Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics

Some other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

– Which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

A glance at the SoCon non-conference slate

Also of interest from around the internet:

Hero Sports previews The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign

– The Citadel’s 2018 Athletic Hall of Fame inductees include former quarterback Gene Brown

This is Part 1 of a two-part post that focuses on select statistics on the 2017 football season. I broke it down into two parts this year to make it at least slightly easier to digest.

Part 2 can be found here.

I’ve also released two other stats-oriented posts:

A look at advanced stats (the Five Factors!), first down/third down information, and standard/passing down data

Last year’s conference-only statistics for the SoCon (all teams), with some additional league observations

In the buildup to recent seasons, I have written about playcalling tendencies by The Citadel’s coaching staff, and I’m going to continue to do that this year. As always, I am comparing statistics over a rolling three-year period.

For this post, I’ll take a look at the 2017 season stats, and compare/contrast them with those from the 2015 and 2016 campaigns. The two most recent campaigns featured Brent Thompson as head coach, with the other (2015) the final season under Mike Houston (with Thompson serving as offensive coordinator that year).

My focus in this post will be on the following:

  • down-and-distance run/pass tendencies (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • yards per play numbers (offense and defense, rushing and passing)
  • select defensive passing stats (including sacks, hurries, and passes defensed)
  • success in the “red zone” (mostly defined as scoring or preventing touchdowns)
  • plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more (“big plays”)
  • fourth-down decision-making (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • situational punting for The Citadel and its opponents (i.e. punting from inside the 50-yard line)
  • the all-important coin toss
  • attendance and time-of-game information

Some of those items will be in Part 1, and others will be in Part 2.

First things first: The Spreadsheet

One thing you will notice is that almost all of the statistics in the spreadsheet are broken down by game. In other words, if you wanted to know about The Citadel’s average yards-per-rush against VMI (good), or The Citadel’s Red Zone numbers against the Keydets (not good), or the Bulldogs’ time-of-possession for every quarter of every SoCon game this season, or any number of other things that you never dreamed you really wanted to know until you read this paragraph — well, this is the spreadsheet for you.

If you didn’t want to know about any of those things, you should keep reading anyway. After all, I’m going to keep writing.

Most of the statistics that follow are based on league play, and only league play. It’s easier and fairer to compare numbers in that way. The bottom line for The Citadel is that its on-field success or failure will primarily be judged on how it does in the Southern Conference, not against Charleston Southern, Towson, or Alabama (this year’s non-conference slate).

The league schedules over the last three years looked like this:

  • The Bulldogs played seven games in 2015 against SoCon teams. The conference schools competing on the gridiron that year were Western Carolina, Wofford, Samford, Furman, Mercer, VMI, and Chattanooga.
  • The Citadel played eight games in 2016 versus Southern Conference opponents. The league schools that year: Mercer, Furman, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Wofford, East Tennessee State, Samford, and VMI (with ETSU joining the league for football that season).
  • In 2017, the Bulldogs played the same SoCon opponents as they had in 2016. The Citadel faced East Tennessee State, Samford, Chattanooga, and Furman on the road, while playing Mercer, Wofford, VMI, and Western Carolina at home.

One quick note before diving in to the numbers: I am fairly confident in the overall accuracy of the statistics, though I am definitely not infallible. One thing that helped this year was that the SoCon (promptly) put league-only stats on its website. That was very nice to see.

Not so nice, though, were the conference’s play-by-play data summaries for several games. I had a great deal of difficulty compiling information for most of the contests, in particular The Citadel’s games against ETSU, Chattanooga, VMI, and Mercer — especially Mercer.

The biggest problem was a glitch in the system that gave teams a first down on the 20-yard-line after touchbacks on kickoffs, instead of the 25-yard-line. That often led to a lot of down-and-distance errors, and occasionally some team identification issues as well (which led to things like defensive tackles punting for -42 yards, defensive backs rushing for 43-yard losses, and other assorted hiccups).

I could refer back to the team play-by-play summaries for the correct information, and I did. However, those summaries don’t include play breakdown categories, which is what I use for a lot of the data listed on the spreadsheet.

All that said, I think I got everything straightened out. If I didn’t, apologies in advance.

