Category Archives: Stats Geek!

“Everyone’s fighting for the Snickers…”

Okay, red zone defense may have left something to be desired, but there were bright spots on that side of the ball for Georgia during the 2016 season.

One is turnovers.

Georgia ranked 10th in the nation in turnovers gained with 27, including 15 interceptions and 12 fumbles recovered. That was the Bulldogs best national ranking in that category since 2011 and up from 43rd in 2015.

“I think our guys understand that you have to take the ball away,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said before a Liberty Bowl win over TCU, “so attacking the football, forcing takeaways and working to win the turnover margin is very important.”

Georgia had a plus-7 turnover margin in its eight wins and plus-one in its five losses in the first year under coach Kirby Smart.

“If you practice high-pointing the ball and ripping at the ball Monday through Friday then on Saturday it comes easy,” outside linebacker Davin Bellamy said.

Statistically speaking, there is some luck involved (primarily tied to where the ball comes loose), so we’ll have to wait and see if this was simply a random showing, or if the coaches’ emphasis on forcing takeaways is in fact paying off.

While there may be a factor with turnovers that can’t be controlled, I don’t think you can say the same thing about this area of performance.

Look who stopped the run last season.  Looks like at least one lesson from Tuscaloosa took.  And with the development of the defensive line, I only expect that to get better.

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They say it’s a defensive conference.

But maybe it’s just that most SEC offenses blew chunks this season.

Only one SEC school – Missouri, which finished rock bottom in the SEC East standings – ranked among the top 20 in the FBS in total offense. The Tigers placed 13th overall with 500.5 yards per game.

Conversely, three teams, including SEC East champion Florida, ranked outside the nation’s top 100 – among the 20 least productive units in the country.

It’s the first time since 2011 that no SEC school has made the top 10 nationally in total offense, and the first time since 2005 that no team currently in the conference has earned a top-10 offensive ranking…

… The Crimson Tide placed a fully-respectable 31st in total offense at 460.9 yards per game…

The rest of the bunch: Texas A&M (24th), Ole Miss (26th), Tennessee (40th), Auburn (43rd), Mississippi State (44th), Arkansas (54th), LSU (59th), Kentucky (61st), Georgia (87th), Vanderbilt (110th), South Carolina (115th) and – bringing up the rear – Florida (116th).

Jeez.

A couple of things there — one, Florida winning nine games with one of the worst offenses in the country seems nearly miraculous, and while Jim McElwain deserves kudos for pulling that off, you have to wonder how long he can manage to keep that kind of balancing act in the air.

Two, as I said in the comments, maybe we should be keeping a quiet eye on Missouri’s chances in 2017.  The Tigers certainly weren’t without their flaws…

The key to Missouri’s statistical success was its passing attack with quarterback Drew Lock, which averaged more than 295 yards per game. But the reasons for Missouri’s lack of real-life success included shaky ball control (28 fumbles in 12 games), special teams miscues (only six made field goals, as well as poor kick coverage) and a woeful defense that gave up points faster than the Tigers could score them. The result: a 4-8 season.

… but there’s something to be said about being one of only two SEC East offenses that finished 2016 in the upper half of the conference standings in total offense, especially when the other, Tennessee, has lost its offensive coordinator and most of its skill position talent.  (Also, notice that the East makes up the entirety of the bottom five in total offense.)

If you want to be cynical, it’s another reason to think Georgia’s chances to win the East next season aren’t awful.  After all, if you can’t make headway against this…

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One last look at Georgia’s 2016 advanced stats story

Bill Connelly’s numbers for Georgia are in the book and they’re about as mediocre as you might expect, starting with an S&P+ Rk of 68.

It might surprise you to learn that by the narrowest of margins, the team turned in its best percentile performance of the season in the bowl game, but at 77%, it wasn’t exactly anything to write home about.  More surprising is the discovery that the Nicholls game turned out not to be the worst performance of 2016; that honor goes instead to the Ole Miss effort (or, more accurately, lack thereof).

There aren’t many things that jump out at me, but a few items are worth mentioning:  the offense, proving to be neither explosive (96th) nor efficient (82nd); situational stats showing the team lagged in the second quarter all season, but had its best showing in the fourth (does S&C deserve some credit?); and the absolutely putrid yardage numbers turned in by the kick returners (anyone who returned a kickoff out of the end zone committed return malpractice).

There’s a helluva lot to work on this offseason, in other words.

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Pythagoras ain’t played Alabama, PAWWWLLL.

If you’re one of those folks who’ve been consoling themselves with the thought that Georgia was this close to being 10-2 in the just concluded regular season, you’re probably not going to be comforted by this Team Speed Kills post on Pythagorean expectation for the SEC in 2017.

PE, in case you’re wondering, “measures total points scored and points allowed multiplied by the number of games played to get a projected win total (Pythagorean wins)”.  It took the bowl game to accomplish it, but Georgia barely finished in the black in net scoring in 2016, and based on that should have finished just shy of seven wins.

Now, the post’s author goes on to define the spread between Pythagorean and actual wins as “luck”, but I think it’s a little more nuanced than that in some cases.  Good coaches can steal a win here and there; bad coaches can snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.  (I’ll leave it to you to decide where the credit lies for Georgia +1.3 win spread.)

As 2016 is in the barn, what’s of interest is what PE says for next season.  As you can probably guess, our old friend regression to the mean is in play.

In short, winning more games than your Pythagorean Expectation tends to mean a team will decline the following season, while falling short of expectations tends to mean a team will improve…

… Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee may all take a step back next season, and it would likely come at the hands of resurging Vandy and Missouri teams.

Yeah, well, let’s slow down and unpack this a bit for a sec.  First, play the caveat.

