Monday, October 17, 2011

Truths, Damn Truths and Statistics (posted 10.17.11)

Truths, Damn Truths and Statistics
Turning the old saying on its ear - there's truth to be siphoned from the numbers, if you siphon deep enough

Football is a tough game to quantify statistically, with all of its complicating variables.

For example, how do you quantify the chemistry of an entire offensive line all blocking the correct defenders on a given play? How do you account for bad route running, improper reads by a receiver and/or unblocked defenders in a quarterback's rating? Or checking to the right play, or calling the right defense, or timing a delayed blitz? Swirling gusts of wind on long passes, FGs or punts? Rain? Sleet? Snow? Hail?

So football statistics are imperfect measures. Nevertheless, the sport can produce useful stats - even if some might be compromised by the vagaries of circumstances. And for Penn State, through seven games some stats reveal what's going well, some tell where the Lions need to circle the wagons, and others reinforce what your eyes are telling you.
  • FIELD GOALS: Before Anthony Fera took over the FG duties in Game 4, PSU had made a calamitous 1-of-6 attempts. Fera is now 9-of-10, and he's perfect on PATs. With three of PSU's six wins thus far coming by six points or fewer, a steady leg from Fera is critical.
  • TACKLES FOR LOSS: Devon Still has 10, which is second in the Big Ten and an exceptional number for a defensive tackle. If Still keeps this up he could be the conference defensive player of the year.
  • PUNT TOUCHBACKS: When one school accounts for more than 1/3rd of all punt touchbacks in the conference, something is very wrong. Penn State has nine touchbacks. The other 11 teams in the Big Ten combined have 17. Nebraska and Purdue have none. The punter (Fera), the coverage units and the coaches all share in the blame and must get this remedied or PSU will succumb to bad field position
  • PENALTIES: It's not like the Lions are accumulating a lot of penalties - 44.6 yards per game, fifth-best/lowest in the conference. But PSU typically has an exceptionally low penalty rate. Also, for whatever reason, PSU opponents are committing very few penalties - 37.7 yards per game against the Lions, by far the fewest in the league. So this is the ultra-rare season where Penn State is a net loss in penalty yards.
  • INTERCEPTIONS/TURNOVERS: PSU's 11 picks are first in the Big Ten and tied for seventh nationally. Turnover margin always is one of the biggest indicators of success, and PSU is +5.
  • PASS EFFICIENCY DEFENSE: The Lions are yielding an exceptional 89.6 passer rating, second best in the Big Ten.
  • RUSH DEFENSE: PSU is third in the Big Ten allowing 3.0 yards per carry and 103 rush yards per game. Against the prolific attacks of Northwestern, Illinois, Nebraska and Wisconsin - all in the top 5 in the Big Ten in total offense - PSU will be relying on its defense more than ever. 
  • KICKOFF RETURNS: As long as Chaz Powell is the one returning it, PSU is in good shape. Powell has broken two long ones and is third nationally, first in the Big Ten with a 32.8 average. Devon Smith averages just 10.5 per return.
  • SCORING DEFENSE: PSU hasn't faced a murderer's row of offenses, but it's average of 11.6 points allowed per game is excellent. The three points surrendered to Iowa, which is averaging 32.5 per game, is the highlight.
  • QB RATING: Matt McGloin's is 136.0, Rob Bolden's is 85.2. Considering Bolden is not a much better runner, this discrepancy is vast. McGloin should be getting the majority of the snaps.
  • RED ZONE: More like the black 'n blue zone. When we introduced the Ultimate Red Zone Percentage last week, it illuminated PSU's struggles. The Lions 58.7 URZP is last in the Big Ten.

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