Bud Elliott revisits a subject he posted about before, the scoring increase we saw from the SEC this past season. To start with, he notes a strange pair of stats: points were up 16 percent from 2019 to 2020, but yards per play only increased by about 4 percent year over year.
To explain the anomaly, he looks at a few factors.
- Pick-sixes per game and per-pass doubled.
- Part of the reason interceptions and pick-sixes are up is the SEC is throwing more.
- Increased red zone scoring.
- Teams played faster.
- All four new head coaches were offensive-minded and embraced pace.
You know what didn’t add to scoring?
Interestingly, explosive plays did not increase.
The rate of 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50-yard plays per game stayed almost exactly the same year over year. And on a per-play basis, explosive plays are actually down slightly. So the idea that teams are bombing it over the top more, or breaking more explosive plays, is simply not true.
Efficiency on first down was a big part of the SEC’s offensive success. Fewer teams senselessly run the ball into the line on first down when the defense expects it. They are more competent than ever when it comes to throwing the ball around on early downs.
Sure, there are a few manball lessons to take away from all that. (And questions: greater red zone scoring efficiency in a spread era cuts against what we thought you have to do to be able to score close in. How is that happening?) But I’m interested in pace and how it affects the number of plays an offense runs. Here’s more from Bud:
Teams in the SEC are operating at a quicker pace than they were in 2019. In 2019, teams ran 67.1 plays per game. In 2020, the number rose to 69.6.
Points per play is also up in the league, but with each team running about three more plays per game each, increased pace alone accounted for about 2.2 more points per game than it did last year. Pace is a big factor in this. And of course, if teams are throwing more, that means more incompletions, which stops the clock more as well.
Looking back at this post, Georgia’s ppg average was essentially at league average in plays per game in 2019, and slightly below average in 2020. (It was at the median, in that it was eighth in plays per game.)
Georgia finished fifth in the conference in offensive yards per play in 2020, and, as we saw, did so on an upwards trend. (In December and January games, the Dawgs led the conference in offensive ypp.) If you’re improving your ypp number, then running more plays would seem to be advantageous. And that would also be a byproduct, as Bud mentions, of your defense forcing more incompletions and interceptions.
Neither of which were particularly strong suits for Georgia’s defense last season. Georgia was eighth in SEC defensive completion percentage and tied for seventh in interceptions. Focusing on havoc is good, but havoc is only a means to an end.
I guess what I’m saying is that there is more than one way to skin this particular cat and in Georgia’s case, there appears to be a way to do it that fits in with Kirby Smart’s overall approach. The catch may be that with an inexperienced secondary and a new position coach, using the defense to help the offense (okay, maybe that’s a bit of a new thing for Kirbs) may be a tough order in 2021.