Incidentally, here is last year’s spreadsheet: Link

If someone also wants to look at the 2015 stats, that spreadsheet can be found here: Link

Some definitions:

– 2nd-and-short: 3 yards or less for a first down
– 2nd-and-medium: 4 to 6 yards for a first down
– 2nd-and-long: 7+ yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-short: 2 yards or less for a first down
– 3rd-and-medium: 3 to 4 yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-long: 5+ yards for a first down

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time The Citadel ran the ball in that situation in 2017. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2016, and that will be followed by the Bulldogs’ run percentage for that situation in 2015 (which will be in brackets).

For example, when it came to running the ball on first down, the numbers looked like this:

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 81.1% (86.0%) [89.1%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 81.1% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 86.0% of the time in 2016. The Citadel ran the ball 89.1% of the time on first down during its 2015 campaign.

Overall, the Bulldogs ran the ball 77.9% of the time in 2017, after rushing 85.6% of the time on its 2016 plays from scrimmage, and on 86.5% of all offensive plays in 2015. The lower percentage is almost certainly an indicator of The Citadel trailing in more games in 2017 than it did in the previous two seasons.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage):

– 2nd-and-short:  88.9% (94.1%) [89.2%]
– 2nd-and-medium:  87.2% (96.1%) [89.8%]
– 2nd-and-long:  76.9% (83.8%) [89.2%]
– 3rd-and-short:  91.7% (100.0%) [93.1%]
– 3rd-and-medium:  83.9% (88.5%) [82.4%]
– 3rd-and-long:  57.6% (68.1%) [66.0%]

Obviously, there were a few called pass plays that turned into runs. However, if the result of a play was a sack, that counted as a passing down even if a pass wasn’t thrown. For the season, Bulldog QBs were sacked 10 times in league play, for a loss of 64 total yards.

  • After running the ball on every 3rd-and-short play in 2016, the Bulldogs threw the ball twice in that down-and-distance situation last year. One attempt was in a late-game hurry-up situation against Mercer. The other throw resulted in a two-yard TD catch by Keyonte Sessions (from Dominique Allen) versus Western Carolina.
  • On 3rd-and-long, The Citadel was more inclined to run the ball against ETSU, Chattanooga, and Western Carolina, while the Bulldogs threw more often versus Mercer and Furman.
  • The Citadel passed on first down far more often against Mercer (16 times) than any other league opponent. Conversely, the Bulldogs threw on first down 5 or fewer times against six different conference teams (ETSU, Samford, Chattanooga, VMI, and Western Carolina).

In this section, I’m listing what The Citadel’s conference opponents did in down-and-distance situations over the last two seasons (2016 and 2017).

Overall, conference opponents rushed on 53.5% of their plays from scrimmage against the Bulldogs last year, after doing so on 49.7% of their plays in 2016. On first down, league teams rushed 62.5% of the time, as compared to 56.2% two years ago.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage). The 2016 numbers are in parenthesis:

– 2nd-and-short:  81.8% (75.9%)
– 2nd-and-medium:  61.0% (47.9%)
– 2nd-and-long:  41.5% (44.8%)
– 3rd-and-short:  78.6% (66.7%)
– 3rd-and-medium:  46.7% (36.4%)
– 3rd-and-long:  22.6% (27.3%)

Again, some of these numbers reflect the fact The Citadel was trailing more often than it did in 2016. Thus, opponents were able to run the ball more. It is not a coincidence that the teams which threw the ball more than 50% of the time against the Bulldogs all lost.

  • Chattanooga did not have a rushing attempt on any of its 3rd down plays against The Citadel. The Mocs were also 0 for 7 on third down conversion attempts.
  • Mercer was the only conference opponent that did not attempt a pass versus the Bulldogs on either 2nd-and-short or 2nd-and-medium. The Bears did throw the ball 7 times on 2nd-and-long.
  • On 3rd-and-long, ETSU and VMI combined for 21 pass plays and only one rushing attempt.

In the next few sections of this post, I’m going to alternate offense and defensive numbers. Don’t get dizzy!

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon action: 70.7 plays per game, 11.9 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon action: 72.1 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2017 in SoCon action: 70.1 plays per game, 12.1 possessions per game

*Overtime possessions are not included in any of the conference-only statistics, for the sake of consistency (and avoiding statistical sample size issues).

**I don’t count a drive as an actual possession when it consists solely of a defensive TD via a return, or when it is a defensive turnover that ends the half or game. I also don’t count a drive as a possession when the offensive team does not attempt to score (such as a kneel-down situation). That’s how I interpret the statistic, regardless of how it may be listed in a game summary.

