The Power of the Off Week

Another meme. Another myth.

Here’s Tennessee’s record in games following off weeks from 2002-2006:

  • 2006 – UT beats ‘Bama, 16-13, at home
  • 2005 – UT loses to ‘Bama, 6-3, on the road
  • 2004 – UT beats Florida, 30-28, at home; UT beats Vandy 38-33, on the road
  • 2003 – UT beats Florida 24-10, on the road
  • 2002 – UT loses to Florida, 30-13, at home; UT loses to ‘Bama, 34-14, on the road

That’s a 4-3 record over that time, hardly the stuff that legends are made of. Georgia lost Saturday on its own merits, thank you very much.

Those with an abiding faith in the Power of the Off Week are about to see it seriously tested in Jacksonville in three weeks.

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7 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football

7 responses to “The Power of the Off Week

  1. LD

    Small sample size skewers the results. Over a longer period UT has had a lot more success after bye weeks than is suggested.

    From Dawg Sports:

    “Since his first full season as his alma mater’s head football coach in 1993, Phillip Fulmer has posted a 20-8 record against Southeastern Conference opponents following an in-season open date during the Volunteers’ regular fall slate. Since becoming Georgia’s head football coach in 2001, Mark Richt has posted a 2-7 record against Southeastern Conference opponents that are coming off of an in-season open date. To those discouraging data, however, must be appended the following caveats: six of Coach Fulmer’s eight losses under these circumstances came against Florida, as did five of Coach Richt’s seven setbacks in similar situations, so the Gators’ dominance of both major division rivals since the early 1990s has much to do with the setbacks suffered by both coaches. Coach Fulmer has never before faced Georgia following a bye week and Coach Richt is 2-1 against S.E.C. teams coming off of an open date when the ‘Dawgs play those opponents on the road. Coach Richt’s only loss in an away game against a conference opponent coming off of an idle weekend came against the eventual S.E.C. champion.”

    http://www.dawgsports.com/story/2007/10/5/213434/355

    The second thought I have on seeing that information is that it’s pretty much impossible to tell whether a particular team played better against this particular opponent after a bye week than they would have played had they not had a bye week the previous week.

    In 2006, Tennessee won by 3 over Alabama. We know that ‘Bama folded the rest of the way (and possibly as a result of the UT game’s outcome), but as of the day they’d played, Alabama was 5-2, with their only losses coming at the hands of the eventual SEC East and West champs. The final score was 16-13, but we can’t know whether those scores would’ve been reversed had Alabama had a bye week and UT been forcedto play the week before.

    2005 is probably an even stronger suggestion of this. Alabama at the time was undefeated and playing at home. UT was 3-2, and folded the rest of the way en route to a 5-6 season. If not for the bye week, it’s quite possible that the game wouldn’t have been close at all. Had ‘Bama been given 2 weeks to prepare for UT, while UT had 5 days, the result very well might’ve been significantly worse in Alabama’s favor.

    In 2004, Florida entered the Tennessee game ranked higher. Tennessee won on a last-second field goal. If Florida had enjoyed a bye the previous week, it may have been that Tennessee wouldn’t have score on 3 drives in the 4th quarter. The effect of the bye week very well might’ve tipped the balance in favor of UT.

    The thing is that simple wins and losses don’t tell the whole story (and even then, Ws and Ls suggest UT has had a lot of success after bye weeks in Fulmer’s tenure). In order to isolate the effect of the bye week, you’d need a control group – and there isn’t one possible. If Team X coming off a bye beats Team Y not coming off a bye, we’d have to compare it to Team X (under the exact same situation, same players, etc) not coming off a bye against the same Team Y not coming off a bye, and then even further, we’d like to compare that to Team X not coming off a bye against Team Y coming off a bye (and both teams coming off a bye). We can’t ever get that data, so it’s impossible to tell the actual effect.

    But the main point is this: Tennessee was really, really, really well prepared for the Georgia game. That’s a credit to them. It’s not “the bye week screwed Georgia”, it’s “Tennessee used the bye week really well and prepared perfectly (and executed well, and might simply be more talented , and might have good matchups, etc)”. Now, as for Georgia-Florida, again, we won’t be able to tell the effect of the bye week alone from the result. Georgia might lose by 14, but without the effect of the bye week and preparations they “would have” lost by 42.

    My take is that a bye week does have some effect, but that effect cannot be quantified, and in any event how a particular team uses the bye week (effectively or not) has a greater effect than the isolated “bye week”. UT benefitted from having a bye week before (though I can’t say how much), but what UT did during the bye week was several times more important.

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  2. LD, as I blogged previously, I think that there is some advantage in general in having an off week. I just don’t know that it’s as overwhelming an advantage as many Georgia fans want to believe.

    You mention “... it’s pretty much impossible to tell whether a particular team played better against this particular opponent after a bye week than they would have played had they not had a bye week the previous week…” and I think that’s a good point, but something else that I believe would be relevant to this discussion would be to compare UT’s record in these games with Fulmer’s overall record.

    20-8 translates into a 71.4% winning percentage. Fulmer’s career winning percentage is a tad over 76%, so I’m not sure I see a 20-8 record as being that big a deal in these games.

    By the way, UT’s winning percentage from ’02-’06 was just under 67%. A 4-3 record in games after an off week seriously underperforms the overall record during that time. I chose that period because much of the Vol Nation seems to be in a “what have you done for us lately” state of mind when it comes to the head coach.

