UM Leads the BIG in red zone TD% for conference play

Submitted by KodiakGT on November 13th, 2017 at 11:49 AM

Over on /r/cfb there was a thread showing that during conference play UM leads the BIG in red zone TD% with 17/23 TDs (73.91%).  I thought this was particularly hilarious given the discussions on the site earlier in the year.

Raw stats:



November 13th, 2017 at 11:57 AM ^

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not but this is one thing I disagree with Brian about. Red zone offense is different than regular offense. The field becomes condensed and an offense is less able to stress a defense vertically with the pass. WRs don't have a lot of room to get behind CBs so the coverage rolls up, tightening down. Passing windows are all smaller. And this may be feelingsball, but defenses play with more urgency inside the 20.

Leaders And Best

November 13th, 2017 at 12:53 PM ^

Somewhat agree but the 20-yard line is a bad place to do it. I think the 10 yard line (goal to go situations) would be a much better place to draw that arbitrary line. And a lot depends on what down you reach the red zone. If you cross the 20 yard line on 2nd down, and now have a 3rd down, how can you compare that to starting with a 1st down fairly? That is why I think goal to go situations make more sense. And counting a FG as much as a TD makes no sense. Points per trip is what should be there.

I think it is a bit of an antiquated stat like RBI in baseball.

The Maizer

November 13th, 2017 at 2:19 PM ^

Exactly. Which two of the following are most similar?

A. 1st and goal from the 1

B. 3rd and 12 from the 19

C. 3rd and 12 from the 21

A and B would count toward redzone stats while B and C are clearly more similar.

That being said, 1st and goal from the 1 is obviously not the same offense situation as 1st and 10 from your own 25. The playbook changes close to the endzone, but that doesn't make redzone offense stats meaningful.


November 13th, 2017 at 2:57 PM ^

I don't think it exists in the sense that teams change their philosophy and magically get better or worse.  Good teams score, bad teams don't.  Doesn't matter where you are on the field.

That said the importantance of getting TDs vs field goals is important and the 20 yard line is just a historical marker for where we start making that comparison.  Honestly I could make the argument that as kickers have improved we could move "red zone" back to the 25 maybe 30 yard line since a 42 or 47 yard field goal isn't as rare as they once were.


November 14th, 2017 at 12:12 AM ^

While TV annouoncers and statisticians call it the Red Zone, and make a big deal about some arbitrarily defined yard line, what matters more to players and coaches is the "Scoring Zone" which is closely related to Field Goal range.

Things do chance- the coverages defenses play in the increasingly compressed spaces change, and there is less field to defend. Vertcal routes change. Screens are less effective. Defenses bring in different personnel. They blitz more (they've got less to lose, and they often play as though their masculinity is threatened). Offenses must do more to prevent a sack, especially if they are at the edge. Offenses are less likely to use varied counts (from the 4, a false start is more damaging to the offense than an offside is to the defense). There is a difference.


November 13th, 2017 at 12:03 PM ^

I agree with you completely. Why do we have descriptions of recruits that speak to them being a potential "red zone threat" if it isn't a meaningful concept.

I think what Brian likely means (or should mean) here is that there's a high correlation between overall efficiency of an offense and red zone efficiency. Which is likely true. And that there's a fair amount of randomness.


November 13th, 2017 at 12:18 PM ^

Brian that it was mostly in people's heads to recognizing that if it's in people's heads, and people make it a thing, it is indeed a thing. Twenty is obviously arbitrary, and every position on the field yields a set of variables for play-calling. But whether you can punch it in when you get down close--as Ds bear down, as the ability to make long passes diminishes is important. And field goals are fairly automatic from inside the 20, so a failure to get at least some easy points is meaningful. 


November 13th, 2017 at 12:10 PM ^

I'm sorry, but you're mistaken.  The numbers simply don't bear it out -- at least, not in terms of the definition of the Red Zone as "20 yard line and in."

If this were the case, the value of a yard of field position would change in the red zone -- getting from the 19 to the 18 would be statisitcally more meaningful than getting from the 22 to the 21.  I've never seen a study that supports that, and I've seen plenty that don't.

Now, vertical compression of the field may be a real issue at the 3, but it's not at the 20 -- it only takes a couple of routes out of the playbook.

