YPP: their mileage may vary.

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.



Filed under Georgia Football, Phil Steele Makes My Eyes Water

9 responses to “YPP: their mileage may vary.

  1. Mike In Valdosta

    I can only imagine how ugly our defensive “Yards after contact” would have been for 2008.


  2. The Realist

    All external things being equal, the team that moves the ball better in a game should win. But a football game is full of external things that can keep the team that moves the ball better from winning. Things like turnovers, penalties, losing the field position battle, etc.

    Georgia outgained Florida by 25 yards and Tech by 60 yards, and they were only 10 yards behind Alabama. In those three games, Georgia was -6 in turnovers and -90 in penalty yards.


  3. Dog in Fla

    An inquiring vacant undisciplined mind might ask, are you trying to say:

    (a) the returning tackles made percentage is not the only depressing UGA stat contained in the Steele manifesto;

    (b) Paul Georgia Sports Blog Westerdawg and Senator Get the Picture Blutarsky could be right;

    (c) Michael Braves & Birds may be right;

    (d) Mark It’s My Coaching Staff Richt definitely likes ball control whether by land, sea or air to keep Willie’s defense and whoever’s special teams off the field and, therefore, the heat off Mark so we don’t have to make him think about taking the FSU job;

    (e) A secondary portion of the above;

    (f) All of the above;

    (g) None of the above.


  4. dean

    So Michael is saying the team that scores the most points wins. Interesting concept.

    All sarcasm aside I can think of a couple of games we won last year due to turnovers and or special teams. The first being the S.C. game. The fumble caused by Rennie and the 70+ yard punt by Mimbs. Second would be the two pick 6’s by Gamble (I believe) in the LSU game.

    The flip side of that would be the “hands to face” penalty that negated turnovers in both the Alabama and Florida games. Those were momentum killers. I could also throw in the pick 6 for Tech. Yes the tackling was horrendous but that pick was 6 free ones.

    So in conclusion I agree with The Realist.


    • No, I think he’s saying that Paul has his priorities backwards – that, more often than not, the team that wins the yardage battle will win the game. He’s not denying that other factors may come into play, just that they’re not as significant.


  5. Bryan Carver Dawg97

    I hate to call a 10-3 season a “season of which we do not speak”, but man I can’t wait for 2009 to start. Regardless of what happens, unless it is anything worse than 9-4, I cannot wait to get the bad taste of 2008 out of my mouth. I’m not slamming anyone’s analysis, just the so many damn what ifs and coulda’s, woulda’s, shoulda’s. Hopefully lower expectations result in more pleasant results.


  6. NM

    Interestingly, note that offensive YPP has almost no correlation to wins in the Richt Era — our 2002 and 2007 numbers are among the best, but the 2005 number isn’t and the 2006 is. Meanwhile, the defensive YPP stats are a pretty good predictor of wins — the least successful years (06 and 08) have the worst DYPP numbers while


  7. NM

    Sorry, hit enter by mistake on that last post…

    Interestingly, note that offensive YPP has almost no correlation to wins in the Richt Era — our 2002 and 2007 numbers are among the best, but the 2005 number isn’t and the 2006 is. Meanwhile, the defensive YPP stats are a pretty good predictor of wins — the least successful years (06 and 08) have the worst DYPP numbers while the three East championship years were the three best years in DYPP.

    I don’t know much about this stat, but is this a typical arrangement (for offensive numbers to be basically irrelevant)? Or is this a Georgia/Richt thing?


  8. Personally, I think that yards per play stats are more like on-base percentage than batting average. Actually, they’re more like pace-neutral stats in basketball because they don’t punish defenses on teams whose offenses score quickly and vice versa.

    Everyone would agree that scoring is the most important stat. That said, there can be more noise in a scoring stat than in a yards per play stat. For instance, turnovers (which are somewhat random, especially fumbles) can drive scoring up and down. Also, scoring relies on a smaller sample(games) whereas yards-per-play relies on a larger sample (plays). If we had access to a points-per-possession stat for offense and defense, then I’d be inclined to look at that, as well.

    One other thought: there is a greater range of quality in offenses and defenses as opposed to special teams.