Nevada Football: Beyond the Box Score 2007

So I've begun to compile national data at the same time I've been pulling together Nevada's main play-by-play data, so I'll actually be able to give you a better idea of where a team should be in these categories.  I'm sure that interests only me, but...hey, it interests me.  So there.

Nevada was a team that improved as the season advanced, due mostly to the insertion of QB Colin Kaepernick into the starting lineup mid-season, thanks to an injury to Nick Graziano.  They were never a great team even with Kapernick--they still lost to San Jose State and got shut out by the hometown Lobos in the New Mexico Bowl--but they were decent enough to win six games (they went 4-3 after a 2-4 start) and give the fanbase hope for 2008 by thriving offensively with younger players...at least, non-seniors.  Alright, let's get started with the data.  Once again, the main pieces of data are the BTBS trinity--success rate, PPP (Points Per Play), and S&P (Success Rate + PPP). 

And as always, a) consult your handy BTBS Glossary whenever you need to, and b) don't be afraid to just skip to the summary at the end.  I won't be offended.  Well, I will be, but not too offended.

ALL PLAYS

Nevada

Run: 48.4% success rate / 0.36 PPP / 0.846 S&P
Pass: 39.9% / 0.46 / 0.863
TOTAL: 44.8% / 0.40 / 0.853

Opponents

Run: 41.0% / 0.31 / 0.719
Pass: 40.8% / 0.37 / 0.774
TOTAL: 40.9% / 0.34 / 0.746

NATIONAL AVERAGE

Run: 43.3% / 0.34 / 0.771
Pass: 40.5% / 0.34 / 0.745
TOTAL: 41.9% / 0.34 / 0.758

In yesterday's Nevada Links, I quoted a preview that said Nevada's defense really wasn't too bad despite the high number of points allowed.  This verifies that opinion somewhat.  They gave up almost 33 points a game, but their S&P allowed (0.746) was slightly below the national average (0.758).  They were quite solid against the run and weak against the pass (that's a good thing for Mizzou, I would say), but in all they weren't as bad as the initial numbers would suggest.

Offensively, they were solid.  And honestly...taking a look at the numbers...they weren't as much better with Kaepernick as you'd think.

Nick Graziano (the initial starter)

Run: 50.0% / 0.33 / 0.828
Pass: 39.4% / 0.47 / 0.861
TOTAL: 44.8% / 0.40 / 0.844

Colin Kaepernick

Run: 48.7% / 0.36 / 0.844
Pass: 40.6% / 0.47 / 0.876
TOTAL: 45.6 / 0.40 / 0.856

So the offense was better with Kaepernick in there, but not significantly.  I think this both puts a slight damper on Kaepernick's abilities and shows that the Pistol Offense is designed for success.  No matter who you put in there, you're going to move the ball.

I should mention, however, that Kaepernick also took much better care of the ball, with a 19-3 TD-INT ratio, as compared to 10-5 (in almost half as many passes) for Graziano.  That's important, and there's no real question that Kaepernick's the better QB...he's just not as much better as previews would lead you to realize.

CLOSE GAMES ONLY

Nevada

Run: 48.5% / 0.37 / 0.859
Pass: 42.1% / 0.50 / 0.919
TOTAL: 45.9% / 0.42 / 0.883

Opponents

Run: 40.7% / 0.27 / 0.681
Pass: 41.4% / 0.38 / 0.792
TOTAL: 41.1% / 0.33 / 0.740

NATIONAL AVERAGE

Run: 43.3% / 0.33 / 0.760
Pass: 40.9% / 0.34 / 0.752
TOTAL: 42.1% / 0.34 / 0.756

Nevada's offense was better during close games than overall, which suggests that when they got blown out, they got blown out.  However...they only lost two games by more than 20 points and only got truly roughed up once (Nebraska 52, Nevada 17).  And for that matter, they only blew out a couple teams as well.  Either way, the offense shut down when the game wasn't close.

I must say, I was surprised by the fact that their Close Game PPP margin (0.883 to 0.740) was so significant in their favor considering they went 6-7.  This does suggest they lost some games they could have won, and a look at the wins/losses proves that--they lost to Northwestern by 5, Fresno by 8, Boise by 2 (69-67!!), Hawaii by 2, and San Jose State by 3.  Some key stops, and this would have been a WAC title contender.  But alas, those stops didn't come.

