Examining VMI's Upset Over Air Force

USA TODAY Sports

The Keydets' win isn't all that bonkers when you look at how VMI earned the victory.

LaxPower currently ranks VMI's win over Air Force from last weekend as the biggest upset of the season (so far). That is likely to stand up for a while, if not for the entire season: The circumstances inherent in Air Force-VMI were unique and likely won't replicate -- over the course of the season -- all that often.

Looking at a truncated advanced box score of the game, blood leaks out of your ears when trying to figure out how the Keydets pulled their upset against the Falcons:

TRUNCATED ADVANCED BOX SCORE: AIR FORCE-VMI
METRIC AIR FORCE VMI
Offensive Opportunities 31 33
Raw Offensive Efficiency 19.35 12.12
Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 18.18% 17.39
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.06 0.70
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 35.48 60.61
Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 29.69 34.38
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 21.21 45.16
Team Save Percentage 63.64% 70.00%
Pythagorean Win Expectation 81.01% 18.99%
log5 94.79% 5.21%

Air Force was the stronger competitor that day, but when you start digging into the play-by-play of the game, VMI was the more opportunistic of the two teams. And that's really the key to an upset: The underdog takes advantage of situations that are conducive to making good things happen and the favorite fails to assault the underdog or otherwise play to its capacity. This was an ugly 60 minutes of play -- which helped the Keydets in the overall -- but that's not why the Keydets accomplished the almost impossible; rather, it's that VMI's six scores were generally the product of either the Keydets seizing the moment or Air Force giving the Keydets the chance to do something deadly:

  • VMI -- Score I: Scored on a possession that was directly created through a face-off win. Knotted the scoreboard at 1-1. It was a 1:56 possession in which the Keydets took only one shot -- the blast that led to the assisted tally. Credit goes to VMI: They worked a possession and straight beat the Falcons. This isn't necessarily the foundation to the upset.
  • VMI -- Score II: This is the kind of situation that an underdog needs to pull an upset. Air Force blew a clear thanks to an unforced turnover, robbing the Falcons of a functional offensive possession. Air Force then complicated matters by putting VMI on the extra-man due to a tripping penalty on Matt Puleo. The Keydets put together an assisted goal (one of three on the day), cashing in on the personnel imbalance. VMI's offensive possession lasted 1:10, giving the Keydets a 2-1 lead midway through the first period. Air Force can still retaliate, but those circumstances would recur throughout the game.
  • VMI -- Score III: VMI causes a turnover with Air Force in a functional offensive possession. The Keydets pounce on the groundball and draw a penalty. With VMI on the extra-man, the Keydets create another assisted extra-man goal. The score is now 3-1, the lead directly attributable to Air Force not valuing the ball and committing penalties, allowing VMI to score in preferable situations. VMI's offensive possession lasted only 27 seconds.
  • VMI -- Score IV: VMI scores on an offensive possession that started with an Evan Windisch save. It takes the Keydets only 34 seconds to score. This was an end-to-end series of possessions, Air Force getting only one shot -- the saved shot -- in the 33-second possession that the Falcons had before the Keydets went the other way for its fourth goal. VMI now leads 4-2 midway through the second period. This smells like everything necessary for an upset, but there's still lots of time to play.
  • VMI -- Score V: VMI causes yet another turnover with Air Force in a functional offensive possession. Air Force didn't take shot before the caused turnover in the offensive box. The Keydets work for a goal in a 1:20 offensive possession. Air Force has now yielded three goals directly off of three turnovers, two of those turnovers occurring with the Falcons in a position to create a scoring opportunity. The Keydets' lead -- 5-2 -- is directly attributable to Air Force spitting the bit and VMI creating value in its opportunities.
  • Third Period: Neither team scored in the period, but it's what Air Force did in the first five minutes of the quarter that helped limit the Falcons from taking care of business in Lexington: VMI committed four turnovers in the first five minutes of the period (all caused by the Falcons) and Air Force turned those turnovers into seven shots, three of which were saved and four went wide, and no goals. That's four consecutive dead possessions from the Falcons that could have cut into the team's two-goal deficit (or given Air Force the lead). Goodnight, Irene.
  • VMI -- Score VI: Air Force blows a clear thanks to a caused turnover from VMI. Dale Mattice corrals the groundball and -- almost immediately -- scores (the possession technically lasted six seconds). The Falcons were facing a one-goal deficit when they moved into their clearing posture; after the blown clear, VMI had a two-goal lead with two minutes to play. The game was essentially over.

In totem, VMI scored four of its six goals off of Air Force turnovers. Combined with the Falcons inability to mirror those circumstances in the third period, the Falcons were ripe for a loss to the Keydets.

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