**I'm not the most mathematically inclined, but I appreciate advanced metrics and finding real data to help support the "why?" portion. Hopefully this provokes some thought among you all regardless of your level of football lovin'**
We're going to mix it up a bit today at Z Delay. From current events and important social issues to DATA! For any of you out there coaching or thinking about coaching football, I think this is an awesome exercise to do both at about the halfway point of the season and then in the off-season using the previous season's complete data. Perhaps some of you do this. If you're a stats junkie, this could open your eyes to what your favorite team could improve on. I first conducted this exercise at the request of University of St. Thomas head football coach, Glenn Caruso. Glenn is relentless in his pursuit of any and all advantages that could help his team (winning edge), and this spreadsheet was one of the more interesting topics of discussion we had. Above you'll see a couple spreadsheets (to enlarge just click the image). These spreadsheets represent the 2013 FSU Seminoles entire season of offensive and defensive possessions and drive results. I chose FSU because I was conducting this research during the season and sharing with our friends at Tomahawk Nation. All the data you see represents "non garbage time" action. For the purpose of this study, garbage time was defined by what I felt was an obvious inevitability in the outcome of the game => approx. 30+ point difference in the 4th Q.
There are a lot of tidbits to pull out of this as it pertains to FSU. If you're an FSU fan you can use it to look at many areas of production. It is a very impressive spreadsheet to look at particularly as a 'Noles fan as the overall performance this year was dominating, and this helps to illustrate that. Otherwise, perhaps you can use this as a guide for your team, or just use it as an interesting way to analyze the game we all love. For the sake of this article, I'm going to use it to discuss a couple things including a subject that is dear to me; when to go for it on 4th down. In the case of FSU, the offensive performance was so dominating throughout the year, as has been well documented, that many may have lost track of just how good the defense was. Showing the offense and defense side by side, as I've done here, will highlight those strengths but also uncover weaknesses and how each side of the ball may be able to help the other.
Sometimes it's obvious, like looking at the fact that when the opponent gets the ball with FSU's defense backed up inside their own 40 to begin a series, they're likely going to score. So, outside of having to go for it on 4th down or faking a punt, you're punting the ball. This exercise highlights how important it is for an offense to be efficient when you are backed up in your own territory to begin a possession. A Perfect example arose in the National Championship game for Florida State. Middle late of the first quarter Auburn landed a punt at FSU's 2 yard line. FSU was not a great punting team this past year and knowing this...along with the data above...your first order of business should be to get that ball out across the 5 yard line so your punt team has a full operation to work with (15 yards). If this is not achieved, the punt must get off quick and this will almost always affect distance and hang-time. The more yards you can get away from your goal line the better. FSU failed and punted from their own 1 or 2 yard line. It was a short and low punt, and the returner took the ball back to the FSU 25 yard line. Auburn scored a TD on that possession.
How can we use this chart to give our team an edge by just understanding our performance better? For me, the biggest takeaway from this exercise is understanding how and when to go for it on 4th down. This chart can be used to practice and plan differently based on field position, down, and distance. It can be used to challenge the traditional way to approach 4th down in certain parts of the field, and it can offer a way to decrease tendencies.
Take a look at the defensive drive chart and notice the data for FSU's defensive performance when the opponent gets the ball between their own 30 yard-line all the way down to the +40. That is considered good to great field position for anyone. If you add up all those numbers FSU is giving up scores at just over 13% of the time their opponent begins with the ball there. That is disgustingly good defense. It also tells me something about how I may change or adjust my tendencies on offense. If I know that my defense is that good, I may think differently about play calling once I get past my own 40 yard-line. I can perhaps run the ball on 3rd and 5 if I know I'm going to go for it on 4th down. This breaks tendencies and disrupts defenses. I can plan and practice to prepare my team for going for it on 4th down, which brings in another component.
4th down is a final down, and that level of finality increases stress levels in many. That stress can be decreased by practice and preparing for the situation. The opposing defense may not know you're going to go for it, and as a result cause their stress levels to heighten, cause their coaches to call a TO or over-think things, and increase probability of a mistake. The psychology piece to this should not be underestimated. Everyone's sphincter is a little bit tighter on 4th down; this drive chart can help take advantage of that.
On the contrary, the chart may help you make decisions TO punt it. Look, this is just one piece of the whole "going for it on 4th down" conversation. There is of course the point in the game or momentum. There is the score and how going for it versus kicking a field goal applies from a games management standpoint, and there is the human element that restrains teams. Coaches don't want to be second guessed and often choose to be conservative. Although more and more, conservative style of play is coming under criticism. As it pertains to breaking tendencies and giving your offense even just one more drive a game; understanding this data could be the difference in winning or losing. in FSU's case that one more possession is worth 4.1 points. Could 4 points be valuable in a football game?
Laslty, I just wanted to point out a couple of the things that jumped out at me about the above data: FSU's defense had more interceptions and fumbles than its offense had punts. They scored only 1 more TD when beginning drives on the other teams side of the 50 yard line than they did when their drives began inside their own 10 yard-line (same # of possessions). Florida State's offense scored over 83% of the time it got the ball on their own 40 yardline or better, while the defense only surrendered scores on 40% of the possessions when the opponents began with the same field position. Overall, in non-garbage time, FSU's opponents scored on 15.6% of their possessions; FSU scored on 67.5% of theirs. Furthermore, FSU scored TDs on 51.7% of their offensive possessions, while their opponent scored TDs a mere 11.7% of theirs.
It was a dominating year for the Seminoles, and a great season for us fans. Let me know what interesting you find about your team's performance and if there are any opportunities you find hidden between the lines!