VS BCS OPPONENTS (Nebraska, Northwestern)

Nevada

Run: 38.0% / 0.22 / 0.603
Pass: 39.4% / 0.38 / 0.776
TOTAL: 38.7% / 0.30 / 0.687

BCS Opponents

Run: 38.4% / 0.36 / 0.748
Pass: 57.4% / 0.54 / 1.115
TOTAL: 49.1% / 0.46 / 0.955

Aha...a chink in the armor.  Nevada ran well on the season, but against two bad BCS defenses, they only managed a 0.603 rushing S&P.  And while their overall defensive numbers were decent, their pass defense was atrocious against two decent BCS offenses.  Needless to say, that doesn't bode well for their trip to Columbia on September 13.

NON-PASSING DOWNS

Nevada

Run: 51.7% / 0.38 / 0.892
Pass: 44.8% / 0.42 / 0.865
TOTAL: 49.6% / 0.39 / 0.884

Opponents

Run: 44.9% / 0.34 / 0.785
Pass:  45.4% / 0.40 / 0.851
TOTAL:45.1% / 0.36 / 0.813

NATIONAL AVERAGE

Run: 47.4% / 0.38 / 0.850
Pass: 47.4% / 0.41 / 0.884
TOTAL: 47.4% / 0.39 / 0.864

PASSING DOWNS

Nevada

Run: 30.6% / 0.29 / 0.599
Pass: 34.8% / 0.51 / 0.862
TOTAL: 33.5% / 0.45 / 0.781

Opponents

Run: 27.3% / 0.21 / 0.484
Pass: 33.8% / 0.32 / 0.657
TOTAL: 31.4% / 0.28 / 0.594

NATIONAL AVERAGE

Run: 26.7% / 0.18 / 0.451
Pass: 31.7% / 0.25 / 0.568
TOTAL: 30.1% / 0.23 / 0.531

So this is interesting (to me).  On non-passing downs, Nevada isn't very aggressive in the passing game--their 0.865 Passing S&P is lower than the national 0.884 and disproportionately lower than a lot of their numbers compared to the national average.  However, on passing downs, it appears they go deep...a lot.  Their success rate isn't that much higher than normal on passing downs, but when they connect, it's a huge play.  Their 0.862 Passing S&P on passing downs has got to be one of the higher numbers in the country.

Meanwhile, defensively these numbers tell basically the same story.  Decent to above-average against the run, decent to below-average against the pass.

RED ZONE

Nevada

Run: 50.6% / 0.55 / 1.053
Pass: 33.3% / 0.24 / 0.577
TOTAL: 45.0% / 0.45 / 0.901

Opponents

Run: 52.4% / 0.52 / 1.047
Pass: 32.7% / 0.35 / 0.679
TOTAL: 44.9% / 0.46 / 0.907

NATIONAL AVERAGE

Run: 46.7% / 0.43 / 0.894
Pass: 38.7% / 0.28 / 0.667
TOTAL: 43.5% / 0.37 / 0.802

First off...it's pretty damn hard to pass in the redzone.  I mean, that's somewhat common sense, but those numbers are pretty stark.  And when the ball's in the redzone during a Nevada game--no matter whether UNR's on offense or defense--there will be handoffs and touchdowns.

RUSHING

Running Backs
Luke Lippincott - 53.9% / 0.35 / 0.891
Brandon Fragger - 32.0% / 0.17 / 0.486

Quarterbacks
Colin Kaepernick - 49.3% / 0.45 / 0.939
Nick Graziano - 50.0% / 0.33 / 0.833

So Kaepernick's a more explosive runner (we knew that), Lippincott's positively decent, and Brandon Fragger is replaceable if a better backup option comes around.  Got it.

RECEIVING

Marko Mitchell - 95.0% / 1.52 / 2.472
Kyle Sammons - 90.3% / 1.50 / 2.403
Mike McCoy - 88.5% / 1.39 / 2.277

So Nevada has some big-play options.  Here's the thing--one of the main qualities of the PPP measure is that it compares the resulting points to what's most likely for a given down and field position.  So Nevada's success in passing downs pays off in the PPP category, as shown here.  Mitchell, Sammons (gone for '08), and McCoy (plus TE Adam Bishop, also gone for '08) all had startlingly high PPP's, and this is the likely cause.  But that's SUCH a dangerous game, and it probably shows why Nevada didn't succeed nearly as much against good defensive teams.  Good defensive teams aren't likely to give up a big, drive-sustaining play in a passing down.

