Music City Bowl 2009: Statistical Analysis

In our coverage of today's Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, we will begin with the statistical comparisons between the combatants -- the Kentucky Wildcats of the SEC and the Clemson Tigers of the ACC.

In a bit of a prelude to this, it is important to note that the Tigers have played one more game than Kentucky has, as they competed with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the ACC Championship game, a game the Tigers lost by a count of 39-34.  Had that game worked out differently, UK would undoubtedly have been facing a different opponent, probably the North Carolina Tar Heels.

But Clemson it is.  To start off our statistical comparison, consider the following:

 

Key measures Kentucky Clemson
Strength of schedule 47.22 50.06
Away record 3-1 2-3
Record against winning teams 2-4 3-4
Record against ranked 0-2 1-3
Home record 3-4 6-2
Margin vs. Ranked -26 -2.3
Points scored vs. BCS 23.4 31.9
Points allowed vs. BCS 27.7 24.2
Record vs. BCS 4-5 6-4
Losses to worse ranked teams 0 1
Margin vs. winning teams -7.7 2.1
Most away wins 3 2
Margin vs. BCS -4.2 7.7
Opponent's record 43-46 46-36
Most wins against winning teams 2 3

These are some of the key objective measures between the two teams.  The highlights follow the jump.

The first thing to note is strength of schedule.  Clemson has played more winning teams than UK has, and that results in a tougher SOS.  What SOS cannot measure accurately is the strength of the teams that each team has played, and UK has played at least two of the top five toughest teams in the land.  The Tigers have not faced teams quite that tough, but on average, the teams they have played are better than the teams Kentucky has played.

Another thing to notice is the margin vs. ranked measure.  Kentucky's is very ugly, but a big contributor to that is the 41-7 beat-down Kentucky suffered at the hands of the Florida Gators early in the year.  Clemson never suffered a game this year in which they were uncompetitive, and their worst loss all year was only by seventeen points at the arch-rival South Carolina Gamecocks.

You will notice a couple of areas where the 'Cats fare well -- road wins and losses to worse-ranked opponents.  On the latter, do keep in mind that Clemson has been in the top 25 several times during the second half of the season, and the higher your ranking, the easier it becomes to lose to a lower-ranked team.

Overall, these measures heavily favor Clemson, as you might expect.

Moving on to the general statistics, courtesy of CFBStats.com:

Team Statistical Comparison
Team Statistics Kentucky Opponents Clemson Opponents
Scoring: Points/Game 27.2 22.8 31.9 21.0
Scoring: Games - Points 12 - 326 12 - 274 13 - 415 13 - 273
First Downs: Total 230 219 231 228
First Downs: Rushing - Passing - By Penalty 132 - 85 - 13 108 - 100 - 11 106 - 112 - 13 119 - 88 - 21
Rushing: Yards / Attempt 4.56 4.62 4.76 3.46
Rushing: Attempts - Yards - TD 509 - 2319 - 26 476 - 2198 - 16 463 - 2205 - 22 564 - 1954 - 9
Passing: Rating 108.86 111.13 125.68 111.32
Passing: Yards 1714 2167 2547 2169
Passing: Attempts - Completions - Interceptions - TD 300 - 165 - 11 - 12 322 - 155 - 16 - 16 376 - 212 - 13 - 22 335 - 170 - 21 - 19
Total Offense: Yards / Play 5.0 5.5 5.7 4.6
Total Offense: Plays - Yards 809 - 4033 798 - 4365 839 - 4752 899 - 4123
Punt Returns: Yards / Return 13.08 6.64 14.38 12.29
Punt Returns: Returns - Yards - TD 26 - 340 - 1 11 - 73 - 1 26 - 374 - 2 21 - 258 - 1
Kickoff Returns: Yards / Return 23.58 21.61 23.93 20.08
Kickoff Returns: Returns - Yards - TD 52 - 1226 - 1 49 - 1059 - 0 44 - 1053 - 4 77 - 1546 - 0
Punting: Yards / Punt 40.00 39.91 38.98 37.53
Punting: Punts - Yards 61 - 2440 65 - 2594 54 - 2105 74 - 2777
Interceptions: Returns - Yards - TD 16 - 258 - 3 11 - 61 - 0 21 - 342 - 1 13 - 177 - 1
Fumbles: Number - Lost 15 - 8 15 - 6 24 - 11 31 - 8
Penalties: Number - Yards 55 - 487 63 - 558 62 - 554 76 - 602
Time of Possession / Game 30:02.50 29:57.00 28:01.69 31:58.31
3rd Down Conversions: Conversion % 38.98% 39.66% 38.67% 39.09%
3rd Down Conversions: Attempts - Conversions 177 - 69 179 - 71 181 - 70 197 - 77
4th Down Conversions: Conversion % 75% 55% 26.67% 33.33%
4th Down Conversions: Attempts - Conversions 20 - 15 20 - 11 15 - 4 18 - 6
Red Zone: Success % 82.22% 75% 79.59% 85.29%
Red Zone: Attempts - Scores 45 - 37 44 - 33 49 - 39 34 - 29
Field Goals: Success % 64.3% 73.3% 67.7% 81%
Field Goals: Attempts - Made 14 - 9 15 - 11 31 - 21 21 - 17
PAT Kicking: Success % 95.1% 93.9% 89.4% 100%
PAT Kicking: Attempts - Made 41 - 39 33 - 31 47 - 42 30 - 30
2-Point Conversions: Success % 0% 0% 66.67% 0%
2-Point Conversions: Attempts - Made 2 - 0 1 - 0 3 - 2 2 - 0

The first thing that jumps out at me is the difference between Clemson's QB rating and that of Kentucky.  That, in a microcosm, is why UK did not do better this year.  The Wildcats simply did not throw the ball well enough to win any more games than they did, and Clemson looks like the kind of team Kentucky would need to be in that area to compete in the SEC on a more consistent basis.

On a yards-per-play basis, the Tigers get more and give up less than the 'Cats, but again, Kentucky's stats are a bit tilted by the uncompetitive outing against Florida.  UK would look much better if that game wasn't considered, but you have to consider them all.  Just because the 'Cats were competitive in every game but one doesn't necessarily mean that one game is an outlier.

Some hope for Kentucky comes in the form of turnovers.  UK has taken better care of the football than the tigers, but has forced fewer fumbles.  Interceptions are a little harder to gage because of the extra game, but I think that Clemson would wind up throwing more picks than UK, which makes sense, because they throw the ball more.  UK also leads the Tigers in sacks, which is not on display here, but again, that makes sense because they throw the ball so much more than the Wildcats do.

A couple of things give me some hope.  UK has better red-zone success than the Tigers, and has done a better job of keeping opponents from scoring in the red zone.  But you have to hearken back to the strength of schedule on that stat, because UK had easier opponents, overall, than the Tigers.

Statistically speaking, this looks like a rather lopsided affair.  Clemson looks much better on paper than the Wildcats do.  Of course, we don't play the game on paper.  Kentucky has the kind of running game that has given the Tigers trouble all year, and the Wildcats' defensive backfield will be as close to healthy as they have been this year since the first game of the season.  On the other hand, the loss of Sam Maxwell is a major hit to the defense, and UK will need outstanding line play to hold down the dangerous C.J. Spiller.

Also, keep in mind that UK played the South Carolina Gamecocks, the only common foe with the Tigers, tougher than the Tigers did in Columbia.  You can't overlook the rivalry dynamic, though, so that game may not be as reflective of the relative skill of these two teams as it could otherwise appear.

Clemson, on the other hand, has to worry about the multidimensional threat that is Randall Cobb, and UK is likely to have the services of The Terminator, John Connor, which makes Derrick Locke perhaps as dangerous to Clemson as Spiller is to Kentucky.  If Morgan Newton has made significant progress over the last month, it would have a major impact on the Wildcats' chances. 

Unfortunately, reading the tea leaves does not leave me with the impression that Newton has suddenly become the second coming of André Woodson, and word is that both he and Mike Hartline will see time today with the bulk of the playing time going to the more effective player.

We'll have more one the Music City Bowl as the game gets closer.

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