UGASports - Football 101: Analytics Part 2
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Football 101: Analytics Part 2

Dayne Young and Brent Rollins collaborate to discover the nuances of the Georgia Bulldogs and college football.

*All grades and other data via www.PFF.com*

This is part of a football 101 series where we lay out explanations and the merits of different football concepts.

View Part 1 of this piece here.

Brent: In Part 1 of our Football 101 focus on analytics (link above), we primarily focused on all things value, or what the math and research has shown to be the most valuable elements of the game that translate to winning. This week, we are going to focus on situational elements, both from a statistical and play calling standpoint. We are even going to show some of these elements in a 'do this, not that' format. Thus, when you put the two parts together, you'll have your armchair quarterback's guide to analyze, and maybe even criticize, in-game decision making based on what the analytics of the game would suggest.

Dayne: Situational football is what separates a good coach from a good planner. Traditional football logic says one thing, analytics say another. We are still relatively young in the analytics movement and I don't think we often see coaches make bold decisions in important moments simply because the numbers say so. Here are some of the situations where many coaches should rethink what they normally do.

Traditional RB stats can lie

D'Andre Swift breaks off a long run.
D'Andre Swift breaks off a long run.

Brent: Where does D'Andre Swift first get touched on this run? Yes, his speed, burst, vision and slight little cuts turn this run into a big play, but how much of the success of this play was because of the blocking downfield by Andrew Thomas, Charlie Woerner and Matt Landers? Overall, multiple data studies, including ones from PFF, have shown success in the running game depends on offensive line play, field position (i.e. not in the red zone) and the number of defenders in the box more than anything to do with the running back's own ability. Scheme also becomes just as important. Thus, that is why sometimes you see an 18 carry, 176-yard performance receive an average grade in our system. When isolating the running back's performance, you can a different story in the clips below.

Dayne: D'Andre Swift often made defenders miss. This was the first game of the season when Georgia's halfhearted attempt at the option read was still enough to make defenders stutter. As the season progressed and there was little willingness for the quarterback to keep the football, defenses lost respect and focused on the running back. Just because a run works in Game 1 does not mean it will work in Game 10.

Swift runs up the middle.
Swift runs up the middle.
Brian Herrien squeaks through missed tackles.
Brian Herrien squeaks through missed tackles.

Brent: The two runs above highlight the two of the most important pieces of grading a running back's play. First, Swift's cutting ability turned a possible loss into a positive play for the offense. In the second clip, Brian Herrien gets basically the totality of his rushing yards on the play completely by himself. Look where he first gets contacted. This is why in my post-game observations, you'll frequently see me discuss yards after contact, yards after contact per attempt or missed tackles forced. These are the measures that paint a much better picture of just how much a running back is gaining on his own. One of those numbers that bode well for 2020 is two of the top three team leaders in yards after contact per attempt, Zamir White and James Cook, return to the backfield.

Dayne: Zamir White showed some tough running and the ability to shed tacklers, especially in the Sugar Bowl vs. Baylor. These are the kinds of plays that bail out offensive lineman and sustain drives. Sometimes, the running back picks the wrong lane and has to make a cut to correct a mistake. Sometimes, a blocker executes the wrong assignment or gets beat. Regardless, the best running backs find a way to keep moving forward even when momentum is sopped.


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