College Football Week 9, 2021: Monday notes and observations

Today’s post is exclusively focused on statistics. Lots and lots of statistics… 

First, my working spreadsheet, which includes a myriad of on-field stats along with a tab for attendance: FCS statistics through games of October 23, 2021

Attendance

Jackson State continues to lead FCS in attendance, averaging 37,886 fans per game in three home contests. Montana, James Madison, Montana State, and Jacksonville State round out the top five.

Furman, Western Carolina, and The Citadel rank 25-26-27 in FCS attendance, with the Bulldogs drawing an average of 9,879 fans in their four appearances at Johnson Hagood Stadium. ETSU ranks 30th, while Mercer is 39th.

The average attendance for an FCS home game so far this season is 7,529. 

Norfolk State is 10th nationally in home attendance, averaging 15,364 in two contests, including a Homecoming game against Virginia University of Lynchburg (more on the Dragons later in the week). That matchup versus VUL drew 16,716 spectators, a total that was not enough as far as NSU head coach Dawson Odums was concerned:

As far as quotes about attendance go, that one is right at the top…

I’ll be comparing the on-field numbers for The Citadel and Mercer while also surveying the FCS landscape from a statistical perspective. As always, keep in mind there are 128 teams in FCS.

Offense

– Southeastern Louisiana is averaging .651 points per play, tops in FCS. The next best four teams are (in order) South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Davidson, and Sam Houston State.

Mercer is 15th (.501). The Citadel is 68th (.368).

The FCS average is .378 points per offensive play. Lehigh, at .092, is last in the subdivision, behind Bucknell, Morgan State, LIU, and Cal Poly.

– Mercer is 10th nationally in offensive yards per play (6.43), while The Citadel is 66th (5.38). The national average for FCS offenses is 5.39.

Eastern Washington leads FCS in yards per play, at 7.54, followed by Southeastern Louisiana, South Dakota State, Nicholls State, and Fordham. East Tennessee State is 12th.

In 218th and last place in the subdivision is Grambling State (3.27), with the rest of the bottom five consisting of Bucknell, Lehigh, Houston Baptist, and Wagner.

– Nicholls State is the national leader in adjusted yards per rush (note: “adjusted” means sacks are included in passing totals, not rushing, unlike the NCAA’s official stats). The Colonels are averaging 6.49 yards per tote. Others finding success on the ground include South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Abilene Christian, and Holy Cross. ETSU is 9th, while Mercer is 14th (5.59). The Citadel is 54th (4.86). The average across FCS is 4.74.

Georgetown has the worst adjusted yards per rush (2.88). Also struggling in this category: Robert Morris, Alabama State, Cal Poly, and Grambling State.

– Davidson is averaging 10.32 adjusted yards per pass attempt, tops in FCS. It should be noted that the Wildcats have thrown the fewest passes in the subdivision (65). However, Davidson is making those throws count, averaging 17.1 yards per completion (also best in FCS) while completing a very solid 64.6% of its attempts (with 9 TDs/4 INTs). As a result, Scott Abell’s squad also leads the nation in adjusted pass efficiency.

Other teams with outstanding Y/PA numbers include Eastern Washington, Southeastern Louisiana, Prairie View A&M, and Norfolk State. Mercer (7th) and The Citadel (13th) also fare well.

The bottom five: Lehigh (last), Grambling State, Bucknell, Houston Baptist, and Morgan State.

– One way to have success throwing the football is to avoid being sacked!

North Dakota’s quarterbacks have only been sacked three times this season, while attempting 263 pass attempts. UND’s 1.1% sack rate against leads FCS. Prairie View A&M is second, followed by Cornell, Furman, and Dayton. Samford is 8th, while Chattanooga is 12th.

Mercer is 73rd in sack rate against, close to the national average of 6.4%, while The Citadel is 117th (11.1%). That is a very poor stat for the Bulldogs. Lamar has the worst sack rate against (14.7%).

– Davidson runs the football on 83.3% of its offensive plays from scrimmage, the most in FCS. Kennesaw State, The Citadel, North Dakota State, and Lamar are also in the top 5, while Wofford is 7th and Mercer is 8th (64.0%). Three other SoCon outfits (Chattanooga, ETSU, and Furman) are in the top 30. 

