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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bobo & Willie: More Fun With Numbers

Yesterday I posted some interesting statistical work done by reader Jim F. regarding Willie Martinez's ability to make in-game adjustments. The reaction from readers was mixed, which is about what I expected. First, as I readily admitted in the post, stats don't prove everything, they simply provide context. If that context is being provided to an already fully-formed opinion, well, it's not very useful. For everyone else, my hope was that it might shed more light on the questions of why Martinez's defenses were struggling. In either case, it was not meant to say that Willie wasn't struggling.

But, the real beauty of yesterday's post wasn't the grand illumination of Georgia's defensive misfortunes. It was that it ignited a bit of creative and mathematical ingenuity on the parts of some other readers. So, let's take a look at what they found...

First, from David E., who wasn't sold on the numbers that supported Willie's ability to adjust in game. One of the common criticisms of the analysis was that teams are often less aggressive in the fourth quarter when they have a lead, so numbers across the board would be down.

There's some merit to that, I'd imagine, but that hasn't really been the case for Georgia's opponents this season. Either way, numbers only make sense in context, and David wanted to see how the Bulldogs' competition fared from quarter to quarter, too. Here are the results:

Looking at yards allowed by Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida and Vandy this year....

Ga Tech
All 972 861 480 425
1st half
554 378 269 264
2nd half
418 483 211 161
1st qtr
305 137 74 74
2nd qtr
249 241 195 190
3rd qtr
302 281 87 63
4th qtr
116 202 124 98

Now by QB rating...

Ga Tech
All 125.79 133.09 75.29 80.19
1st half
112.62 88.55 85.54
2nd half
115.29 155.3 61.85 72.94
1st qtr
165.19 96.02
67.46 67.46
2nd qtr
106.33 127.72
104.8 99.88
3rd qtr
147 215.22 61.54 66.48
4th qtr
75.89 115.92 61.98 79.7

And lastly, by first downs...

Ga Tech
All 41 34
24 18
1st half
23 16
14 13
2nd half
18 18 10 5
1st qtr
5 3
2nd qtr
9 10
3rd qtr
10 3 2
4th qtr
8 7 3

So, what does this tell us? I'll let David give his thoughts:

"As you can see, we are not that great at "making adjustments." Between the first and second half, only tech did not improve in their defense. Also, while it seems that our fourth quarter numbers are low relative to our first quarter numbers, this isn't unique to us, and, I think most disturbingly, speaks more to how terrible our first quarter numbers are. This little exercise has not helped my confidence. Cripes!!"

Two points I'll agree with David on: First, "Cripes" is a great thing to yell in situations like this. Second, Georgia's first quarter numbers (and really, the numbers overall) are pretty bad. Again, there have been no cupcakes on the Bulldogs' schedule like Tech, Florida and Vandy have enjoyed, but Georgia's numbers across the board are almost double what Florida and Vandy are allowing.

On the other side of the coin, I will offer this: In virtually every category for all three teams David studied, the numbers went up in the second and fourth quarters from where they were in the first and third quarters. For Georgia, however, it's just the opposite.

I'm not sure what that means, but here's one thought: Football is a game of adjustments. You come in with a game plan, and one team's is better than the others. Then coaches adjust, and you might expect a swing. Then coaches adjust again, and you might expect a swing back. Then again, and so on. These numbers tell me that for teams like Tech, Florida and Vandy, they've come into the game with a good plan, then adjusted at the half to the adjustments made by the opposition for the second and fourth quarters.

Georgia, on the other hand, has come in with a game plan that hasn't quite worked, been forced to adjust midway through each half.

Obviously that is far from fact, but it's one way of looking at the numbers, and it's a different opinion than I think most fans have of Willie.

But let's get back to the originator of this little exercise, our fine reader Jim F.

Rather than hide behind his first bit of analysis, Jim went back to find some context. To be fair, he included some delightful graphs of these numbers that I am simply not smart enough to get to format properly in this blog post. If any of you would really like to see the full standings, email me and I'll be happy to forward along the file in Excel format.

Anyway, here's Jim's explanations of his work...

What I got: The Overall QB Rating, 1st Half QB Rating, 2nd Half QB Rating and 4th Qtr QB Rating for all SEC teams. I want to get a SEC Rank of where UGA pass D adjustments stood.

