Beyond The Box Score: 'Big Play' Scoring, Texas 2007

There's been lots of chatter lately about Texas' lack of proven playmakers on offense: I discuss it in the annual, it's been a topic here at BON, the Barkers have been on it, etc. With Limas Sweed, Jamaal Charles, and Jermichael Finley all gone this year, it's a pressing concern.

Out of curiosity, I decided to chart Texas' scoring drives during conference play in 2007 to see what kind of scoring plays and drives our offense-produced points were coming from. With a hat tip in the post title to the fine work being undertaken at Rock M Nation, Data after the jump.

The chart below shows each of Texas' 2007 drives which ended in a touchdown, sorted by number of plays in the drive, number of yards covered, type of score, and yards covered on the touchdown play:

Texas_td_drives_2007_medium

If we break down Texas' touchdown drives by number of plays, roughly grouped in fives:

Texas_td_drives-2_2007_medium

Without context, the numbers don't mean much, but take a look at Texas' scoring drives that ended in field goals (again conference-only):

Texas_fg_drives_2007_medium

And the light comes on...

Here's what I'm seeing from the above:

* The raw numbers - even ignoring a potentially disastrous last three downs - strongly suggest that big plays are involved either in the scoring or the drive that leads to the score.

* Even if you took Texas' drives that ended in touchdowns and tacked on three downs of no gain at all, you'd wind up with a higher per-play average than those drives that ended in field goals - further rough evidence that big plays have a meaningful role to play in a lot of touchdown drives.

* The discrepancy in yards/drive for scoring series that end in a TD versus a FG suggests again that the big play is a factor in 6 versus 3 points.

* Without going deep into the play-by-play data, we can't exactly draw any big conclusions here, but this rough and dirty look at Texas' 2007 season begs a further study on the role of the big play in drives that end in TDs versus FGs. For a drive that included a big play but left a team short of the goal line, it shouldn't (in theory) matter that a big play got them there, but a comprehensive data study might prove otherwise. One big question I have after reviewing these numbers is whether a team is more likely to score if it gets to the opponent 10 via a big play versus a 12-play drive.

* As always, sample size caveats apply in a big way. This is one season, and one team. But as noted above, it raises some questions worth answering.

* What, if anything, does it mean for Texas in '08? Hard to say without answers to the aforementioned questions, but I think it provides soft confirmation that the concern about big plays is properly placed. The worst news? Jamaal Charles meant a LOT to the 2007 offense. The good news? In terms of matching 2007's offense, we can almost ignore the loss of Finley and Sweed, who were non-essential factors in Big 12 play in 2007 (for different reasons).

* One final thought: I'm going to replicate this study for 2006, on the hunch that we're going to see Limas Sweed play the role that Jamaal Charles played in 2007. And if I'm right, we'll be left to wonder what might have been with a healthy Limas last fall. Texas fans enjoyed one peak year from each player; my offensive optimism last season was built on getting gravy from both. So it goes...

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