Baylor Football

Big 12 Bowl Season Stats Review

January 9, 2019

Back in early December we took a look at the Big 12’s bowl matchups with a quick glance at how they looked statistically.   After the dust settled the league ended up having arguably the best bowl season of any Power 5 conference with the highest winning percentage despite opening as favorite in only one game (WVU) but quickly being moved to an underdog in that one once Will Grier decided not to play.

We will approach this in reverse selection order just like the other article.

CheezIt Bowl: TCU vs Cal

This is arguable the most defensive oriented game of the bowl season despite getting a tough challenge from Michigan State vs Oregon.   This game had NINE combined interceptions, a TCU SID getting flagged for a referee running him over, and all the twitter humor you could ask for in which even the bowl’s official twitter account got in on the jokes.  It was a game with offenses so ugly it became must-see.

All joking aside the two teams scoring next to nothing and struggling to move the ball was always going to be the likely outcome here.  Here’s what TCU and Cal averaged both generating and allowing in yards per drive against other P5 teams compared to what those teams did to other P5’s.   There is a consistent trend across all 4 units here- the offenses generating around 82% of the yards per drive they do in other games (6.4 fewer per drive) whether either team was on offense or defense.

So it shouldn’t come as a shock that both teams were largely held in check.  Fans of offense probably had the reaction of this security guard when this matchup was announced...

The actual yards per drive result is lower for both offenses than what the incoming expectation was but then again both offenses were below what these two good defenses were used to facing.

Was it really bad offense or really good defense?  The honest answer appears to be both.  However the one area that really jumped beyond expectations was turnovers.  Both teams forced dramatically more than either struggling offense had yielded before despite neither team being very good at protecting the ball.   The yellow represents a figure that would be the middle 33% of all 2018 games with green being in the most turnover averse third and the red being the worst third.  Both offenses were average to bad in avoiding giving the ball away for the year so some struggle was expected but not like this.

Ultimately TCU was able to win this game due to one fewer turnover, a giant Jalen Reagor punt return setting up a score, their running game making it a TD instead of a field goal, and their ability to run setting up the field goal in overtime.  Horned Frog tailbacks combined for 45 carries and 245 yards.   Even without their 33 yard carry spiking the average the other 44 averaged 4.8.   Cal?  21 for 86 and 4.09 per carry.  That gave them just enough to edge out their clones from the coast.

Liberty Bowl: Oklahoma State vs Missouri

This game was one where the team who was 9th in the Big 12 standings (3-6 in league play, lost to both of the other 3-6 teams head to head upset a ranked team from the SEC.  This game was a shootout with both teams torching the other defense.   

Mizzou had been pretty solid but not elite on yardage defense coming in holding prior power opponents to 92% of what other P5’s do with just under 33 per drive.  Oklahoma State beat that by ten yards per drive but the only problem was OSU gave up 51 (40 vs other P5) which should have tilted the game to Mizzou.  What happened?  Several things.

First, OSU had a commanding field position advantage of around 7 yards per possession that proved to be a big equalizer on yards per drive.

The Cowboys also proved to be the better team in the red zone with 6 points per trip compared to 4 for Missouri even with the Tigers getting 5 trips to OSU’s 4.   The Cowboys made it count with touchdowns on three out of four trips while the Tigers had two on five trips and a failed fourth down try to end the game.

However one thing that broke for Mizzou slightly was turnovers.  They twice turned it over inside Mizzou’s 40 where a game clinching kick could have taken place or potential touchdowns.  Mizzou had one turnover deep in their territory that OSU converted into a touchdown.

The Cowboys used field position and red zone efficiency to win this one.

Texas Bowl: Baylor vs Vanderbilt

I did an entire article on this one already which goes into more depth than these summaries do.  Baylor won this game primarily due to their averaging the highest yards per drive of any game against a Power 5 defense this year with 66.1 and being extremely difficult to get off the field.  Of the 14 times Baylor was held to third down and not killing the clock- Baylor converted 11 of them on third or 4th down.  The other three?  A dropped pass that was wide open, a missed field goal, and a made field goal.   That was it.

