Iowa State Vs. Rutgers, New Era Pinstripe Bowl 2011: Beware The Yankee Stadium Effect

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Josh Jackson #14 of the Army Black Knights misses a tackle against Mohamed Sanu #6 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during a game at Yankee Stadium on November 12, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

If projections hold, this year's Pinstripe Bowl will be a defense-and-field-position battle. But Yankee Stadium had an interesting effect on Syracuse and Kansas State last season; we'll see what happens when the trick plays begin to flow like the Hudson River.

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

Last year's inaugural Pinstripe Bowl featured 877 yards, 70 points, no turnovers, multiple flea-flickers, a fake field goal, and a controversial finish featuring the worst celebration penalty you've ever seen. It was the standard bearer for why minor, inconsequential bowl games can be silly and exhilarating. What can it do for an encore? And since Yankee Stadium evidently breathed life into two iffy offenses last year, can it do the same this time around?

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Iowa State 6-6 NR 71 81 56 71
Rutgers 8-4 NR 31 52 28 8
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Iowa State 5 115 84 73
Rutgers 40 74 50 31

Rutgers was a sneaky-strong team from a statistical standpoint this season. They did absolutely nothing to draw attention to themselves -- their best win was a home stomping of Cincinnati, and their second-best win was ... a tight loss to Louisville? -- but they cracked the statistical code with strong defense, stellar special teams and an offense that occasionally showed up.

Meanwhile, Iowa State took the exact opposite path -- they pulled off a nice, early-season upset of Iowa with one quarterback, then, with another, stole Oklahoma State's title hopes with a jarring, thrilling Friday night upset. They made headlines with their upsets and did very little else, losing by 35 to Missouri, 23 to Baylor and Texas, 20 to Oklahoma and 16 to Texas A&M. They are all-or-nothing, saving their best efforts for their best opponents. Does Rutgers qualify in that regard?

When Iowa State Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Iowa State Offense 81 101 80 95 102 78 105
Rutgers Defense 28 18 4 14 30 34 16
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Iowa State Offense 59.1% 107 35.7% 69
Rutgers Defense 65.0% 21 27.7% 12
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Casual viewers who may have only seen Iowa State play Oklahoma State may be a little thrown by what are truly some pretty awful offensive numbers from the Cyclones. (Of course, not many casual fans are probably reading this preview.) ISU erupted for 41 points against what we thought at the time to be a pretty solid Iowa defense, then played significantly below-average ball before catching Oklahoma State for 37 points and 568 yards. In the middle of a long, dreadful stretch of play, Paul Rhoads made a change at quarterback, from crafty (and not much else) Steele Jantz to Jared Barnett, a redshirt freshman who is both limited and intriguing. The Cyclones averaged 22.1 Adj. Points per game with Jantz as starter and 21.5 with Barnett, but if you are going to be mediocre, you may as well also be young.

At its best, Iowa State's is an offense that runs the ball with quite a few different weapons and allows Barnett to roll out and improvise a bit on passing downs. James White (701 yards, minus-2.0 Adj. POE) was a decent full-time back, and freshman Duran Hollis (214 yards, plus-4.6 Adj. POE) showed serious promise in limited carries. And if Barnett is given a receiver or two in future seasons, he is a potential 2,000/1,000 threat -- in less than half a season as a starter, he rushed for 475 pre-sack yards and threw for 1,178. Granted, he completed just 51 percent of his passes, averaged 5.5 yards per pass, and had as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns. But let's just say that we won't know his full potential without better receivers. Darius Reynolds averaged 16.0 yards per catch, but with a dreadful catch rate of 48 percent, and not a single Cyclone target averaged better than 7.9 yards per target. Not good.

Now the Cyclones must face a defense that is rock solid from front to back, ranking seventh in Adj. Line Yards (suggesting solid line play) and 16th in Passing S&P+ (suggesting a sturdy secondary). They don't really do anything fancy -- they're just sturdy up the middle and good enough on the outside. Linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais combined steadiness (152.5 combined tackles) and playmaking ability (26 combined tackles for loss, eight sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles), though their job was made at least a bit easier by the presence of an active, if light, defensive tackle in Justin Francis, who made up for his lack of size (275 pounds) with a serious motor. He recorded 45.5 tackles, an incredibly high total for a tackle, made 13 tackles for loss (6.5 sacks), and broke up five passes. This trio was good enough at disruptive play that the safeties didn't actually have much to do -- starters David Rowe and Duron Harmon ranked just fifth and seventh on the team in tackles. (They made good use of their free time -- they combined for eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries.)

When Rutgers Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Rutgers Offense 52 106 56 108 103 103 101
Iowa State Defense 56 64 39 61 36 57 30
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Rutgers Offense 56.3% 110 24.8% 77
Iowa State Defense 62.9% 34 32.7% 46
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

If Iowa State has a chance at Yankee Stadium, it's because Rutgers' offense really isn't any better than theirs. The Scarlet Knights have done a solid job of taking advantage of their opportunities (which is how they grade out much better in the drive-based FEI than in the play-based S&P+), but on a play-for-play basis they have been semi-woeful. Like Western Michigan, their workhorse back is a receiver: Mohamed Sanu, who was targeted 168 times this season, second-most in the country (behind WMU's Jordan White). Unlike White, however, he is not an explosive player -- he is a grind-it-out guy, averaging just 10.5 yards per catch. He is used primarily on standard downs -- his 94 standard downs targets are more than Rutgers' next six targets combined.

Sanu is an incredibly valuable player, but he desperately needs some help. The running game has not been up to snuff (Jawan Jamison, Jeremy Deering and Savon Huggins combined to average 3.5 yards per carry over 26 carries per game), and the quarterback position oscillated between two equally mediocre quarterbacks, freshman Gary Nova and sophomore Chas Dodd.

Against Western Michigan, Purdue elected to stop everybody but Jordan White and force White to beat them by himself; he almost did. It would probably behoove Iowa State to do the opposite: load up against Sanu and trust that their decent defense is capable of handling everybody else. The Cyclones play the bend-don't-break routine rather well, allowing offenses to move the chains while selling out to stop big plays. Everything gets funneled to outside linebackers Jake Knott (88.0 tackles) and A.J. Klein (81.0), and the secondary, is well-seasoned (just about any Big 12 defense has seen plenty of passing) and aggressive. Against a less than explosive offense, they should be able to bend and bend with little fear.

The Verdict

Rutgers by 10.6.

Because of special teams and defense, Rutgers holds a significant statistical advantage in this one, but time and again, we've seen Paul Rhoads coach his teams up in bigger games, something statistics really aren't going to take into account. Both teams are going to try to play the field position game and rely on their defenses to avoid breakdowns. We'll see if that's how it plays out, or if the Yankee Stadium Effect turns both offenses into trick play factories and converts Jared Barnett into Robert Griffin III and Mohamed Sanu into Justin Blackmon for a day.

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

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.

MACtion: This is a look at how closely teams are associated with big-play football (like those high-scoring, mid-week MAC games). Teams that rank high on the MACtion scale play games with a ton of both big plays (gained and allowed) and passing downs. For more, go here.

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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