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GSU-Troy: Inside the Numbers

By Jim Johnson
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Prior to the season, few, if any, in and around the Sun Belt would have said that the week eight matchup between Georgia State and Troy could have sweeping implications in the conference title race, for both teams.

Prior to the season, few, if any, in and around the Sun Belt would have said that the week eight matchup between Georgia State and Troy could have sweeping implications in the conference title race, for both teams.

Most expected Troy, 1-1 in conference play, to be in a position to contend, late in the season. However, after dropping a league game to South Alabama, last week, the Trojans are fighting an uphill battle. Conversely, Georgia State, in spite of a rough start to the season, is sitting pretty, unbeaten, at 2-0 in the SBC.

While it’s a must-win for Troy, if it comes away victorious, there’s, theoretically, only one more genuinely difficult contest left on the docket -- at Arkansas State, in what could end up being a sort of de facto conference championship game.

For Georgia State, with Appalachian State the lone team after Troy that is truly overwhelming from a talent perspective, a win on Saturday would validate a squad that has already catapulted itself into the thick of the discussion.

Troy, inexplicably has been one of the most pass happy teams in college football, this year, despite boasting a 47% rushing success rate (a stat from SBNation writer Bill Connelly that measures efficiency. Successful plays are defined as gaining at least 50% of the necessary yardage for a first down on 1st down, 70% on 2nd down, or 100% on 3rd and 4th down), which is 31st in the country, and gaining at least five yards on 44.1% of runs (20th in FBS).

The Trojans are a little more average, relative to their efficiency, when it comes to explosiveness on the ground, with .91 IsoPPP (a measure of equivalent points per successful play), which is 60th in the nation, on a 4.84 yard per carry average (40th), with nine carries of 20+ yards (54th).

Jordan Chunn, deservedly, has been the workhorse back, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, even whilst carrying the ball more often than anyone in the Sun Belt. Jamarius Henderson, though, in limited opportunities, has offered a more explosive option, compared to Chunn who is more of a grinder. The sophomore is averaging a league high 7.7 yards per carry, and gaining five or more yards on 64.3% of his runs.

Even with a back of Chunn’s caliber, however, the rushing production falls right in line with the run blocking up front. Troy has been stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage just 15.8% of the time (25th), averages 3.04 line yards per carry (line yards attempt to separate what an offensive line does from what a ball carrier does, inasmuch as that’s possible) on standard downs (52nd), and 3.12 on passing downs (86th). The group has also been above average in short yardage situations, moving the chains on 75% of 3rd and 4th down attempts with two or fewer yards to go.

The left side of the line, relatively, has been much better than the right, behind Steven Rowzee, center Deontae Crumitie, and sophomore guard Kirk Kelly, who is emerging as a star in the conference.

That said, this may not be the week for Troy to switch up and start pounding the rock. The strength of Georgia State’s defense, directly contrary to the preseason expectations, has been its front seven’s run stopping ability.

Entering this week, the group is allowing a 36.2% success rate (23rd), while allowing five yards or more on 35.9% of opposing carries (42nd). Yet, similar to Troy’s offense, while the efficiency is relatively high, big plays have been a problem, giving up 1.03 IsoPPP (109th), on 4.39 yards per carry (74th), with 8 rushes of 20+ yards against (55th), even though only three teams who, like the Panthers, have played five games have ceded more.

Along the line, Georgia State is stuffing opposing ball carriers for a loss or no gain 22.3% of the time (44th), allowing merely 2.28 standard down line yards per carry (13th), and 3.76 line yards on passing downs (98th), but the disparity just points to a more conservative approach when opposing offenses get knocked off schedule.

Julien Laurent has been wreaking havoc in the interior with five run stuffs, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a 0% allowed success rate. On either side of Laurent, Marterious Allen, with two run stuffs, and Terry Thomas, with three, both have 20% allowed success rates.

Behind those three, Trey Payne has stepped up in a big way, tied for the lead, amongst the linebacking corps, with Ed Curney for stuffs. Both of them have five, followed by Michael Shaw and Chase Middleton, with three a piece. Curney, only a sophomore, has the lowest allowed success rate of the group, at 25%.

This is not ideal for a Troy team that has been in a bad way when it gets behind the sticks this season, due to a significant regression in the passing game. When throwing the ball, Troy’s success rate slips to 40.9% (63rd), with a 1.17 IsoPPP (126th), 6.5 yards per attempt (103rd), and 13 receptions for 20+ yards (111th).

