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Stats Corner: Football’s Offensive Advanced Stats

Applying Bill Walsh’s Stats to the MW 2018 Offenses

New Mexico v Fresno State

Last time, we discussed Hall of Famer Bill Walsh and the advanced statistics he believed to be the most important when discussing football. This time, we are going to look at how the 2018 Mountain West Offenses did in these stats. Next week, it is the defense’s turn.

Backed-up (bcftoys.com)

Team NFP OFP Rank OLF Rank

Fresno State 7.4 67.6 11 .127 127

Boise State 2.9 68.6 25 .173 90

Utah State 2.1 68.4 19 .146 120

San Jose State 2.0 67.3 9 .152 118

Wyoming 1.0 70.6 69 .194 64

New Mexico -0.7 70.4 62 .183 76

Air Force -1.1 72.8 110 .193 65

Nevada -1.3 70.2 60 .222 35

San Diego State -2.1 71.9 104 .267 8

UNLV -4.4 71.8 97 .211 45

Hawaii -5.5 70.5 66 .196 58

Colorado State -6.8 75.5 130 .287 3

Walsh was concerned when his team was backed up inside their own ten yard line, as it influnced his options for play calling. NFP is short for net starting field position, or the different between the average starting positions of each team’s offense. No surprise that the conference champion had the largest advantage by a long shot. The next two teams were the only other ones receiving the national rankings. Seven yards may not seem like much, but it means Fresno’s opponents needed to gain one more first down to put themselves in field goal range or to score a touchdown. That gave the Fresno defense more time and opportunities to do their job before the team had a scoring opportunity. OFP is the average number of yards from the end zone the offense had to start from. San Jose started the closest, about 67 yards from pay dirt, while Colorado State started 8 yards behind them, once again requiring another set of downs to score a field goal or touchdown. Also remember that touchbacks put the ball on the 25 yard line or an OFP of 75 yards, meaning lots of Colorado State’s drives were started after the opposing team scored. OLF is long starting field position, inside the 20 yard line (Walsh preferred measuring the 10 yard line, but most stats are kept starting within the 20.) This is a case were a lower percentage and higher ranking is better. Fresno and Utah State had the lowest percentage here, meaning at out of 8 scoring drives, only 1 of those would start inside their own 20. Not that that mattered for Jordan Love and Utah State, they would probably score within 2 minutes away. Colorado State and San Diego were starting backed up 1 time out of every 4 drives. Starting so close to your own end zone limits what an offense can do, as a mistake can be costly. It forces the offense to play conservative (running plays) because a sack or interception leads almost directly to points, (over 95% of drives that start inside the 10 the opponents yard line score points).

Third Downs (teamrankings.com)

National Rank Team G 3rd Att 3rd Conv Pct

2 Boise St. 13 202 106 .525

12 Utah St. 13 182 86 .473

25 Fresno St. 14 184 82 .446

34 Colorado St. 12 189 81 .429

49 Air Force 12 169 70 .414

Walsh described third downs as “do or die”. Ideally, team had a good first and second down to set up a third and manageable down, less than 4 yards. Also, Walsh like to pick up a couple first downs, before needing to reach a 3rd down, but who wouldn’t? Maybe Walsh knows a little about football given that, once again, the ranked teams are the top three conference performers in this category as well. When we covered offensive line stats, it was mentioned that Boise had the best power run line, or being able to get 3 yards rushing. Here is where that statistic is so important, being able to get that third down and keep the drive alive, keep the opposing defense on the field and give your own defense a rest. Remember, almost every time the offense doesn’t get a first down, the drive ends in a punt or field goal. For every team not named Boise, that number is more than 50% of the 3rd downs. So more than 50% of the time the drive ends, while for Boise over 50% of the time they keep going.

Redzone (Teamranking.com)

Percentage Scoring TD and FG

National Rank Team Percentage

23 UNLV 88.24%

25 Fresno St 88.24%

31 Air Force 87.80%

41 Utah State 86.79%

51 Boise State 85.37%

61 Hawaii 84.31%

64 Colorado St 83.87%

68 Nevada 83.33%

74 Wyoming 82.61%

77 New Mexico 82.35%

103 San Jose St 78.12%

105 San Diego St 78.12%

Red Zone Scoring Attempts per game

National Rank Team Attempts per Game

19 Utah State 4.4

40 Hawaii 3.9

41 Fresno St 3.9

54 Air Force 3.7

70 Nevada 3.5

88 Boise State 3.2

91 UNLV 3.1

92 New Mexico 3.1

105 San Jose St 2.9

109 Colorado St 2.8

113 San Diego St 2.7

129 Wyoming 2.1

Can you score points? Given that in the college football the winning team is team who scores more points it seems that this is an important question to answer. Except Ole Miss, Notre Dame, USC, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State etc. who scored more points but had to vacate wins. Of course, for their opponents it still goes down as a lose even though the other team didn’t win, but that is another debate. These two lists, need to go together. For example, UNLV had the highest red zone scoring percentage in the conference, but when they only had 3.1 red zone trips a game, or 7th in conference, a high percentage doesn’t help much. Hawaii had a higher appearance in the red zone, but a lower scoring percentage. Ideally, a team enters the red zone a lot (hello Utah State and Fresno) and has a high percentage of scoring (still talking about Utah State and Fresno). Of course, if you can’t score at least you can pin your opponent back, see backed up stats for confirmation.

Three advanced stats from Bill Walsh, and all three were dominated by the top 25 ranked teams in the conference. Statistics do not tell a story, but rather get you to ask the correct question. Why are we not converting 3rd down? This could be answered by looking at 1st and 2nd downs. What can we do to have a higher red zone appearance and why is our red zone conversion rate so low? Plays in the red zone need to be different because of the lack of field, much like play calling when you are backed needs to be different. Statistics are not the answer, but the guide to finding the answer. Of course, if it was easy, school would never need to fire their coaches.