms of loosening up Marshall.

On the other side of the coin, the Huskies have the horses to slow down the Thundering Herd's spread attack. Marshall's defense will give the offense plenty of opportunities to move the ball, but, since the team will be missing stud running back Devon Johnson, they may have issues doing anything in the run game. Similar to Houston, Marshall will have to hope that freshman quarterback Chase Litton can create some horizontal yardage with the screen game in order to get manageable third downs.

To be blunt, based on these numbers, this game looks like it has all the makings of a defensive struggle. Both UConn and Marshall rank in the top 25 in the country in terms of points per possession and give up under five yards per play. UConn's best matchup on offense from the numbers here would seem to be their interior running game against Marshall's defensive tackles, Steve Dillon and Jarquez Samuel, who are both fairly small and can be moved by burlier linemen.

Another interesting note about the Huskies is that their F&P+ is at its best in the third quarter, potentially due to optimizations and adjustments made at the halftime of games. Given Marshall's lesser ability to make moves after the half, if UConn can keep it close early, they could capitalize on changes made in the third quarter and rip off a big play to claim victory down the stretch.