Losses Turn to Wins: Lucky (Bull)dogs
Since 2014, which Tech wins should probably not have ended as wins? Using math to calculate Win Expectancy, we find the Bulldogs’ most lucky wins.
Last week, I took a look at the least lucky Tech losses of the past few years. And honestly, it felt pretty depressing by the end. So this week, let’s do the opposite and find the top five least likely Tech wins since 2014.
As a refresher, I’ll be using a combination of Bill Connelly’s Five Factors of College Football: Explosiveness, Efficiency, Drive Finishing, Field Position, and Turnovers.
- The most explosive (basically a weighted “yards per play” metric) team wins 86% of the time
- The most efficient (based on a team’s Success Rate, as in how many yards they needed versus how many they got) team wins 83% of the time
- The team that scores the most points per trip inside their opponent’s 40 yard line wins 75% of the time
- The team with the best average starting field position wins 72% of the time
- The team with the fewer turnovers win 73% of the time
Those five factors get combined to create “Win Expectancy” or how likely it was for Tech to have won the game after taking a look back at the stats. And using that Win Expectancy stat, let’s find the five games where Tech might have had the most luck on their side.
#5 2018 vs North Texas
Since the 2013 season that we don’t talk about, Louisiana Tech has only lost to North Texas once – in 2017 in the game that was featured last week as #1 on our list of most unlucky losses. So it must have felt like payback to march into Denton and steal a game right back from the Mean Green.
The stolen game feels even more… umm… stolen due to the fact that the Bulldogs were down 21-6 at the end of the first quarter. But then the second quarter happened.
Tech possessed the ball six times in quarter number two, and here’s how those drives ended: field goal, field goal, touchdown, field goal, punt (that was fumbled and recovered by Tech), touchdown.
Then after only 9 points total were scored in the second half, Amik Robertson blocked a game-winning field attempt in the final minute to secure the game for the Bulldogs.
Win expectancy favors North Texas in this game because the Mean Green owned three-quarters of this match, and had Amik not gotten a great jump on that final field goal attempt, win expectancy would have been right.
#4 2015 vs FIU
Looking at how this game played out scoring-wise, this might be the most surprising game on this list. Tech ended the game with a 10-point lead, but the Bulldogs were up by 17 with seven minutes to go.
The biggest difference on the chart above is drive finishing, or points scored per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. But because 7 of FIU’s 11 drives ended with a punt before they could really get started, the Panthers may have been the lucky ones here – lucky to even score 17.
#3 2015 vs UTSA
After defeating FIU, the Bulldogs beat the pants off of Louisiana-Lafayette (no luck involved there… all skill), then traveled to the Alamodome to face UTSA. This iteration of the Roadrunner team only won three games in 2015, but win expectancy believes they should have won four.
In a game that featured four total first-half interceptions, it came down to a last-minute field goal by Jonathan Barnes that extended Tech’s winning streak to three games.
Again, Drive Finishing is the big difference here. The Roadrunners ran a play from inside Tech’s 40-yard line on four drives, one ending as a field goal and the other three as touchdowns.
#2 2018 vs UTEP
Three weeks after #5 on this list, Tech again got lucky (at least according to win expectancy). In a game that featured ten(!) first-half punts, it felt like the Bulldogs’ 10-point halftime lead would be more than enough. But after UTEP tied the game early in the fourth quarter, it took quite possibly the best J’Mar Smith play of all time to retake the lead:
UTEP was slightly more efficient and slightly more explosive, but this explosive play turned out to be why Tech won the game.
#1 2017 vs Western Kentucky
Hoping to avenge the previous year’s Conference USA Championship Game, Tech traveled back up to Bowling Green, Kentucky to face WKU.
Tech’s deficit was only two at halftime but after a late third-quarter touchdown by the Hilltoppers, ESPN’s Win Probability gave Western Kentucky a 90% chance to win the game. It took the Bulldog defense forcing four punts in WKU’s final four possessions, a touchdown from Kam McKnight, and a field goal by Jonathan Barnes in the final seconds to pull off the upset.
This game is the ultimate anomaly when it comes to the Five Factors of College Football. Western Kentucky was more efficient, explosive, finished more drives, and had a better average starting field position. Even the turnovers stat is debatable, because WKU’s sole turnover was a turnover on downs to start the game. And Tech punted the ball right back four plays later.
But in a 2017 season that saw Tech lose three games they should have won, maybe the universe just owed us.