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Monday, June 3, 2013

Stanford, yards per carry and run/pass ratio

@kennylong wanted to know how Stanford's yards per carry compares with other teams with a similar run/pass ratio. My original point was that Stanford's yards per carry was unimpressive for a team getting title buzz and known for physical play at the line of scrimmage. Was I out of line? Would a little more context explain Stanford's lackluster yards per carry performance?

While it might seem counterintuitive to some, teams that run the ball more often also average more yards per carry. For all 124 teams, the correlation between yards per carry and %run is greater than .5. There are two reasons for this. First, run-heavy teams run the ball in all situations at all points on the field. Pass-heavy teams reserve run plays for specific, short yardage situations. The yards per carry are lower because 1) defenses stack the line and 2) the goal is different - the play is oriented towards a conversion instead of getting as many yards as possible. Second, run-heavy teams average more yards per carry because teams that excel at running the ball run the ball more often. No one is satisfied with three yards and a cloud of dust these days. Effect becomes cause. 

The best approach for accounting for context-specific success (for example, two yards on 4th and goal at the 2 is a huge success, while two yards on 3rd and 4 at midfield is a failure) is to use the EPA per carry. EPA measures success in points - how many points can a team expect to score after a play versus before the play. Converting on 3rd and 10 , for example, is more valuable than ten yards on 1st and 10. Stanford ranks 43rd in EPA per carry, slightly better than in yards per carry, but not much. Stanford finished 24th in fewest TFLs per carry, and Taylor finished 35th out of 240 qualifying running backs in that statistic. Good, but not elite. Taylor finished 160th among those same 240 in conversions per carry. Poor, but not terrible.

Now, to actually answer the question I've prepared a chart below which locates 118 teams by yards per carry (ypr) and % run (ratio); I've excluded the most run and pass heavy teams - e.g., Army, Washington State. I've overlaid the regression the line - the line that tracks the relationship between ypr and ratio for these 118 teams - and then added the names for teams in the vicinity of Stanford in terms of run/pass ratio. Stanford falls right on the regression line, at the same level as Arizona State and UCLA, behind Cal and Michigan, and well behind the elite explosive teams - Florida State, Baylor, Cincinnati, etc. On the other hand, Stanford is ahead of LSU, Clemson, and South Carolina.

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