I know this WSJ piece is about the NFL, but it’s still a fascinating statistical look at how successful conventional playcalling is.
… The NFL’s current roster of coaches is a very conservative bunch. And that might not be a formula for success.
A Wall Street Journal analysis of NFL play calling this season shows that—despite a legion of mathematicians, economists and win probability models urging them to take more chances—most of the league’s coaches still reach for the conventional choice by habit.
The Journal analysis examines how coaches played their hand this season across three broad categories of game management: fourth downs; play calling (blitzing on defense; passing on early downs or with the lead on offense) and special teams (going for a 2-point conversion and onside kicks when ahead).
I would argue there’s more than just habit at work here. There’s also the parity factor. When you don’t have a huge talent gap between teams — and say what you will, the gap in the NFL is way smaller than the gap in college — the consequences of coaches’ decision making at key times become magnified, especially those decisions that backfire. Wrapping oneself in conventional wisdom is an obvious defense to criticism.
Again, one of the great things about college football is that disparity in resources forces greater creativity in strategy to try to offset the disadvantage than we see in the pros. At least that’s the case at schools that don’t use their backup quarterbacks to field punts.
I’m not exactly sure why — warm feelings of nostalgia, maybe — but West Virginia’s defensive coordinator is looking at film of the 2006 Sugar Bowl to prep for the Mountaineers’ bowl game against Miami.
“I have studied that film (of the Sugar Bowl) a little bit,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson explained. “It is very similar to what they are doing now in Miami is similar to what they were doing back in 2006. We have it, we have watched it, I haven’t shared it much with the kids at this point, it’s more for coaches to look at.
“Again, they are a run team first, they run with power, they are more of a conventional offense, an old-school get in the “I“, it is going to look different for our guys, it is going to look foreign.”
Old man football, indeed.
It’s not “Just win, baby” anymore. It’s become “Just win now, baby.”
Alabama entered the season with the SEC’s least experienced roster. Ohio State did the same in the Big Ten. Ditto for Clemson: bottom of the ACC. But it was actually much starker than that. Phil Steele, the king of preseason mags, uses a five-part formula to determine experience, and he ranked the Tide roster 116th out of 128 FBS teams. Clemson was ranked 101st. Ohio State was dead last at 128th.
So if you’re scoring at home — and recruits are — then three of this year’s best four teams were also among its youngest, somehow surviving one of the most unpredictable regular seasons in recent memory. The holdout is Washington.
Patience ain’t the virtue it once was, at least for the elite.
… But experience still matters for nearly all the rest of college football. Washington, which has hovered from 19th to 45th in recruiting, needs its players to stick around. Colorado went worst to first in the Pac-12 South with its experience-heavy roster (ninth in the nation), and Michigan State did the complete opposite in the Big Ten as it hit the bottom of its cycle as an annual fifth-year-player factory. According to Steele, the Spartans were ranked 117th in the nation in experience and 13th in the Big Ten. They finished 3-9.
That’s fine for the peons, I suppose. I suspect Kirby Smart aspires for more, which is why this is hardly a coincidence.
USA Today’s ALL-USA Football Coach of the Year is the high school coach in Arkansas who doesn’t like to punt the ball.
Innovative coach, using an offense that doesn’t punt and has frequent rugby-style laterals, won his third consecutive 5A state title and posted a 13-1 record. His overall record is 165-25-1 in 14 years as Pulaski’s head coach. His teams have made it to the state semifinals in 12 of those seasons and have won six state titles in eight attempts.
Looks like he’s doing okay with that. I bet his peers hate coaching against him, too.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald may be the most underrated player in the SEC today. Check out a couple of stats:
A sophomore starting for the first time this year leads the conference in total yards. Fitzgerald’s killed it over the last month-plus of the season (last four games against SEC West teams). This, on a 5-7 MSU team that wasn’t exactly loaded with talent this season.
Hmmm… maybe that Dan Mullen fella can coach a little offense.
In the days of VanGorder, I hated the damned bubble screen that Florida ran (and ran) with success against Georgia. But in the days since, no play call fills me with more despair to watch a Dawg defense attempt to cover than the wheel route. Calling it college football’s rudest play? I’m down with that.
This is reassuring.
Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason is growing, but he had issues when teams put pressure on him. When he was under duress this season, Eason completed just 27.1 percent of his passes with one touchdown to three interceptions. He was sacked 18 times and lost two fumbles. He threw for just four first downs and had a raw QBR of 1.7 under duress. Eason still has some issues reading defenses at times, but to really throw him off his game, you just have to get some pressure on him without having to blitz.
The response to that is to devise an offensive game plan that keeps Eason out of obvious passing situations. Yeah, I know.