First DOWN

First DOWN

Submitted by Ron Utah on October 18th, 2013 at 8:22 PM

Is Borges TRYING to do this on first down?

Much has been made of Al Borges using first down much like the CFL uses fourth down. I wanted to know exactly what has been happening to us on first down this year.  Is the play-calling really that bad, or is AB hamstrung by a turnover-prone QB?  How stubborn is the play-calling?  Are we a bad passing team on first down?

What's open for debate is whether or not Hoke is mandating the first down MANBALL attempt.  What's not open for debate are the results:

Chart?  Chart of 1st down rushing attempts.  NYP = Negative Yardage Plays

132 462 3.5 25 18.9% 70.6%

This is the story you know.  For me, it was even worse than I thought in one respect (NYP%) and better than I expected in another (YPP).  The 3.5 YPP feels high, but that's because nearly one in five times we go backwards.  And, 11 more times, we gained nothing.  That means that 27.3% of the time--more than one in four plays--we end-up in 2nd and 10 or longer.  Those are drive killers.

But that average still feels high...what's brining it up?  Glad you asked.  Gardner has only had one NYP on his first down attempts, and averages 4.9 YPA when he runs it.  When you add in the WR runs with DG, the YPA jumps to 6.6.  What this means is that if you remove the 21 attempts by non-RBs on first down, you end-up with 2.9 YPA.  That's more like it.

So, 59% of the time, we're running our RBs on first down, and averaging 2.9 YPA.  Even that sounds good (isn't that three yards and a cloud of dust?) until you remember that only TWO of the NYPs happened between the QB/WR carries, and there was one bad snap.  That leaves 22 NYP out of 110 RB attempts--an even 20%--that we go backwards with our RB on 1st.  

Want me to make it hurt more?  Okay.  Add-in the zero yardage plays, and it's 33/110 (30%) NYP.  Yep.  We have a 30% chance of ending-up in 2nd and 10 or longer when we run with a RB.

Should we be passing more?  I really wasn't sure about this.  Can we trust DG to be throwing on first down?  There's only one way to know...


55 14 692 12.6 2 3.6% 3 5.5% 29.4%

THIS!  This is much, MUCH better than I thought it would be.  In fact, it's TOO good (I'll explain in a moment).  We only pass 29.4% of the time on first down, but man, does it work.  We average a ridiculous 12.6 yards per play (this includes scrambles), have only 14 incomplete passes (25%), and DG is MUCH less turnover-prone, throwing INTs at a rate of only 3.6%.  There have been only three negative plays (sacks or TFLs).

It is obvious that our tendencies set us up for big passing plays on first down.  But is it worth it?  To end-up in 2nd and 10 or worse 30% of the time we try MANBALL?  We end-up at 2nd and 10 (or worse) 34% of the time when we throw (including INTs), so the risk is almost exactly the same.  The reward is more than four times better.  That's a good investment.

The reason I believe these numbers are too good is that they indicate that our run tendencies on first down are so strong that there is wide open space to be had in the passing game.  I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know, but now it's quantified into a ridiculous 12.6 YPP.

This is a problem because it means that defenses are staying in stacked fronts against us and betting we simply won't even try to pass.  We aren't good at run-blocking, but we're REALLY bad at run-blocking against stacked fronts.  Against both Akron and UConn, the running game took off when the defenses backed out of their stacked fronts when they had the lead late.

And what about those two INTs?  Both were on go routes way down the field.  AB dials-up bombs on first down, which is fine, but I think it's clear there's room for some short-to-intermediate stuff.

Furthermore, if you want your QB to stop turning the ball over, stop putting him in 2nd and 3rd and long--ALL of DG's INTs have come with distances of 5 yards or more to go.

TL;DR - While passing more on first down is likely decrease its effectiveness, it is still FAR better than running with our RBs, and it should open-up some space to be better at that.

Formation Chart

Formation Chart

Submitted by Ron Utah on September 27th, 2013 at 1:40 PM

"I'm unhappy because we sucked." - Al Borges did not say this, but was thinking it.

As we continue our transition to "MANBALL," I was curious to see, statistically, how that transition is going.  The questions I'm trying to answer are: "What is this team good at?  What are they bad at?  What is the logic behind the play-calling?  Are we ready to be a MANBALL team?"

