Know Your Enemy: Utah vs. Northwestern, S&P+ Breakdown

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    • #86108

      Ute Fan

      Happy Holidays! And by holidays, I mean bowl season – the most wonderful tiiiiiime of the yeeeeeear!

      Utah landed a spot in the Holiday Bowl this year, following a first-ever outright Pac12 South Championship. This was the finish predicted at the beginning of the year by advanced metrics: see here and here, so that’s kinda neat.

      But it wouldn’t be a shakeitsugaree post without a graph of some sort, so I charted Utah’s Pac12 wins, by year, since joining the conference:

      The trendline tells the story here – despite the low R-squared value (wins by year is kind of a volatile thing, especially over a small sample size), the trend is definitely positive. I like our chances to repeat in the South next year!!

      So, on to the final game of the year – what does S&P+ have to say about the Utah vs. Northwestern matchup?

      S&P+ ranks Utah 17, Northwestern 80; this system predicts a Utah victory by a margin of 15.5 points. So, we win pretty handily, says Bill Connelly.

      I wanted to dive a little deeper into this matchup and try to predict where things might go wrong for Utah and right for Northwestern, so here are a few places where Northwestern excels:

      Northwestern Overall Defense S&P+ 32
      Northwestern Rushing Defense S&P+ 19

      Northwestern’s defense is not to be taken lightly (Utah’s Overall Defense S&P+ ranks 22), and they defend the run well. Northwestern’s offense is another story:

      Northwestern Overall Offense S&P+ 103
      Northwestern Rushing Offense S&P+ 112
      Northwestern Passing Offense S&P+ 85

      So the defenses are probably going to dominate this game, with Utah‘s offense having a bit of an advantage, according to the numbers:

      Utah Overall Offense S&P+ 43
      Utah Rushing Offense S&P+ 27
      Utah Passing Offense S&P+ 49

      I like the ‘strength on strength’ matchup of Utah’s rushing attack vs. Northwestern’s rushing defense – it will be fun to see who wins that battle – but it looks like to me that Utah might win this game through the air (as I am typing that, I am chuckling a little bit): Northwestern Passing Defense S&P+ 75. If Shelley and the wide receiver corp can get something going through the air, I like that 15 point margin.

      What do all of you think? Do these numbers make sense to you? Any score predictions?

      Cheers, everyone!

      *Edited to include Northwestern Passing Defense S&P+

    • #86110

      Ute Fan

      I do love a good graph. If everyone comes back next year, with our schedule I predict an increase in Pac12 wins and another championship.

      For the bowl game, I like Utah by 10.

    • #86112

      Ute Fan

      Feels like it will be a low scoring affair.  Utah can score in bundles at times though and hold opponents scoreless for multiple possessions. 

    • #86114


      I get the Overall, Rushing and Passing rankings, but those I’m guessing are compiled by all games played to this point.  3/4 of those games had Moss, Huntley, Covey, Chase playing.  What would the rankings be without them? That’s probably a different story.

      • #86124

        Ute Fan

        This is a good point, Tony – it’s my understanding that the S&P+ rankings are fluid – meaning, they are calculated on a game by game basis. So you are correct that today’s rankings are impacted by previous games where we were at ‘full’ strength. However, there have been four games without Huntley & Moss and the offense did just fine:

        So, the 40+ point games impact the ranking, but so do the 30 point games when we weren’t at full strength.

        As an aside, S&P+ says we definitely should have lost the CCG, but not only because of poor offensive play – most likely forced by an elite defense – but it also assigns about 8 of Washington’s points to ‘turnover luck

        But I digress …

        So, what would the offense look like without Huntley and Moss? Serviceable. What will the offense look like without Huntley, Moss and Covey? I agree – there are no data for that scenario. What will the defense look like without Hansen? Again, it’s unclear. However – part of the S&P+ system is to account for depth; it’s part of the reason that teams like Alabama and Michigan are always in the top rankings. So, there is some contingency for personnel loss due to injury ‘baked into’ the S&P+ formula. That being said, we are a better team in almost every metric, offense and defense. Even with the losses of our key contributors, it seems very likely Utah gets the W here.

        Like I said in my original post, if Shelley and Co. can find any traction at all in the passing game, I like Utah by 15. Will they? That’s a different question. Bovada has the line at Utah -7; if I weren’t a starving grad student, I’d probably give those points.


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