Conversely, Presbyterian rushes the ball on a per-play basis less than any other team (28.4%). Other pass-happy squads include Western Illinois, Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, and Dixie State.

– Southeastern Louisiana has an FCS-best 59.52% third down conversion rate, ahead of Davidson, Eastern Washington, Merrimack, and Brown. East Tennessee State is 6th, and Mercer is 14th (45.65%). The Citadel ranks 29th overall, at 42.57%. The average for FCS teams is 37.1%.

Lehigh is last in offensive third down conversion rate, at 19.54% (yes, the Mountain Hawks have the nation’s worst offense). Other teams that can’t put together consistent drives: Wagner, Eastern Illinois, New Hampshire, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

– Chattanooga is the only FCS team to have successfully converted all of its fourth-down attempts. Of course, the Mocs have only gone for it three times, tied for the fewest in the country. Kennesaw State is 15-for-17 (88.24%), second-best (and extremely impressive and efficient when considering volume and success rate).

Mercer is tied for 12th nationally (71.43%), albeit on only seven tries. The Citadel is tied for 71st (44.00%). The Bulldogs have attempted 25 fourth down conversions, 4th-most in the subdivision.

Presbyterian, as you would probably guess, is far and away the leader in fourth-down tries, with 49 — but the Blue Hose have only converted 17 times (34.69%). Other teams that have been more than willing to go for it on fourth down include Stetson (29 attempts), Central Connecticut State (28), and Monmouth (24).

Lehigh made 2 of 3 fourth-down conversion tries last week, the first two successful attempts for LU all season. The Mountain Hawks are now 2 for 13 on fourth down overall.

– Presbyterian naturally has the nation’s highest go rate (92.5%), since the Blue Hose have only punted four times all season and are the only team in FCS not to attempt a field goal. Stetson is second in this category (55.8%), followed by Davidson, Merrimack, and Southeastern Louisiana. The Citadel is 6th (43.9%).

Mercer (15.2%, 99th overall) is among the more conservative outfits in the subdivision, but there are several even less inclined to go for it. Eastern Kentucky has a go rate of only 5.5%, while Chattanooga is second-lowest (5.6%). Montana State, Grambling State, and Bobby Petrino’s Missouri State squad also prefer punting and field goal kicking, when given the choice.

– Speaking of field goal kicking, Ethan Ratke of James Madison leads FCS in field goals made (18) and attempted (20). Ratke now has 90 career field goals, most all-time in FCS. Last week, he made five FGs in JMU’s 22-10 victory over Delaware.

Also worth mentioning: Duquesne has the most field goals without a miss (14) in the subdivision right now, despite having used four different kickers.

As mentioned earlier, Presbyterian has not attempted a field goal. Bucknell, Butler, Merrimack, and Davidson are all 1 for 2 on FG tries. 

Teams struggling to put the ball through the uprights: Morgan State is 1 for 8, Campbell is 2 for 10, and Cal Poly is 3 for 10. On average, FCS kickers are converting attempts at a 67.6% clip.

– By my numbers, Central Arkansas currently has the nation’s most effective Red Zone offense, at 6.22 estimated points per Red Zone possession (my invented acronym: EPRP). UCA has a TD rate of 87.5%. The rest of the top five: Holy Cross, Southeastern Louisiana, Youngstown State, and Western Illinois.

VMI is the highest-ranked SoCon offense, at 22nd. The Citadel is 38th (5.15 EPRP), with a TD rate of 72.0%), while Mercer is 53rd (4.96 EPRP, TD rate of 69.2%). The national average is 4.76 EPRP (60.1% TD rate). 

The least efficient Red Zone offenses: Lehigh, Northwestern State, LIU, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Cal Poly.

– Samford has the nation’s fastest offense, at 18.38 seconds per offensive play. It is a good thing, too, as SU is last in FCS in average time of possession (23:15). Other teams lining up in a hurry to snap the football: Presbyterian, Charleston Southern, Eastern Washington, and Austin Peay. 

Western Carolina is 11th-fastest, VMI 23rd, Mercer 51st (27.11 seconds/play), and The Citadel 57th (27.19).

The FCS average is 27.0 seconds per play. The slowest offense? Delaware State (32.85).

– Time of possession isn’t strictly about offense, but I’ll stick this paragraph here.

