Georgia on offense: does completion percentage matter?

After the Auburn game, I posted something in response to a Mark Bradley article about how Stafford wasn’t an “every-down” quarterback, whatever that means. Here’s what I blogged:

I don’t know if the system makes the man, or if the man makes the system, but it sure seems like Mike Bobo has turned the clock back to pre-Bill Walsh NFL style offensive football – run the ball to move the chains, hope to connect on a half-dozen or so big plays and don’t consider pass completion percentage as a measure of success.

I continue to see posts on Georgia message boards pointing at Stafford’s completion percentage as a chink in Georgia’s armor. All of which has gotten me to wondering how big a deal this may be.

Well, let’s look at the measurement itself first. There’s no question that Georgia’s passing completion percentage is low. At 54.7%, it ranks 98th in the nation. (For some perspective, the next highest ranked school in the BCS is LSU at number 74.)

OK, but how much does that matter to Georgia’s success, or lack of success, on offense? First, take a look at the statistical picture:

  • Georgia ranks almost as low in passing attempts per game as it does in completion percentage, as the Dawgs’ 28.2 apg places them 97th nationally. And look at the splits for Georgia’s passing game. Georgia threw the ball less than 26 times per game when it won; the Dawgs averaged 39.5 passing attempts in their two losses. But even in its 10 wins, Georgia only averaged a 57.9% completion figure – which itself would only rank 66th nationally.
  • Georgia averaged almost 32 points per game in 2007, good for 37th nationally. That may not be OMG fantastic, but it’s better than BCS hotties Southern Cal (#32 in completion percentage) and Virginia Tech (#54 in completion percentage) did.
  • In third down conversion percentage, Georgia ranks 24th nationally, at just a hair under 45%. Again, a respectable number. There are three BCS teams with worse percentages.
  • Georgia’s red zone conversion figure is a stellar 91.49%. That’s fourth nationally, with only two BCS teams sporting higher numbers.
  • Georgia is the 43rd ranked team in the country in time of possession. It’s a decent number, with four BCS teams ranked lower.

All of that says that a crappy pass completion percentage in and of itself (1) doesn’t mean that you can’t score; (2) doesn’t mean that you can’t control the clock or the flow of a game with a respectable third down conversion percentage; or (3) doesn’t mean that you can’t score in the red zone. And, of course, it isn’t an impediment to winning 10 games in the SEC, or appearing in a BCS game.

But if you’re doing all those things well without a good completion percentage, what does that say about your offensive scheme?

… Mike Bobo, despite once being a quarterback, is an old soul when it comes to football.

“He is kind of an old-school guy,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He’s kind of got old-school mentality. He doesn’t mind smash-mouth a little bit. He loves a strong running game and understands we’ve got to look at personnel and do what we think we can do best. He and the staff did a really good job of trying to figure out what that was and push the right buttons.”

The buttons he pushed were outside runs, quick passes and screens and more runs…

The article notes that Stafford has only 81 completions during Georgia’s current six game winning streak. (Georgia had 86 completions in its first five games this season.) Yet Georgia continued to average around 195 passing yards per game in that time, which figure is close to its season average.

Here’s an insightful observation for you – less passing minimizes the impact of incomplete passes, since there are fewer of them (duh!). The Dawgs’ run/pass ratio this season is 58.12/41.88. (Last year it was more like 55/45.) No doubt some of that was due to necessity being the mother of invention, given the state of the offensive line at the start of the ’07 season, but, if anything, it seems to have intensified as the year progressed, even with the development of the o-line.

In the end, given the personnel and Bobo’s offensive philosophy, I have a hard time seeing why this is an issue that matters, at least this season. If you disagree, I’d be interested in reading your comments about it.

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11 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football, Stats Geek!

11 responses to “Georgia on offense: does completion percentage matter?

  1. Bryan Carver '97

    I don’t have an issue with a 60/40 run/pass ratio. And of course, the dropsies hurt his % last year and this year to start. My concern is that in a game where we have to throw it 44 times (say USC), that if he isn’t completing passes, we aren’t going to be able to come back. I know Staff throws a great deep ball, but that is such a low percentage play overall. And if it isn’t connecting, then the short and intermediate passes that aren’t completed become that much bigger and more important to success. Especially if you want to run the ball since you don’t want the D stacking the box.

