A Final Look at the 2009 Florida State Offense

This is the second in a followup on last year's "did Florida State improve in 2008?" article.  While last year it was appropriate to ask whether the 'Nole's 2008 season was an improvement over the 2007 campaign, there is no debate about the 2009 team.  It definitely regressed as a whole.  So for this series, I will look at the new highs and lows set by Florida State's offense, defense, and special teams.  I ask where the team was better on the field, because there is no doubt as to whether the program is in better shape now than it was at any point in this millennium's first decade.  FSU has leadership for the first time in a long while and the improvements made in recruiting by the new coaches are nothing short of staggering as the 'Noles recruiting class has rocketed from 34th on the day Bobby Bowden retired to what is now a guaranteed top 10 class.

Before you read this piece, please read part one.

If you are still using won-loss record evaluate a team's performance after seeing that teams all face varying levels of competition, stop reading this article.  You can't be helped.  For those of you who can see the fallacy in using wins to evaluate performance, you need something better. 

Instead, let's turn to a better evaluation of performance: FEI.  This is one of the most advanced methods of performance evaluation available to the general public.  If you are new here, follow the links in the pasted text for a better explanation.

The Fremeau Efficiency Index principles and methodology can be found here. FEI rewards playing well against good teams, win or lose, and punishes losing to poor teams more harshly than it rewards defeating poor teams.  games against I-AA or DII competition are not included or graded.  It is drive-based, not play-by-play based, and it is specifically engineered to measure the college game.

FEI is the opponent-adjusted value of Game Efficiency, a measurement of the success rate of a team scoring and preventing opponent scoring throughout the non-garbage-time possessions of a game.  It represents a team's efficiency value over average. Strength of Schedule is calculated from a privileged perspective (explained here) and represents the likelihood that an Elite team (top 5) would post an undefeated record against the given team's opponents to date.

  • In 2007, the 'Noles were 7-6 against D1 teams, playing the 13th most difficult schedule.  Florida State finished as the 36th best team in the country. 
  • In 2008, facing the 12th toughest schedule in the nation, the 'Noles went 7-4 against D1 teams.  Florida State finished as the 10th best team in the country.  
  • This year, FSU faced the 5th toughest schedule in the country and finished 6-6 against D1 teams.  The 'Noles ended up rated as the 24th best team in the country.  That probably seems counter intuitive to you, but FSU didn't have the opportunity to rack up free wins against poor competition. 

But what changed about this Florida State team?  Why did the 'Noles go from the 10th best team to the 24th best club?

Let's start with offense. 

Inside, a final look at the 2009 offense.  Click "continue reading"...

  • In 2007, the Noles averaged 5.2 yards per play in ACC play (including Duke).  Excluding Duke (because Duke was a major outlier last year, playing far below conference standards), the Noles averaged 5.02 yards per play.  
  • In 2008, the Noles averaged 5.12 yards per play in ACC competition.  There are no horrible teams to exclude from this data.  
  • This season in conference play, as previously discussed,  the 'Noles offense was the only offense to break the 6.5 yards per play measure in over half a decade.  The last team to do that had Phillip Rivers.  The last team before that had Chris Weinke.


Click the graph to enlarge.  

As for consistency, in 2007, the Noles averaged at least 4.85 yards per play 57% of the time, in ACC competition.  In 2008, the Noles averaged at least 4.85 yards per play 88% of the time (7 of 8 games).  This year, FSU easily managed 4.85 yards per play in every ACC contest (8 for 8).  In fact, the 'Noles averaged at least 5.5 yards per play in every ACC game!

Some believe that FSU struggled to score in the red zone.  They are wrong.  In conference play. FSU was the only team to score a touchdown 70% of the time in the red zone.  Check it out


As for total conclusions, they include non-conference games and I am not quite as comfortable drawing conclusions with that set of numbers because everyone plays a very different non-conference schedule.  I need the help of experts.  Again, we can turn to FEI.

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and Adjusted Defensive Efficiency are the opponent-adjusted values of Offensive Efficiency and Defensive Efficiency, explained here. Like FEI, the multiple-order adjustments are weighted according to both the strength of the opponent and the relative significance of the result; efficiency against a team's best competition faced is given more relevance weight. AOE and ADE represent a team's value over/under average. Positive AOE and negative ADE are the most valuable.