Alcorn State is the national leader in average time of possession (35:24), followed by Kennesaw State, Central Connecticut State, Merrimack, and Sacramento State. ETSU is 10th, Chattanooga 14th. The Citadel is 32nd (31:51), while Mercer is 55th (30:40).

Defense

– North Dakota State is the national leader in points allowed per play, at just .0158 (the Bison give up just 9.0 points per game). Montana State is just behind NDSU (0.159), followed by Harvard, Jackson State, and Montana.

ETSU is 21st. Mercer is 52nd (.377), while The Citadel is 111th (.522).

– Jackson State leads FCS in yards allowed per play (3.63), with James Madison, Princeton, Harvard, and Prairie View A&M also in the top five. Chattanooga is 26th, while Mercer is 28th (4.89). The Citadel is 121st, at 6.73 yards allowed per play; the FCS average for defenses is 5.56.

Southern Utah is allowing 7.53 yards per play, worst in the subdivision. The bottom five also includes Youngstown State, Hampton, LIU, and Western Illinois.

– James Madison is tops in adjusted yards allowed per rush, at 2.67, ahead of Princeton, Harvard, Sam Houston State, and Villanova.

Chattanooga leads the SoCon in this category, at 27th. Mercer is one spot behind the Mocs at 28th (4.27). The Citadel is 102nd (5.47). The subdivision defensive average is 4.85.

Worst in FCS: Lamar (6.66, ooh), Youngstown State, Alabama A&M, and Western Illinois.

Tangent

Princeton and Harvard played each other last week, a five-OT marathon that turned into a complete officiating debacle — one that might have handed the Ivy League title to the Tigers. While there are plenty of jokes that could be made about not feeling sorry for Harvard, I do feel badly for the Crimson players. By all rights, they won that game, only to have it taken away by a terrible decision, and one that wasn’t of the in-the-moment variety, either. 

One other thing: as indicated by the box score, the game was a bit of a train wreck even before the overtime periods. To be perfectly honest, Princeton and Harvard helped each other out a lot when it comes to their defensive statistics.

– Jackson State’s defense is also outstanding in adjusted yards per pass, leading the way at 3.61 yards allowed per pass play. That stat includes sack yardage, and the Tigers have been really good at sacking the quarterback this season (second in sack rate nationally behind North Dakota State).

Prairie View A&M is second in adjusted yards per pass allowed, ahead of Princeton, Sacred Heart, and Harvard. Chattanooga is 23rd, ETSU 24th. Mercer is 34th (5.59), while The Citadel is 123rd (8.26), just outside the bottom five.

The five teams with more yards per pass allowed than the Bulldogs: Southern Utah (an FCS-worst 9.63), Central Connecticut State, LIU, Hampton, and Brown.

– The teams that are best at making sure the quarterback goes down, and goes down hard, are NDSU (12.6% sack rate) and Jackson State, followed by Stephen F. Austin, Harvard, and Florida A&M. The Citadel is just 107th nationally (4.3%), but Mercer is actually worse (122nd, 3.2%). The national average for sack rate is 6.3%. 

Butler (2.1%, last), Idaho State, Drake, Maine, and VMI bring up in the rear in this category.

– Yale has the nation’s best defensive third down conversion rate, at 21.3%. James Madison, North Dakota State, Florida A&M, and Prairie View A&M are all in the top five; Chattanooga is 8th.

Mercer is 70th (38.8%). The Citadel is 111th (46.5%). The average across the subdivision is 38.0%. 

Southern Utah is allowing third down conversions at a rate of 54.2%, worst in FCS. Other defenses having trouble getting off the field: Jacksonville State, LIU, Illinois State, and Wofford.

– So far this season, Furman’s defense has faced the most fourth down conversion attempts (6) without allowing a first down. Richmond is also perfect in this department (0 for 5). St. Thomas has given up just 1 of 10 fourth down tries against it, while Harvard has only surrendered 2 of 17.

The Citadel is tied for 79th (4 of 7, 57.1%). Mercer is tied for 125th (10 of 12, 83.3%). Bethune-Cookman has allowed 11 of 12; the national average is basically a 50-50 proposition (49.97%).

Among teams that have not played Presbyterian, the one to have faced the most fourth down attempts against it is William and Mary (24 tries by its opponents, 13 of which have succeeded).