Last season, The Citadel had a time of possession edge in SoCon play of over six minutes (33:10 – 26:50). It was actually a smaller edge than the Bulldogs had enjoyed in 2016 (33:41 – 26:19), but greater than that from 2015 (32:13 – 27:47).

The Citadel held the ball longer than its opponents on average in three of the four quarters (the fourth quarter was the exception). The Bulldogs won the TOP battle in every game except two (Mercer and Furman).

Nationally (counting all games), the Bulldogs led all of FCS in total time of possession per contest. San Diego, standard-bearer of the Pioneer League, finished second in the category, meaning the two programs flip-flopped their positions from the year before (when the Toreros led the subdivision in TOP).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 SoCon play: 65.7 plays per game, 12.0 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 SoCon play: 57.6 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 SoCon play: 58.8 plays per game, 11.8 possessions per game

Against Chattanooga, The Citadel’s defense faced only 47 offensive plays, not counting “running out the half” plays. Last year versus the Mocs, the Bulldogs’ D faced…47 plays. Two different locales, two different UTC head coaches, same number of plays.

Mercer ran 72 offensive plays against The Citadel (again, not counting drives in which no attempt to score was made). VMI ran a total of 68. The two teams had different approaches, however — the Bears threw only 23 passes, while VMI had 41 pass plays (including five would-be attempts that resulted in sacks).

Annual note: while NCAA statistical records count sack yardage against rushing totals, the NFL considers sack yardage as passing yardage lost. I take the NFL’s position on this, because it makes much more sense. Thus, all conference statistics included in this post count sack yardage against passing stats.

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon games: 6.09 yards per play, including 5.57 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon games: 5.58 yards per play, including 5.28 yards per rush and 7.4 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2017 in SoCon games: 5.38 yards per play, including 5.24 yards per rush and 7.0 yards per pass attempt

The rushing yards per play numbers were down again, though not by a lot (as compared to 2016, anyway). The real issue, in my opinion, is the yards per pass attempt. Seven yards per attempt is not good enough.

– 2015 passing for The Citadel in seven conference games: 63 pass attempts for 609 yards (three interceptions)

– 2016 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 83 pass attempts for 615 yards (two interceptions)

– 2017 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 114 pass attempts for 797 yards (five interceptions)

You also should throw in the 10 sacks allowed (after giving up just one sack in league play in 2016). While I mentioned that seven yards per attempt is not acceptable, I have to acknowledge that the league average in 2017 was only 7.05 yards per pass attempt. Admittedly, that number is skewed by VMI only averaging 4.55 yards/pa in SoCon action while attempting the third-most passes in the league.

In this post, I’m also going to take a look at The Citadel’s per-play stats from a national perspective (all of FCS, and including all games, not just conference play). I’ll throw in some statistics from a few FBS teams as well, concentrating (in that subdivision) on schools that run the triple option, teams of local interest, and a few others worth mentioning.

The Bulldogs’ offense was 55th nationally in yards per play, with a 5.42 average (all games). Alcorn State’s 7.04 yards per play led FCS, closely followed by Sam Houston State (which had topped the subdivision in the category in 2016). SoCon teams in the top 50: Furman ranked 14th, Western Carolina 27th, Samford 41st, and Wofford 48th.

Presbyterian was 59th in FCS, while Charleston Southern was 62nd, South Carolina State 92nd and Towson 100th. VMI finished next-to-last, ahead of only Lafayette.

Oklahoma led FBS in yards per play (shocker, I know), with a staggering 8.29 average. Other FBS rankings in this category of interest: UCF (2nd), Louisville (3rd — Lamar Jackson will be missed), Georgia (12th), Alabama (13th), Navy (42nd), Army (46th), Georgia Tech (54th), Clemson (55th), Air Force (77th), South Carolina (85th), UTEP (129th and last — good luck, Jim Senter).

The Citadel’s overall rate of yards per rush was 18th-best in FCS, second in the SoCon to Western Carolina (which was 11th in yards/rush nationally). Also hitting the top 50: Wofford (21st), Furman (27th), Presbyterian (31st), and Charleston Southern (41st). South Carolina State was 75th, and Towson 90th.

The top two FCS teams in yards per rush were Alcorn State (6.42 yds/rush) and North Dakota State. Kennesaw State, like The Citadel a triple option outfit, finished 5th.