Outwardly, it would appear that Brandon Silvers’ accuracy has dropped off, but actually his 71.5% adjusted completion percentage is the same as it was last season. The problem is that Troy’s drop rate has increased from 4.3% to 7%. Then again, Silvers is struggling mightily when pressured, with a 48.5% completion percentage, and on deep balls, completing 27.3%, adjusted for drops, of passes that travel 20+ yards downfield, down from 41.5%, last year.

Neither Deondre Douglas, nor Emanuel Thompson has looked as good as they did in 2016. Silvers’ most reliable option has been Tevaris McCormick, who boasts a 0% drop rate and 7.9 yards per target out of the slot.

However, whilst Georgia State’s pass defense was one of the best in the country last season, and the secondary, before this year, was being lauded as a group to watch, the Panthers’ have been atrocious in that regard.

They are allowing a 47% success rate (117th), 1.48 IsoPPP (77th), and 8.5 yards per attempt (114th).

This has the potential to be a get-right game for Silvers and the rest of that Trojan passing attack. That is, certainly, contingent upon how well the aforementioned signal caller is protected, though.

Their offensive line is allowing sacks on 5.6% of standard downs (80th) and 3.8% of passing downs (27th), with a 120.1 opponent adjusted sack rate (53rd), so, while the group has been far from elite, it’s still slightly above average, when taking their opposition into account.

Rowzee, at left tackle, leads the way with a 97.5 pass blocking efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus, which is second amongst Sun Belt tackles.

On the other side, Georgia State is bringing down opposing quarterbacks on 3.2% of pass plays on standard downs (93rd), and 9.6% of passing downs (38th), which is subpar anyways, but when adjusted for opponents the sack rate drops to 121st in the country. That’s not good.

Julien Laurent has been disruptive, in this respect, too, notching a QB pressure on over 5% of his pass rush snaps. Michael Shaw, from the edge, is averaging a pressure on 6.25% of his rushes. Marterious Allen leads the team with four sacks, good for second in the conference on a per game basis, and freshman Dontae Wilson has an impressive three sacks from the interior. The problem with those two is that, while they’re bringing quarterbacks down when they get there, they aren't forcing the issue on a consistent enough basis. Outside of those four, it gets pretty slim, as far as pass rushers.

On the other side of the ball, Georgia State should, in all seriousness, pass the ball every play. The current 56-44 run-pass split is baffling given the disparate efficacy of the two types of plays for them.

Troy’s run defense relative to Georgia State’s rushing attack is the most overwhelming advantage for either team, amongst the various matchups within the matchup.

As inefficient as they are nonexplosive, the Panthers, on the ground, have a 34.7% success rate (118th), gain at least five yards 28.8% of the time (127th), average .71 IsoPPP (127th), 3.18 yards per carry (120th), and have only one carry of 20+ yards (129th).

The blame can be shared equally for this by the ball carriers and the offensive line, which is creating 2.47 line yards per standard down rush (115th), 3.28 on passing downs (66th), has allowed stuffs on 24.1% of runs, and, when adjusted for opponents, is ranked second to last in the nation in line yards.

Conversely, Troy has allowed a 36.7% rushing success rate (27th), 34.2% of rushes to gain at least five yards (30th), .79 IsoPPP (27th), 2.95 yards per carry (13th), and four 20+ yard runs (8th).

For that, the defense can, in large part, thank the big guys up front for stuffing the other team on 27.1% of rushes (9th), giving up 2.13 line yards on standard downs (8th), 2.34 on passing downs (19th), and being in the top 20 for line yards allowed, even when adjusted for opposition.

Baron Poole leads the linemen with five run stuffs, followed by Antione Barker and Trevon Sanders with four each, Seth Calloway with three, and Jamal Stadom with two. Calloway has been less consistent, allowing a 38.5% success rate, but aside from him, the rest of the group has allowed success rate of less than 30%. Stadom, despite having just two stuffs, may actually be the most impressive with a 9.1% allowed success rate.

Sam Lebbie and Tron Folsom lead the linebackers with nine and eight run stuffs, respectively, on 18.5% and 26.9% allowed success rates. Freshman Justin Whisenhunt has burst onto the scene with four run stuffs and a 26.3% allowed success rate, while Hunter Reese has four, as well, and, on a limited sample size, 18.2% success rate.

