Illinois Football: Beyond the Box Score 2007

Sniff...Beyond the Box Score, I've missed you ever so.  Life seemed incomplete without you...especially considering I've spent a good portion of my last 6 months entering play-by-play information in preparation for bringing you back into my life.  It's all at my fingertips now, and Illinois is the beneficiary of that.

Actually, that's a lie.  It's all at my fingertips, but I don't know what to do with it all.  By the time we get further into the schedule here, I'll have a lot more interesting tidbits and my fingertips, but for now I'm stuck using the same sort of measures I looked at last year.  Which isn't bad by any means...just not as good as it will be.

So for now we're focusing on three major numbers for the most part: success rates, PPP (Points Per Play), and S&P (Success Rates + Points Per Play).  You remember these old friends, right?  If not, go here.

Let's get started...see where this takes us!  (And if your eyes start to glaze over from all the random numbers, just hop down to the Conclusion at the end...and don't forget to take the poll!)

ALL PLAYS (Success Rate / PPP / S&P)

Rushing

Illinois: 49.6% / 0.42 / 0.916
Opponents: 41.2% / 0.30 / 0.709

Passing

Illinois: 39.5% / 0.33 / 0.722
Opponents: 40.3% / 0.29 / 0.692

Total

Illinois: 45.9% / 0.39 / 0.844
Opponents: 40.7% / 0.29 / 0.700

Illinois really wasn't that great a passing team, but you probably didn't need creative numbers to tell you that. The typical stats (167 passing yds/game, 15 TD, 15 INT) do just fine there. Rejus Benn was solid as a freshman, but he wasn't tremendously consistent from game to game. He needs to be healthy and consistent this year.

CLOSE GAMES ONLY

Rushing

Illinois: 50.5% / 0.41 / 0.913
Opponents: 39.9 / 0.25 / 0.650

Passing

Illinois: 38.9% / 0.31 / 0.703
Opponents: 40.0% / 0.25 / 0.648

Total

Illinois: 46.2% / 0.37 / 0.835
Opponents: 40.0% / 0.25 / 0.649

This really was a pretty solid defensive unit.  I'll produce the numbers to prove it at some point, but a 0.649 S&P in close games is pretty good.

CONFERENCE GAMES

Rushing

Illinois: 48.9% / 0.42 / 0.908
Opponents: 44.8% / 0.30 / 0.752

Passing

Illinois: 40.8% / 0.37 / 0.782
Opponents: 40.4% / 0.28 / 0.680

Total

Illinois: 42.0% / 0.39 / 0.807
Opponents: 42.3% / 0.29 / 0.711

As the season progressed, Illinois' passing attack improved a decent amount.

PRESSURE SITUATIONS (Q4, score within two possessions)

Rushing

Illinois: 44.0% / 0.41 / 0.849
Opponents: 27.3% / 0.14 / 0.414

Passing

Illinois: 34.5% / 0.13 / 0.470
Opponents: 36.5% / 0.17 / 0.540

Total

Illinois: 41.3% / 0.33 / 0.744
Opponents: 32.3% / 0.16 / 0.482

While the Illini offense was wholly unimpressive in pressure situations, the defense stepped up.  Mizzou fans can attest to that one--Illinois got after Mizzou late in the game, and Pig Brown was Mizzou's savior.

RED ZONE

Rushing

Illinois: 53.1% / 0.63 / 1.160
Opponents: 46.7% / 0.40 / 0.871

Passing

Illinois: 43.8% / 0.12 / 0.562
Opponents: 38.5% / 0.32 / 0.709

Total

Illinois: 50.0% / 0.46 / 0.961
Opponents: 42.9% / 0.37 / 0.796

PPP numbers start getting a bit skewed as you approach the endzone--yards become more valuable on an Equivalent Points basis.  This is where the presence of Rashard Mendenhall really paid off.  UI's passing attack was conservative and ineffective, but Mendenhall ran strong and found the endzone often.