What follows is a chart (based on Brian's UFR) of all the formations used against UConn, the type of plays that were run, and the averages.  It's a big chart.  It's also copied from my post in the UFR thread, as are most of my comments below it.  A few notes:

  • Plays that had a pre-snap penalty or penalty other than pass interference are not counted.
  • Pass interference is counted, since it is assumed the play was successful enough to draw a penalty
  • Sacks are rightfully categorized as passing yards
  • Yes, I'm aware that this analysis has limited variables and misses important data points.  If you want to add something, please do.

Chart?  Chart!

Formation Run Yds Avg Pass Yds Avg Plays Yds Avg
Ace 1 3 3.0 2 2 1.0 3 5 1.7
Ace 3-wide 1 10 10.0 1 0 0.0 2 10 5.0
Ace H 1 0 0.0 1 6 6.0 2 6 3.0
Ace H twins 1 0 0.0       1 0 0.0
Ace twin TE 2 17 8.5 1 0 0.0 3 17 5.7
Ace twins 4 14 3.5       4 14 3.5
Ace twins stack       1 0 0.0 1 0 0.0
Ace twins twin TE 2 16 8.0 1 -16 -16.0 3 0 0.0
ACE (Totals) 12 60 5.0 7 -8 -1.1 19 52 2.7
Goal line 3 20 6.7       3 20 6.7
I-Form 3 8 2.7 1 0 0.0 4 8 2.0
I-Form Big 4 -5 -1.3 1 12 12.0 5 7 1.4
I-Form twins 1 4 4.0       1 4 4.0
I-Form twins stack       1 2 2.0 1 2 2.0
I-FORM (Totals) 8 7 0.9 3 14 4.7 11 21 1.9
Pistol 3-wide 1 7 7.0 1 10 10.0 2 17 8.5
Pistol FB twins 1 -1 -1.0       1 -1 -1.0
Pistol trips 1 -2 -2.0       1 -2 -2.0
PISTOL (Totals) 3 4 1.3 1 10 10.0 4 14 3.5
Shotgun 2TE twins       1 9 9.0 1 9 9.0
Shotgun 3-wide 5 51 10.2 5 17 3.4 10 68 6.8
Shotgun 3-wide jet 2 14 7.0       2 14 7.0
Shotgun 4-wide       1 0 0.0 1 0 0.0
Shotgun 4-wide tight       2 14 7.0 2 14 7.0
Shotgun double stacks       2 20 10.0 2 20 10.0
Shotgun empty TE       1 6 6.0 1 6 6.0
Shotgun trips 2 19 9.5 4 21 5.3 6 40 6.7
Shotgun trips TE       5 27 5.4 5 27 5.4
Shotgun twin TE       1 0 0.0 1 0 0.0
SHOTGUN (Totals) 9 84 9.3 22 114 5.2 31 198 6.4
TOTALS 35 175 5.0 33 130 3.9 68 305 4.5


While it doesn't take into account some easy missed plays and some heroic efforts to make something out of nothing, the chart does show that we seem to be much more successful when we're not under center.  We ran 35 of our 68 plays from the pistol or shotgun, and the shotgun was our best bet.

I agree with Brian's conclusions that this team benefits greatly from being in the gun.  I'd love to see more MANBALL out of the Pistol, but the under center stuff didn't work for most of the game.

That said, the Ace formation gave us critical rushing yards during our comeback.  I believe it was effective because UConn feared we might actually pass when we were behind in the 4th quarter.  When they know we're going to run, the under center stuff just doesn't work.

For those of you calling for more simplicity--you have a point.  We used 26 different formations for 68 plays.

Some interesting data points:

  • We are really efficient in the goal line set.  That's because DG is running, and he's good at it.
  • The Ace set worked fine for running (mostly late), but the passing ruined it.  Some of that is on DG, so this set might improve.
  • The I-Form was generally bad, and the Big set was terrible.  A big play on a PA pass was missed by DG though, so it's not quite as bad as it looks.
  • Shotgun was our most common set with 31 plays.
  • Not much Pistol at all, and from the plays we did run, it doesn't look like we're practicing this much.