I really don’t think I could say this any better than Paul has:
Football isn’t a game of yardage. It’s a game of field position. That’s why hidden yardage (non-offensive and defensive stats are so critical). Field position is also driven by those less obvious / hidden stats such penalty yards per game, punt/kickoff returns and coverage and turnovers allowed and created.
That’s why I’ve become more and more enamored of a stat that Steele (and others) keep track of – yards per point (ypp). In essence, it’s a measurement of how efficient an offense is at scoring and it also measures how good a defense is at making opponents’ offenses inefficient. (I use the term “efficiency” here in Paul’s sense of making effective use of field position.)
Teams with excellent special teams, teams with high, positive turnover margins, teams which yield less penalty yardage than they receive and teams that don’t give up many sacks are going to be more efficient scoring teams than their opponents.
All of which leads me to look at Georgia’s ypp numbers from last season in order to gain some insight into how effective the team was at scoring and stopping opponents from scoring.
Steele, as you might guess, is quite helpful. You can look at his 2009 preview here. In it, he lays out Georgia’s ypp numbers for the last seven seasons. On offense, here’s how they look (keep in mind that lower is better):
- 2002 – 12.0
- 2003 – 14.4
- 2004 – 14.5
- 2005 – 13.2
- 2006 – 12.4
- 2007 – 11.5
- 2008 – 13.5
The lowest number on that list came in 2007. While Stafford’s completion percentage (54.5%) was considerably lower than it was last season, the team averaged more points per game, had less sacks and was +12 better in turnover margin in 2007 than it was in 2008. And Coutu hit over 78% of his field goal attempts, compared to Walsh’s 65.2%.
In any event, those aren’t bad numbers. But you wish the ’08 results would have been better. Georgia ranked fifth in the SEC last year in offensive ypp. With the wealth of skill position talent the Dawgs had available, that doesn’t seem very impressive.
The story on defensive ypp isn’t much of a surprise. Keep in mind here that the higher the number, the better.
- 2002 – 20.0
- 2003 – 19.1
- 2004 – 17.5
- 2005 – 19.1
- 2006 – 14.7
- 2007 – 16.0
- 2008 – 12.7
That 2008 number is yoogly. How bad is it? Only two SEC teams had worse numbers – Arkansas and LSU (that’s what throwing all those pick-sixes will get you).
To give you some overall context for Georgia’s 2008 performance here, the best offensive ypp number in the nation last year belonged to Florida, at 10.2, and the best defensive ypp number belonged to Southern Cal, at 24.64. That’s right, it took almost twice as many yards for a team to score a point on USC last year than it did on Georgia. For a school that prides itself on its defensive prowess, that ain’t good.
Overall, what this tells me is that the obvious problems we saw last year with the kicking game, penalties and turnovers affected the defense more than it did the offense. So you would think that if Georgia could address these things in a positive way in ’09, it would benefit the defense more.
Along those lines, Steele does throw out one ray of hope for us. In studying team performances in ypp since 1990, he finds that there’s about a 70% possibility that a team with Georgia’s defensive ypp number improves its record in the following season. Keep your fingers crossed.
UPDATE: Michael takes issue with Paul.
Thank you, Jim Tressel, but allow me to retort. Football is a game of yardage. The objective is to be very good at moving the ball and stopping the opponent from doing them same. Everything else is secondary. It can be important. There are certainly games that are decided by field goal kicking, punt coverage, or penalties, but these games are far rarer than games that are decided because the winner is better at moving the ball and stopping the loser from moving the ball.
I certainly get his point. But I also think that a team that goes +22 in turnover margin over the course of a season is as a general rule going to be more successful than the team that goes -3 over the same period.
Upon reflection, maybe it’s better to say that football isn’t a game of yardage, but a game of scoring (duh!). I guess my profound thought here is that focusing on yardage exclusively kind of reminds me of focusing on a baseball hitter’s batting average as the sole measure of his value on offense.
The other weird notion I’ve had after reading Michael’s post is that maybe Mark Richt doesn’t fixate about having a great offensive ypp number. This is a guy who loves the eighteen-play scoring drive (or, for that matter, the eighteen-or-so-play non-scoring drive that closed out the game against Eli Manning and Ole Miss a few years ago). On the other hand, I feel certain that he doesn’t feel the same way about defensive ypp numbers.