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Just The Sports: 2006-09-10

Just The Sports

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Erosion of Michigan Football With Numbers

The erosion of Michigan football under Lloyd Carr is a topic I wrote about back in May and one that everyone who watches college football has noticed, but since I found an archive of college football box scores going back to 1995, I decided to revisit the erosion and see just where Michigan football had fallen off. A quick, dirty way I separated Lloyd Carr's coaching career was to compare the 1995-2000 Wolverines to the 2001-2005 versions in terms of offense and defense and further breaking it down into non-conference and conference games.

The 2001-2005 Wolverines scored more points than their predecessors, averaging 29.9 points a game to the 1995-2000's 27.8 points. They scored more points despite having lower yards per passing attempt, yards per catch, completion percentage, and a lower yards per rush. One reason for the slight increase in points is that the 2000-2005 version threw the ball an average of 5.6 more times a game, completing 3 more passes, and rushed the ball 3.4 less times and passing yards are more likely to result in extra points on the scoreboard.

Defense is the main difference between the split halves of Carr's coaching career. The defenses for the 1995-2000 teams allowed 16.6 points per game, lower than the 20.2 points per game allowed by the 2001-2005 teams and making up for the 1995-2000 offenses average 2.1 less points. Also, the former defenses allowed less rushing yards on more carries and a lower completion percentage to the opponents (.536 to .553).

Just looking at the non-conference opponents tells a similar story across the two time frames. Again, the 2001-2005 offenses averaged more points than from 1995-2000, but this time the margin shrunk from +2.1 points to only +.8 points. Again, those teams scored more points on average despite having lower yards per pass attempt by a whole yard), lower yards per catch by 1.3 yards, slightly lower yards per rush, and a lower completion percentage.

As for the defenses against non-conference opponents, the 1995-2000 teams once again bettered their 2001-2005 allowed 3.4 less points per game. The most marked difference between the defenses in non-conference games was a much lower completion percentage for the 1995-2000 teams (.532 to .571). Whether this is a result of poorer defensive line play of the more recent Michigan teams or worse defensive back play or both or better Big 11 quarterbacks is debatable, but there is no confusing Michigan's pass defense is worse now than it was in the past.

If you have been paying attention so far, it should not surprise you that the numbers are basically the same for Michigan in conference games. The offenses of 2001-2005 score more points (+2.7 points per game) while having worse peripheral numbers, although the completion percentages are identical to the 1995-2000 teams, and the defenses of 1995-2000 give up 3.8 fewer points per game, once again eliminating the advantage for Michigan's 2001-2005 offensive efforts.

Lastly, I compared the Pythagorean winning percentages of the two time frames to each other, again by overall, non-conference, and conference results. The Pythagorean winning formula for football is the same as it is for baseball, but the exponent is 2.37 instead of 1.83.

According to the formula, overall over a 12-game season, the Michigan teams' point differentials of 1995-2000 add up to .7 more wins than the ones for 2001-2005. This difference may not sound like much, but this is an erosion and .7 wins is a big deal in a sport where losing one game almost automatically puts a team out of national championship contention. In non-conference games, the 1995-2000 teams were .8 wins better and in conference games, they were .6 wins better.

If the seasons were increased to 13 games, which is how many games several teams are playing now, the 1995-2000 teams were .8 wins better overall, .9 wins better in non-conference games, and .7 wins better in conference games.

In summation, the most erosion seems to be occurring on the defensive side of the ball as it is totally negating the increase of points the offense is scoring now.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Willie Parker's UNC Career

Peter King wrote the following quote in his Monday Morning Quarterback column, but I could not get around to refuting it until now so that is what I will do.

a. The stupidity of the former University of North Carolina coaching staff that buried Willie Parker on the depth chart is on display every time he runs the ball. If you didn't play Parker, Tar Heels braintrust, you obviously had Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson ahead of him.

This is a common sentiment of NFL observers who have no idea what they are talking about. The first problem with thinking this way is college coaches are under no pressure to play players based on their future professional careers and only need to play the best players at the time. If coaches did play players based on what King and others think they should, then there would have been no reason for Tom Brady to split snaps with Drew Henson. There was no reason otherwise, but that is another issue.

The second problem with wondering why Willie Parker didn't play is that none of these people have actually taken the time to do any research on the matter. It is infuriating that paid sports journalists can get away but such laziness, but I am really in no position to change things at the moment. While I attended UNC, I watched Willie Parker first-hand and I remember nothing impressive about his play or his collegiate career, but I wanted to make sure he was as unimpressive as I thought he was by going back and looking at the play-by-play data available on Unfortunately, I could only find it for the years 2002 and 2003, but I think those two years are enough to demonstrate my point.

In 2002, Willie Parker was the second leading rusher for UNC behind Jacque Lewis's 574 yards, more than twice Parker's season total. Parker was third among the top running backs in yards per carry behind Lewis and Mahlon Carey so he certainly did nothing to wow the spectators when he did run the ball. More importantly, Parker was the least successful running back the Tarheels gave 50 carries to that season after applying Football Outsider's definitions of a successful running play. Now, I could not find play-by-play data for Parker's best game of the season when he rushed for 79 yards on 13 carries against the then Syracuse Orangemen, but even if I had given him credit for a successful run on each of those 13 carries, he still would have had the lowest success rate among the top three running backs.

