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Friday, July 6, 2012

The Statistical Regression of West Virginia

I noted yesterday that West Virginia got more than 25 yards on almost 5% of their running plays in 2007. That's a huge number - only Oregon topped 4% in 2011. That number has gradually fallen to less than 1% in 2011 for the Mountaineers. (Against Pitt in 2007, WVU had zero "explosive" running plays (>25 yards) and as many runs for loss (<0 yards) as >10 yard running plays.)

Why does this matter? First, the percent of plays that go for more than 25 yards correlates strongly with both points per game and points per possession (r=.68 &.70)- teams that get explosive plays score more points. Its hard to move the ball down the field with 3 yards and a cloud of dust. For example, last season all of the teams in the top 5 in scoring (points/game) were outside of the top 25 in plays/possession, and all five of the top teams in terms of plays/possession were outside of the top 25 in points/game.

Second, pass plays are about 2.5 times more likely to go for more than 25 yards than running plays, but they are also about 2.5 times more likely to go for 0 or negative yards (when we count sacks as pass plays). So, from 2007 to 2011 West Virginia has had to run twice as many pass plays in order to get 80% as many explosive plays. This exposes them to more unproductive plays (<=0 yards), which have increased by 25%. This amounts to losing 3/4 of a point on average per possession. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is enough to cost an up-tempo team 12 points per game and a low-tempo team about 8 points per game. West Virginia is still a good offensive team, but 8-12 points/game is the difference between a good team and a title contender.

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