Explosive Plays

The big difference to me was how each team racked up their yards.   Vandy was extremely reliant on the big play with four of over 60 and another over 50, but only two other plays over 20 yards in additional 57 plays.   Baylor was no slouch on offense with a lot of 10-yard and 20-yard plays, but with only two plays over 40 they weren’t going the majority length of the field on big plays as often as Vandy.  Below we see the plays that went 50+ yards proportionally to how much they contributed to each team’s yardage per possession.

The Bears can’t do this and expect to win going forward but it does show just how close we were to a dramatically different result on defense.

I go into further depth in the article linked above.

Camping World Bowl: West Virginia vs Syracuse

West Virginia was playing without Will Grier and left tackle Yodney Cadjuste which dramatically limited their offensive output in this game.  In spite of this they led after three quarters and their defense carried them most of the way as both teams were really kept in check most of the game.

WVU enjoyed a small advantage in field position in a game where neither offense had much in the way of consistent offense.   Outside of two or three plays of 40 yards or more neither offense was doing much in any consistent fashion.

Grier’s Impact

  • WVU’s lowest completion percentage in any game coming in was 56% and it’s second lowest was 63.4%.   Allison completed less than half of his passes in this one.
  • The loss of Grier took WVU’s usually reliable red zone offense and led to a very poor output with only 13 points on 4 trips.   They did a poor job limiting Syracuse who averaged 5.67 in six trips.

Syracuse is a really good team but I think WVU at full strength probably wins this one given their defensive success and how dominant that offense was outside of one very good gameplan by Iowa State.  Tough break for WVU.

Alamo Bowl: Iowa State vs Washington State

In this one the ISU Cyclones outgained WSU considerably while running for 200 yards, throwing for 300+, and limiting the Cougars to 324 total yards.  They were effective defensively in turning the high flying Mike Leach Air Raid into a shell of itself like it had done to most of the Big 12 Air Raids it played.  They did all this and lost by two.

How did this happen?  Turnovers were a big culprit with ISU turning it over on 25% of their drives to Wazzu’s 9.09%.   Because of this the Cougars enjoyed a 7.25 yard advantage in starting field position which made the yardage more similar that the stat sheet would imply. 

From there the two teams had four trips to the red zone. Wazzu was four for four on touchdowns and ISU was three of four.  ISU was forced to kick a field goal after a false start took them from 3rd & 2 to 3rd & 7.   In a game where the turnovers and hidden yards make things pretty even, that can be the difference.

Sugar Bowl: Texas vs Georgia

The Longhorns provided one of the big upsets of the bowl season taking down a team that many talking heads tried to argue deserved playoff inclusion despite two losses including a 20 point thumping by LSU.   

The yards per drive were in Bevo’s favor but it wasn’t as dramatic as the score even if you look at Texas without the 12 yard “drive” and look at UGA before Texas went with a more conservative look to end the game.   Texas however did a great job limiting a UGA offense that came in averaging over 40 yards per drive and held them to less than 24 prior to their final drive and 28 overall.

So what was the big difference?  Field position.

Texas held a massive edge in average starting field position starting almost 13 yards closer than the Bulldogs which was partly due to turnovers, a bad punt, scoring often, and the unfortunate punt snap the punter kneeled to catch.   That snap play accounted for around 3 yards of that advantage so it wasn’t just that.  

This paired nicely with an offense that converted 57.9% of their third down opportunities on either third or fourth down and stayed ahead of the chains with 53% of their third down attempts were five yards or less and another 10% were six yards.   Paired with a team that will run their fullback like QB 19 non-sack times for 75 yards the Longhorns gave UGA defense a taste of “Snyderball” and “K-State”-ed it for this game.

Defensively Bevo shut down the UGA run game similarly to how they limited OU’s run game in the Big 12 title game holding UGA’s tailbacks to 3.79 per carry and making UGA completely one dimensional.  Unlike several Big 12 passers, Jake Fromm couldn’t make Texas pay very often and this game got out of hand for a while.  Neither team was good in red zone defense as Texas scored 6 points per trip and UGA scored 7.

Orange Bowl: Oklahoma vs Alabama

In yards per drive neither team was able to stop the other from averaging close to half the field.  You expected Bama to do it to the Sooner defense but OU effectively doubled the yards per drive other P5’s averaged against the tide coming in.

However the big story early was OU was shut out on it’s first three drives which all took place in the first quarter.  This paired with Alabama getting the ball first and not being stopped at all early gave OU a 28 point hole.  They stormed back to narrow it to 11 points (two possessions) to end the third quarter and from there the two teams traded touchdowns until the game ended with OU unable to force Bama off the field.

