Passing completions and first downs

This may be turn out to be nothing more than one of those amusing little statistical matters I occasionally allow myself to be sidetracked by, but this Chase Stuart post comparing overall completion percentage to completion for first down percentage got me to thinking (dangerous, I know).  If the quarterback’s primary responsibility is to see to it that the offense doesn’t come off the field until it posts a score, then his role in moving the chains rather than just hitting his receivers would appear to be a meaningful distinction that Stuart analyzes.

Essentially, he measured total dropbacks (pass attempts plus sacks) against passing first downs.  You can probably guess what I did next.

Here’s how the SEC breaks down in that department.  Ratio is expressed as first downs by pass/dropbacks (attempts plus sacks allowed) and teams are listed in order of percentage:

  • Alabama:  54/146 (36.99%)
  • Kentucky:  60/176 (34.09%)
  • Arkansas:  47/148 (31.76%)
  • Missouri:  57/181 (31.49%)
  • Ole Miss:  68/216 (31.48%)
  • LSU:  44/144 (30.56%)
  • Vanderbilt:  51/173 (29.48%)
  • South Carolina:  60/206 (29.13%)
  • Auburn:  48/165 (29.09%)
  • Georgia:  32/114 (28.07%)
  • Texas A&M:  54/200 (27.00%)
  • Tennessee:  44/166 (26.51%)
  • Florida:  39/138 (24.64%)
  • Mississippi State:  36/152 (23.68%)

I’m not exactly sure how much to read into that.  Georgia, for example, has a pretty mediocre percentage there, but given that it has relied on the pass fewer times than any other SEC team, it’s not as significant as it might be seen in the abstract.  On the other hand, TAMU’s percentage, given the number of dropbacks, probably does indicate that its offense isn’t as smoothly efficient in moving the ball consistently as others.

Quarterback play and overall offensive philosophy are both factors, then.  I probably ought to come back to visit this at season’s end and drag general offensive production in to see if there are any correlations worth considering.

I figured I’d take a look at how the conference defenses did, as well.  (Same source for pass attempts defended, sacks and defensive first downs.)  Results are posted in the same format order.

  • Georgia:  40/204 (19.61%)
  • Mississippi State: 23/105 (21.90%)
  • Auburn:  48/214 (22.43%)
  • Alabama:  47/206 (22.82%)
  • Vanderbilt:  39/161 (24.22%)
  • Arkansas:  42/164 (25.61%)
  • LSU:  52/198 (26.26%)
  • Tennessee:  30/108 (27.78%)
  • Kentucky:  70/249 (28.11%)
  • Texas A&M:  67/230 (29.13%)
  • Florida:  48/161 (29.81%)
  • South Carolina:  73/229 (31.88%)
  • Missouri:  54/165 (32.73%)
  • Ole Miss:  50/145 (34.48%)

Obviously, there are a few variables in play here besides the quarterback, but can I just say I’m a little impressed with Mel Tucker?  Georgia is first in the country in defensive yards per pass attempt and makes it harder than any other team in the conference to throw for a first down.  Not too shabby.

Again, it’s probably best to take this for now as nothing more than a marker being placed by me.  I’ll revisit all this in a larger context after the season.  At least it’ll give me something to do in March, right?



Filed under Georgia Football, SEC Football, Stats Geek!

28 responses to “Passing completions and first downs

  1. Granthams replacement

    The strategy is like Richt’s early years, rely on Van Gorder’s defense and play safe on offense. Couple of key differences – special teams performance (especially kickoff coverage) and the lack of “balance” with the play calling that hasn’t been needed yet.


  2. As for the offensive ratio(28.07%) I think what it is telling us is that UGA has the lowest divisor …meaning we have attempted less passes and given up less sacks,,,, and that is because we seem to be running the rock pretty danged well…..lies ,damned lies and statistics….nothing to see here Jake is doing what they are asking him to do….we don’t have to pass on third down because it is third and 1 not third and 9.,,,,just my way of reading this.
    I suppose contemplating these numbers actually is better than worrying about some FLRB ruling regarding the unionization of Northwestern’s football team so crunching numbers in season is far better than kicking political footballs in the off season…..crunch away Senator but I would lose NO sleep over this ratio.


  3. ugafidelis

    Last year I watched the FSU/UM game after watching the UGA/UNC and commented to myself that both of those teams would destroy us if we played the just based on the speed of both teams. Those guys were flying all over the field.

    This year I see that same thing especially on our defensive side. Those passes thrown short of the marker used to get turned up field for a first down on a regular basis. Now I just expect RS and Co to come flying up and make the tackle short of the sticks.


    • dawgtired

      I would love the chance to play a Spurrier-coached UF team with this defense. Too bad we’ll never get the chance. I’ll just have to take a 52-20 beat down of a Spurrier-coached SC team smile to my grave.


  4. Dylan Dreyer's Booty

    “…can I just say I’m a little impressed with Mel Tucker?”
    Absolutely, but both sides of the ball have benefited from having the guys who could have left for greener ($$$) pastures but stayed. If he does that after losing Roquan, Zo, Davin and Trent, we’ll know how good he is. Of course, then he will get hired away by some other team. 😦


  5. Otto

    March, we can be on schedule for G-day QBRs. Sweet

    Liked by 1 person

  6. DawgFlan

    Maybe the stats would be more insightful if they removed first down passes?
    A lot of times teams will purposely take a low-percentage shot downfield to loosen up the defense for the run, or plan repeated short passes in the flats or toward the sidelines to run the D tired. But 2nd and 3rd downs are more often focused on moving the chains.


