There’s an interview over at Football Study Hall with the Arkansas high school coach who’s going to try bringing some rugby-style tactics to his offensive gameplan that’s a good read. But there’s something in particular in it I wanted to focus on. It’s about his motivation for this innovation in his tactics.
The article details how Kelley analyzed a database of college football stats and discovered a strong relationship between explosive plays (specifically 20+ yards) and winning. And further, he found that the more players that touched the football on any given play (3+), the greater the chance of a 20+ yard play. So, while watching rugby on TV one night, he made the connection: why not add laterals as an additional wrinkle to his already innovative offense? Would that increase the likelihood of more explosive plays?
… The idea for Kelley’s newest offensive innovation began with a conversation with Brad Edwards at last year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Using ESPN’s Stats and Information database for a little while at the conference, Kelley found that winning the explosive play ratio was more important than even winning the turnover margin. [Emphasis added.] This echoed earlier findings…
…and Bill’s own Five Factors, here and here.
Last season, Georgia was 32nd nationally in plays of 20+ yards. But when you look closer, it’s more revealing: 10th in rushing plays of 20+ yards; 78th in passing plays of 20+ yards. (Before you ask, Mason was tied for 23rd nationally in interceptions, with four.)
Now certainly some of that is a factor of the orientation of Georgia’s offense in 2014. Georgia ran the ball 555 times, compared to 322 passing attempts. But there’s a little chicken and egg aspect to all of that, too. Georgia didn’t throw the ball as much because it played to its strengths and those strengths didn’t include a serious downfield passing game.
Richt’s pooh-poohed analytics before, so maybe this is something that doesn’t matter to him. But what if behind the scenes, this kind of thinking has factored into the equation? It would certainly reinforce Richt’s general instinct favoring a downfield passing attack as a major part of his offensive philosophy. If so, the question becomes how much risk are he and Schottenheimer willing to tolerate in an attempt to juice Georgia’s offense beyond last year’s record-setting pace.
And just to add one more wrinkle to that equation, Bill Connelly has looked at the data and finds there’s almost no correlation between completion rate and yards per completion, and it’s close to the same story with yards per completion and INT rate. That goes against what I would have expected to see. The conclusion he draws from that:
Well, among other things, quality matters. That’s the ultimate “duh,” but this suggests that quality and skill matter even more than one would think. You can’t really generalize about a QB or a passing game based on merely his per-completion yardage or completion rate.
“Quality matters”. Duh, indeed. But when you’re looking at three guys working with a new offensive coordinator, how quickly can you make that determination?