Panthers fans need not fret, however, considering that, five games in, they have been as good through the air as they’ve been bad on the ground.

With Conner Manning leading the charge, Georgia State has the third most efficient passing offense in America, as denoted by an incredible 52.1% success rate. There are certainly more explosive passing attacks -- GSU averages 1.45 passing IsoPPP (70th) -- but it’s hard to complain as long as they stay on schedule, especially given the 8.7 yards per attempt average (21st).

Manning’s adjusted completion percentage of 77.4% is in the top 12, nationally, and first in the Sun Belt. He’s been similarly good under duress, completing an adjusted 63.2% of his passes when pressured.

Of course, having Penny Hart sure helps. He is averaging 3.26 yards per route run, which is 17th in the nation, while receiving an incredible 38.2% of targets for a 62.1% success rate. Ari Werts has pitched in with 1.7 yards per route run, 15th amongst all tight ends, and is yet to drop a single pass, offering Manning a more-then-reliable safety valve.

Arguably, the most impressive thing of all is how efficient they have been, given the offensive line play. Manning’s protection is allowing sacks on 4.4% of standard downs (57th) and just 2% of passing downs (9th), but its opponent adjusted sack rate is actually 70th in the FBS.

The tackles are the biggest issue, as Hunter Atkinson and Sebastion Willer have been revolving doors, allowing 9.4% and 13.8% pressure rates, respectively. While Gabe Mobley and and Jamal Paxton have been decent, if unimpressive, Shamrious Gilmore has been the lost bright spot in pass pro, with a 98.3 pass block efficiency grade, third amongst Sun Belt guards.

That said, Troy, whose secondary was very highly touted in the preseason, similar to Georgia State’s, is, mostly, living up to the hype, in the defensive backfield.

That unit has allowed a 36.4% success rate (35th), 1.37 IsoPPP (48th), 6.8 yards per attempt (54th), and six receptions of 30+ yards (22nd).

The reason it’s not even better is the lack of a consistent pass rush. The Trojans’ defensive front has sacked the quarterback on a solid 6.3% of standard downs (42nd) and 6% of passing downs (84th), which is fine. It simply signifies a lack of aggressiveness on obvious passing downs. The problem is that, adjusted for opponents, Troy is 86th in sack rate.

For an interior defender, Baron Poole has been an elite pass rusher, recording a pressure on almost 10% of his rushes. Trevon Sanders is notching a pressure of his own on about 8.1% of his pass rush snaps. Removing that pair, no one else is really blowing people away as a pass rusher, although Tyque Russell has been effective on the rare occasion he blitzes. Perhaps that would be a better use of his abilities, given that he has allowed a 110 passer rating on throws into his coverage, from the slot.

That will be the matchup within the matchup to watch: Georgia State’s passing attack versus Troy’s secondary.

Troy, on paper, has a handful of slight-to-more-substantial edges over Georgia State. However, last week, against South Alabama, the Jaguars proved that their hosts were mortal. They may have even given out a bit of a blueprint -- and one that Georgia State can feasibly follow.

Defensively, Troy holds just about every advantage, assuming Georgia State follows the gameplan it has been. Georgia State is, overall, less efficient and explosive. It’s had worse average starting field position. Most foreboding, Georgia State averages just 3.7 points per trip inside the 40-yard line (118th), while Troy allows only 3.1 (7th).

On the other side of the ball, Troy’s offense has been more efficient than GSU’s defense, while either has been explosive, at all. The Panthers do average better starting field position, and, like their opponents, are much better at holding strong inside their 40-yard line, allowing 4.46 points per trip (71st), than the Trojans are at finishing drives, averaging 3.45 points per trip (123rd).

If everything were to go chalk, Troy could expect to win this game about 65% of the time, according to Connelly’s S&P+ metrics.

However, if Georgia State just lets Manning cook, and, more or less, abandons the run on offense, and follows the South Alabama model of selling out to stop the run, forcing turnovers, being opportunistic, and not allowing Troy to finish drives, defensively, things could get much more interesting.

There is still plenty of football to play, for both these teams, after Saturday’s game, but, regardless of the outcome, this matchup will influence the Sun Belt title race, at large. In fact, this might be the most meaningful conference pairing yet.

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