BYU Mid-season Review: By the Numbers

By Mark Mangelson

By now, you’ve heard all the gripes. “Bronco Mendenhall manages quarterbacks like my two year old manages finances.” “Brandon Doman’s playbook is as diverse as Augusta National’s member list.” “We all knew Weber’s line lost weight, but we didn’t know they also lost the snap count.” “Where is the passion?” “Why can’t we win big games?”

Whether perusing online message boards, strategically positioning yourself within earshot of water cooler colloquy, or fielding knee jerk observations from friends and family at BBQs, at this point you are confident of the glaring deficiencies plaguing the cougar football program. And if given ten minutes in front of Bronco, your suggestions would immediately translate into guaranteed wins and a BCS berth…this year! Ok, hopefully this hypothetical blue-goggled pretentiousness doesn’t actually exist. I digress.

Phew. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s put aside anecdotal proclamations in favor of hard evidence. And no, I’m not talking about the kind of evidence the FBI was hoping to uncover on Fat Tony when they sent Homer Simpson undercover as Nicky Bluepants Altasaxaphony (one of my favorite episodes). I’m talking about Horatio Caine, Perry Mason, Robert Kardashian type evidence. Wait, does that last one qualify? Moving on.

Offense

Much has been said – good but mostly bad – about the offense this year. Though six games, the offense is gaining 5.3 yards/play, with 21 TDs, averaging 398 yards/game. Compare these stats to last year where the offense gained 5.5 yards/play, had 49 TDs, and averaged 405 yards per game. An uncomfortable, downward trend to be sure.

So, how about some context? From 2007 to 2010 — Robert Anae’s BYU prime — the offense averaged 419 yards/game, against 54 TDs/year. Additionally, Anae’s offenses averaged 4.2 yards/play against ranked opponents, 6.1 yards/play against unranked opponents, 5.5 yards/play against teams with winning records, and 6.1 yards/play against teams with losing records.

Comparatively, through the first six games this season the offense is averaging 3.4 yards/play against ranked opponents (counting only Boise St.), 5.3 yards/play against unranked opponents, 4.2 yards/play against teams with winning records, and 5.4 yards/play against teams with losing records. Stat geeks, you still with me?

In theory, the better an offense is the smaller the yardage variance should be between ranked and unranked opponents, and between teams with winning and losing records. The reason for this is simple. Great offenses will consistently roll up weak competition, but almost always pull their starters once the game is out of hand. And against stronger competition, they still find ways to move the football, albeit less effectively when looked at holistically. Drum roll anyone? I present you with what I call, “The Yardage Gap,” or “YG” stat.

By averaging the yardage variances between ranked/unranked opponents, and opponents with winning/non-winning records, the Yardage Gap is born. From 2007 to 2010 under Anae, the YG was 1.3 yards/play – not bad. Under Doman in 2011 the YG was 1.9 yards/play, and through six games in 2012 the YG is 1.6. Conclusion? compared to Anae’s offenses, Doman is losing the yards/game, TDs/year, and YG battle, badly. Game planning against decent defenses continues to be Doman’s bugaboo. The positive? Doman’s YG is smaller this year compared to last, which signals some improvement in the form of total offensive balance, regardless of the defense his is facing.

Defense

Do we even need to go here? From 2007 to 2011 Bronco’s defenses allowed 20.78 points/game. During this same period the defense allowed 15.9 points/game in games won, and 37.9 points/game in games lost. Through six games the defense is allowing just 8.8 points/game, 5.5 points/game in games won, and 15.5 points/game in games lost. So, what does this mean?

Welcome to, “The Defensive Point Gap,” or “DPG” stat. Subtract average points allowed in wins from average points allowed in loses, and you’re there. Good defenses don’t allow many points against bad teams, or good teams. Further, good defenses keep games close, even when ultimately suffering losses. The larger the variance, the greater the likelihood that a defense is grossly over matched in losses. From 2007 to 2011 BYU’s DPG was 22. Through six games this year the DPG is 10. Conclusion? Bronco’s defense this year is good. Scary good. In fact, the defense this year has the best DPG in Bronco’s BYU tenure as head coach.

Predictions

As we move into the meat of the schedule, it’s not looking great for Doman. In order to match last year’s production, the offense needs to average 412 yards/game, with 4 TDs/game. That is a tall order against the likes of Oregon State and Notre Dame, both of which are holding offenses to 399 and 291 yards/game, respectively. In the words of Mr. Potato Head, “Hey, I can dream can’t I?”

The defense also faces some tough challenges. Oregon State and Notre Dame are rolling up opponents for 489 and 351 yards/game, respectively. Don’t forget Georgia Tech, which runs an offense that can be difficult to contain in the absence of discipline and focus. If the defense stays healthy, they have a shot to finish as probably the greatest defense Bronco has ever coached.

Ok, no longer are you ill equipped to engage in spirited debate with family, friends and co-workers. No longer are you wondering how Bronco has kept his job, or how Doman got his in the first place. And finally, no longer are you going to sit down this week and pen that impertinent letter you promised to send Tom Holmoe threatening to take your loyalty and dollars somewhere else. Convinced? Not in a million years. Perhaps I’m the one suffering from blue-goggled pretentiousness. Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Data found at College Football Stats.

Bonus: Here are the top ten plays from the first half of the season!

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