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The Numbers Game: Introducing the Explosive Plays Project

Greg Davis and Mack Brown are enamored of explosive plays.  The Burnt Orange Nation is concerned with the lack of explosive options on offense.  Why all the hubub?  As whills said (uh, sort of, anyway), doesn't a more consistent offense obviate the need for explosive plays?  If you control the ball and move it methodically down the field on all your drives, then who cares if you get rushes for 12+ yards and completions for 16+ yards (Mack's definition of an "explosive play")?  Three yards and a cloud of dust on every play ought to do the trick, no?  After all, isn't the Texas Tech offense's propensity to score so quickly one of the reasons its defense is so bad?

Perhaps, in theory.  The problem with the "consistent" offense, however, is that in practical terms, it can never be perfect.  The more plays there are in a drive, the more bad things that can happen.  For instance, turnovers: if Texas turns the ball over every 30 plays, then do you want each drive to be 15 plays long or 5 plays long?  And the fewer explosive plays there are, the harder a team has to work for field position.  Any team (explosive or not) can run three plays in a row that don't work very well and thus face a fourth down.  For a team that creates frequent explosive plays that eat up yards in fewer plays, this 4th down will much more often occur in field goal range than for the team that does not create explosive plays, simply because the non-explosive team is going to run far more plays in their own territory than the explosive team.  "Ball control" is great in theory, but if you could have an explosive play every few snaps, you'd be a fool not to take it.

The question is, to what extent can this Texas offense develop an explosivity and to what extent can it make up for any lack of explosivity with consistency?  Welcome to the Explosive Plays Project.  Continue after the jump for an explanation of what we're going to look at as the year progresses and for a look at the explosivity and consistency of the 2007 offense.  (Hint: explosive and incredibly inconsistent.  But you already knew that.)  Onward!

The 2007 Longhorns were very much a poor offensive team that consistently got bailed out by explosive plays and in that regard their statistics are perhaps not indicative of how a normal team might perform over the course of a season.  But these statistics do provide a good barometer of how much the 2008 team has and will (hopefully) improve the consistency of the offense over the 2007 team.  Following are a few important statistics from the 2007 season, numbered so you can talk about them more easily in the comments:

  1. Of the 58 offensive touchdowns scored by Texas in 2007, more than half (31) came on an explosive play and 88% (51) of the drives that resulted in touchdowns included at least one explosive play.
  2. Of the 75 offensive drives in 2007 that ended in points (TD or FG), 91% (68) of them included at least one explosive play.
  3. Of the seven touchdown drives that had no explosive plays, two started within the opponent's 15 yard line, meaning only five were actually sustained drives.
  4. Of the 21 offensive drives that ended in field goal attempts, 19 (or 90%) included at least one explosive play.  Of the 52 offensive drives that ended in punts, 43 (or 83%) included zero explosive plays.  This supports the idea that 4th downs are far more likely to occur in field goal range when the drive that leads up to them includes an explosive play.
  5. Of the 24 turnovers on the season, 19 (or 79%) came on drives with zero explosive plays.
  6. Of the 24 turnovers on the season, 7 came on extended drives (over 5 plays).  Of those 7 extended drives, 4 included zero explosive plays and 3 included only 1 explosive play.  No drive had more than 1.  Presumably, one explosive play or more could have eliminated the turnovers on these drives by allowing the offense to run fewer plays to get down the field and score, thus getting the offense off the field more quickly.
  7. Of the 76 drives that ended in either turnovers or punts, 62 (or 82%) included zero explosive plays.
  8. Texas had 66 explosive rushing plays (12+ yards) and 66 explosive passing plays (16+ yards) on the season.  Is this a better indicator of "offensive balance" than the number of actual rushing vs. passing plays called?
  9. Texas had 17 explosive plays (EPs) against Oklahoma State (and needed every single one to win), 15 EPs against Rice (an extremely bad team), 12 EPs against Baylor and Texas Tech (bad defenses), 11 EPs against Iowa State, Nebraska and Arizona State, 9 EPs against TCU, 8 EPs against Arkansas State, KSU and OU, and only 5 EPs against UCF and A&M.  Explosive Plays are a more valuable statistic on a "per-drive" basis but these "per-game" stats give a telling look at how much EPs factor into the result of the games themselves.
  10. Central Florida in 2007 was ranked #49 in total defense and #56 in scoring defense, while Texas Tech was ranked #45 in total defense and #50 in scoring defense.  However, Texas executed 12 explosive plays against Tech, while being limited to only 5 explosive plays against UCF.  Thus, while to a certain extent the quality of the defense matters and against the likes of Rice Texas can do whatever it wants (go explosive or go conservative), defenses of relatively equal quality can wildly vary in their abilities to stop explosive plays.  And that ability can very often translate into close games (UCF) versus blowouts (Tech).

Again, the 2007 team is likely not typical of a "normal" team -- in my opinion it relied entirely too heavily on explosive plays to make up for a generally weak and turnover prone offense.  But I think that the changes in the 2008 team from the 2007 will be telling.  For instance, if the team's explosive plays decrease, but the number of touchdowns scored on drives with no explosive plays increases, is this considered "progress"?  The Explosive Plays Project is something I'm going to keep up with (more or less) every week, likely posting stats very similar to these from the previous week's games in the FanPosts section with little commentary.  Feel free to suggest anything else I should be looking at.  About halfway through the year or so (and again at the end of the season), I'll revisit the season's stats as a whole to see how they look and what progress or regress the 2008 offense has shown. 

Perhaps then we will also get an answer to the question so omnipresent in the BON discussions of late: whether offensive consistency is indeed inversely proportional to the need for offensive explosivity.  We shall see.