Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: Havoc Rate

This is the first in an occasional preseason series (at least, I hope it is occasional) in which I take a closer look at a few of The Citadel’s spring football 2021 statistics.

What improvements can the Bulldogs make? What are their most significant deficiencies from a statistical perspective? What are their strengths? How do they compare to other SoCon teams in various categories?

I’ll also highlight various FBS teams as points of comparison, in part because for some of these statistics, FCS numbers are very hard to come by. Besides, let’s face it — the F20/S21 season for FCS on a national level was a slow-motion trainwreck anyway.

In a previous post, I introduced the spreadsheet from which I’ll be working. Here it is again:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

What is havoc rate? Well, it is a statistic that was essentially created by Bill Connelly (now of ESPN) in 2015. In recent years, it has gained a lot of credence, particularly in the coaching community, as this 2019 article about Georgia football suggests:

On the first day of spring practice, Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he wanted to improve the team’s havoc rate. The term has been tossed around for months now by players and coaches in Athens…

Havoc rate comes from the total number of tackles for loss, passes defensed (interceptions and breakups) and forced fumbles divided by the total number of plays.

“We feel that we should have 20 percent of the plays, two of every 10 should be a ball disruption, a turnover, a PBU, a tackle for a loss, so we’re charting that,” Smart said this spring…

…Smart said Georgia studied the top 10 teams in havoc rate….“We’re trying to do some of the things they do and we’re trying to put guys in position to do that,” Smart said…

…Safety J.R. Reed said the first of two preseason scrimmages produced the most forced turnovers in the last two years.

That came after a spring in which a player a day was asked to stand up and give a definition of havoc in the defensive team meeting room.

“Everybody in that room, from the highest SAT/ACT to the lowest has got to stand up and give us what havoc rate is,” Smart said. “If they understand what it is, they know we’re trying to cause it.”

Basically, this stat is about how often a defense creates disruptive and/or negative plays. The national average for havoc rate tends to be around 16%, while the top teams in the category will exceed 20%.

In eight league games this spring, The Citadel had a defensive havoc rate of 14.38%. How did that compare in the SoCon? I’m glad you asked. Here is each conference team’s rate (league games only):

  • East Tennessee State: 17.21%
  • Chattanooga: 16.60%
  • Furman: 15.91%
  • VMI: 15.89%
  • Mercer: 15.01%
  • Samford: 14.86%
  • The Citadel: 14.38%
  • Wofford: 11.93%
  • Western Carolina: 8.89%

Keep in mind the disparity in games played this spring. Chattanooga only played four contests, while Wofford suited up for five. Western Carolina and ETSU played six; Furman, VMI, and Samford played seven; and The Citadel and Mercer each completed the full slate of conference matchups, with eight.

UTC’s defensive havoc rate would have been 19.67% if you took out the results from its game versus Mercer, when the Mocs fielded what amounted to a “B” team. On the other hand, that number would have been for just three games anyway; we’re talking about a lot of statistical variance in this instance.

Last season, Pittsburgh led all FBS teams in defensive havoc rate at 22.75%, just ahead of Clemson. Other squads with rates greater than 20%: Utah, San Diego State, Notre Dame, and TCU. Colorado and Oklahoma just missed hitting that mark.

One thing I’ll try to do in this series is list (when applicable) the category statistics for other teams of interest in FBS, with a particular focus on those which will be facing SoCon opposition this fall. Each league team will play one FBS foe in 2021.

I’ve already mentioned Oklahoma, the FBS opponent for Western Carolina this year (good luck, Kerwin Bell). The Sooners had a defensive havoc rate of 19.78%, which was 8th-best in FBS. Others of note:

  • Army, 18.76%, 19th nationally (9-3 last season, with two wins over SoCon squads)
  • Alabama, 18.59%, 20th (SoCon opponent in 2021: Mercer)
  • North Carolina State, 17.71%, 32nd (SoCon opponent in 2021: Furman)
  • Coastal Carolina, 17.53%, 36th (SoCon opponent in 2021: The Citadel)
  • Kent State, 17.24%, 43rd (SoCon opponent in 2021: VMI)
  • Florida, 15.58%, 71st (SoCon opponent in 2021: Samford)
  • North Carolina, 15.08%, 79th (SoCon opponent in 2021: Wofford)
  • Kentucky, 13.35%, 102nd (SoCon opponent in 2021: Chattanooga)
  • Navy, 12.89%, 108th (3-7 last season)
  • Vanderbilt, 11.44%, 118th (SoCon opponent in 2021: ETSU)
  • South Carolina, 10.90%, 125th (2-8 last season)
  • Air Force, 9.44%, 126th (3-3 last season)
  • Akron, 7.95%, 127th and last (1-5 last season)

From The Citadel’s perspective, I think a reasonable goal in 2021 would be to increase its defensive havoc rate to at least 16%. That might not sound like a major step forward from 14.38%, but if the Bulldogs were to have a DHR of 16%, it would be an increase of almost exactly one more disruptive/negative play per game.

That one play — a forced fumble, a big tackle for loss, an interception — could well be the difference between a win or a loss. After all, just think about how many close games The Citadel has played in the conference in recent years.

One specific area of potential improvement for The Citadel in this regard could be sack rate. The Bulldogs had a defensive sack rate of 4.17%, which if applied to FBS statistics would have ranked in the bottom 15% nationally (with the same percentage as that of Michigan).

It is also possible to calculate Havoc Rate Against (as I call it), or how disrupted offenses are by negative plays. I don’t have FBS numbers for this (finding forced fumble and TFL stats for offenses can be difficult), but I did put together a chart for SoCon spring play, similar to the one for the defenses. Here is the HRA breakdown for league games in 2021 (remember, the lower the percentage in this category, the better):

  • VMI: 11.17%
  • The Citadel: 11.67%
  • Chattanooga: 14.29%
  • Western Carolina: 14.71%
  • Wofford: 15.12%
  • Samford 15.54%
  • Mercer: 15.79%
  • ETSU: 16.28%
  • Furman: 16.36%

While the Bulldogs are second in this grouping, I tend to believe that 11.67% is not necessarily an outstanding outcome, given the nature of the triple option attack.

For example, a tackle for loss should be an unusual outcome for a play in The Citadel’s offense. However, the Bulldogs suffered a larger-than-expected number of tackles for loss in spring 2021, almost entirely due to an abysmal sack percentage against (17.07%).

This can be attributed in large part to the fact that most of The Citadel’s pass plays occurred when the Bulldogs were trailing (64.3% of the sacks came in the 4th quarter).

Another team that had issues with negative plays on offense was Furman. If not for a completely dominant performance in its opener versus Western Carolina, FU’s havoc rate against would have been even higher; if you take out the Paladins’ numbers against WCU, their HRA jumps to 18.84%.

Of course, that game still counted. Removing it from the remaining six games Furman played tends to unfairly skew things in the opposite direction.

Conversely, 11.17% is surely a very impressive result for VMI’s pass-happy offense. 

Incidentally, the league average for havoc rate (which obviously applies both defensively and offensively) was 14.42%. The median was slightly above 15% on both sides of the ball.

In my next post, I’ll discuss another statistical category, one that can dovetail with havoc rate.

Sometimes they are referred to as long gainers, but here at The Sports Arsenal, we call them BIG PLAYS.

You’ve been warned…