Inside the Numbers: Parsing Florida State's Passers via Yards Per Pass Play

** Apologies for the typos.  I typically come up with this stuff after I finish my LS reading, which is often late at night.**

Longtime readers will remember that our group of writers initially hit it big with The Weatherford Report, a piece that stirred up a lot of controversy at other sites.  The Quarterback always inspires debate because he is single most important position on the field.

Before we get to the numbers, let's review some qualifiers.

  • Many believe that the 2008 offensive line was far better than the 2007 edition at run blocking, but much worse in pass protection.  I agree with this, and the player's body composition supports this.  The 2008 edition fit Trickett's vision in that they were what he wanted his freshmen linemen, but he never planned on playing the youngest line in the nation.  Our protections were quite simple and often ineffective as we didn't have the bulk to handle some of the inside moves, compensated for the lack of bulk by tightening our formations, with the unfortunate consequence of allowing a lot of outside rush.  I believe that problem will be somewhat resolved this year.
  • All of the raw data that I extrapolated these numbers from came from, and any inaccuracy in the raw data is a result of the official scorekeeper.  Some of these scorer's decisions are judgment calls.  Occasionally the FSU scorer calls a bubble screen a run.  I can't figure out any rhyme or reason to the decision.  I made no attempt to change these scoring decisions. 
  • I made no adjustment for bad snaps.
  • I did edit out kneel downs and hail Mary attempts.
  • Yards Per Attempt (not completion) is the best stat for measuring quarterback play.  The key is that it, in effect, combines completion percentage and yards per completion. The NFL QBs who have had the highest totals ever in a season are as diverse as Joe Montana (exceptionally high completion percentage) to more long-ball throwers. It penalizes the guy who inflates his completion percentage and the guy who points to his long-balls while ignoring how inefficient he is. 
  • The accepted standard adjustment (SmartFootball.blogspot) for an interception is negative forty five yards (-45 yds).  The experts who work for NFL teams (and UF and Michigan) crunched the numbers, and this is about what an interception takes away from you in terms of field position, scoring probability, etc.
  • The other problem is QB sacks/runs. College stats make this hard of course: in the NFL, sacks are counted against passing yards and thus factored into yards per attempt.  In college, sacks are recorded as rushing yards.  I parsed out the sacks and they are now classified like the NFL would.  

Inside you'll find four charts.  That's right... four.  Go crazy folks.

ACC Play Only (& No Duke) Passing Plays* Attempts Completions Yards Int's 1st Downs + TDs Sacked Yards Lost Rushes Yards 1st Downs + TD's (Rushing)
Weatherford (2007) 132 123 67 737 0 35 9 -40 18 52 3
Ponder (2008) 226 212 120 1252 10 64 14 -111 72 419 31


*  Passing plays are throws + sacks. 

Those are the Raw Numbers.  Here are the advanced numbers:

Note that "Yards Per Pass Play" is=  ((Passing Yards - the yards lost from sacks -(interceptions *45))/ (Passes Thrown + Sacks))

Weatherford (2007) Ponder (2008)
Yards Per Passing Play 5.3 3.1
% of passing plays ending in Sacks 6.8% 6.2%
% of passing plays resulting in a 1st Down or Touchdown 26% 28%
Yards Per Rush (sacks are removed) 2.9 5.8
% of Quarterback runs resulting in a 1st Down or Touchdown 17% 43%


  • 5.3 and 3.1 yards per pass play are both unacceptable.
  • Our passing game was not good in 2008.  Ponder's throwing wasn't good
  • Very difficult to ascertain how many of Ponder's runs were called passes in which he escaped the rush.
  • Ponder's throws resulted in a 1st down or touchdown more often than Weatherford, despite Weatherford throwing for 70% more yards per passing play.  What does this show?  More than anything, I believe it shows that Drew threw to avoid interceptions and sacks, and not necessarily for TD's and 1st downs-- but that's old Weatherford stuff.
  • Ponder was much more mobile but sacked more frequently than Drew.  This seems to support the idea that the offensive line was quite bad in pass protection.  For a comparison, Drew was sacked on 33% of pass plays in 2008 (compared to Ponder's 6.8%), more than 4 times as often.
  • Ponder needed to check it down more often, particularly on 2nd down.  I particularly remember him missing Antone underneath on some wheel routes. 
  • Side Note:  in handling this, I found that we handled the blitz really well, but struggled with teams who could destroy our 5 and 6 man pass protections with only a standard 4 man rush (not a blitz) and play 7 man coverage.
  • Ponder's rushing numbers really bode well for those of us who believe the threat of him keeping the ball kept defenses honest and improved the overall effectiveness of our run game as the backs had better holes.  The new look run blocking line also helped. 


Were the opponents the same? 

I attempted to compare apples to apples, but things do change from season to season.

Team 2007 Defensive Rank 2008 Defensive Rank
Wake Forest 33rd 3rd
Clemson 11th 4th
Maryland 56th 54th
Virginia Tech 3rd 10th
Boston College 17th 2nd
Miami 43rd 61st
NCST 47th 58th
Georgia Tech Did Not Face 28th
Average Opponent's Defensive Rank Rank 30th 27th


3 spots doesn't seem like much, but that does add up over time.  I'd rather face the 30th rated defense rather than the 27th rated defense each week.

Did anyone realize how bad Miami's defense has been over the last two years?


Offense v. Defense

Team Rank Opponent Adjusted Offensive Rank Opponent Adjusted Defensive Rank
2006 (7-6, 3-5 ACC) 33rd 47th 31st
2007 (7-6, 3-5 ACC) 37th 82nd 31st
2008 (9-4, 5-3 ACC) 10th 15th 20th
  • That 2007 offense was really bad. 
  • We probably underrated the impact that a running quarterback can have in college football.
  • That 15th rated offense is not a typo-- we played a murderous schedule of defenses. 
  • 2008 was the first time in this decade (to my knowledge) that the offense was better than the defense.  Still, it was only slightly better.  Expect the offense to significantly outperform the defense for the first time... well... since 1990. 

Final Word

This offense was the 15th best in the Nation last year by the most reliable measure, but it can still improve tremendously.  If FSU can increase its yards per pass play to 5.5, it will be in contention as a top five offense Nationally.  It should remain as the best offense in the ACC.

Future Work

If you would like to sign up for a small project (less than 20 minutes) to go through a game's play by play data, please let me know.  Let me know which ACC game you wish to go through.  It's only 40 lines of data.  


AP Photo (yes, we partnered with the AP now in a deal for pictures).


What do you think?  We want your thoughts.



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