LINE YARDS AND SACK RATES

Nevada Offense

Line Yards (rushing): 3.36 LY/carry
Sack rate (non-passing downs): 3.1%
Sack rate (passing downs): 8.8%

Nevada Defense

Line Yards (rushing): 2.99 LY/carry
Sack rate (non-passing downs): 5.3%
Sack rate (passing downs): 10.0%

NATIONAL AVERAGE

Line Yards (rushing): 2.89 LY/carry
Sack rate (non-passing downs): 4.8%
Sack rate (passing downs): 8.8%

So the Wolfpack O-line was solid in run blocking and a smidge above average in pass blocking.  The line only loses one primary starter from 2007, so it should continue to produce pretty decent numbers.

The D-line, however, loses three starters.  It was close to the national average in all three categories--which suggests that the DL wasn't the problem with the pass defense--that goes on the secondary.  And while the run defense's overall numbers were slightly better than the average, the defensive line yards were slightly worse, suggesting the LBs had more of a part to play in successfully stopping the run than the DL...and the LB corps got depleted by graduation and injury this offseason.  Just something to think about.

DEFENSIVE STATS

Okay, we're going to try something new here.  It's an anti-S&P.  Using the same two figures--success rates and PPP, how can we judge defensive performance?  Success rates are easy enough--if it's an unsuccessful play for the offense, it's a successful play for the defense.  We've covered that.  But if we also want to take that PPP figure into account, how should we do it?

On offense, the best case scenario is a high success rate and a high PPP.  On defense, best case is a high defensive success rate and a low PPP, right?  So if we had something like this...

Defensive Success Rate - PPP = Defensive S&P

...that might work, right?  Let's try it with Nevada.  Their best player, by most accounts, was LB Ezra Butler.  His numbers were as follows: 64.4% defensive success rate, 0.12 PPP (nice).  That makes for a Defensive S&P of 0.527.  How'd the other LBs fare in the S&P category?  Kevin Porter had a 0.245, Josh Mauga had a 0.245, Nick Fuhr had a 0.516.  Okay...so Butler's was the highest.  This might (or might not) have potential.

So how much of the good portion of Nevada's defense returns?  Well, the LB corps is certainly depleted with the losses of Butler, Porter, and Fuhr.  But let's look at it this way:

% of successful plays made by 2008 returnees in 2007: 45.3% (not as high as Illinois)

Defensive S&P of 2008 returnees: 0.220
Defensive S&P of 2008 non-returnees: 0.143

So...they lose a lot of their good players, but they lose a lot of their crap, replaceable players too.  Got it.  I say the defense will suffer without their LB mainstays.

TURNOVERS

For the season, Nevada's turnover margin was -4.  Big turnover margins (positive or negative) suggest a turnaround the next season, but -4 isn't much.  What about Turnover Costliness (remember that one?)?

Nevada: 20 turnovers, 63.97 'costliness' points
Opponents: 16 turnovers, 51.70 'costliness' points

On average, a Nevada turnover cost them about 3.20 points, while a Nevada takeaway garnered them about 3.23 points.  Not a huge difference there.  National average was 3.28, so...yeah.  Nothing abnormal here.  UNR lost about 1 point per game due to turnovers, which isn't a ton, but...they did lose a lot of close games.  Turnovers should improve for UNR in '08 simply with Kaepernick starting the whole season (assuming that happens).  Will they force as many?

SUMMARY

So what have we learned about the good folks of Reno today, boys and girls?  Well, we learned that their offensive numbers are above average overall, but they failed two tests to prove themselves against BCS opponents.  That they play go deep a lot on third downs, and sometimes succeed at it; and that they got away with occasionally play Russian Roulette in this regard by sustaining drives when they probably souldn't have.  That Colin Kaepernick isn't as much better than Nick Graziano as one would have thought.  That the LBs were the heart and soul of their defense.  Et cetera.

With their weaknesses a) running the ball (their supposed strength) and b) stopping the pass against Nebraska and Northwestern suggest that 2007 Missouri would have positively demolished 2007 Nevada.  So the question is, will they be better in 2008?  The answer is, I think, that their offense will be marginally better and their defense will be marginally worse.  They're really going to be leaning on their 2009 recruiting class for help in the secondary, and I like my chances pitting Chase Daniel against that unit.

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