PASSING DOWNS

Rushing

Illinois: 35.2% / 0.35 / 0.700
Opponents: 33.0% / 0.29 / 0.620

Passing

Illinois: 27.4% / 0.17 / 0.441
Opponents: 32.0% / 0.14 / 0.464

Total

Illinois: 31.0% / 0.25 / 0.559
Opponents: 32.3% / 0.19 / 0.509

This is a wash...neither the Illinois offense nor the Illinois defense was great or terrible here.

NOVEMBER

Rushing

Illinois: 52.1% / 0.47 / 0.993
Opponents: 48.1% / 0.49 / 0.969

Passing

Illinois: 46.3% / 0.61 / 1.069
Opponents: 40.9% / 0.25 / 0.654

Total

Illinois: 50.4% / 0.51 / 1.015
Opponents: 43.8% / 0.34 / 0.780

This is the most interesting development.  How much do you believe in momentum carrying over from one season to another?  While I think bowl results are very much over-emphasized as a predictor of the next year's success--it's too damn small a sample size--looking at the last 4-5 games might be interesting, and there's no question that Illlinois surged when the weather started cooling.  It wasn't just the strong running threat--the passing game started becoming dangerous.  How much of that was attached to the running threat?  A lot, possibly.  We won't know for sure until August 30, I guess.

RATES BY QUARTER

Q1

Illinois: 47.2% / 0.35 / 0.825
Opponents: 39.0% / 0.22 / 0.611

Q2

Illinois: 48.4% / 0.40 / 0.885
Opponents: 41.5% / 0.33 / 0.743

Q3

Illinois: 48.7% / 0.43 / 0.912
Opponents: 49.5% / 0.33 / 0.822

Q4

Illinois: 39.3% / 0.36 / 0.754
Opponents: 33.6% / 0.29 / 0.631

Everybody's numbers go down in Q4, but what's interesting here is the momentum that both offenses (Illinois' and their opponents') generated as the game's first 45 minutes progressed before a dogfight broke out in Q4.

RATES BY DOWN

1st Down

Illinois: 46.3% / 0.35 / 0.809
Opponents: 40.8% / 0.32 / 0.724

2nd Down

Illinois: 45.0% / 0.34 / 0.786
Opponents: 41.9% / 0.18 / 0.598

3rd & 4th Downs

Illinois: 46.3% / 0.55 / 1.018
Opponents: 38.7% / 0.41 / 0.798

Here's where I'm starting to realize that I'm not giving Juice Williams quite enough credit.  He's a "scrambling QB", which means you roll him out on 3rd downs, and it's up to him to make plays running or throwing.  UI's outstanding 3rd down S&P shows that he was good at keeping the chains moving and making plays in big moments.  Now...the Q4 rates above show that he might not have been making these plays in the fourth quarter (Ohio State game aside), but he was making them at some point.

QB S&P

If you took a "Who's the better QB--Juice Williams or Eddie McGee?" poll among Mizzou fans, I'm willing to bet that McGee would get at least 50% of the vote due to the way he played in St. Louis last Labor Day weekend.  Well...

Juice Williams: 0.945 rushing plays / 0.749 passing plays / 0.873 TOTAL
Eddie McGee: 0.587 rushing plays / 0.429 passing plays / 0.518 TOTAL

...not so much.  McGee had success against MU in part because there was no film on him.  Nobody knew anything about him or his skill set.  As the book began to get written about McGee, teams were better able to prepare for him.

RUSHING NUMBERS

One of the biggest questions heading into 2008 is, can Illinois find a replacement capable of replicating (somewhat) the numbers of Rashard Mendenhall?