  2. 8305Dawg

    I believe that the Yards Per Attempt statistic is a much better indicator of an offense’s ability to pass than is completion percentage, as it indicates, on average, what the result of each attempted pass will be. I would rather have a QB with a high YPA average than one with a high completion percentage whose YPA average was not as high. Obviously one would prefer both, and when a QB has both a high completion percentage and a high YPA average, the passing game is really on (see the Oklahoma St. game). While Stafford’s completion perentage is relatively low, his YPA is usually pretty good, with the obvious exception of the South Carolina game. That is because our passing game is more vertical than it is horizontal. If we ran a west coast style offense that involved a lot of short passing, Stafford’s completion percentage would be higher, while his YPA average might actually decline because of the lack of big passing plays. It bothers me that so few commentators ever discuss this fact. By the way, awesome blog, Senator, I really enjoy reading it.

  3. If we ran a west coast style offense that involved a lot of short passing, Stafford’s completion percentage would be higher, while his YPA average might actually decline because of the lack of big passing plays.

    I think that’s it, at least in part. There are certain offensive schemes, like the West Coast, where a higher completion percentage is necessary to succeed.

    For example, Hawaii needs a high completion percentage to flourish, because it runs a system that is predicated on generating significant amounts of yards after the catch and has almost no running game to speak of, so if its offense isn’t completing at least 2/3 of its pass attempts, it’s going to sputter some.

    Thanks for the praise, by the way.

  4. My concern is that in a game where we have to throw it 44 times (say USC)…

    You are probably the only person in the Dawgnation who thinks they had to throw the ball that much in that game. ;)

    Seriously, I bet Bobo wishes he could have a mulligan on his playcalling against South Carolina.

  5. Bryan Carver '97

    I know what you are saying. My point intended to be more simple – that if we’re going to throw it 44 times, then his % is a concern. I just used the wrong game as an example.

  6. Was I the only one at the SC game who felt like our WRs dropped as many as Stafford missed. That freakshow had blame for everyone. And as Senator said, if we had to do it over again….we pound them another 10 times on the ground.

    BTW — We don’t just pass to move the chains. We pass to move the safeties. Did you see what UK was doing to us? They had 9 in the box at times, and we kept running it.

    We have to attempt the deep ball just to scare the safeties back a bit. Obviously, we have to occasionally hit those bombs or they won’t respect us.

    But the deep ball for us is about running the ball almost as much as the completion itself.

    For the first time under Richt *EVERYTHING* is happening to set up more successful running plays.

    PWD

  7. TripleR

    In many 2007 games, Stafford seemed to me a slow starter in terms of accuracy. I bet if someone were to compare completion statistics by quarter, we’d see that Stafford’s completion percentage was much higher after the 1st quarter.

  8. I bet if someone were to compare completion statistics by quarter, we’d see that Stafford’s completion percentage was much higher after the 1st quarter.

    cfbstats.com has the info.

    Matt’s completion percentage numbers do improve significantly from the first half to the second. He’s over 60% in the fourth quarter. But notice that he throws the ball a good bit less in the second half.

    The weirdest thing about those splits has to be his completion percentage inside his own 20 (over 70%!) and then inside the red zone (a pedestrian 51.4%). I wonder what the story is with that.

  9. For the first time under Richt *EVERYTHING* is happening to set up more successful running plays.

    With all of these SEC teams moving to spread based attacks, you have to figure that more and more schools will have to adjust their defensive personnel to adapt to running players down in space.

    It makes you wonder how easy it will be down the road for those teams to defend an offense that still relies on a power running game.

  10. dean

    In my opinion the completion % doesn’t tell the whole story of a qb’s season. For example look at the qb for Clem[p]son, Harper I think. If I were a betting man then I’d bet his completion % is much higher than Stafford’s because of the offense they run. They throw a lot of screens, curls, and outs. All high % passes. I’m not knocking him I’m just saying.
    What tells the story to me is does he complete the passes when they absolutely have to completed? In Stafford’s case, yes. I can’t think of too many passes (none really) MS didn’t complete when he had to.
    Everyone seems to dwell on the SC game but as PWD mentioned the receivers had a couple of key drops plus we also had some untimely penalties cost us (holding on the last drive) in that game.
    Remember the final drives in ‘bama and Vandy games or key third down completions in the UF, Kentucky and GT games. That makes the qb to me.

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