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  3. LD

    I don’t think comparing the post-bye-week record to Fulmer’s overall record tells us much. Tennessee had a bye week preceding a non-conference opponent just once (Memphis, 1994). Even though Tennessee rarely plays a really really bad OOC slate, nearly all of the games they played against teams like Air Force, Wyoming, Memphis, Marshall, UAB… they all boosted Fulmer’s overall record, but aren’t considered in the post-bye week tally. Further, 9 of the 28 games were against Florida – against whom Fulmer is batting .333 (though, admittedly, Fulmer has won the same % of the time against Florida after a bye week (3-6) as he has not after a bye week (2-4). Point is that if nearly a third of the games included in the select group (post-bye-week W/L) are against the toughest historical opponent for Fulmer, naturally the overall winning % will be lower.

    Basically, the select set removes for the most part games against weaker opponents (few OOC “gimmes”, most games against Vandy or any SEC West weaker teams), but includes a much greater proportion of games against stronger opponents (more than half were against Florida and Alabama). Arguably, the gulf between Fulmer’s overall winning % and his post-bye-week winning percentage could be greater.

    And if you just want to look at 02-06, there’s these numbers… Over that time, UT was 2-2 against Florida after a bye week. If you include the result this year, UT is 0-2 against Florida when they haven’t had the luxury of the bye week. Minuscule sample size, but it’s apples to apples, rather than comparing how UT does after a bye week against Florida to how they do not-after-a-bye-week against Vandy or Miss State.

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  4. LD, I hear what you’re saying, but it seems to me that you have to get pretty subjective about the quality of UT’s opponents to make the analysis work. That’s fine to some extent (certainly UF is generally going to be a tougher opponent than Vandy is). But do you think that the Zooker-era, five loss per year version of the Gators constituted as difficult an opponent as Florida was before and after Zooker – at least for anyone not Georgia?

    I think the discussion is largely over degree here, anyway. I’m not denying that an extra week is helpful, I just think it’s a stretch to point to it as a primary reason Georgia lost on Saturday. Not that you are making that argument, but others seem to be.

    Looking at the last four games Georgia played with Tennessee, for example, I’d argue that Erik Ainge has been a much larger factor in the results than the bye week.

    I guess what I don’t get about this whole “bye week” mystique is that implicit in it is the concept that the extra week enabled Tennessee to do something it would have been unable to do with only a normal amount of time to prepare. Given the results – I’m not talking about the score here, just the ease with which Cutcliffe dealt with Martinez’ scheme and gameplan – from last year’s game, which didn’t follow an off week for UT, I’m hard pressed to know what that would be exactly.

    That’s why I keep harping on Orgeron’s comment on his show that his offensive staff saw something in how Martinez defensed single back, spread offensive formations that could be exploited, which Ole Miss did a good job of until it ran out of gas. So here’s someone telling you there’s a flaw and showing you there’s a flaw – and you do nothing about it, even though you know the next opponent is at least as able to exploit it as the last guy was.

    That’s got nothing to do with the bye week.

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  5. The coaching stinks. Period.

    Next game, please.

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  6. LD

    I think we’re on the same page for the most part. I don’t think the effect of a bye week is objectively quantifiable at all.

    I think we both agree that there’s some tangible benefit to having a bye week – recover from/avoid further injuries, rest – but for the most part the “advantage” is simply opportunity. Opportunity to scout more, implement a particular strategy, try new plays, perfect execution. And that opportunity has a lot more to do with the team’s actions than the isolated “bye week”. It’s what you do with the time, not the time itself, that matters.

    As for whether UT would’ve done anything differently had they only a week to prepare, I don’t know if it’s possible to know that. I believe that there is a limited amount of time for coaches to scout, analyze and implement strategy in any given week. I also believe that UT’s staff didn’t spend the entire 2 weeks preparing just for us (UT has, arguably, as many as 5 more games as tough as the UGA game coming up that I’d bet they spent some time scouting and planning for). I don’t know whether the additional time they had over the last 2 weeks led to any particular discovery or weakness or mismatch or what. It’s very possible that nothing would’ve been different had UGA been coming off a bye and UT not. But I don’t think it’s ever possible to know that with any precision.

    I do think last year’s game isn’t a proper comparison though, as UGA came out pretty good (led by 10 at the half) and UT didn’t really have their way with UGA until the turnovers started coming. 28 of the 51 points UGA gave up to UT were directly the result of UGA turnovers or special teams miscues (2 short fields after INTs, 1 short field after a fumble, and a blocked punt TD). I know you weren’t specifically talking about the score, but I think it’s hard to ignore the score entirely when you think about the game. The UT game last year looks far worse on the D than it really should be; 23 points isn’t great to give up, but it’s a lot better than 51, the lion’s share of which were “swing points” in the SMQ vernacular. So I’m not entirely sure that Cutcliffe had that easy a time with UGA last year. Or, put another way, UGA’s errors that Cutcliffe had no role in probably mattered a lot more than his scheming against our D. Cutcliffe’s planning and the UT offensive scheme against UGA in 2007 were, in my opinion much much better than against UGA in 2006. But that’s just my opinion.

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  7. “So I’m not entirely sure that Cutcliffe had that easy a time with UGA last year.”

    Here, we disagree.

    I thought the tide started turning on UT’s last drive of the first half, which is when Cutcliffe went almost exclusively with a three wideout, one back set. I had a bad feeling about it, and if you go back and listen to Fulmer’s comment at half time, you could tell he knew they were on to something.

    I’m not saying the turnovers didn’t make it easier for them, but Georgia had no real answer for UT’s offense from that point forward.

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