I should emphasize that these national numbers include sacks. That is why Mississippi Valley State, which finished last in yards per rush, ended the season with negative rushing yardage. The Delta Devils netted -103 yards rushing for the season, after suffering exactly 400 yards lost due to sacks. MVSU quarterbacks were sacked on almost one-fifth of their pass plays (18.6%).

Arizona, thanks mostly to spectacular quarterback Khalil Tate, led FBS in yards per rush, at 6.56. The top five also included Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida Atlantic, and Army. Other teams of note: Georgia (7th), Alabama (10th), Navy (14th), Georgia Tech (17th), New Mexico (18th), Air Force (36th), Clemson (43rd), Georgia Southern (78th), South Carolina (93rd), Western Kentucky (129th and last).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 5.07 yards per play, including 3.69 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 4.94 yards per play, including 4.61 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 5.69 yards per play, including 4.87 yards per rush and 7.5 yards per pass attempt

In 2016, the Bulldogs were very good against the pass. Last year, not so much. The rushing yards against numbers were similar, but still a dropoff of over a yard per rush from 2015.

The average yards per play in the SoCon was 5.22. As mentioned above, the average yards per pass attempt in conference play was 7.05; the average yards per rush (taking out sacks) was 4.03.

Nationally in FCS (remember, these stats are for all games), The Citadel was 102nd in defensive yards allowed per play (6.02). Jacksonville State (3.84) led FCS, after finishing second in 2016. Also in the top 5: James Madison, North Dakota State, South Carolina State (Buddy Pough’s troops had mostly very strong defensive numbers), and North Carolina A&T.

Charleston Southern was 13th, Wofford 35th, Chattanooga 38th, and East Tennessee State 40th. Towson finished 54th overall, while Presbyterian was 101st.

Lehigh finished last in FCS, allowing 7.35 yards per play. Two things to point out here: 1) Lehigh did not play an FBS school, so there wasn’t an Oklahoma or UCF on its schedule to skew the numbers; 2) despite the porous defense, the Mountain Hawks tied for the Patriot League title and garnered that league’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

Alabama led FBS in defensive yards allowed per play (3.99), the second straight season the Tide topped the charts in that category. Clemson was 2nd, followed by Wisconsin, Washington, and Ohio State.

Georgia was 10th and South Carolina 35th. The last-placed team was East Carolina, and it wasn’t close: the Pirates allowed 7.72 yards per play.

The Citadel was 94th in FCS in the national defensive yards/rush category (at 4.54, better than its league-only stats). The top 5 nationally: McNeese State (1.94 yards allowed per rush), Jacksonville State, Yale, Villanova, and South Carolina State. In the top 50: Charleston Southern (19th), Wofford (33rd), Mercer (38th), Furman (50th). Towson finished 83rd, Presbyterian 116th, and Lehigh 123rd and last.

Alabama was also the best FBS team in terms of yards allowed per rush (2.72). Washington finished 2nd, with Troy, Ohio State, and Northern Illinois rounding out the top 5. Clemson was 8th, South Carolina 38th, and Air Force last (allowing 5.93 yards per rush).

Counting all games, The Citadel allowed 7.86 yards per pass attempt, 103rd nationally in FCS. It could have been worse: Gardner-Webb finished last in this category, allowing 9.57 yards per pass attempt.

The top squad nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt was St. Francis University (5.26 yds/pa). Joining the Red Flash in the top 5 were James Madison, Tennessee State, Jacksonville State, and North Dakota State.

Top 50 teams included Western Carolina (18th), South Carolina State (21st), Towson (27th), Charleston Southern (29th), Wofford (47th), and East Tennessee State (49th). Presbyterian was 75th, just behind Chattanooga and four spots ahead of Furman.

In what should come as a surprise to nobody, Alabama finished first in FBS in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.45 yds/pa). Clemson was right behind the Tide, with Florida State in third. South Carolina was 36th. East Carolina was last, allowing 10.42 yards per pass attempt, which must have been hard to watch for ECU fans over the course of the season.

Okay, that’s enough for Part 1 of Inside The Numbers.

Part 2 will include offensive and defensive statistics for Red Zone play and 3rd down conversion rates. Also discussed: sacks, passes defensed, fumbles, penalties, punts, big plays, 4th down decision-making, a comparison of both league attendance and game length, and (of course) coin toss strategy.

Link to Part 2

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