Rashard Mendenhall: 93.69 EqPts, 49.6% success rate, 0.41 PPP, 0.903 S&P
Juice Williams: 55.26 EqPts, 58.9% success rate, 0.43 PPP, 1.018 S&P
Daniel Dufrene: 16.68 EqPts, 45.9% success rate, 0.45 PPP, 0.910 S&P
Troy Pollard: 5.31 EqPts, 53.8% success rate, 0.41 PPP, 0.947 S&P

The Magic 8-Ball says, ask again later.  In a relatively minuscule sample size, Daniel Dufrene and Troy Pollard put up similar per-carry averages to Mendenhall, but at 5'11/224, Mendenhall's toughness and durability were his strengths (well, that and breakaway speed).  Dufrene's 5'11/201 and Pollard's 5'8/180, so signs don't point to yes on 'durability', but while I was hoping to come to some definitive "They're not in his league" conclusion here, we'll have to wait on that one.

LINE YARDS & SACK RATES

Illinois: 3.28 LY/carry
Opponents: 2.87 LY/carry

Illinois: 6.2% sack rate (passing downs) / 3.6% sack rate (non-passing downs)
Opponents: 9.6% sack rate (passing downs) / 6.5% sack rate (non-passing downs)

There's no questioning that Juice Williams can evade tacklers, and that helped with an otherwise decent-not-spectacular sack rate for UI's O-line.  UI's D-line, however, was quite impressive, both in passing and non-passing downs.  That speaks to their biggest 2008 strength, the D-line (plus, having LB's like J Leman sure didn't hurt the sack rate).

DEFENSE

I've gone back to the drawing board when it comes to measuring individual defensive prowess.  My last stab at defensive evaluation didn't impress me much.  So for now we'll just rank Illinois' top ten defenders in terms of making successful plays and see who's returning and who departed.  Looking at things this way gives a bias to the players closer to the line of scrimmage, but...oh well.

1. J. Leman (LB, 60.0 successes, 59.7% success rate)
2. Will Davis (DE, 27.5 successes, 91.7% success rate)
3. David Lindquist (DT, 27.5 successes, 75.3% success rate)
4. Brit Miller (LB, 27.0 successes, 78.3% success rate)
5. Antonio Steele (LB, 26.5 successes, 41.1% success rate)
6. Vontae Davis (CB, 25.5 successes, 38.6% success rate)
7. Chris Norwell (DT, 16.5 successes, 78.6% success rate)
8. Doug Pilcher (DE, 16.0 successes, 84.2% success rate)
9. Derek Walker (DE, 14.0 successes, 84.8% success rate)
10. Justin Sanders (DB, 11.5 successes, 27.7% success rate)

In all, Illinois made 333 successful stops on defense last year, and the players who made 186 of them (55.8%) return.  Is that good?  No idea.  I'd say that close to 50% is just about average.  The play of the LBs will almost certainly take a pretty swift step backwards, but there's a lot of playmaking potential returning on that D-Line.

TURNOVER MARGIN

I've been toying with a lot of different methods for measuring the impact of turnovers, but for a 'season as a whole' look, I haven't come up with anything better than just plain Turnover Margin.  Turnovers depend a lot on the bouncing of an oblong ball, and therefore turnover margins are pretty fluid from year to year.  If you were +20 one year, chances are you'll be in the negative the next year.  Therefore it's a solid predictor of year-to-year surges (either surges up or surges down).  All that said...it doesn't say much about Illinois.  The Illini committed 27 turnovers last year (a relatively high number) and forced 25 (a relatively high number) for a margin of -2.  These numbers shouldn't surprise Mizzou fans--MU and UI combined for 7 turnovers last year--and they unfortunately don't hint at anything good or bad for Illini fans.

SDPI

What the hell is SDPI?  It stands for Standard Deviation Power Index, and I'm completely and totally yoinking it from one of my favorite football stat nerds, Matt at Statistically Speaking.  He explained what it is, conveniently enough, in his Big Ten 2007 Review post from February.

SDPI is a statistic I borrowed from Eddie Epstein that he used in his book, Dominance, to rank pro football's all-time greatest teams. SDPI stands for Standard Deviation Power Index and looks at how teams performed relative to the league average (or conference average in this case) and standard deviation in terms of points scored and allowed. The more standard deviations a team is above the mean, the better they are, and vice-versa. Here is the link to last year's Big 10 post. As you can see, SDPI was a useful tool in predicting some of the rise and fall among the Big 10's teams.

