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OAYP: LSU at Texas Preview

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Breaking down the biggest keys to LSU at Texas through the lens of the OAYP advanced metric.

Finally, after years of spinning its wheels, it appears that LSU has figured out how to get the most out of its unceasing abundance of athletes. Sure, it was just one game, and against a Sun Belt opponent, but in that 55-3 victory over Georgia Southern, which at least in the preseason did project to have one of the better defenses in their conference, but that didn’t look fluky.

One can’t help but imagine what Joe Brady’s influence could have looked like with some of the receivers of yesteryear, from Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre. They’ve always had guys, but apparently now they know how to use them.

Now, though, with Joe Burrow coming off of a record setting performance, a much larger test looms. After beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, albeit by two scores fewer than LSU did earlier that season, claims of Texas being “back” permeated the offseason chatter.

Of course, everyone has heard those claims before, just as everyone has heard LSU talk about having fixed its quarterback issues and planning to rely more heavily on the passing game for years. Granted, LSU had never looked like a true spread team until last week, nor had any previous efforts appeared as effective, but all of us will learn a lot about each of those assertions when the rubber meets the road on Saturday night.

Below is the projected starting offense for LSU and defense for Texas, accompanied by their marginal OAYP scores. If you’re not yet acquainted with the new metric, the tl;dr of the individual player scores is best boiled down to something like WAR, in baseball. Both value and efficiency are taken into account, and while it doesn’t exactly correlate to wins or points, necessarily, it does display each player’s said value and efficiency relative to the positional mean. The basic rule of thumb we’ve been using is: below -1.0 is a red flag, between -1.0 and 0 is below average, between 0 and 0.5 is above average, between 0.5-1.0 is roughly ‘second tier’, greater than 1.0 is a bonafide superstar, and 2.0 or higher might as well be a superhero.

Let’s break down the single most important factor that will decide who wins that facet of the game, and then we’ll do the same for Texas’ offense vs LSU’s defense. OAYP’s projected margin of victory can also be found at the bottom.

Deciding Factor: Joe Burrow

For all of the talk about Sam Ehlinger being the next Tim Tebow, being one of the three best quarterbacks in the country, and being a Heisman contender during the offseason, scroll down a bit and you’ll see that, after week one, he and Joe Burrow have identical marginal OAYP scores. If you go a few decimal points further, Ehlinger is actually slightly higher than Burrow, but that doesn’t look good on a chart, and the difference is negligible.

That’s not just using the week one numbers, either. Each of their scores is still almost entirely comprised of last season’s data, so whereas one could reasonably assume that Ehlinger will finish 2019 in roughly the same place, or perhaps even lower after losing his leading receiver from 2018, with this new offense and his top five targets back, Burrow could climb even higher.

He’s certainly on a superstar pace, posting the highest single game OAYP score in week one of any quarterback in Southern Pigskin’s coverage area, and one of the highest of any player, regardless of position, to earn himself a spot on the metric’s SEC Team of the Week.

I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t that high on Burrow for most of last season, and was downright perplexed by his being looked so favorably upon by the formula. He was eighth in the league in yards per attempt, completed less than 60% of those throws, and ranked 12th in passer rating. He did run the ball well and have a respectable touchdown to turnover ratio, but still. Even so, there’s no denying that he was much improved down the stretch.

From B.J. Bennett, during the preseason: “After LSU's disappointing shutout loss to Alabama, he responded to complete 67% of his passes for 1,166 yards with ten touchdowns and one interception over the Tigers' last four games, adding, in an overtime loss at Texas A&M, 100 rushing yards and three more scores…

Burrow, after transitioning to a new team and role, settled in and stepped up in Baton Rouge. He scored ten total touchdowns with zero 250-yard passing games in his first nine games at LSU, compared to 13 scores over his last four, closing out the year with 307, 270 and 394 yards through the air, respectively…

What is interesting about Burrow is his efficiency last season was more notable than it may seem. Three Power Five signal callers had a year with at least 2,800 yards passing, 15 touchdowns and five or fewer interceptions: Trevor Lawrence, Sam Ehlinger and Burrow. Before that group, the previous ten P5 quarterbacks to meet those distinctions were all selected in the NFL Draft: Mason Rudolph, Dak Prescott, C.J. Beathard, Brad Kaaya, Marcus Mariota (2x), Cody Kessler, Brett Hundley, Bryce Petty, Teddy Bridgewater and A.J. McCarron.”