And, if I were the head coach and my defense played with more urgency inside the 20, I'd find a new defensive coordinator.  The team you're describing is letting up in non-red-zone situations.  They should have the same urgency anywhere on the field.


November 13th, 2017 at 12:13 PM ^

Depends on what you mean. The plays you can execute are different because of the space limitations, something we all understand. Wilton Speight was unwilling to make tight-window throws into the endzone, and as a result he tossed a bunch of uncatchable fade passes that he didn't need to bother with when the team was in the middle of the field, stuff like that.

But the theory that an offense that struggles in the red zone is basically an offense that struggles, full stop, makes a lot of sense to me. Take Michigan's struggles, for example: It's not like the offense was lighting up Cincinnatti and Air Force between the 20s. Remember the big brouhaha about Speight completely missing a wide open Grant Perry when he should have been the immediate read, switching sides of the field, and rifling an impossible pass to DPJ? Remember the team being totally unable to block basic inside zone runs?

Those weren't consequences of running plays inside the 20. Those were middle of the field plays that Michigan struggled in. The same issues were magnified inside the 20, but they were real issues with the offense. The offense just wasn't good.

It's not great now, but it is better. And it is better, specifically, at running the football. The results speak for themselves. 

I think Speight would benefit from the improved running game quite a bit. Maybe we'll get a chance to find out.

Space Coyote

November 13th, 2017 at 12:54 PM ^

There is something different in general about "red zone offense" and it becomes more evident the closer you get to the end zone. It does make "red zone" more or less an arbitrary yardage to start that though, it just gets harder to gain yards as you become more vertically limited. So there is something, in general, about being capable of scoring TDs down near the end zone that is real.

However - and this is where I agree with Brian - the reason for Michigan's struggles were not because of some mythical thing that happened as soon as they stepped into the red zone. The problems Michigan were having in the red zone were the same problems they were having all over the field: inconsistency blocking, poor pass protection, lack of separation from the receivers, etc. Those problems became more evident when the space became more limited. It wasn't really new problems being introduced, which people often make claims about with "red zone offense" as much as it was the offense generally struggling to be consistent and those iconsistencies becoming more evident and more harmful near the end zone.

Teams can struggle near the end zone. You see it often with Air Raid teams that can't punch the ball in. Used to see it with a lot of spread teams, and many have solved those issues by becoming less spread near the goal line. So there are schematic and skill attributes that can cause some teams to struggle more near the end zone. But that wasn't Michigan's issue as much as just inconsistent play and small sample size.


November 13th, 2017 at 1:13 PM ^

If this is true, it can't be a very big difference, right?  It cannot be more difficult to score a touchdown from the 4 than from the 9, or teams would commit procedure penalties when they get to the 4.

Taking this a step further, if it's more difficult to score from the 4 than the 5, players should be instructed to take a knee at the 5 if it appears that they'll be tackled at the 4.

Space Coyote

November 13th, 2017 at 1:51 PM ^

If you have the ball at the one yard line, it's harder to gain one yard than if you have the ball at the 10 yard line. But if you have the ball from the one yard line, it's easier to gain one yard than it is to gain 10 yards from the 10 yard line.


November 13th, 2017 at 2:46 PM ^

That seems intuitively obvious. :)  I feel like that should show up in the advanced stats -- specifically, expected point value based upon field position.  However, I can't work out what I would expect the effect to be -- whether it should depres or inflate the point values.  I'll need to give it some more thought. :)


November 13th, 2017 at 11:53 AM ^

Incremental improvement!  After the first 4-5 games, everyone was wondering what happened tot he offense - it simply could not score in the redzone.  Brian even tried telling us that no such thing exists!  What a difference some experience and reps can make...


November 13th, 2017 at 12:04 PM ^

Is that really the lesson you want to take from all of this?

The lesson is that Ed Feng was correct.  (IIRC, it was Ed's point during a WTKA roundtable, which Brian then ran with).  Red zone offense is statistically indistinguishable from non-red-zone offense.  The rules do not change when you cross the 20 yard line, and the "end line as a 12th man" effect -- compression of the field vertically -- doesn't really have a big effect until you're inside the 10.  (How many 30+ yard routes has Michigan run recently?)  Teams gain about the same number of yards per snap inside the red zone as they do outside of it.

