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Minnesota Football: Charts and Chalk! - New Mexico State

Unlike last week, Minnesota's dominating win over New Mexico State in Las Cruces (AggieVision!) did manifest in the box score. Insights, deep dives and chalk related items from the Gophers' win in the desert.

Photo Courtesy: Golden Gopher Gridiron

Hey, Football Outsider stats! As a reminder, here's a glossary.

One caveat here, I don't use Bill Connelly's EqPts metric in my calculations. Instead, I've derived an equivalent value of my own that represents the same thing: an expected or equivalent point value based upon the yard marker the play stopped at. The big difference between Bill and I's derivations? The tail for my EVPoints are much thinner and the slope inside the redzone is higher.


Gophers vs. NMST Advanced Stats
Minnesota New Mexico State
Close % 75.5%
Close Leverage % 80.4% 67.3%
Close Equivalent Value 26.8 7.9
Close Success % 39.3% 20.4%
Close EVPP 0.478 0.162
Close EVPP+ 0.871 0.366
Close TD Drive % 30.0% 10.0%
Close Plays Per Drive 5.6 4.9
Close Yards Per Rush 8.53 3.35
Close Success % 42.5% 17.4%
Close EVPP 0.593 0.310
Close EVPP+ 1.020 0.480
Close Line Yards Per Carry 4.30 2.29
Close Highlight Yards Per Carry 4.21 1.00
Close Yards Per Dropback 7.31 4.31
Close Success % 31.3% 23.1%
Close EVPP 0.189 0.031
Close EVPP+ 0.501 0.262
Standard Down/Passing Down Sack % 11.1% / 0.00% 14.3% / 0.00%

1) Outstanding Leverage Rate due to Exceptional Line Play

The Gophers were able to stay on schedule by mauling the Aggies at the line of scrimmage. The 4.30 line yards per rush were a dramatic improvement over the 2.21 the front five put up against UNLV, allowing Roderick Williams, Jr., David Cobb and Philip Nelson to reach the second level with ease against a woefully over-matched defense. An added bonus: Minnesota's rushers were able to make things happen once they reached the open field, something they did not do when the game was close the previous week.

2) Big Improvement by Back Seven Preventing Long Runs

UNLV averaged 2.59 highlight yards per rush on the Gopher defense, so it's a pleasant sight to see that number plummet to 1.00 the following week. Coach Claeys and the defensive staff made the necessary adjustments from film, as the back seven didn't allow any long scampers from the Aggies when the game was close.

3) Secondary Prevented Quick Scoring Plays

Despite their 47%/53% run-pass split, New Mexico State didn't produce many effective passes when the game was on the line. The Aggies lone scoring drive in close conditions came on the ground, while the NMST offense had 4 three-and-outs, a 4 play drive and a garbage time drive to close the first half. In short, the Aggie passing offense was largely ineffective during the first half outside of their scoring drive.

Deep Dive

In the comment section of last week's C&C, I bemoaned the predictability of Coach Limegrover's play-calling out of certain formations while also making a caveat about putting things on film:

Maybe they're setting up tendencies on film to exploit later

Actually, they probably are. But one such instance is the run-pass ratio out of 1 RB/2 WR sets. They ran out of this formation 12 of 14 times. On the flipside, they probably passed a little too often out of 1 RB/3 WR sets and didn’t run enough.

Here is a formation (number of running backs and wide receivers) index by play type through the first two games. This allows us to visualize how often the Gophers run or pass out a given formation, relative to the overall run/pass ratio -- which is 67% run, 33% pass, by the way.

Gopher Offensive Formation Play Type Index
Pass Run
1 Back Sets 119 92
1 WR 151
2 WRs 47 127
3 WRs 166 69
4 WRs 305
2 Back Sets 76 113
1 WR 54 124
2 WRs 102 100
3 WRs 151
3 Back Sets 151
1 WR 151

Fairly easy see where the Gopher tenancies on offense are: run out of 1 back and 1/2 WR sets, pass out of 1 back, 3/4 WR sets. It's also pretty clear where if Limegrover wants to throw a curveball and break those tendencies. As luck would have it, he did.

On Derrick Engel's 48 yard play-action grab that set up Minnesota's second field goal, the Gophers were lined up in a 2 back, 1 WR set. Since the Gophers heavily under-index passing out of said formation, a play-action out of this formation and situation were perfect; New Mexico State was committed to stuffing the box and not letting the Gophers pound them with the run, leaving themselves vulnerable over the top. The only lament here is that Engel couldn't keep his feet on a perfectly thrown ball from Nelson and walk into the endzone.

Another example was running out of 1 back, 3 WR set -- the least indexed run formation the Gophers currently utilize. Indeed, Minnesota ran the ball 7 times out of said formation to 7 passes, tallying up an eye popping 13.1 yards per rush out of said formation. Nugget's 54 yard rumble came from a 1 RB, 3 WR set, skewing the mean here no doubt -- but that's precisely why the run was as effective. More in the Chalk.

Moving forward, this will become even more of a chess match between opposing defensive scouting reports and Limegrover's play-calling. For as much I disliked his efforts in Game 1, the execution and play-calling of Game 2 was much improved in my book, if for no other reason than showing a willingness to break tendencies for big gains. In the future, I'd expect the Gophers to actually throw out of the Golden-I formation, since it's yet to produce a touchdown on the ground to date. Throwing out of the single greatest formation ever can keep defenses on their toes and make pounding the goal line with a million tight ends more effective.


See Nugget. See Nugget run. See Nugget run long distances.

As I mentioned above, this play came out of a 1 RB, 3 WR set -- a formation the Gophers had barely run out of in Game 1 against UNLV. Given that Minnesota doesn't run out of this formation very often, something NMST probably picked up in a scouting report, they defensed said play in a base 4-3 with the linebackers cheating towards the field side where the WRs were lined up in trips. The Aggies had the boundary CB patrolling the LOS, yet every other defensive back and LB was shaded towards the opposite side of the field. Perfect play call, perfect timing.

On the play itself, notice how Marek Lenkiwiecz just destroys the playside defensive end and drives him into turf with a pancake block. Center Jon Christenson gets to the second level and takes out the WLB, while Zac Epping does a excellent job walling off the LOS with a seal block. All that's left is for Nugget to cut back from the original play direction (RUTM) and into the gaping hole created by his offensive line. Many stampeding yards follow.

I was wondering when we'd see Claeys uncork a zone blitz this season. Well, as luck would have it..

Claeys actually called a zone blitz twice, each time when the Aggies went with their empty back field, 5 WR formation.

Things to notice: the Gophers bring pressure from the field side with James Manuel where New Mexico State is showing trips. At the same time, Michael Amaefula slips out into the middle of the hashes patrolling in zone from his boundary DE spot. Andrew McDonald is looking field side all the way but throws the pass behind his intended receiver due to pressure from the blitzing Manuel.

The goal of this play is to bait the QB into throwing toward the crossing route over the middle, making the assumption the QB 1) will recognize the blitzing defender vacates a coverage from where he came from and 2) that because pressure is coming, the QB will instinctively throw towards said vacated coverage quickly and not see the zone defender dropping. If the QB does throw to the crossing route, at best it's likely an incomplete, though worst case scenario is an interception.

A good play call and situation from Claeys here. Unfortunately, Cameron Botticelli would give the Aggies 15 yards the following play on a roughing the passer penalty, negating what was an incompletion and potential 3rd and 10 scenario. New Mexico State would score their only TD of the first half several plays later.

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