Zen And The Science Of Third Down Conversions
Yesterday I muttered about math and explained some stuff. Today I try to convince you this is interesting.
The Strange Case of Florida State
Florida State was a team with a bear of a defense and an intoxicated duck of an offense, right? Well... not on third down. Check the Castor and Pollux act:
That's a significant amount of green in each graph--unsurprising from the defense, palpitation-causing from the offense. Despite the doublemint action directly above, I do not mean to suggest that the Florida State defense (generally regarded to kick seven kinds of ass) is hardly distinguishable from the Florida State offense (a unit that actually could have used the services of Wyatt Sexton this year). No sir, I object. What we're missing here is the second component of third-down efficiency: your tendency to get in manageable distances. It's here that two additional graphs bring the difference between the two Seminole units into stark relief:
Yow! Jeff Bowden's criminal misuse of Booker and Washington is illuminated for all to see: so many passes clunked uselessly to the ground on early downs that that approximately 20% of the Florida State offense's third downs were full third-and-tens, more than double the national average. They only got in third and one half as much as a Hypothetical Totally Average Team (HTAT).
Conversely, the Florida State defense's pedestrian performance on third down is okay in the overall scheme of things, since there is evidently a significant amount (seven kinds, even) of ass-kicking going on on first and second down. Look at all that red on third and five or less. Look at all that green from third and ten to fifteen.
My thinking has suddenly become very clear on this case, man.
Conventional Wisdom Isn't Always Unwise
These days, it's hard to tell whether the spread is more popular in college football or the San Fernando Valley. As a result, much is adone about it from the dredges of the blogsphere to the vulcanized-rubber towers of the people who actually get paid to write. Invariably much is made of the spread's strengths and weaknesses. Continually cited is the spread's difficulty in short yardage and goal-line situations, but one would figure this goes hand in hand with increased efficiency in the middle distances the classic dink-and-dunk spread offense is designed to get on every play. So a hypothetical spread team's efficiency graph would look considerably flatter than the nationwide average, starting out subpar from 1-3 yards but then beating the average in the middle distance.
What's the quintessential spread team? Hyyyaaaarrr!!! Texas Tech, matey! Well, check it out:
Avast! The conventional wisdom... is right on? There's a first time for everything, I guess. Similar results can be seen in the offenses of Illinois, Northwestern, Hawaii (sort of), Michigan State (sort of... the MSU offense is too good to be held down much but has a big ugly red spot right at third and one), Oregon, Miami (Ohio), and Purdue. Indiana and their spankin' new spread offense defies this trend, as do a few other teams recognized as spread specialists, but in general it appears that they are the exception rather than the rule.
Quantified Later, But...
I'll try to put a number on this in the near future, but I'd be surprised if any team in the country has a better pair of
Stergers efficiency graphs than Ohio State:
That is a lot of green. No doubt OSU was helped on offense by the candy-soft defenses it opposed, but that OSU defense faced a wide array of the country's most powerful offenses and still came out on the good side of things no matter what situation you put them in. Hallelujah: nine of those guys are gone. Un, er, -halleluja: the green field of the offense returns mostly intact.