Pythagorean projection is just one tool for projection. It doesn’t encompasses an unlucky streak of injuries or turnover margin, or account for early departures and new coaching hires, but it’s historically been a more significant way to base future assumptions beyond simple wins and losses.

Urp.  Georgia didn’t suffer an unlikely streak of injuries last season.  The Dawgs finished +8 in turnover margin, tops in the SEC (with one game left for Alabama).   Both of those would feed into an unfavorable regression story for next season.

On the other hand, we know the story about early departures and it’s very favorable.  Georgia has already taken its lumps on the new coaching hires front, and as we saw in this Bill Connelly post, second year coaching time is usually the right time.  So those factors would seem to cut against regression to the mean.

Also working in Georgia’s favor next season is yet another fairly soft schedule.  Maybe things will change — they often do — but from this early vantage point, it doesn’t appear to be loaded with an abundance of ranked opponents.

The wild card, of course, is the relative talent levels of teams in the SEC East.  Georgia, as I’ve already mentioned, has that quartet of returning juniors that’s unmatched by any other team in the division.  Tennessee, in fact, is losing some monster talent early to the NFL draft, and there are other SEC East schools, like Florida and Missouri, also losing contributors.  The other part of this is where the 2017 recruiting class wind up in a month.

Obviously, a lot can happen in a month, but right now…

… the Dawgs are lapping the divisional field.  And, no, even if things held as they project, not every one of those studs would play next season, but you’d have to think Georgia’s odds of finding significant contributors in the next freshman class are better than any other East program’s, simply based on sheer numbers.

Honestly, you can say we’re looking at a half empty/half full glass for 2017, and I get your point.  I still think the two biggest factors for Georgia stepping up are Jacob Eason and Kirby Smart mastering their learning curves and nobody can say for sure how that goes.  But it’s not hard to argue that the program will be facing something of an uphill struggle against regression to the mean; it’ll be up to Smart to come up with enough improvement in other areas to overcome that.

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Throw the damned ball to the tight ends, Chaney.

Seth Emerson makes a point about how Georgia’s offense utilized the tight end position this season.

But the tight ends – other than Nauta – were also used less than expected. They combined for 38 catches and 472 receiving yards, which was better than last year (28 catches for 306 yards), but it was mostly Nauta, while Jeb Blazevich saw his catches go from 15 to six, and Jackson Harris didn’t catch any.

The tight ends actually played better: They combined for 38 catches and 472 receiving yards, an improvement over last year. But that was mostly Nauta. The usage of the tight ends, despite a deep unit, was less than expected: Jeb Blazevich went from 15 catches to six, and Jackson Harris from four to zero.

In defense of Jim Chaney (admittedly, words I didn’t think I’d have much need to type this offseason), usage of the tight ends as a group, at least from a percentage of total receptions standpoint, actually increased fairly significantly in 2016 over the previous four seasons, per cfbstats.com.

  • 2012:  14%
  • 2013:  14%
  • 2014:  14%
  • 2015:  14%
  • 2016:  19%

Nauta’s 29 catches were the most for a Georgia tight end since Arthur Lynch’s 30 in 2013.

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I’ve got some good news for you and I’ve got some bad news for you.

Per Bill Connelly, advanced stats suggest the typical coach sees a big bump up in S&P+ ratings in his second year.  (Yay!)

Unfortunately, things flatline from there.

No matter how good you’ve been, you’re likely to improve in your coach’s second year. But outside of that second-year window, your fortunes depend as much on recent fortune as tenure. To some degree, everybody regresses or progresses toward the mean.

Now, this is an overly gloomy assessment in any individual coach’s case, of course.  (Not to mention Bill hedges on whether the data is statistically significant.)  But it’s probably worth keeping in mind that a positive move in Georgia’s fortunes next season wouldn’t be a shock.

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If you don’t bend, you can’t break.

Let’s get the easy thing out of the way first:  Georgia’s defensive red zone conversion percentage for the 2016 regular season stunk on ice, no ifs, ands or buts about it.  It was also a stunning drop from its third-place national finish from the season before.

The question I’ve got is how much does that matter to Smart and Tucker?  I’m not being facetious.  Check out Alabama’s national ranking in that stat over the past few seasons:

  • 2016:  40th
  • 2015:  63rd
  • 2014:  74th
  • 2013:  4th
  • 2012:  3rd
  • 2011:  1st
  • 2010:  3rd
  • 2009:  3rd

It sure seemed important for a while, but it’s almost like Saban’s lost interest lately (which, admittedly, is still a long way from finishing 127th out of 128 teams).

But look at where the Tide ranks in red zone attempts defended over that same period.

  • 2016:  1st
  • 2015:  2nd
  • 2014:  49th
  • 2013:  1st
  • 2012:  3rd
  • 2011:  1st
  • 2010:  7th
  • 2009:  1st

Now that’s consistent excellence there.

What’s Georgia’s story?

  • 2016:  26th
  • 2015:  7th
  • 2014:  30th
  • 2013:  73rd
  • 2012:  54th
  • 2011:  21st
  • 2010:  35th
  • 2009:  70th

Okay, that’s not as abysmal as next to last, but it’s pretty mediocre.

I joke about the Auburn game that the key to keeping Auburn from scoring regularly from the red zone was to keep Malzahn’s offense out of the red zone, but that’s actually how things played out in Georgia’s most impressive defensive effort of the year.

The trick to that, though, isn’t simple or one-sided.  You have to think turnover margin and field position play major roles in aiding a defense in keeping opponents from crossing its twenty.  So does stopping teams on third downs, though.  All of which has been a mixed bag for Georgia over the past few seasons.

All I’m saying here is, if indeed this is something that matters to Smart — and his track record at Alabama would indicate that it does — there’s a lot of work across the board left to be done.

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