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Clemson Football and Advanced Statistics: An Introduction

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things we are going to take a look at this is season is advanced stats. But rather than just site here and regurgitate a post on F+ or FEI, which have their own issues during the season, we are going to track some specific data points as the season goes. The idea here is to look at advanced numbers of things like passing yards and yards per carry. We aren't going to be getting into an area where we are creating a model or trying to apply a regression to predict wins or points totals. It isn't an area of expertise and it is something where we'd need a lot more data to do it.

But before we go into detail I want to make one thing clear. Stats are extremely valuable but they do not tell the whole story of the game. Stats answer the question of what happened. They will tell you what a team did during the game to win or lose it. The question of why the stats are good or bad is then answered by looking at things like fundamentals, coaching, etc.

As with all things, stats and fundamentals will disagree. We might win a game and the stats will say deservedly so, but then in the film review we see a lot of missed assignments, poor decisions, etc. It is also possible we will win a game, have crappy stats, but look good on film. The two aren't always going to match up and that is ok. That said I will guess that more often than not we are going to see the stats match up with the result while the film might look worse. The reason for that is because the stats are going to be relative to other teams while looking at the film is a zero sum proposition. If we average 5 yards per carry it could be good because it is higher than the other teams. But we could still have poor OL play or running technique even though we ran productively. As long as we remember to separate the two issues stats are going to be a useful way to measure how Clemson is doing.

Today we are going to talk about a new box score. This idea comes from SB Nation's Bill Connelly. Bill runs Football Study Hall here on the network as well as being responsible for Football Outsider's S&P projections. They are one of the components in the popular F/+ rankings.

The idea behind the new box score is to actually show relevant data. The box score we see on ESPN, or CBS hasn't changed in 50 plus years even though the game is different. Passes are much more common, special teams more important, and the things that are important are different. Things like yardage are nice, but combine yardage with plays run and you get an even better stat in yards per play.The following table is the new box score.

Clemson Ohio State
Possessions 15 13
Plays 76 72
Yards 576 427
Yards per Play 7.58 5.93
Yards per Possession 38.4 32.85
Rushes 36 48
Rushing Yards 198 193
Yards per Carry 5.5 4.02
Comp-Att-Int 31-40-2 16-24-2
Passing Yards 378 234
Sacks - Yards 2-10 5-44
Net Passing Yards 368 190
Yards per Attempt 9.45 7.9
Yards per Completion 12.19 11.88
Total Turnovers 2 4
Fumbles - Lost 1-0 2-2
Total Fumbles- Recovered 3-3 3-0
Int - Passes Defensed 2-2 2-4
3rd Down Conversions 7-13 2-13
Avg. Yards To Go 5.9 5.56
Avg 1st. Down Gain 18.29 10
4th Down Conversions 0-1 2-2
Avg. Starting FP 27.27 25.92
Punts-Net Yards/Punt 3 - 37.7 5 - 48.2
Kickoffs - Net Yds/Kickoff 8-62.75 6-58.50
Field Goals 0-0 0-0

As you can see we retain the basic information from the box score, but also have more context for the big numbers. For example we gained more yards than Ohio State, but we were also more efficient at earning those yards. A straight yardage comparison isn't always going to be relevant because one team may have more plays than the other, especially with the offense we run. By looking at yards per carry or yards per completion we can see that Clemson was able to move the ball better.

So where is all of this going? I hope to show an advanced box score for each of Clemson's games this season. We'll use it to take a deeper look at the surface numbers and see if the stats match our ideas about how the game played out. Ideally we can take some of this and then go look at the film. For example let's say that Clemson goes 2-10 on 3rd downs in one game and 8-9 in another. Then we can go to the film and see if there is something noticeably different in Clemson's execution. It is also designed to look at more relevant stats. Efficiency is one of the most important keys to winning a football game, and by look at rate stats such as yards per game we will get a better handle on how efficient Clemson is on offense and defense.

In the next part of this series we are going to introduce some deeper stats. Things like trying to account for how effective a running back is compared to the OL and how efficient Clemson is per play. As always if you have any questions or want to suggest things we should look at let us know in the comments.