Theory: Regardless of opponent, a "good DC" will make adjustments at the Half to nullify what the opponent is doing in its game plan, and within the game or late-game performance (either 'going for the throat', a trade mark of a "good defense" or coming up big in pressure situations)

Limitations: QB Rating itself -not the prefect stat, as stated the other day. If you asked, I doubt seriously not even 90% of even hard core fans, without Google, could accurately tell you what the formula is. I believe it is: ((QB age/2) + sq root of QB IQ) + (on a 10 point scale the Avg. score of cheerleader rooting him on) + TD)) - minus interceptions. :>). Suffice it to say the lower the "better" a Defense is playing.

(*Say that might be worth another prize pack: What is the formula?*)

I used variance as the indicator, again attempting to limit the argument - weak opponent vs. stronger opponent. What happened during the course of the game was what I was trying to get to. Variance is the change that happened, supposedly credited to decisions made during the game on the sidelines - adjustments. You could have used raw numbers, but I didn't go that route for reasons stated.

By using variance, it does legitimately leave some room for criticism. That is it is really measuring "Most Improved D/C during the game Award". I am taking two snapshots: One at the half and one at the end - giving out two pieces of hardware. For the halftime, I used the drop, hopefully, seen during the second half as compared to the first half. For the late-game performance, I used the variance between fourth quarter and overall.

But the truth is again that it is like "test score improvement". Well a 25 to 50 is a 100 percent improvement, but that potential "misleading" possibility is still out there. Being totally fair though three wins out of 4 is not a total failure.

Also the other potential 'misleading' variable is a) the number of games played and b) the number of BCS opponents that they played. Can other teams D stats be misleading because they played FLA Atlantic instead of a Big 12 team? After I got the QB Ratings to help minimizes that distortion or "noise" I went back and added the number of BCS opponents each team has faced on top of the graphs (on right hand side axis), and will let you decide if a team's D stat is puffed up by cupcakes or legit. But I didn't add in total games to graph, too confusing. But getting rest and playing with rested legs after 2-a-days is an important factor.

Results: UGA D Ranked fourth in halftime adjustments in making QB Rating drop, and first (best!) with fourth quarter adjustments. Auburn actually ranked No. 1 in halftime adjustments. With all the attention on the other side, I guess Chizik is taking on his D/C, umm HC, responsibilities.

OK, so Jim's additional research doesn't really vary greatly from David's, despite studying some different teams. So I think it's fair to say that, comparatively, Georgia -- i.e. Willie -- is doing a good job in the second and fourth quarters of games. But again, what does that mean?

That's the part that's open for debate, and I would guess that your explanation will likely be defined by how you view Willie as a coach to begin with. Indeed, the numbers are only a part of the story. You have to make the ending up for yourself.

Of course, we've spent all this time talking about the defense, and that's hardly fair to Mike Bobo, Georgia's offensive coordinator who has earned a share of criticism himself.

I wrote in my practice notes yesterday how Georgia was hoping to jump start its running game. Well, reader John B. decided to do some homework on the issue and thinks the problems may not be with Richard Samuel or Caleb King, but rather with Mike Bobo.

I'll let John explain his premise:

"I wanted to see how UGA's play selection and success/failure compared to other top teams on first down. My criteria was the team must be top rated and can't have more than one loss. Plus, I took the games that those teams played against their best competition. This was done because UGA has played no cupcakes yet.

"Games Selected: Bama vs VT, Boise vs Oregon, Miami vs GT, LSU vs Washington, USC vs OSU, Jean Shorts vs Coonskin Caps, TCU vs Clemson, South Carolina vs Ole Miss.

"The summary of the above winning team's first down play calling was charted to compare to UGA, then averaged to see how UGA's average over four games compared to these top programs' eight games."

Interesting premise, so let's see the results...

1st down passes 47 69
Completions 28 41
Incompletions 19 28
Comp %
59.57 59.42
Pass Yards
512 522
Avg Yd/attempt
10.89 7.57
Rushes 57 160
Rush yards 287 836
Rush yds/attempt 5.04 5.23
Pass to Run Ratio 45%/55% 30%/70%

(*Remember, this is play calling on FIRST DOWN only, not overall. So while Bobo appears "balanced" you have to factor in that first is traditionally more of a running down, while third down, for example, tends to skew in the other direction.)

This is pretty fascinating, but let me allow John his thoughts first...

* UGA is passing on first down 15 percent more than other top programs
* UGA's avg yards per pass attempt is significantly higher than other top programs. More than 3 yards per attempt. Thanks AJ and Orson!
* UGA has 10 fewer yards passing on first down than the 8 top teams selected combined
* Joe Cox's completion % on first down is nearly identical to the other 8 top teams
* UGA's avg yards per rush is on par with other top teams. Only lagging by less than .25 yards per attempt

John's conclusions:

"I believe UGA's struggles with the running game is a direct result to the lack of commitment to running the ball on 1st down. If Mike Bobo doesn't make a concerned effort to establish the run from the very beginning, how can you expect to be able to run it in crucial game winning or clock eating drives? I believe if this trend continues it will be tough to compete in the SEC East.

