LSU should avoid Mizzou CB Aarion Penton in coverage
LSU faces a big game this weekend, with a big response needed after the in-season firing of head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. LSU still has time to turn this season around and make it more successful than it looks at the time being, but they need to get past a Missouri team that has performed above expectations so far this year. It’s a game that features plenty of interesting matchups, but one interesting one will be how wide receiver Travin Dural can perform against Aarion Penton, one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC, and if LSU can get the ball to Dural in space in wake of the coaching change.
So, who has the advantage in this matchup? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Why WR Travin Dural can win
If you go back to the 2015 season, Dural was one of the most productive receivers in all of college football, ranking 25th out of the 332 receivers with at least 44 targets, with a yards per route run average of 2.84. Our yards-per-route-run signature stat is a better indication of production than yards alone, taking into consideration how many routes the receiver runs in relation to their receiving yards.
The problem for Dural is that he just hasn’t been that productive this season. His yards per route run average has been cut in half, and at 1.42, ranks just 154th out of the 251 receivers with at least 17 targets through the first four weeks of the season. Dural has actually performed pretty well, considering his opportunities, catching all 15 passes thrown his way and forcing five missed tackles on those receptions. The problem is that the LSU offense has been trying to force the ball downfield, and quarterback Danny Etling is not accurate enough on downfield passes. Dural has been targeted on seven passes traveling 20 yards or more downfield, with none of them catchable. On passes traveling between 10 and 19 yards in the air, though, he has caught all six of the catchable passes thrown his way, so it’s important for LSU to get the ball to him on shorter passes this week, as opposed to forcing the ball downfield with a quarterback who isn’t accurate enough for big plays to work.
Why CB Aarion Penton can win
Penton’s senior year is off to a big start, and he’s on pace to grade even better than he did during his solid junior year. That’s thanks to two huge games to open the year, but his coverage numbers through four weeks make for impressive reading. He allowed just 29 receptions in 2014, and through four games, has allowed just 11 receptions for 129 yards.
He’s surrendering a reception just once every 12.4 snaps in coverage, and allowing an average of just 0.95 yards per coverage snap, too, ranking 74th out of the 185 cornerbacks who have played at least 100 coverage snaps so far this year. Where Penton has shown a big progression in 2016, though, is his ability to play the ball. Last year, he registered one interception and five pass breakups, but in just four games in 2016, he has already passed his interception total, and has registered three pass breakups. After allowing an NFL quarterback rating of 70.5 in 2015, he has allowed a QB rating of just 40.3 so far this season on throws into his coverage. To put it simply, it’s not a good idea for quarterbacks to go after Penton in coverage right now.
What the grades say
On a basic level, this looks like a mismatch in Penton’s favor, out-grading Dural 87.1 to 72.1, but it’s important to remember that Dural hasn’t been used correctly so far this year. Last season it was a bit closer, though Penton still out-graded Dural 82.2 to 73.6. With Dural splitting his time between left and right wide receiver, it makes a lot more sense to go after cornerback John Gibson who, with a grade of 71.2—creating a much closer matchup for Dural. Based on what we have seen so far this season, LSU not only needs to change the way they target Dural, but should do everything they can to keep him away from Penton, who is having a big year in 2016.