    • Biggus Rickus

      Fromm’s first down passing stats are 26/35 for 456 yards and 15 first downs, or 42.8%. Just 2 of his 25 second down attempts have gone for first downs and 11 of 34 3rd down attempts. No sacks are included in that, so there would be a couple of more drop backs included.


      • DawgFlan

        Thanks for doing the research, Rickus. Those numbers give me the impression that Chaney is good at timing the first down “shots” downfield, and that Fromm has taken advantage of the opportunistic moments more than on obvious passing downs.

        Maybe those that don’t want to shut the door on Eason, myself included, saw that for all the freshman mistakes, horrible OL, and erratic play (and play calling), there were pressure filled moments when UGA was behind and everyone in the stadium knew we were going to throw, and those seemed to be the moments Eason came through the most.


        • Biggus Rickus

          Fromm has been pretty good on third down regardless of yard to make, so I’m cautiously optimistic he would perform well if the passing game had to play a bigger role, but it’s definitely an unanswered question at this point.


  7. We’ve managed to avoid having to throw the ball to win games. As long as we can do that we’ll win, but I am curious (not skeptical, but curious) to see if Fromm and Co can win a game when it has to throw on a defense that knows it has to throw. We did enough (barely, but enough) against Notre Dame, but that’s the one game our running game was limited and it was a slog offensively.


    • Fromm – Wims for 31 yards to the ND 17 yard line to set up a game winning FG. Not bad for a true freshman in his first start, at South Bend to boot. He can make the throws when needed.


      • He made one throw when needed. We don’t know he can make them consistently because we’ve been rolling and he hasn’t had to. I suspect he’ll have to against AUB (for sure) and Florida (likely).


        • Dawg in Lutz

          Eason threw the ball to beat UK and Mizzou and should have been UT. we’re not sure if Fromm can do that yet.


          • Exactly. He might be amazing when given 30+ attempts, but right now we just don’t know. We also don’t know how well the pass blocking would hold up over that amount of attempts. It’s just not something we’ve had to do.


        • He has made several good throws on 3rd down. Those were all needed.


          • How many of those were on third and 7+, or obvious passing downs? That’s my thing. We (luckily) haven’t had to deal with lots of known passing downs in tight games. I think that changes for sure against The Barn and probably against UF, too.


            • I agree about the Barn and UF games. I just think you moved the goal post a bit since your first comment. My point was that he did throw the ball to beat Notre Dame. That was a clutch throw IMO. Can he throw consistantly in the clutch? I don’t know. I hope our O keeps us ahead and we never find out. I think too much stock is put in the “comeback” QB narrative. Making a comeback often means you played like crap early in the game. Make good tosses on your 15 chances. That keeps the D honest and keeps your game plan intact.


              • He had a QB rating of 100 against ND. He didn’t win the game. The defense and special teams did. Now he didn’t lose it, either, though he tried with his 2 TOs. But I’m willing to chalk up that game to being his first start so I’m going to go into UF assuming he can handle throwing it around more than 14 times.


              • I’m not talking about comebacks. I’m talking about a defense stopping the running game and forcing a QB to throw the ball… and they know it’s coming. I still don’t know if Fromm (or the OL or the WRs) can handle being asked that question.


                • Yeah, I got off path a bit with the comeback mention. I think I got there from Dawg in Lutz’s comment above. Anyway, I get your point. If it does turn out that Fromm is able to convert those 3rd downs in tough games with either his arm or legs, we are in for a hell of a ride.


                  • I think we’ll find out a lot about this offense against UF. Perhaps I’m suffering from too much Cocktail Party PTSD, but I’ll always be worried about that game no matter how badly UF looks leading up to it. I expect UF to play very well in that game I don’t know if UGA is going to be able to line up and pound the ball all game. Fromm is going to have to throw it successfully and I would guess it would be more often than 15 times.


                    • 92 grad

                      Completely agree. We could be sandbagging big time and so could they. They’re probably getting better each week and Eason is probably ready to explode and Kirby is just being chill about it as long as possible. Watch Eason throw it 50 times against auburn and we win 45-14 with 400 passing yards…..


  8. Dawg in Austin

    Does this include or exclude QB scrambles? If it excludes them then the first thing that comes to my mind is, “Good lord, Albama’s offense is killing it.”


  9. Scorpio Jones, III

    In the second list…im not looking ahead, but …Auburn…im not looking ahead.


  10. Brandon

    2nd and 10, your QB gets a 9 yard completion to make it 3rd and 1 and you run for the first down. This statistic considers that a failure. I think it would be more telling to factor in total first downs per dropback run or pass to determine how effective your passing game has been in moving the offense.


  11. dubyadee

    I really like the idea of using dropbacks rather than attempts. But unless this stat is further limited in some way (3rd downs only, 5+ yards to go, or both), I tend to think mean yards per dropback is a better stat. Or if you really like statistics, add a square root transformation to pull in the outliers.

    I’d love to see a distribution of yards for all dropbacks: x axis is # of yards gained/lost in 1 yard increments and y axis is # of occurrences. It would be a nice graphical depiction of a teams passing DNA.


    • Macallanlover

      Damn, they told me there would not be any math. I like what I have seen (back-shoulder throws, fades, lasers deep, touch on short throws, etc.) Looks like he has all the needed requirements. Hard to tell much about pressure situations and comeback drives when we haven’t needed him in the fourth but once all season. Doubt he plays a 4 quarter game until Auburn. So I don’t need square footage and y axis charts at the moment.


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