F/+ Projects The Regular Season Finale Versus Tennessee

Andy Lyons

A weekly look at how the F/+ advanced statistical model projects the upcoming Kentucky football match-up.

FEI is the Fremeau Efficiency Index, created by Brian Fremeau. Fremeau is an author at Football Outsiders, ESPN and BCFToys. FEI is an advanced statistical measure for college football that tracks drive efficiency instead of per-play success.

S+P is created by Bill Connelly. Connelly is an author at SBNation, RockMNation, Football Study Hall and Football Outsiders. S+P is an advanced statistical measure which combines success rate, explosiveness per play and opponent adjustments.

The combination of these two ranking systems provides the F/+ ranking.

This is how Fremeau and Connelly describe their rankings:

The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football. All drives are filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis of the remaining possessions then determines the baseline possession expectations against which each team is measured. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams - win or lose; and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams.

The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from both play-by-play and drive data from all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). There are four key components to the S&P+

If interested, here is a glossary that might be helpful. Lastly, keep in mind that the F/+ percentage ratings measure every team against a perfectly average team. So, if the F/+ rating of a team is 0% that team is considered perfectly average by this rating system.

The F/+ and S&P+ View

OVERALL

When UK Has the ball...

When Tenn. has the ball...

Category

UK

UT

UK Off

UT Def

UK Def

UT Off

F/+ Rk (Overall)

93 (-14.9%)

75           (-6.3%)

F/+ Rk (Off.)

74 (-2.5%)

86           (-6.6%)

F/+ Rk (Def)

108             (-12.4%)

63                 (0.3%)

F/+ Rk (Spec Teams)

68 (0.0%)

69      (0.0%)

S&P+ Rk (Overall)

90 (190.3)

62 (205.2)

65      (96.1)

47 (109.5)

93 (94.2)

62 (95.7)

Rushing S&P+ Rk

36 (112.1)

78 (99.3)

95 (90.3)

15 (123.5)

Passing S&P+ Rk

70 (96.9)

20 (118.8)

62 (99.5)

96 (88.5)

According to Football Outsiders, Kentucky will close out its season against its weakest SEC opponent yet. In fact, this will be the first time this season UK has competed against an opponent sharing an overall negative F/+ ranking.  Given UK's continued sliding in the F/+ rankings on both offense and defense the second half of the season, this week's match-up against University of Tennessee couldn't come at a more opportune time.

The above chart probably reveals both teams' game plans.  UT will find success establishing the run against a weak UK rushing defense, while UK will seek to do exactly the same against a marginally stronger UT rushing defense.  In response, both teams' defenses will stack the box with as many extra defenders and leftover Thanksgiving stuffing they can find to practically beg the other team to try and win by passing the ball. It won't be pretty.

The aesthetics will offend most except for those rare few still clamoring for a return of the Wishbone offense and home deliveries by the milkman.

UT's quarterback the previous three games has been freshman Josh Dobbs. His highest adjusted quarterback rating this season was in his opening game against Alabama, but since then his ratings have dropped. He is also turnover prone giving up five interceptions in the previous three games. Nor has he thrown a touchdown in his previous 98 attempts. His confidence is probably shaky and if UK can establish defensive dominance early Dobbs may not recover.  UT's leading receiver is freshman Marquez North, and he is a legitimate passing threat that could become a factor in the game despite being listed as day-to-day with a banged up ankle. Without any more games on the horizon I image he plays, and UK's secondary will have to stay alert to prevent North from getting open. Specifically, on the play-action passes that come after a steady dose of off-tackle runs.

UT has a very respectable running game led by senior Rajion Neal who is ten yards shy of hitting the 1,000 yard rushing milestone for the season.  Neal also has a qualified back-up in Marlin Lane. UK's defensive focus will be on preventing these two from having success on 1st and 2nd downs, and forcing UT in uncomfortable 3rd and long situations where UT has been putrid this season.  The problem for UK will be that UT is ranked 17th in standard downs this season. UK senior defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph will play their final collegiate game against a team that will run right at them most of the game. They couldn't ask for much else.

UK's offense, like its opponent's, is limping towards the finish line. Several games ago UK's S&P+ rushing offense was ranked as high as fourth and it's passing was 31st. Equally frustrating, UK's offense has not been reliable with the ball in the month of November. UK should find success running the ball - despite the dismissal of running back Raymond Sanders - against a UT defense that is giving up an average of 6.3 yards per carry this month. It is imperative that UK not turn the ball over like it has recently. The biggest offenders have been Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith. UK has an advantage running the ball against UT, but has a distinct disadvantage matching up against UT's solid passing defense. UK should be more effective on standard downs in this game given UT's rush defense, but the question is will it be enough?

Comparing Track Records

Kentucky's Performances

Opponent

Off. S&P+

Def. S&P+

Outcome

Florida

101 (85.1)

15 (128.3)

7-24 (L)

South Carolina

18 (121.8)

23 (121.9)

28-35 (L)

Missouri

20 (120.4)

16 (128.0)

17-48 (L)

Vanderbilt

79 (93.8)

45 (109.8)

6-22 (L)

Tennessee's Performance

Opponent

Off. S&P+

Def. S&P+

Outcome

Florida

101 (85.1)

15 (128.3)

17-31 (L)

South Carolina

18 (121.8)

23 (121.9)

21-23 (L)

Missouri

20 (120.4)

16 (128.0)

3-31 (L)

Vanderbilt

79 (93.8)

45 (109.8)

10-14 (L)

The above chart illustrates the outcomes of UT and UK's previous match-ups against SEC East opponents. In short, both teams went 0-4 against superior competition with varying degrees of success.   Looking solely at these numbers suggest Tennessee is fairly similar to Vanderbilt overall. UK lost to Vanderbilt 6-22 with seven of those points coming with seconds left in the game and there were four UK turnovers. This game feels like it will be very close. Heck, it could even end up being a tie. For the second game in the last three weeks, small factors will prove decisive.

Such factors are of the qualitative variety. For the first time in recent memory, the athletic levels appear fairly comparable due to the program rot from the previous regimes. This aspect feels like a push.

What will be UT's mental state going into the final game of the season on the road? UT's loss to Vanderbilt last week eliminates any possibility of a bowl game. It's fair to question what UT's spirits will be for this game.

Coaching will likely play a decisive role in regards to both motivation and in-game tactics. Butch Jones has some very impressive accomplishments in his head coaching career, but losing at home to a comparable Vanderbilt team while coming off a bye week is not one of them. From a UK perspective, last week's loss to Georgia was a game where the team seemed to give up by the second quarter. Can UK be motivated for Senior Day?

TL;DR

Vegas currently has Tennessee as a 4 point favorite. After factoring in the three point home field advantage this is essentially a toss-up which seems fair. Statistically though, UT is the slightly better team. Both teams cancel each other out regarding rushing offense versus rushing defense, but UT has the singular advantage of a superior passing defense. In all likelihood UT probably wins a competitive game.

But it's the last game of a sad season, and I feel like making a homer pick.

Kentucky 21: Tennessee 17

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