Over the last three years of my writing for Gator Country, you have known for me one thing: I only write opinions that I can back up with statistics. I am not known for fiery opinions where I grasp at straws or #hottakes based on simple observation – I try to draw analysis from numbers because I believe that data can find trends that your eyes cannot see and numbers never lie.
In this new weekly article, Behind the Numbers, we are going to look at the numbers each week for the Florida Gators and their opponents. Our goal is to find trends, correlations (maybe even causations!), and analyze the numbers behind the game (do you get it?).
For full disclosure, I think it is important to know where I will get my information. The statistics that we will use will come directly from SportSource Analytics and its affiliated websites, as well as, from ProFootballFocus and their advanced statistics. All analysis, graphs, and charts will be created by yours truly. (FYI, I am not the most artist person in the world, so if you like your graphs to look like they were made in Excel, you’re going to be very happy!)
Before we start the year, I think it will be important to give us a bit of a baseline of where the Gators ended last season and how things look going into 2015 – both as a team and as individuals.
Under Will Muschamp the Florida Gators offense was obviously anemic. They could never muster much under their three offensive coordinators. The Gators ended 2014, ranked 78th in total offense (although, adjusted for inflation they were ranked 63rd). The new offense led by head coach Jim McElwain and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, should yield much better results. Jim McElwain’s Colorado State Rams were ranked 15th in the country in total offense and beat the Gators in the following offensive categories: yards/pass attempt; rush/pass attempt; offensive explosiveness; pass efficiency differential; yards per point differential; scoring offense; total yards; passing first downs; passing yards; passing touchdowns; and a whole host of other categories. The Gators were so bad on offense, that in the 31 categories I am tracking this season, the Gators were ranked in the top-50 in only four categories: red zone offense percentage, rushing attempts; rushing yards/game, yards/pass completion. Conversely, the Rams ranked in the top-50 in 20 categories, including seven in the top-10.
Offense, as we know is vastly important to a successful program, even more so than defense – the numbers tell us. The advanced statistics gathered though SportSource Analytics show that an Offensive Ranking (that is adjusted for strength of schedule) has a 56% correlation to winning percentage, compared to defensive rankings that have just a 38% correlation to winning percentage.
The Gators need to grow in the areas like offensive explosiveness, that has a 63% correlation to winning percentage and, as well as, scoring offense (62%), pass efficiency (45%), and of course, percentage of plays that result in a first down or touchdown (47%), where the Gators ranked 106th in the country last season.
In the areas where Florida struggled the most on offense have high correlations to team success and Florida should do better in this regard this season.
What kind of offense will Jim McElwain run this season? Jim McElwain’s Rams had a bit of a slow per play count (25.79 seconds per play), but ranked only 82nd in the country in time of possession, which means that his plays were not exceptionally up-tempo, yet they seemed to go for big yards on each play – they ranked second in yards/pass attempt and 11th in yards/pass completion, averaging 9.35 and 14.62 yards respectively, with offensive explosiveness ranked 29th in the country. Moreover, it will be interesting to see how McElwain uses the running backs. Colorado State ranked 105th in rushing attempts last season, compared to the Gators 34th. Of course, Jim McElwain did not have Kelvin Taylor or Jordan Scarlett in the backfield (although, Dee Hart wasn’t half bad), so I imagine the Gators will run more than the Rams, but probably less than last seasons 43.08 rushes per game.
Obviously, all of this depends on the health of the offense and that is not something I can predict right now!
Let me be the first to say, I don’t think there will be much of a drop off on defense except in the attrition that was lost – what I mean is, I don’t think the Gators are at less of a schematic advantage this season than last season.
Of the 37 statistics I am tracking for the season, the Gators ranked in the top-50 in 29 of those categories. They return their top cornerbacks, safeties, linebackers, and many on the defensive line with another year under their belt. Those returning players, according to ProFootballFocus, include the best cover cornerback in the country (Hargreaves), second best run stopping safety (Marcus Maye), first and fourth best overall cornerbacks (Hargreaves, Tabor), and third best running stopping cornerback (Poole). I think the Gators will be just fine.
But because this article is about statistics, lets take a look at some from the Gators last season and from Geoff Collins’ Mississippi State defense.
As we talked about earlier, the correlation between an exceptionally highly ranked defense and winning percentage is rather weak. But what does matter according to the stats?
The two statistics that have the highest correlation to winning are: turnover margin has a 35% correlation to win percentage and percentage of plays that result in a sack, turnover, or tackle for loss has a 28% correlation – so let’s look at those two areas.
Last season, Florida was ranked 32nd in turnover margin, including being ranked 8th in opponent fumbles lost, while also being ranked 20th in percentage of plays that result in a sack, turnover, or tackle for loss – so great starting point. On the other hand, Geoff Collins’ Bulldogs ranked 47th in percentage of opponent plays ending in a sack, turnover, or tackle for loss with 14.84%, good for 47th in the country, while being ranked 60th in turnover margin, which showed that Mississippi State struggled taking the ball away. They ranked 86th in opponent fumbles and 99th in opponent fumbles lost, but did rank 19th in interceptions per game. The Gators will rely on their experiences in turning the ball over and need to excel in the number of interceptions they have this season, where they ranked 13th in the country last season.
The Gators will need to replace 13.5 of their 30 sacks from last season, but they return every player that had an interception, they return the players that had 50 of the 62 pass break-ups, 61% of the QB hurries, and the leaders in almost every defensive category.
Ultimately, we won’t know where this season is going to end up until we get there and most of these stats are meaningless now because we have new coaches, new players, new schemes, and new opponents, but they are fun to look at.
I hope you enjoyed this new series. We will be able to dive into a lot over the season and I promise you more pictures and graphs moving forward, but I also ask for you to bear with me for the first few weeks while the numbers begin to sort themselves out.