"Success in the running game comes from a team mind-set and commitment to be a physical team. You have to practice it in order to create the mind-set and team attitude that "no one is going to stop us." If we need two yards, we WILL get 3.

"I understand you have to get the ball to AJ. He's the best player on the field (PERIOD). BUT look at the Arkansas game. UGA ran the ball on every first-down play in the first 5 drives of the game. This opened up first down passing plays later in the game of 25, 20, 50, 18, 44 and 23 yards. Cox was 6 for 8 for 180 yards after we commited the first five drives to establishing the run.


OK, back to my thoughts...

First, you have to wonder about the simple paradox of cause and effect here. Is Georgia's running game struggling because they aren't running enough on first down or are they not running enough on first down because the running game is struggling?

I think the answer to that has to be the former, because as John points out, Georgia's success on the ground on first down is virtually identical to the success achieved by the victorious team in those other eight games.

Still, I'm not entirely sure I agree with John's conclusion that by not running on first down, Georgia is failing to set up the proper mind-set for success. There may be some truth to that, but I think the bigger issue is a matter of situational dynamics.

I spoke with Mike Bobo yesterday about the running game's problems, and he said he thought a good bit of that had to do with turnovers and penalties. It makes some sense.

Georgia ranks 115th nationally in penalty yards (314), with a majority of those coming on offense. That means Georgia is facing more first-and-15s or second- and third-and-longs as a result. Those aren't running situations, obviously.

Also look at the Bulldogs' turnovers. They have 12 already this year. Two occured on special teams, which cost the team a drive. Add in the fake punt by South Carolina, and that's another drive that Georgia lost. Then look at when the other 10 turnovers occurred:

Against Oklahoma State, Georgia had three turnovers -- one on the second play of a drive, one on the third and one on the fifth. That last one occurred on Georgia's last drive of the game when the Bulldogs were in pass-only mode as they tried desperately to play catch-up.

Against South Carolina, Georgia had two more offensive turnovers -- one on the second play of a drive, one on the first.

Against Arkansas, Georgia also had two offensive turnovers -- one the first play of a drive, one on the third.

And last week against Arizona State, Georgia had three offensive turnovers -- two on the third play of a drive, one on the first.

So that's essentially nine more drives that last three plays or fewer before ending with a turnover.

Then go back to John's numbers again. Georgia is throwing on first down 45 percent of the time. Those throws fall incomplete 40 percent of the time. That means that 18 percent of the time, Georgia is facing a second-and-10, which again is hardly an optimal running situation.

The bottom line is that Georgia's running game hasn't been given a chance to succceed yet. If 18 percent of its drives result in a second-and-long, 12 drives have been cut short by turnovers in three plays or less, and the team ranks among the worst in the country in penalties, there is simply no way for the running backs to get in a groove because the situations rarely dictate that being a possibility. Georgia has run the ball as much as they have because Bobo is insisting on it, not because the game has allowed it.

So while I think John has some serious merit in his analysis, I also think that if the Bulldogs can hold on to the ball and cut down on the flags, there's a good chance we'll see some improvement in the running game without any other factors being considered. Add to that improved play by Samuel and King, some more efficient play calls by Bobo and better blocking by the disappointing offensive line, and Georgia may really have a nice ground game going by the end of the season.

ADDENDUM: There's really nothing like tying two unrelated thoughts together, right? And while the analysis of Willie and the analysis of Bobo may not seem related that closely, here's some food for thought:

Georgia has 53 offensive drives so far this season (*not including drives to run out the clock before the half or to end the game).

A poor running game or poor play calling can result in short drives and lots of three-and-outs.

Twelve of Georgia's drives have ended in turnovers in 5 plays or fewer.

Eight have been scoring drives that lasted 5 plays or fewer.

Nine have been three-and-outs.

Seven more have been four or five plays before Georgia was forced to punt.

So far this season, Georgia has had possession of the football for a total of 113 minutes, 45 seconds out of a possible 240 minutes (i.e. 47 percent of the time).

But, add in South Carolina's fake punt, and on 37 of 54 possible possessions (69 percent) Georgia has run five plays or fewer before either scoring or giving the ball back to the opposition.

Since the defense cannot give up any yardage when the offense is on the field, and since the offense has not been on the field nearly as much as it could have been, it's fair to say that there's been a bit of an extra burden put on the D this season.