LSU’s offensive line certainly leaves a little something to be desired, though the anticipated return of Saahdiq Charles could help matters, but there isn’t much Texas pass rush to speak of, either. The strength of the Longhorn defense is in the secondary. Slot corner BJ Foster and safety Caden Sterns are both really solid, although there are weak points to attack. After losing both starting boundary corners from the 2018 team, OAYP can’t yet tell us much about Jalen Green, but Kobe Boyce’s -1.38 score is a big red flag, and could be someone to pick on.

With a bevy of weapons at his disposal, which, aside from all those aforementioned receivers, also appears to include tight end Thaddeus Moss, who joined Burrow on the Team of the Week and looks like a potential breakout star after reeling in his first pair of grabs as a Tiger, since transferring from NC State, and plenty of time if the offensive line is even serviceable against this pass rush, LSU’s passing efficacy will largely come down to his decision making.

Deciding Factor: Sam Ehlinger

It’s only fair. Again, the two quarterbacks with the nearly identical OAYP scores, will largely decide the outcome of this game. Ehlinger is good. Really good, even. But, contrary to what a number of various lists and rankings would suggest, he’s not an elite quarterback, he’s not up there with Trevor Lawrence or Tua Tagovailoa, or even Jake Fromm for that matter, and he’s damn sure not Tim Tebow.

Perhaps he can change all that this season, but as of right now, based on the data at hand, not one of those distinctions is even reasonably in the ballpark.

Yet, while he and Burrow should theoretically cancel each other out, they aren’t playing one on one. Burrow is playing against a Texas defense that has some holes. Ehlinger is playing an LSU defense that does not.

On a sheer player for player basis, Dave Aranda might have the most individually gifted group in the country. With a bonafide stud at every level of the field -- from Rashard Lawrence to Michael Divinity to Kristian Fulton to JaCoby Stevens and, of course, Grant Delpit -- there’s nowhere to hide.

Even those that one might consider supposed role players all pretty much graded positively, per OAYP, some even pretty close to the ‘star’ threshold. Suffice it to say, there are guys that hardly stand out among this group who would be the best defender on a lot of teams.

Even the lone starter without a positive score, K’Lavon Chaisson, has been hurt throughout his career, and he too earned a spot on the metric’s Week One Team of the Week, as one of the top two edge defenders in the league.

Rashard Lawrence and the rest of the Tigers’ front will be tested by a stout Texas offensive line that, as a unit, would even rank in the top three of the SEC after week one, and must also account for Ehlinger’s dual-threat ability, but his pass catchers do not stack up well against LSU’s secondary.

Grant Delpit is the best defender in college football and a healthy Kristian Fulton at cornerback only bolsters an already impressive group of cornerbacks that also includes what promises to be the next great in LSU’s long DB lineage, Derek Stingley.

The point is, Dave Aranda, one of the best in the game right now, himself, with this many fancy toys, is simply unfair. OAYP might see Burrow and Ehlinger as equals, but they’re facing two totally different animals on Saturday. The one Ehlinger is going up against is a lot meaner.

PROJECTED MARGIN OF VICTORY: LSU by 5.5

This is right in line with Vegas. Personally, I’m surprised it’s not a little higher -- I think LSU might take it to Texas by a couple of scores, for whatever that’s worth -- and the formula would favor the Tigers by almost eight points on a neutral site, but the home field advantage adjustment does knock it down to less than a touchdown.

It’s all about quarterback play. Texas’ defense might not be LSU’s but Joe Burrow still has to show up. LSU’s individual matchup advantages do indicate that this could end up being more of a disparity than the formula thinks, but between the game being in Austin and the Longhorns still having a pretty solid overall number, I get it.

This is the biggest game of the weekend, and it may prove to be one of the best, but I still wouldn’t be surprised if LSU and that new offense put it on Texas, on the road.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP