Topic: Inside the offensive improvement (long and some maths)
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Inside the offensive improvement (long and some maths)

emoji_events [26]
Oct 12, 2016, 1:33 PM

First off let me provide a disclaimer. I am completely ignoring the SC State game as I don't think it's relevant to this discussion. When i say "first three games" I'm talking about Auburn, Troy, and GT.

Offensive Efficiency and Explosive Plays

Opponent - Plays - Yards - YPP
Auburn - 78 - 399 - 5.12
Troy - 85 - 414 - 4.87
Georgia Tech - 82 - 442 - 5.39
Louisville - 62 - 507 - 8.18
Boston College - 61 - 508 - 8.33

Opponent - Plays of 20+ - 30+ - 50+
Auburn - 5 - 1 - 0
Troy - 3 - 1 - 0
Georgia Tech - 3 - 0 - 0
Louisville - 7 - 3 - 0
BC - 2 - 1 - 3

You can see the huge jump in yards per play. We averaged just 5.12 YPP in the first 3 games which was in the bottom half of the country. Over the last 2 we've averaged 8.26 which is on par with Louisville's 8.22 that is tops in the nation.

We've also really started hitting on the big plays that were missing earlier in the season (a large reason why our YPP has soared). Over the first 3 games we had 11 plays of 20+, 2 plays of 30+, and none that went for 50+. In the last two games we've hit on 9 plays of 20+, 4 plays of 30+, and 3 of 50+.

Finishing Drives
I don't like the standard "red zone" numbers. Here I define a scoring chance as any possession where the team has a first down inside the opponents 40 yard line.

Opponent - Scoring Chances - TD - FG
Auburn - 6 - 2 - 2
Troy - 7 - 3 - 3
Georgia Tech - 7 - 3 - 1
Louisville - 9 - 6 - 0
Boston College - 4 - 4 - 0

Notice the big increase in TDs. In the first 3 games we had 20 scoring chances and only converted 8 into TDs. In the last 2 we've had 13 scoring chances and cashed in 9 for TDs. Converting chances into TDs is what really saved us in the Louisville game. We also generated 9 scoring opportunities which is quite a bit. Also note that we had 3 really long TDs against BC that came from outside the 40.

Big plays tend to have a large impact on finishing drives with TDs. It's a lot more difficult to grind out a 13 play 75 yard drive and cap it off with a TD. When you can't hit on big plays, any little thing like a penalty or negative play can end a drive. It's no surprise to me that our TD% has really jumped given our increase in big plays.

What's made the difference?

In my opinion it's been the re-emergence of Deon Cain, Jordan Leggett, and the running game.

The running game woes caused a lot of problems for our offense over the first 3 games. Against Auburn we averaged just 3.4 yards per rush. That number increased to 3.8 against Troy and 4.1 against GT, but these are still very mediocre numbers and a significant drop off from what we were able to do in 2015. How about in these last two games against Louisville and BC? 6.5 and 6.6 YPC. Getting that kind of production on the ground really opens everything else up.

Another thing that stood out to me was that, of our 11 plays that went for 20+ and 2 that went for 30+, they were almost exclusively Mike Williams and Ray Ray McCloud. A lot of them went for pretty close to right on 20 yards. That leads me to...

Deon Cain really burst onto the scene as our big play guy around the middle of 2015. As we all know he was, unfortunately, sent home from the playoffs and while he did return to the Clemson team for 2016, you would hardly know it from watching the start of 2016. Cain caught just 4 passes for 39 yards against Auburn, Troy, and GT. However he has once against burst onto the scene catching 7 balls for 166 yards (23.71 ypc) and FOUR TDs in the last two. Our home run threat appears to be back.

Jordan Leggett was another key target a year ago providing a security blanket for DW4 and catching a lot of big passes for key conversions. This year, however, he caught just 5 balls for 40 yards prior to the Louisville game. Compare that with 5 catches for 136 yards and 2 TDs in the last two games. Leggett has suddenly become a big play threat for the Tigers. While I'm not sure THAT will continue, it certainly seems like he is finding his groove in the offense and I'm pretty confident we can count on a lot more production from Leggett than we saw early in the year.

Is this improvement sustainable?

I'm no fortune teller so it's a difficult question to answer, but i can point to a few things that would suggest that it can.

1) This isn't some sort of "false improvement" created by playing a couple of bad defenses. Louisville is ranked 20th in total defense while BC is 6th. If you are like me and don't really like the total defense stat, how about the S&P+? Louisville is 31st and BC is 9th. For comparison our other 3 FBS opponents average 39th in total D and 37th in S&P+. These were both very good defenses that we torched.

2) Improved running game and big plays in the passing game point to one really crucial thing to me: improved OL play. You can't run the ball well or get the time needed in the pocket to hit on deep balls when the OL isn't performing. That was a big problem early in the year but seems to be improving. With solid OL play there really is no weakness on this offense.

3) We've done it before. We have experienced players and an experienced staff. We also have gobs of talent. There's no reason not to trust this team and this staff to get it fixed. And so far it appears they are doing exactly that.

Right now all things are pointing UP for this offense.

Oh and one more tidbit for the handful of posters that freak out over our TOP. We averaged 29:30 minutes TOP in our first 3 games when our offense was struggling. We've averaged 22:15 TOP in our last 2 with the offense lighting up the scoreboard. TOP is NOT A RELEVANT OFFENSIVE STAT. You can make a small argument that it matters to our defense, but I'm much more concerned about what our opponent is actually doing with the ball rather than how long they have it. BC had 38:30 TOP. How did that work out for them?