...

The mean points scored and allowed for all Big 10 teams in conference play was 210.55 points. The standard deviation for points scored was 34.45. The standard deviation for points allowed was 64.99. Purdue scored 213 points in Big 10 play and allowed 226. Their offensive SDPI was 0.07 = ([213-210.55]/34.45). Their defensive SDPI was -0.24 = ([210.55-226]/64.99). Their total SDPI for points (SDPIP) was -0.17 which ranked 7th in the conference.

If your eyes glazed over there, here's the bottom Line: SDPI = how a team performed relative to its direct (i.e. conference) competition. If you gained 400 ypg in an atmosphere that produced a bunch of teams averaging 450 ypg, it's not as beneficial as gaining 400 ypg where your direct competition was gaining 300.  It's the 'averages and standard deviations' version of actual records.  Because where's the fun in just looking at the standings??

So how did Illinois fare?  Here are the actual standings:

1. Ohio State 7-1
2. Michigan 6-2
3. Illinois 6-2
4. Wisconsin 5-3

Here are the average SDPI standings based on points and yards:

1. Ohio State 2.51
2. Michigan State 1.18
3. Illinois 0.92
4. Penn State 0.48

Illinois possibly overachieved, but not really...and not nearly as much as Michigan and Wisconsin.  Meanwhile, Michigan State, who had what seemed like 5 1-point losses, showed that they were a team on the brink of accomplishing much more than they actually did in 2007.  In all, the Big Ten was a disaster and/or giant melting pot outside of Ohio State, but Illinois more or less achieved what their yardage and point totals would have suggested.

CONCLUSION

So what have we learned today, boys and girl(s)?  Well, for one...I've learned that I can't wait to experiment with new measures and stats.  For another...well...I still haven't decided if Illinois is going to be better or worse next year.  Their above-average QB returns.  Their stud RB departs.  Their best WR (and conference freshman of the year) returns.  Their All-American LB (and another key starting LB) departs.  Their DL returns just about everybody.

At this point, here's what I know about Illinois:

1. If they don't get pressure on Chase Daniel, they'll get torched.

2. They got plenty of pressure on Chase Daniel last year, taking advantage of both a reshuffled-and-not-yet-settled Mizzou O-line, plus the fact that they had a lot of mostly unscouted players doing some damage.  They'll once again try to tee off on an unsettled Mizzou OL, but it's a little easier to know their tendencies this time around.

3. The key for UI on offense will simply be not making the big mistake.  A Juice Williams-led offense will see plenty of big third down conversions and plenty of three-and-outs.  You can live with three-and-outs if you're tackling Jeremy Maclin on punt returns and hitting Chase Daniel early and often on defense.  But if you lose sight of one of Mizzou's defensive playmakers--Moore, Weatherspoon, Hood, Christopher, Sulak--you'll lose.

4. A WR needs to step up opposite Benn.  We didn't spend a lot of time talking about WR's here, but here's the quick version--Benn was good, everybody else was average, and Mendenhall bailed them out often with some big catches out of the backfield.  Benn is likely to actually start the season 100% healthy this year, but that won't really matter if teams can freely double-team him.

5. It doesn't take a numbers nerd to determine that this game will come down to Mizzou's OL vs Illinois' DL.  Mizzou has a bit more margin for error by holding the advantage in a lot of matchups--their RBs vs UI's LBs, their WRs vs UI's DBs, their LBs vs UIs RB, probably their DL vs UI's OL--but if they're lighting up Chase Daniel, it equalizes everything really quickly. 

Illinois should be an extremely exciting team in 2008. With Juice Williams taking on an even bigger portion of the offensive responsibility and Benn flying around the field, there should be explosive plays...and a decent number of costly mistakes.  Meanwhile an athletic DL with decent-at-best safety valves at LB should make plenty of big hits and force some turnovers...while giving up quite a few big plays of their own.

UI will go as far as Juice and their D-Line will take them.  That goes for both August 30 and beyond.

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