If Georgia was even moderately more successful in avoiding penalties and short drives, that time of possession number could swing wildly in the other direction, which by definition, would reduce some of the ugly numbers going against the D right now.


Anonymous said...

I think the 45% to 55% run-pass ratio demonstrates that Bobo is GOING TO BE balance regardless of what the situation calls for.

Is that good thing or bad thing? It is stubborn.

Agree: I wish he was as hard headed to est. the run

David Hale said...

Keep in mind, Anon -- that's not 45/55 overall. That's 45/55 ON FIRST DOWN. Obviously third down is a bigger passing down usually, and first tends to be more of a running down. So Bobo is skewing a bit from the norm.

chris said...

Wow. The boards and blogs are often full of anecdotal observations from blow-hards with preconceived notions that they are normally just repeating.

Great posting for those of us who like to delve a little deeper. Now, if only I had the afternoon to devote to the subject like all of the Chandler Bing's who contributed.

Pete said...

Wow - helluva an article. Kudos to all who contributed.

jferg said...

agreed, kudos all around. i like these numbers and if nothing else, forces us all to switch from emotional knee-jerk reactions to thinking more logically.

switching gears, david, can you give us your thoughts on the players this week? are they as focused and eager for LSU as we all hope they are? also, a lot of people praised Rambo for his play--but other than the interception, which was great, what specifically made him better than say Evans? On TV we don't get to see much more than "plays on the ball".

MikeInValdosta said...

Nice work, David. Now if you could tell us which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Seriously, I do not think Bobo has been committed to the running game. Not sure I would be either with number 8 on my side.

If any of the teams used in these comparisons had AJ Green, they would probably being throwing more on 1st down.

Having said that, I wish we would run it more.

David Hale said...

jferg -- I'll actually have a post about your first question tomorrow.

On your second question about Rambo, he was actually very good in coverage while he was in the game. He deflected Sullivan's second-down pass on that final drive following Cox's second INT, which proved to be crucial.

It wasn't a game that will immediately vault him past Evans on the depth chart, but it was good evidence that he needs to be getting more PT.

the anonymous suckup said...


You've cultivated quite the neighborhood blog, no? Thanks to you and the readers who contributed.

Out of that mountain of information, I'm going to seize on one small part of it. You said first and 15 is obviously not a running situation. I disagree. It certainly could be a running situation if you are running the ball well. I'll take a pretty reliable 4-6 yards on first down in that situation under most circumstances. To me, it is better than the alternative of passing. First of all, the opponent is probably expecting a pass. Secondly, a 40(ish)% chance of an incompletion leaves you with a good shot at second and 15. Thirdly, running the ball is a usually a better way to avoid turnovers. Fourthly (is that a word?), running the ball usually eats up more time on the clock thereby helping the defense stay off the field - which you said was a good thing toward the end of your post.

Now, I'll admit I'm a huge fan of running the ball - especially on first down - so I guess I do have a bias, but still...

David Hale said...

Very fair point, A S-U. I guess I really misrepresented things with that statement. It isn't that it's a bad running situation, but it does LEAD to bad running situations, such as third-and-long, down the line. Either way, I think we can agree that first-and-15s are not the most advantageous situation for the offense to be in. To your bigger point though -- running the ball leads to less risk overall, both in terms of turnovers, third-and-longs and in time of possession (i.e. keeping a questionable D off the field).

Given all of Georgia's talent and all they've had to overcome to this point, doesn't lowering risk sound like a pretty good idea?

the anonymous suckup said...


I'm all about lowering risk. I wholeheartedly agree with the old saying about there being three things that can happen when you throw the football and two of them are bad.

Having said all of that, I'm not against passing altogether - especially when #8 is on the team. When they were slinging the ball all over the field against Arkansas, I wasn't screaming for more rushing. The passing game was on fire, and I was happy for them to continue.

But what sometimes irritates me about Bobo is that he will voluntarily abandon the running game when the opponent has shown no ability to stop it. When I become an SEC offensive coordinator, my philosophy will always be to run first and continue running until the opponent stops me. I won't be concerned with balance. I'll be concerned with winning the game. And if I win it 20-13 rather than 49-42, that will be fine with me.

David Hale said...

I agree... for example, when he pulled Samuel out of the game for nearly the entire second quarter against South Carolina. It was inexplicable. I don't in any way believe there is a right way and a wrong way to find "balance" but there is a right way and a wrong way to call an individual play given the other dynamics at play, and I tend to think Bobo doesn't always take those things into consideration.