In the Battle of the Big 12’s Best Offense vs the SEC’s Best Defense Which Unit Won

Obviously Bama won the game but an objective view would say that OU’s offense in isolation got the better of Alabama’s defense.  Here is the drive chart from the game.   Bama had three real stops to open the game and then proceeded to give up a long drive for a score for the rest of the game except for a 25 second “drive” before the half where OU still gained 51 yards.   If they had 35 or 40 seconds to work with they probably get at least a field goal there.

Oklahoma’s Starting Offense:

  • Averaged the same points per drive and roughly the same yards per drive that they did against Texas Tech.
  • Averaged 68.5 yards per drive on their final 6 drives excluding the end of half drive that was limited by game clock.  With that drive they averaged 66.  This is incredible against any P5 team, much less Saban & the Tide.
  • OU was 46% on third down and converted 61.5% of their third down tries on either third or fourth down.  Both are very good numbers.
  • They averaged 5.4 points per red zone trip which isn’t far off from what they averaged against P5 teams coming in.

However the issue for OU is that they came in with arguably the worst defense in the Big 12 for the second year in a row.  Against common opponents (2 UT games averaged together to avoid weighting one opponent over the others) their starters allowed more yards per drive and more points per red zone trip than the other 9 teams.  Alabama...

  • Averaged 50.4 per drive,
  • 6.3 points per red zone trip prior to their clock kill to end the game (5 TD’s, 1 FG)
  • Converted 70% of their third down tries
  • Ran for 4.93 per non-sack carry with OU loading up against it
  • Completed 89.3% of their passes
  • Averaged 11.2 per pass attempt even when sacks are included

Oklahoma’s only chance to win this battle of arguably the top two offenses in the country (although Clemson has a good argument too) is to score almost every time and not settle for field goals.   Oklahoma took some time to get going which limited them severely and twice settled for field goals on 4th down with 5 and 6 yards to go.   They needed to take that risk and convert those to have a chance.   8 more points in an 11 point game would have been huge.   From there they would need to convert an onsides kick which they had the opportunity to do but were unable to recover.

Alabama was the better team, Alabama would have won 9 out of 10 matchups between the two, and deserved to win.  With that said Oklahoma’s offense was good enough to give the Tide fits and if they can improve their defense with the recent hire of Alex Grinch they will have a huge opportunity to win these games in the future.


The Big 12 had the highest winning percentage of any Power 5 league in bowl games.   This is impressive due to a tough set of matchups against teams ranked #1, #5, #13, #20, and #23 for five of the seven matchups.  Doing so with one of arguably the three toughest teams in the league playing with very significant absences is even more impressive as the league was 4-2 outside of that game.  The teams that were good offense (OU, UT, OSU, BU, WVU, ISU) moved it well except for WVU without Will Grier and did so against strong defenses for three out of four games.  The teams who had good defenses (Texas, TCU, ISU, WVU) all did pretty well against mostly solid non-conference offenses as three of the four were well regarded coming in.  This bowl season showed a lot of strength for the league and should be a good springboard into 2019.

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Discussion from...

Big 12 Bowl Season Stats Review

Grizz Air
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The B12 was quietly the best conference this year.
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Bonus content that wasn't included due to it not being a Big 12 game: Clemson and Bama for the national title

Clemson outgained Bama per Drive but it was another high yards per drive game where the defenses ceded tons of yards.

However Bama averaged 47 Yards per Drive prior to their final "let's make Jalen Hurts drop back three times against a prevent defense" Drive so the gap wasn't even that big yardage wise.

Furthermore Bama held around a 7 yard advantage in average starting position which hypothetically would even up some yardage gaps.

So how did this game get out of hand? The game that killed Alabama's title hopes closely resembles the game that killed Ohio State's title hopes. Clemson is massively better than Purdue but the games turned in the same key area.

Both were similar in yardage profiles...

But the red zone efficiency was a nightmare for the losing team. In each game it took what should be a shootout and turned it into a blowout.

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Grizz Air said:

The B12 was quietly the best conference this year.

It's got an argument but the SEC probably was tougher in the West. I won't say so about the east.

Big Ten, ACC, and PAC clearly are behind those two this year though
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