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Re: Inside the offensive improvement (long and some maths)

Oct 12, 2016, 1:58 PM

Really nice analysis.

I was especially interested in your comment about TOP. You are absolutely right that the longer you have the ball (more plays) the more that can go wrong-- penalties, losses, turnovers. A quick-strike offense is often a more successful one. Of course, the big-play drives have the same impact on the defense as a 3-and-out.

This is where depth on the defense (and esp. the D-line) becomes so critical. We have very little drop-off in talent between our first and second D-line. Couple that with the way CBV substitutes on the D-line, seldom having the complete #2 line in the ballgame for more than a play or two in any given series. This is how we survived the LOU game. If we'd had to depend on just 4 players on the D-line to play for that amount of time against such a dynamic offense, I'm afraid we wouldn't have survived.

Keep up the good work.

Go Tigers-- whup the Wuffies!

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Re: Inside the offensive improvement (long and some maths)

Oct 12, 2016, 2:01 PM

If you hang around PFF, football outsiders, or other football analytics sites, there's a pretty fun argument about Explosive Plays vs. Standard Downs. It boils down to they're both important and there is probably some fun interaction between the two. Like an offense that is good in one area but not the other will struggle because you need both opportunities to get explosive plays (you need to make first downs) but 20 play drives are not a sustainable strategy so you also have to hit the occasional 30+ yard play.

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30 play drives

Oct 12, 2016, 2:39 PM

That was pretty much SOS strategy for Gamecocks beating Clemson in those dark years.

Win TOP, keep moving forward, score at the end of long drives. Hope the defense can get a break/turnover. Repeat.

That plus about 40 lifetimes of luck--seriously, they had horseshoes surgically implanted or something. Every loose ball went their way those years.

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Re: Inside the offensive improvement (long and some maths)

Oct 12, 2016, 2:10 PM

Emphatic thumbs-up. Nice fact-and-stat-driven statistical analysis, leavened with some acute eyeball observations...that lead to rational conclusions. Much better than unsupported homerism followed by comments like "take it to the bank".

Good stuff. Agree with pretty much all of it.

Stuff changed, honestly, in the second quarter of the Louisville game. He hit Cain on that Deon-jogs-backwards longball (which wasn't even that well-thrown), and all of a sudden, hey, Deshaun's back in the groove. Longballs taking the top off defenses left and right, and whaddya know, everything suddenly seems easier.

When you can't connect on those, defenses creep up...and it appears the game is being played in a shoebox, and everything is tough.

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Oct 12, 2016, 2:31 PM

"Cain caught just 4 passes for 39 yards against Auburn, Troy, and GT. "

But he dropped how many targets in the end zone over the same span, 3 or 4?

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Oct 12, 2016, 2:32 PM

"Leggett has suddenly become a big play threat for the Tigers. "

Leggett would have 4 more TDs this season if he ran his routes to completion.

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Oct 12, 2016, 2:35 PM

If your offense can put up 45 pts/game, the defense can afford to be only average. With that offense a good defense won't care too much about being on the field for a 10 or 15 more plays per game. The 99 plays UL ran was more caused by the turnovers than anything--defense does hate it when offense turns it over esp. deep inside own territory.

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I skipped over the maths part....

Oct 12, 2016, 3:03 PM

I was reading it to my Coot neighbor

and I didn't want to embarrass him.

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Oct 12, 2016, 3:18 PM

I'd like to see more of this kind of post from you.

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The definition of awesome!

Good post man, I think made some......

Oct 12, 2016, 4:58 PM

good points. TOP is an irrelevant stat if you have the scoring total to justify the lack of it. There is a correlation between TOP and defensive numbers IMO (lower the TOP the trend shows an increase in yards given up).

You hit the nail on the head with the scoring chances within the opponents 40 yard line (with a first down). Couldn't agree more here.

Bottom line is keep the running game consistent and we will maintain or exceed our recent explosion in yards and touchdowns.

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Re: Inside the offensive improvement (long and some maths)

Oct 12, 2016, 9:42 PM

Salient points in every respect. Thanks for keeping these TNet minds sharp and vision focused.

I'm interested to see that TD-to-scoring opportunity ratio as DW4 keeps dialing in his lead timing with the WR corps. He's been frequently underthrowing the ball and/or not leading receivers quite enough this year (but that's gettin better every game), and that has led to missed scoring opportunities, INTs, frustration, D fatigue, etc. The machine that is the Tiger Offense is becoming more and more lethal each week, my friends. Really exciting stuff. Go Tigers!

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I think feeling more comfortable in the pocket will help.

Oct 13, 2016, 6:50 AM

He didn't look as comfortable and poised back there early in the season when he was getting pressured and hit a lot. If the OL continues to give him a cleaner pocket i think we will see him get dialed back in.

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To the extent that a low TOP thus far..

Oct 12, 2016, 10:37 PM

...can HELP the defense...our boys on D won't be as easily winded in a future shoot out if necessary. You play almost 40 minutes of the game against an O like Louisville, you're going to get stronger and build in some stamina... plus get lots of reps for the 2 and 3 deep.

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good work, pilgrim

Oct 12, 2016, 10:46 PM

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"They talk most who have the least to say." -- Matthew Prior 1664-1721

^^^. Way too smart to post here!

Oct 13, 2016, 1:14 AM

Great work!

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Re: Inside the offensive improvement (long and some maths)

Oct 13, 2016, 1:26 AM

Man, that was one heck of an analysis. I'm no mathematician, I just want us to score one more point than our opponents 15 times this season. That'll make me happy.

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