Wyoming Vs. Temple, New Mexico Bowl 2011: 'Pokes Have No Margin For Error

Temple holds most of the advantages in this statistical mismatch, but Dave Christensen's Cowboys are the mid-major Kansas State. The longer this game remains close, the more the advantage switches to the good folks from Laramie. NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

Now THIS is what bowls are all about: two teams who have played once before, facing off on a field 600 miles from one school and 1,900 miles from the other. People who love bowls, love this. People who hate them have probably already talked about how ridiculous this is. Regardless, the bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque, with Temple attempting to get a measure of REVENGE!!! for Wyoming's 38-24 win over the Owls in 1990.

Personal aside: when I was in grad school, I made Stupid, Impromptu Sports Road Trip No. 114 to Albuquerque to watch Missouri play in the second round of the 2002 NCAA Basketball Tournament. The game itself made the trip worth it -- or as 'worth it' as an 1,800-miles-in-a-weekend trip can be -- but what made the largest impression of the trip (aside from incredible eastern New Mexico crosswinds)? Wyoming fans. They were unbelievable. And drunk. And really fun to be around. And every single one of them began to root for Missouri when this happened. I've rooted for the Cowboys ever since, and that has doubled since they hired a former Mizzou assistant as their head coach.

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Wyoming 8-4 NR 101 90 93 98
Temple 8-4 NR 23 49 29 4
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Wyoming 50 56 31 115
Temple 86 7 106 28

Despite my own personal affection for the 'Pokes from Laramie, I must point out that they win this year's Worst Bowl-Eligible Team title for the way they managed to win eight games despite rarely actually looking good. They pulled this off with a combination of a weak schedule (they beat two FCS opponents, No. 120 New Mexico, No. 105 Colorado State, No. 80 Air Force, No. 74 Bowling Green and No. 69 San Diego State and managed to lose by 44 points to Utah State) and close wins (they were 5-0 in one-possession games). They followed this exact recipe to a 7-6 record in 2009 (6-0 in one-possession games) before falling to 3-9 the next season.

Temple, meanwhile, has taken the complete opposite path to 8-4. They hammered out a series of impressive-for-a-MAC-team results (a 38-7 win over Maryland, a 14-10 loss to Penn State) but couldn't close the deal in the fourth quarter (1-3 in one-possession games). If it's a blowout, there's about a 90-percent chance Temple is the winner. If it's close? Different story. Covariance ratings suggest Temple plays quite well against poor teams, so chances are they will win this one comfortably.

When Wyoming Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Wyoming Offense 90 80 89 93 91 88 89
Temple Defense 29 32 48 33 52 45 59
Team Std. Downs
% Run
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
% Run
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Wyoming Offense 63.5% 100 29.4% 83
Temple Defense 57.8% 59 33.2% 27
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Because of transfers and injuries, Wyoming has seemingly managed to put a really young offense on the field for three straight years. They aren't particularly good at anything, but they stay out of their own way. Freshman quarterback Brett Smith has put together a mature, not-so-freshman stat line: 61-percent completion rate, 18 touchdowns, eight interceptions. He was only sacked nine times in 385 pass attempts; combine that with Alvester Alexander, a running back who lost only 30 yards all season, and you can see how Wyoming was able to avoid disaster, even as they struggled to move the ball forward at any sort of consistent or explosive rate.

Because of a strong run defense, Temple opponents attempted to move the ball through the air, which jibes well with Wyoming's pass-first approach. The Cowboys will put pressure on Temple corners Kee-ayre Griffin, Anthony Robey and Maurice Griffin to tackle well and avoid mistakes; if they do avoid mistakes, however, they shouldn't struggle to leverage Wyoming into passing downs. That's when end Adrian Robinson (36.5 tackles, 11.0 TFL/sacks) and strongside linebacker Tahir Whitehead (49.5 tackles, 12.0 TFL/sacks, four forced fumbles) get to tee off.

When Temple Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Temple Offense 49 36 62 78 30 30 55
Wyoming Defense 93 97 87 111 90 102 90
Team Std. Downs
% Run
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
% Run
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Temple Offense 84.0% 53 47.8% 97
Wyoming Defense 68.1% 95 41.4% 113
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Neither of these teams is suffering from an identity crisis, that's for sure. Temple is going to run the ball with Bernard Pierce, run the ball with Matt Brown, run the ball some more with quarterback Chris Coyer, and try to go deep when you least expect it. Pierce and Brown have combined for 33 carries per game; Brown is the home run hitter (6.1 yards per carry, 2.7 highlight yards per carry), but Pierce is both the workhorse and the star. His plus-33.2 Adj. POE was sixth in the country, fifth among running backs. Against a Wyoming defense among the nation's bottom 20 in Rushing S&P+, both should find room to run. Temple doubled down on the run when Coyer took over at quarterback three games ago -- they have run the ball 88 percent of the time on standard downs with Coyer behind center -- and thus far, the approach has paid off.

Wyoming has stuck to their identity, as well: form a cloud, prevent big plays as well as possible, and hope you force a turnover before the opponent reaches the end zone. They were 10th in the country with 17 forced fumbles, and they picked off an additional 13 passes. Granted, they were also lucky -- opponents fumbled an additional 13 times unprompted, and the Cowboys were able to recover 60 percent of opponent fumbles -- but the bend-don't-break routine worked often enough to get them to a bowl game, right? Defensive end Josh Biezuns (47.0 tackles, 9.5 TFL/sacks, five forced fumbles, three passes broken up) has been the No. 1 playmaker for the defense; Biezuns, fellow end Gabe Knapton (50.5 tackles, 7.0 TFL/sacks, two fumble recoveries) and the rest of the line will need to show a little more rigidity against the run if they want a chance in this one, however. Force Temple to pass, and you're in great shape, but stats don't give much reason for hope in that regard.

The Verdict

Temple by 19.2.

In terms of F/+ ratings, this is the biggest mismatch of the bowl season. But Wyoming has been the Kansas State of mid-majors, figuring out how to scrape together just enough backbone near the goal line, forcing just enough turnovers and taking advantage of almost every opportunity they are given. They have, after all, already defeated three teams ranked higher than them, and they could do it again if they are able to either force turnovers, build an early lead (potentially forcing a pass-averse Chris Coyer to pass more), or both. Still, Temple holds the advantage in most tangible categories, and they should be expected to eventually pull away.

 

--------------------

A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

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