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What Does a Kirby Moore Offense Look Like?

He’s only been doing this for a year, but we might as well see what that year looked like

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Before we open the hood and take apart the engine of a Kirby Moore offense, let’s get some caveats out of the way:

  • Fresno State’s head coach, Jeff Tedford, is a really smart, experienced offensive mind who absolutely had influence over scheme, design, and scripting of plays.
  • Jake Haener was the best quarterback in the Mountain West and had four years of playing experience.
  • As a conference, the Mountain West was a pretty terrible conference from a quality standpoint, barely better than the ragtag bunch of teams currently on the Conference USA roster. Lots of people can look like geniuses when half your schedule is against crumbling wannabes or teams in the middle of a hard reset.
  • Kirby Moore was Fresno State’s offensive coordinator for 379 days.

So keep those points in the back of your mind as we look at the 14 games we have data for. It’s not to detract from what he’s done, it's just there to provide context.

Kirby’s 2022 Fresno State offense can be put into two buckets of evaluation: with Jake Haener at quarterback, and with Logan Fife at quarterback. Haener was hurt in the third week of the season during the USC game and missed the next four weeks against UConn, Boise State, San Jose State, and New Mexico. As a quick comparison, here are the key season stats for both quarterbacks:

  • Jake Haener (8-2): 72.6% completion rate, 8.0 ANY/A (that’s pretty good), 18-3 touchdowns to interceptions, 7.7 air yards per pass, 2.2% sack rate
  • Logan Fife (2-2): 70.0% completion rate, 4.6 ANY/A (that’s very bad), 2-6 touchdowns to interceptions, 6.3 air yards per pass, 5.0% sack rate

Both guys had similar completion rates, but the difference was in the ANY/A (a metric that determines the value of each throw), where Haener was a massive 3.4 yards better per drop back. Haener threw way more touchdowns, four fewer interceptions, and took more deep shots. He also had half the sack rate as Fife. Essentially, Fresno’s offense played with one arm behind its back with Fife in the game and suffered two straight losses against a decent team (Boise) and a bad team (UConn).

In addition, Fresno running back Jordan Mims had his usage increase during the games with Fife under center. With Haener, Mims averaged 18 touches per game but that increased to an average of 22 touches per game with the four games of Fife. Fresno was an offense that wanted to throw to set up the run and didn’t abandon that concept with Fife under center, instead keeping the throws easier and closer to the line. Defenses reacted quickly and simply sat in zone coverage a whopping 73% of the time as they knew Fife couldn’t/wouldn’t beat it and that limited Fresno’s ability to effectively move the ball.

I don’t have the time to drill down and chart every single Fresno game to tell you individual success rates or explosive plays to give you a holistic view of what happened; I (barely) do that for Mizzou every year and I have no interest in doing that for some other team. However, knowing how the offense changed with the two quarterbacks can again give us context on what the season tendencies look like. It’s not perfect, but hey, it’s not like Mizzou is importing the Fresno State offense whole cloth and the ‘23 Tiger offense will be a carbon copy.

So let’s check out some of the key aspects of an offense and look at the respective SP+ rankings of what Fresno did last year!

Efficiency vs. Explosiveness

Eli Drinkwitz’s offensive mind was influenced in his work with Chris Petersen at Boise and Gus Malzahn at Auburn and both offensive-minded coaches have a similar philosophy: run the ball a ton, utilize the quick-hitting passing game and hope a few plays break some big yardage for you. Both Boise and Auburn valued efficiency over explosiveness and utilized scheme to create explosive play designs built off of the looks of their simplistic, efficiency-based plays they ran.

Kirby Moore was schooled in that very same Chris Petersen philosophy, and I think this is the #1 reason Eli liked Kirby’s stuff: he values efficient offensive plays over explosive plays.

Now, that should be the case! Explosive plays in football are extremely unreliable and, like 3-point shooting in basketball, can be very boom-or-bust in regard to long-term success or consistency. It’s why SP+ values efficient offensive over explosive ones; more explosive offenses are much more fun and pointsy but are too random enough to be rendered unreliable, whereas efficiency-based offenses tend to be much more consistent over the long run. So what was Fresno good at last year?

2022 Fresno State Success Rate: 48.8% (15th)

2022 Fresno State Explosiveness Rate: 12.3% (67th)

Not only were the Bulldogs much better at grinding out the yards needed, but when they did hit a big play it didn’t go very far (87th in IsoPPP - essentially, when they did gain a ton of yards it ended up not being worth much). As a comparison, Missouri’s success rate for 2022 was 40.5% and they had the exact same explosiveness rate of 12.3%. Oddly enough, Drink’s efficiency machine became overly reliant on big plays to move the ball since their success rate shrunk from 44% (which they were operating at in the ‘20 and ‘21 campaigns) and, of course, they weren’t great at generating big plays.

An 8% improvement in success rate is a massive leap, especially when you think of how Mizzou was 2-4 in one-possession games that needed just one or two more plays to go right. Moore (seemingly) shares Drink’s philosophy and has done it successfully.

Run vs. Pass

The “traditional” balanced offense - in my mind, anyway - is one that attempts to run the ball just as much as they try to pass the ball. The “actual” balanced offense, then, is one that spreads the touches out among its skill position players. If that means that they’re running it or catching it is irrelevant; the point is to get many guys involved to keep the defense off balance.

