Texas Longhorns Offense 2010 vs 2011: Three Games In

Will Muschamp is gone, right?  We can be losers again?  While I’m as guilty as any of you of the unfettered adulation of Muschamp, as a soon-to-be professional loser myself, I definitely bristled when he proclaimed "stats are for losers."

Four games into the 2011 season we have a useful opportunity on our hands to compare the 2011 Texas offense with the much-maligned 2010 version.  With three of our first four opponents in 2011 also being 2010 opponents, we have about 200 offensive plays run against the same three teams -- Rice, UCLA, and Iowa State.  I went through the grueling task of cataloguing every 2010 and 2011 offensive play from these three games and – voila, data.

Undoubtedly, the worst part was having to read and acknowledge "G. Gilbert passes to the left to G. Smith for no gain" a handful of times per game.... but more on that later. Let's get to the results, which were actually pretty interesting. My key takeaways are in bold:

2010 Texas and 2011 Texas rushing offenses were basically equally productive per play against these three teams, after adjusting for sacks.   In 2010, Texas averaged 4.6 yards per carry (YPC) to Texas’ 5.3 YPC in 2011.  These sack-corrected* numbers demonstrate that while we have been slightly more effective on a per-play basis this year, the real difference is in volume of rushes (see next paragraph).  Another difference between 2011 and 2010 is in long runs (I refuse to use the word explosive).  About one-third of all rushes are going for 7+ yards this year, whereas slightly less than a fourth did last year.  This seems to agree with what we see on the field each week: running backs finishing their runs hard.  Finally, I did try to see if our running game was more consistent this year than last, but that just does not appear to be the case -- it's a wash.  Thus far the big difference thus far is big plays and more rushing attempts. 

*In box scores, sacks on passing plays are tallied as rushing attempts and negative rushing yards. By "sack-corrected" numbers I mean that such plays are not included in the rushing tallies.

 

 

HarsinWhite has run the ball 40 more times for an additional 300 yards on the ground as compared with last year.  Perhaps the criticism to be leveled against Davis last year was not that we ran the ball poorly (which is, also you know, probably true) but that we didn’t rush often enough (seriously, 23 rushes against UCLA?).  By contrast, HarsinWhite has run the ball at least 40 times a game, and even when we’re not that successful (3.6 YPC against Iowa State this year -- not terrible) we stick to it and generate the occasional long run.  In summary:

Texas Rushing Numbers vs. Rice/UCLA/Iowa St.
Carries Yards Yards/Carry
2010 Texas Rushing 89 405 4.6
2011 Texas Rushing 133 703 5.3

Passing offense, the minimalist's approach: a Greg Davis story (with Greg Smith).  Let’s play a game.  I’m going to grant myself omniscience (bear with me) and attempt to fix what was wrong with the 2010 Texas passing game.  Commence construction of Mythical 2010 Texas Passing Offense (MT2010PO).  MT2010TPO will be identical to 2010 Texas, but I will magically erase every incompletion, interception, and completed pass that went for negative yardage (yes these abound with alarming consistency in 2010). I've created an offense that should be completely immune to the alleged inaccuracy of its QB, the inconsistency of its offensive line blocking, and the machinations of its offensive coordinator.  And yet, the following appalling statement is true: A full 30% of the time, M2010TPO completes a pass of 3 yards or less.  Three. Yards. Let that sink in for a moment. 

What I’ve just told you is that if you just looked at the positive yardage completed passes from last year, a solid third of them netted less than 3 yards; checkdown much?  If plan B is your plan A, you're doing it wrong.  Which brings me to plan A...

HarsinWhite.  The passing game has been consistently good over these three games this year.  If you look at the Rice, UCLA and Iowa State games compared to last year it’s not close.  We are averaging a full 4 yards more per pass attempt, which has as much to do with our choosing our targets more carefully as with throwing the ball deep.  Over these same three games last year, 2010 Texas passed the ball 55 more times for an additional 44(!) more yards.  The difference is a marginal two-and-a-half feet per pass attempt, less than half the distance of the shotgun snap; the center moves the ball more than the QB on these plays.  We’re Texas.  In summary:

Texas Passing Numbers vs. Rice/UCLA/Iowa St.
Completions Attempts Yards Yards/Attempt
2010 Texas Passing 78 126 780 6.19
2011 Texas Passing 45 71 736 10.36

Even forgetting the standard set by the 2010 offense, HarsinWhite’s passing attack has been, thus far, nothing short of a great success. We’re ranked 9th in the country in passing yards per attempt, and 7th if you discount Georgia Tech and Air Force who don’t pass the ball often.  It should be noted that these numbers are very consistent over all three games: it has basically not mattered who is playing QB.  Of course, the BYU game happened (Gilbert: 2/8 and 1.0 YPA), and my omniscience only goes so far.

Concluding thoughts.  We are better at passing because HarsinWhite is Dumbledore.  We have had five players (McCoy, Gilbert, Ash, Harris, and Shipley) throw touchdown passes, and three of them are freshman; those WR passing plays have gone for big yardage, and have worked remarkably consistently.  Furthermore, we’ve thrown the ball about half as much as last year, but are using those fewer attempts to get the ball downfield.  A +4 YPA in the passing game from last year is evidence of that.  As for running, we are better in part because we have decided to do it more.  Our rushing attack is not significantly improved per rush from last year, but our offensive coordinator(s) have decided to actually employ it, and are getting longer rushes slightly more frequently, at least in part due to the success of our passing game.  

 

Oklahoma looms.  The Oklahoma Sooners are good.  So far this year they're gaining 40% more offensive yards than their opponents typically allow, and holding teams to 20% fewer yards than such opponents typically gain (both numbers are per play; with OU you have to take this into account because they run an absurd 83 offensive plays per game, over 10 more than Texas).  They held an admittedly bad Ball State team to 2.6 yards per pass attempt, which is like attempting a 3-yard completion on every play and succeeding… sometimes. 

They do look more vulnerable against the pass than the run, however, having allowed above average passing numbers of 8.8 YPA to Missouri and 8.2 YPA to Tulsa (who, by the way, has played a ridiculous schedule: OU, OK State, and Boise St.).  This OU team can be passed on, and we're passing the ball extremely well.  Now, which Texas wide receiver is going to step up and throw a TD pass on Saturday?  

Stats are for losers.  The Missouri Tigers defense, in a 69-0 rout of Western Illinois, allowed 44 total yards of offense (24 rushing, 20 passing) on 26 plays.  

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