– Havoc Rate

Jackson State is, not surprisingly, #1 in this key stat (24.84%). Stephen F. Austin, James Madison, Florida A&M, and Alabama State are the other schools in the top tive.

Chattanooga is 19th, while ETSU is 41st and Mercer is 59th (15.85%). The Citadel is fifth-worst (10.71%), ahead of only Wofford, LIU, Illinois State, and Southern Utah (at the bottom with a Havoc Rate of 9.88%).

– Lafayette is the standard-bearer in FCS for rate of passes defensed (21.51%). Others high on the list: Eastern Kentucky, Stephen F. Austin, Alabama State, and Penn. VMI is 11th.

Morgan State is last in PD rate (6.64%), with Houston Baptist, Brown, Southern Utah, and Wagner at the bottom of the table.

Mercer is 54th in passes defensed (14.69%). The Citadel is 102nd (11.88%). 

– Now, here is something vaguely mind-blowing. Morgan State, despite being last nationally in rate of passes defensed, has more interceptions this season than Lafayette (7 to 5). How is that possible?

Well, it is possible because Morgan State has an interception-to-PD rate of exactly 50%, which is just staggering. That is the highest rate in the country, and by quite a lot (Montana at 40.0% is second).

Meanwhile, Lafayette’s INT/PD rate is just 12.5%, one of the lowest marks in FCS. The Leopards have been unlucky. In a typical season, a little over one in every five passes defensed is intercepted (and that is true this year as well; the FCS national average is 20.76%). 

Lafayette has a 2-5 record, but two of those losses could easily have been victories — close defeats at the hands of New Hampshire and Fordham. In those two games, the Leopards broke up 16 total passes, but did not have any interceptions. Just a pick here or there in either contest might have been the difference.

A few SoCon teams have been fortunate in this respect. Chattanooga’s INT/PD rate is 7th nationally, while Furman’s rate is 8th and Mercer 15th. The Citadel is 62nd (20.83%), picking off exactly as many passes as would be expected given its PD rate.

The worst INT/PD rate belongs to Lehigh (3.85%), because of course it does.

– Holy Cross has intercepted a pass every 16.0 opponent attempts, tops in FCS. St. Thomas, Chattanooga, Illinois State, and Villanova are the other teams in the top five. Mercer is 18th nationally (23.44), while The Citadel is 78th (40.4).

The bottom five: Lehigh (which has one interception this season, having faced 206 opponent throws), Howard, Wofford, Brown, and Tennessee Tech.

– By my numbers, Harvard has the nation’s best Red Zone defense, with an EPRP allowed of 2.44 and an opponent TD rate of just 18.8%. Dartmouth, North Dakota State, Kennesaw State, and Villanova also get the job done in this area.

Chattanooga is 11th in FCS, while The Citadel is 79th. Mercer is 119th, one of the Bears’ major weaknesses.

Western Carolina has an EPRP allowed of 6.3 (worst in the subdivision). Georgetown, Stetson, Lamar, and Brown have also been pliable defensively in the Red Zone.

Miscellaneous

– Montana continues to set the pace in net punting (44.76). The rest of the top five: Missouri State, Idaho State, The Citadel (fourth at 42.07), and Southern Illinois.

Mercer is 117th in net punting (31.47). The worst punting team in the country is the one that punts the least — Presbyterian is averaging 15.5 net yards for its four punts. The national average is 35.77.

– Bucknell is averaging 29.71 penalty yards per game, fewest in FCS. Other top squads at avoiding yellow flags: Princeton, Delaware, Wofford, and New Hampshire. Furman has the 6th-fewest penalty yards per contest. Mercer ranks 13th (38.43), and The Citadel 43rd (49.38).

The most penalized team, in terms of yardage, is Florida A&M (92.71). Incidentally, the six teams that have the most penalty yards assessed against them per game have a combined record of 28-13.

– Turnover margin: Alcorn State (+1.57 per game) is ranked first in FCS. Montana State is second, followed by Campbell, Chattanooga, and Harvard.

The Citadel is tied for 54th, while Mercer is tied for 94th. The worst turnover margin in the subdivision belongs to Presbyterian.

I’ve have more to say about The Citadel later in the week…

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