Wake Forest Vs. Mississippi State, Music City Bowl 2011: Scouring For Watchability

STARKVILLE, MS - SEPTEMBER 15: Mississippi State fans ring cowbells as the Bulldogs take the field to play aginst LSU on September 15, 2011 at Davis Wade stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)

Wake Forest is sneaky-explosive on offense and bad in an entertaining way on defense. Mississippi State has quite a few athletes who can make things happen when not playing an SEC opponent. This makes you want to watch, right?

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

They say styles make fights. Good luck figuring out how these two teams' styles will convert on the field. Wake Forest has a crafty offense based around occasional big plays, and Mississippi State's athletic defense eats big-play offenses alive. The teams are at the opposite ends of the MACtion scale. Both teams play better against worse opponents, which typically doesn't mean much in bowls (though if it does mean something, it is probably good for Mississippi State, who has played quite a few opponents better than Wake and basically beaten none of them). The contrast is considerable, but that doesn't necessarily make for a good game, now, does it?

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Wake Forest 6-6 NR 63 41 89 70
Mississippi State 6-6 NR 50 69 21 51
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Wake Forest 63 31 9 62
Mississippi State 80 9 117 95

(Translation: I am not particularly excited for this game. Prove me wrong, Cowbell Dogs and Deacs.)

When Wake Forest Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Wake Forest Offense 41 61 34 74 42 80 41
Mississippi State Defense 21 34 36 55 20 28 45
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Wake Forest Offense 55.1% 64 32.5% 38
Mississippi State Defense 61.0% 46 35.4% 31
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

As much for myself as anybody else, I will now try to come up with six reasons for you to want to watch this game, three when Wake has the ball and three when Mississippi State has the ball.

1. Jim Grobe is crafty. Wake Forest consistently has some of the worst recruiting rankings at the BCS level, and yet they are playing in their fourth bowl in six years and, indeed, won an ACC title five years ago. They took solid steps backwards in 2009 and 2010 but broke back into bowl eligibility with early wins over bowl teams N.C. State and Florida State. They stumbled after a 4-1 start, but we're accentuating the positive here.

2. Wake Forest is actually more explosive than you think. With a tremendous weapon in receiver Chris Givens (1,276 yards, 11.0 per target; former two-star running back) and solid possession guys in Michael Campanaro (former three-star "athlete") and Danny Dembry (former two-star quarterback), sophomore quarterback Tanner Price has passed for 2,803 yards (61-percent completion rate, 7.5 yards per pass), 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions. And in running backs Brandon Pendergrass (750 yards, plus-0.5 Adj. POE) and Josh Harris (453 yards, minus-2.8 Adj. POE), Wake has a couple of big-play threats in the backfield too, even if they are rather inefficient.

3. Mississippi State flies around on defense. They have 78 tackles for loss, 12 interceptions and 35 passes broken up. None of those are amazing totals in and of themselves, but for a defense that also specializes in preventing big plays, that's not bad. Tackle Fletcher Cox (12.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three hurries, a forced fumble, a long fumble return and a blocked kick) is the best big-play man on the front seven, while cornerback Johnthan Banks (7.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, nine passes broken up) is super-aggressive and will provide some fun one-on-one matchups with Givens.

When Mississippi 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
Mississippi State Offense 69 56 87 34 29 43 24
Wake Forest Defense 89 73 64 73 81 72 78
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Mississippi State Offense 62.6% 25 43.4% 63
Wake Forest Defense 57.8% 84 32.8% 57
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

1. Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins have their moments. The duo of Mississippi State running backs combined to rush for 1,416 yards (5.4 per carry, plus-7.6 Adj. POE) and ten touchdowns, and they threw in 30 receptions for 236 yards as well. They were often shut down by good SEC defenses, but ... Wake Forest's is not what one would call a good, SEC-caliber defense. Both can be fun to watch, especially in the open field. (Of course, that last part goes for most running backs. Alas.)

2. Do you enjoy balance? Well, the Mississippi State receiving corps is for you! What some might call "lacking a go-to receiver," we'll call "a multitude of options." Chris Smith, Arceto Clark and Chad Bumphis were each targeted between 47 and 52 times in 2011, and four other players (Ricco Sanders, Ballard, Marcus Green and Malcolm Johnson) were targeted between 17 and 29 times. The most entertaining of the bunch are probably Clark (404 yards, 8.1 per target) and Johnson (169 yards, 9.9 per target), though quarterbacks Chris Relf and Tyler Russell -- that's right, MSU has "options" at quarterback, too! -- could pretty much look to anybody at anytime.

3. Wake Forest's defense is bad in a fun way. They allow far too many big plays, which is, to say the least, a detriment. But they also still make a lot of plays. Redshirt freshman cornerback Merrill Noel broke up 19 passes in 2011 (a dubious honor of sorts -- the really good, well-respected cornerbacks don't get an opportunity to break up that many passes) and free safety Josh Bush intercepted six. Wonderfully-named nose guard Nikita Whitlock and linebacker Kyle Wilber combined for 23 tackles for loss. The line, even the undersized Whitlock (5-foot-11, 260 pounds) is going to get pushed around a bit, and ChrisTyler RelfRussell will have all day to pass to nameless receivers (Wake is 118th in Adj. Sack Rate), but if you get too comfortable, Wake will pop you in the mouth.

The Verdict

Mississippi State by 4.2.

You should be able to tell rather early if this one is going to be close. If Mississippi State is dominating in the trenches when Wake has the ball, and Tanner Price is forced to run for his life from the start, the Demon Deacons don't have much of a chance. But if Givens finds success early, and if Price is able to get the ball cleanly to players like Campanaro and Pendergrass, then this could certainly be a tight game. Mississippi State is the better team, but not so much better than they cannot be beaten here. And now, I hope I've given you (and me) a reason for watching.

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

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.

In This Article

Teams
Players
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.