You're not seeing the effect of experience or practice repetitions.  You're seeing a statistical illusion.  At the start of the year, Michigan's true talent level was not the all-time worst team in college football history at scoring touchdowns from the red zone.  Their true talent level is not now that of the best team in the Big Ten at scoring touchdowns from the red zone.

It is a random statistical anomaly that carries no predictive or analytic power.  It means nothing.


November 13th, 2017 at 12:25 PM ^

Well argued. ;)

"It means nothing" is probably too harsh.  It may be a sign that Michigan's overall offense has improved, as that does appear to be the case over the past couple of weeks.  It is not a sign that they have somehow gotten better at executing that offense within the 20 -- except to the extent that they've also gotten better at doing so throughout the rest of the field.


November 13th, 2017 at 2:15 PM ^

Oh for heaven's sake, why are you so literal?  Lighten the fuck up, Francis!  I said "incremental improvement" - that more reps and experience has improved the offense.  But all you chose to do is focus on 'red zone'.  Try re-reading for comprehension.

"You're not seeing the effect of experience or practice repetitions.  You're seeing a statistical illusion."

So the drastic improvement of the run game from prior to MSU to now is nothing more than a "statistical illusion", and has nothing to do with "experience or practice repetitions" that a very young team has gone through all season?  That's an interesting supposition, J.!  But the lesson you so painstakingly laid out (and that I agree with), is that 'redzone offense' is the same as 'all field offense'.  So basically, what you're saying is that the team was just as good at offense in the Cincinnati and AF games as they were against IU, Rutgers, and UMD - because it's nothing more than a statistcal illusion regardless of practice reps and experience.  

I disagree with your supposition.


November 13th, 2017 at 2:52 PM ^

Are they better at offense now?  They seem to be, although I have my doubts just due to the tissue-paper strength of the defenses they've faced recently.  S&P+ seems to think they're better, so that makes me feel better.

Considering that both this thread and the comment to which you replied seemed to suggest that Michigan had improved its red zone offense specifically, I read yours in the same context.

I was not referring to the overall offensive improvement -- if any -- as a statistical illusion, but rather the jump in red zone touchdown percentage, which was the statistic being discussed.  I am quite confident that Michigan does not have the best offense in the Big Ten.

Harbaugh's Lef…

November 13th, 2017 at 12:00 PM ^

My math/number could be wrong but with Brandon Peters in, Michigan's Red Zone/TD percentage is 75% (9 in 12), 81.8% (9 in 11) if you don't include the Red Zone kneel downs to end the game on Saturday.

Not bad!


November 13th, 2017 at 12:13 PM ^

The redzone itself is a made up entity since the 20-yard line is arbitrary.  As a result, Brian's argument that redzone offense/efficiency is no different than conventional offensive performance is accurate.  There is an extreme correlation between how your offense is performing all over the field and the red zone.

However, I suspect that if someone ran the stats that there is a worse correlation the closer you get to the goal-line.  The old run-and-shoot teams are an example here to prove a point - they could march all over the field as they spread defenses out and ran deep routes.  Inside the 5 yard line when they needed to score that got more difficult since power-running wasn't one of their talents and it is harder to run 5-wide in the endzone.  

I think redzone offense is probably a misnomer, but I do think short-yardage offense is a thing.  Michigan is better in conference play in part because of the QB switch, but also because the running game has significantly improved and the play-calling is part of it as well.  


November 13th, 2017 at 12:15 PM ^

Do you have stats on run-and-shoot teams in the redzone? It seems like the air raid offenses, which have adopted a number of r&s concepts, do fine there. And 5-wide actually spreads the field horizontally in a way that is productive for short passes.


November 13th, 2017 at 12:17 PM ^

And now I think you could argue that the redzone offense is the same as the regular offense. But at the beginning of the season, the redzone offense consisted of totally different play calls than the offense that was chugging between the 20s


November 13th, 2017 at 12:24 PM ^

I believe the play calling in the red zone will get more complex from here on out for theses big games. My guess is coach has some nice things up his sleeve to help us finish off drives.