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The 2017 Colorado Buffaloes football team, as told by stats

Eyes say one thing, what do the cool stats say?

NCAA Football: Northern Colorado at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, numbers lie more than eyeballs. For instance, if you just looked at the box score for the game against UNC last Saturday, it tells a different story than the eyeballs do. The Bears from Greeley only converted one third down, CU doubled their yardage total, and averaged a very nice 8.7 yards per pass attempt and 5.4 per rush attempt. Efficient numbers for an efficient 20 point win. But if you watched the game, those numbers are deceiving. The Buffs were sloppy at times, flippant at others, and UNC scared fans well into the third quarter. The box score does not show the will that UNC exerted on offense, or the deep dropped balls, or the utter domination by their defensive line. Either way you look at the game is legitimate, they just tell different stories.

This duality of perspective does not show in Bill Connelly's advanced stat profile. In my opinion, it actually paints a very accurate picture of the Buffs. The full thing is posted here (I recommend you look through a few, it really is interesting), but I'll pull out a few stats that are more compelling.

Special teams has made a huge improvement

Ross Els is teaching the middle linebackers, and based off their stats, he seems to be doing a good job. Els is also the main special teams coach, and based on those stats, he’s the best coach on staff. Special teams went from 103rd last year to 3rd (!!) this year, all with similar personnel. Sure, a new, reliable kicker is a huge boost, but Alex Kinney has been punting better, the coverage units have been covering better, and the returns have been longer. Plus, Davis Price has been booting kickoffs out of the endzone. It’s been a group effort to completely turn around this unit, and it’s made a noticeable difference on the field. One thing to keep in mind, CU has yet to return a kick this year, so we haven’t seen kick returners KD Nixon and Ronnie Blackmon in action. Based on their athleticism, they will only help the unit.

The offense has not been fully explosive.

This insight is an example of meeting numbers with eyeballs. Any Buff fans that have watched this year could tell you that the offense has gone to the deep ball plenty of times. They’ve hit at times, and they’ve missed more than they hit. Brian Lindgren and Steven Montez have made a concerted effort to be explosive, and it’s worked at times. Both CSU touchdowns were explosive plays. But the stats show that CU has plenty of room to go. They currently rank 60th in IsoPPP, which measures how successful your successful plays are. Basically, if CU gains more than the average on a play, do they gain a few more yards than average or do they score? If you dig even deeper, CU ranks 71st in rushing IsoPPP and 75th in passing IsoPPP. The rushing number makes sense, as Phillip Lindsay has never had breakaway speed and he feels a bit better as a rusher when he has those medium gainers. The passing number, however, is concerning. Montez has certainly thrown deep enough to create explosive plays, but the results haven’t shown. The nice thing is that Montez has shown a proclivity towards these plays. He shoots his shots, which makes this a fixable problem. Something is stopping these plays from being completed, be it accuracy issues, timing issues, or just plain coverage. Either way, the offense has shown that it wants to be explosive, but it hasn’t completed that mission yet.

Drew Lewis is a freak and the pass rush is better

Let’s do a fun resume test. Three CU players:

A: 14 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 run stuffs, 20% allowed success rate

B: 8 tackles, 2 sacks, 0 run stuffs, 33.3% allowed success rate

C: 20 tackles, 0 sacks, 5 run stuffs, 32% allowed success rate

I’ll give you a bit to think. These are all front seven players.

Have a guess?

A) is Leo Jackson, a 3-4 defensive end who has the stats of a very good outside linebacker. He has been completely disruptive in the run and pass and a revelation for the team this year.

B) is Derek McCartney, who has the stats expected of a 3-4 pass rusher, and an impressive allowed success rate which shows he’s solid against the run.

C) is Drew Lewis, which is ludicrous. This man has never started before, and in his junior year (after transferring from junior college), he has absolutely blown up. 20 tackles suggests volume and involvement in a lot of plays, which makes his 32% allowed success rate even more impressive. Five run stuffs (from the stat profile - “Stuffs are rushers stopped at or behind the line.”) is insane for a middle linebacker, and the stats don’t even show his full impact. He has no sacks this year, but he certainly has plenty of QB hits and pressures. He has been dynamite at the line of scrimmage, and his athleticism and relentlessness have injected the defense with a needed energy up front.

It’s not all him, though. As those stats show, the pass rush is doing just fine, albeit against easier competition. Last year, Jimmie Gilbert was a fantastic individual pass rusher, but he was the only one that defenses had to gameplan for. This year, CU has plenty of options. McCartney is great off the edge, Jackson has gotten a surprising amount of push, and Drew Lewis is amazing at blitzing the A-gaps. CU can also use Terran Hasselbach off the edge or Tim Coleman on passing downs (who already has a sack). They also have my favorite freshman so far, Jacob Callier, rushing the edge. The point is, CU has options coming off the edge, and their stats show that versatility.