Fresno’s offense last year hit the “traditional” interpretation almost perfectly, calling 431 runs to 434 passes. The yardage total - for whatever stock you put into that - was 3,508 yards through the air and 1,649 yards on the ground. Six players had 40+ touches over the year, which definitely falls into the “actual” balanced offense bucket - including a 1,000+ yard rusher (Jordan Mims) and a 1,000+ yard receiver (Jalen Cropper) - while four other skill position guys contributed over 350 yards on the year. But were they equally good at the run and the pass? The answer is a resounding “yes”:

2022 Fresno State Rushing Success Rate: 50.0% (18th)

2022 Fresno State Passing Success Rate: 48.0% (16th)

Again, for comparison, Mizzou ranked 90th in rushing success rate and 83rd in passing success rate. Kirby’s Fresno offense - even with a stinker of a four-game sample - was able to keep up with the chains and rattle off long drives to hold the ball and run the clock. However, if they needed a big play, there was only one way they could get it:

2022 Fresno State Rushing Marginal Explosiveness: -0.20 (100th)

2022 Fresno State Passing Marginal Explosiveness: 0.19 (78th)

It’s not a gigantic gap but certainly a noticeable one. Fresno’s receivers did a much better job of making big plays when they needed to than the running backs did...but it still wasn’t very good. Missouri in ‘22 managed a -0.15 (77th) on the ground and 0.26 (47th) through the air, which is one area where the Tigers were quite a bit better than the Bulldogs. Dom Lovett was a big play waiting to happen when he touched the ball and hopefully another receiver steps up to give Kirby an upgraded explosive outlet.

Standard Downs vs. Passing Downs

As a reminder, a standard down is any 1st down, 2nd-and-7 or shorter, 3rd-and-4 or shorter, and 4th-and-4 or shorter; essentially, a down and distance where, realistically, you could call a run or a pass and get the yardage needed. Passing downs is 2nd-and-8 or longer, 3rd-and-5 or longer, and 4th-and-5 or longer. Essentially, it’s a down and distance where the offense will most likely be passing the ball.

Offenses need to be good at both to succeed, and passing downs usually are at the mercy of the quality of the quarterback and his ability to make a play happen. Jake Haener was a very good playmaker and Logan Fife was not but, even so, Fresno was much better grinding away on standard downs than making a play on passing downs:

2022 Fresno State Standard Downs Success Rate: 56.1% (11th)

2022 Fresno State Passing Downs Success Rate: 33.2% (45th)

FIFTY-SIX POINT ONE PERCENT SUCCESS RATE ON STANDARD DOWNS. That’s insane, and the fact that ten other teams were somehow better than that blows me away*. Missouri last year had a 44.5% success rate on standard downs (105th) and a 34.3% success rate on passing downs (36th), which, again, gives credit to Brady Cook’s ability to make a play, torn labrum and all.

If Kirby comes in and manages even a 50% success rate on standard downs in the SEC, I’ll eat my hat. With a smile on my face. Because HOLY WOW that would be incredible.

*Those teams are: Air Force (56.6%), Tennessee (56.6%), LSU (57.2%), Michigan (57.2%), Utah (57.5%), Georgia (57.7%), USC (58.9%), UCLA (60.0%), and Oregon (60.7%)

Finishing Drives

You know this has been my personal bugaboo with Eli Drinkwitz’s management of the offense. Drink struggles to create scoring opportunities and then chickens out and settles for a field goal most of the time. I had to know how Kirby’s guys managed in scoring opportunities and...well, here you go:

2022 Fresno State Points Per Scoring Opportunity: 4.32 (60th)

2022 Fresno State Redzone Touchdown Rate: 53.3% (103rd)

2022 Fresno State Goal-to-go Touchdown Rate: 83.3% (31st)

Last year’s Missouri team finished at 4.16 points per scoring opportunity (77th), 59.1% redzone touchdown rate (84th), and 72.2% goal-to-go touchdown rate (90th). So, this one is a little disappointing. On the one hand, if Kirby gets inside the 10-yard line it’ll probably be a touchdown. On the other hand, he’s only getting a touchdown 53% of the time when he crosses the 20-yard line, one of the worst in the country. And 4.32 points per scoring opportunity is barely better than what Mizzou was doing last year. Again, how much four games of Logan Fife brings that down is unclear, but I would have felt a lot better if there was even a hint of Kirby finishing drives better than Eli and, to my eyes, there isn’t.


I could write another 2,000 words about this and still not get into every comparison I want you all to look at, but I’ll save your eyes the strain. The big takeaway is that Kirby has similar struggles in scoring opportunities that Eli has. However, he had a much more efficient offense with similar explosive capabilities and was - basically - the epitomized version of offense that Eli has always wanted to have at Mizzou. And we haven’t even talked about Kirby’s schemes, where he likes inside zone and Dagger passing concepts, two plays that Bush Hamdan liked to call and had some of the highest success rates on the year. This hire makes a ton of sense because, on the surface, Kirby did what Eli wants to do but did it better in the Mountain West. I don’t anticipate a massive overhaul of this offense - which is both good and bad - but I do anticipate a better ability to identify players and schemes that work and be much more adaptable than we’ve seen in the past. How that will affect the SP+ product is yet to be seen but I’m feeling optimistic about this hire.