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Stats Corner: Week 2, Down and Distance with San Diego State

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Let’s look at some important stats from the Aztecs/Bruins game.

UCLA v. San Diego State

Over the past couple weeks we have focused on advanced stats in football namely backed up, third downs, and red zone. One advanced stat we haven’t covered in our series of articles has been down and distance. To quote from the original stat’s corner on Bill Walsh’s advanced stat for down and distance I wrote

““Success rate is a key metric for almost everything I do. I define every play as a success based on down and distance — if you get 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, or 100 percent on third or fourth down, it’s a successful play” That seems simple, 5 yards on first down, 2-3 yards on second, and remaining on third. The open field, as Walsh defines it, is between your 10 and your opponent’s 30. Any time you get a first down, it is a successful play. He also wanted to get multiple first downs, before every reaching a third down. “Statistics demonstrate that only 25-35 percent of a team’s first downs are generated on third down conversions,” There are those statistics again.”

The others stats have been easier to find or calculate myself. This week I thought I would determine the down and distance stats for San Diego State and UCLA. Was tempted to go with Hawaii and Oregon State, but already covered Hawaii, Wyoming, and Boise State this season, so going with a new school.

San Diego State averaged 2.81 yards per first down whereas UCLA averaged 3.38. San Diego State had 22 first downs for the game, seven that went for negative yards and six that went for 0 yards. UCLA had 16 first downs, just four that went for negative yards and seven that went for 0 yards. There for 59% of the Aztecs first downs went either backwards or nowhere, but 68.8% of the Bruins did the same. Neither team reached the 5 yards on first down that Bill Walsh wanted, but at least San Diego State had less negative yards. Both teams had more than half of their second downs as 10 or more yards.

Speaking of which, second downs were where the game was decided. The Aztecs average a whopping 7.14 yards on second downs, compared to 4.33 for the Bruins. There were 10 plays for San Diego State on second down that went for double digit yards, nine of them resulted in a first down. The play that didn’t set up a 3rd and 1 and SDS went for 10 more yards and a first down on that 3rd down. UCLA had five second down plays that went for double digit yards and all first resulted in a 1st down. Walsh wanted his teams to go 2-3 yards on second down, setting up a 3rd on 2-3 yards on average. San Diego State did that with their 1st and 2nd downs combined, UCLA came up short.

San Diego State went 6-15 on third downs, while UCLA went 5-14, so San Diego State wins the 3rd down advanced stat for offensive 3rd down and conversion percentage as well as defensive 3rd down and conversion percentage. They also win the yardage 5.6 yards to 5.2 yards. The Aztecs had four 3rd downs that went for negative or no yards, while the Bruins had six.

San Diego State went for it once on 4th down, and scored a 2 yard touchdown, while UCLA went for it twice and plays of 0 yards and -4 yards for an average of -2.

While neither team reached the optimal yardage which Walsh wanted his team to reach, the Aztecs did a better job. Their biggest flaw, was averaging 9.1 yards needed on second down, when penalties were included, compared 7.5 yards on second down for the Bruins. The penalties on first down really hurt their drives. The Aztecs would struggle on first down both in negative yards and penalties, do great on second down, and be close enough on third down to beat the Bruins on both number of third numbers and conversion rate. The Aztecs had three third downs in double digits while the Bruins had five, included three drives in a row and four out of five drives. Being that far behind the chains limits what the offense can do and makes them more predictable.

As with the other games this year, the team who does better on the advanced statistics wins the games: Hawaii over Arizona 11-1, Wyoming edged Missouri 7-5, and Boise State over Florida State 10-0. This time UCLA held the edge on yards on first down, but San Diego State won second down yards, third downs yards, third down converted and conversion rate for both offense and defense. When you have that kind of advantage in the advanced stats you are mostly likely going to with the game. I promise I pick the game, then run the stats, I do not going looking for stats to prove the points. So, just to try something different, tell me which game to analyze for next week’s column, before they are played and I will run the advance stats after the result and we can see how the winning team did. So either in the comments or on twitter tell me which game next week’s column should be about.