The following year, 2003, was more of the same for Parker because he again had the lowest success rate on a team with a very strong running game. Of the top four running backs, Parker was the only one with a success rate under 50%. Even Darian Durant, UNC's quarterback, proved himself to have more success on running plays than did Parker. Forgive me for not thinking the UNC coaching staff to be stupid when they had more than capable runners, all of whom were better in college than Willie Parker.

A counterpoint could be made that Parker would have had more success with more regular time at running back, but why do that when there is nothing to be fixed with the team's rushing attack. We should just call it what it is. Willie Parker is a late bloomer who found himself with a team with an excellent offensive line and who is probably not a running back who can run on all three downs, but we will see how he does with that this year.

It should be noted that success rate does not tell the entire story of a running back's prowess, but when couple with having a lower yards per carry average than his running back mates, I feel safe in saying UNC made no mistake in not playing Willie Parker more.

Also, don't forget Willie Parker went completely undrated so maybe everyone who had a draft pick in 2004 was stupid, too.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Toni Toni Toni

Toni Kukoc's proclamation that "it looks like he's done" shows he has finally read the memo that has been passed around the league for years and is ready to give up a sport he was getting progressively worse at.

If Kukoc were to take a cold, hard look at his career, he would realize he was really done in 1998, right around the exact moment Jordan retired and he found himself unable to complete a full NBA season. After Jordan left, Kukoc, in the few games he actually played, was asked to take a bigger responsibility on offense and he proved himself ill-equipped to handle the task, putting up the lowest offensive ratings of his career until last season. The Bulls tired of this act and Kukoc found himself in Philadelphia in 2000 where he continued to play poorly on the offensive side of the ball. His defense was still palatable because Larry Brown's 76ers' teams all played good defense.

In 2001, Kukoc experienced a resurgence of sorts with Atlanta, but that quickly faded and he has been in steady overall decline ever since his first year with Milwaukee in 2003. His offensive rating, however, has fluctuated alternating between going up and going down, but it has never gone up enough to offset his inability to play defense so he has really been dead weight when the Bucks allowed him on the floor and they have done so too frequently.

Even though Kukoc said he thinks he is done, he is still disillusioned enough about his talent to think he could contribute, evidenced by his saying, "I can still play 10, 15, 20 minutes, maybe, but I don't need it anymore."

Now, I cannot speak about ten minutes a game because he has never played such a low minute total, but he averaged 15.7 minutes per game last year and he was abysmal, especially shooting where he sit career lows or near-career lows in every shooting category. The truth is no team needs Toni, no matter how he chooses to spin it.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Jets vs. Titans Game Recap

Had Mike Nugent made the PAT he missed and at least one of the two field goals he also missed, the score would not have been as close as it was and perhaps the Titans would not have felt they still had a chance to win the game, but Nugent did not and his foibles did make for a very exciting final quarter, one that exposed what had been the difference between the two teams the whole game through.

Each team's rushing totals were basically the same, but what separated the Jets from the Titans were the performances from their quarterbacks and wide receivers in the passing game with the Jets clearly winning that battle. Overall, Chad Pennington averaged 8.6 net yards per pass play (including sack yardage and incompletions) while the Titans quarterbacks managed only 5.5 net yards per pass play. Take Vince Young's 3-for-4 27 yard effort out of the equation and Kerry Collins alone managed 5.4 net yards per pass play.

Pennington's high average per pass play speaks to just how efficient he was during the game, able to keep the chains moving on enough drives to lead the Jets to victory. Of the 33 times he got a pass off, 21 of his completions gained a successful amount of yardage. A lot of Pennington's success had to do with how accurate of a quarterback he is, but some of it can be attributed to the inability of Titans' defensive backs to stop the Jets' wide receivers. They will need to improve if they want to have any success this season.

Pac-Man Jones, especially in the first half, found himself failing to defend the Jets' receivers who were receiving throws from Chad Pennington. Whether it was Jerricho Cotchery or Laveranues Coles as the intended target, it really did not matter because Jones kept biting on each play fake he saw. Even Brad Smith, former University of Missouri quarterback, grabbed a reception one-handed after Pac-Man started to the line and too late realized Pennington was going to pass. In the second half, Reynaldo Hill was targeted and found himself no more able to stop completions than Jones. It was this that doomed the Titans to a loss.

On the other hand, there was Kerry Collins who only had 14 successful plays out of 38 passing attempts. When he did complete passes they went for an average of 13.1 yards, but he and the wide receivers did not connect consistently enough for that to matter much. In Kerry Collins' defense, some of his passes were dropped and one was bobbled into an interception so it was not entirely his fault, but that is the kind of quarterback Collins is. He will never have a high completion percentage, he is turnover-prone, and he is not the future of the Tennessee Titans.