  • In 2007, FSU had the 64th best offense with a rating of -0.058
  • In 2008, Jimbo Fisher won ACC Offensive cooridnator of the year and the 'Noles had the 17th best offense in the country with a rating of 0.322 
  • In 2009, FSU's offense was 8th best in the nation with a rating of 0.447  

To go from 64th to 17th to 8th is tremendous.  In case you were wondering, the 7 teams with a better offense than FSU were: Oregon (7th), Alabama (6th), Houston, (5th), Cincinnati (4th), Notre Dame (3rd), Stanford (2nd), and Georgia Tech (1st).  And yes, while Georgia Tech did play poorly against at Miami and against Iowa, they absolutely shredded a bunch of other excellent defenses.

NOTE: remember that FEI automatically adjusts for rules changes because it measures performance on drives, as opposed to only games.  It also doesn't count non-competitive drives (drives where the game is locked up, for instance a drive when a team leads by 40 in the 4th quarter).  This explains why FSU got little credit for crushing UAB and DUKE in the 2007 ratings.  FSU received zero credit for their wins against the I-AA competition in 2008. 

But there is another set of ratings that can shed light on this situation even further.  Bill Connelly's S&P+ ratings.  Bill's set called Florida State the 32nd best team in the country.  That might sit better with the group that thought this FSU team was terrible.

The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from the play-by-play data of all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). There are three key components to the S&P+:

* Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.
* EqPts Per Play (PPP): An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.
* Opponent adjustments: Success Rate and PPP combine to form S&P, an OPS-like measure for football. Then each team's S&P output for a given category (Rushing/Passing on either Standard Downs or Passing Downs) is compared to the expected output based upon their opponents and their opponents' opponents. This is a schedule-based adjustment designed to reward tougher schedules and punish weaker ones.

The S&P+ figures used in the tables below only look at the plays that took place while a game was deemed "close," or competitive. The criteria for being "close" are as follows: a game within 24 points in the first quarter, with 21 points in the second quarter, and within 16 points in the second half.

And in this measure, FSU's offense earns high marks as well.  According to Bill's system:

  • In 2007, FSU had the 71st best offense in college football.
  • In 2008, FSU had the 33rd best offense in college football.
  • In 2009, FSU had the 9th best offense in college football.

I like when the ratings are close together and over the past 3 years, the two systems are within 8 spots of the other on average.  And again, there is consistent improvement, from 71st to 33rd to 9th.

But because it is based on plays and not drives, Bill's system can give us something that FEI cannot: a breakdown of the different offensive components.  Let's start with the run game:

  • In 2007 the 'Noles had the 89th best running game in the country.  FSU fans will remember this as Rodney Hudson's freshman year.  The offensive line was a mess.
  • In 2008 with the youngest offensive line in the country, FSU had the 15th best running game in the nation. 
  • This year, FSU had the best running game in the country.  #1

WHOA.  The #1 run game in the country?  How could that be?  FSU fans believe the running game regressed this year.  How then could they be rated as the best running attack in the nation?  I mean, FSU even effectively fired their running back coach in the middle of the season for incompetence.  For an explanation, I asked Bill:

Me: Bill, am I reading this correctly? The #1 opponent adjusted rushing offense?  FSU?  Everyone says our rushing was down this year. Wow.

Bill: Just looked it up in the database to make sure -- it is indeed correct. Looks like the BYU, NC State and Maryland games were the key ones. That, and playing against the #5 (Florida), #9 (Boston College), #12 (Clemson), #14 (North Carolina), #17 (Miami), #21 (West Virginia), #35 (South Florida), and #37 (BYU) Rushing S&P+ defenses. Shoot me whatever questions you've got, and I'll answer them.

While other teams were able to pound the ball to salt away the game when they had the lead, FSU's defense did not afford the 'Noles with that luxury. 

Another important factor to consider in trying to digest the idea that the 'Noles had the best rushing offense in the country (Bama was #2, by the way), is that FSU ran the ball a lot more often in 2008 than they did this year.  And FSU's big rushing performances in 2008 came against the 86th rated Miami rushing defense, the 56th ranked Colorado rushing defense, the 75th rated Georgia Tech rushing defense, the 49th rated Maryland rush defense, and the 103rd rated Wisconsin rushing defense. 

Essentially, your eyes played tricks on you.  FSU's rushing attack was better, but they played much tougher rush defenses this year than in 2008.  Here's a look at the rush defenses faced in the last two years.  They are adjusted for opponent, as any good measure should be.

2008 Opponent Rush Defense Rank 2009 Opponent Rush Defense Rank
Florida 5
Boston College 9
Clemson 12
Virginia Tech 13
North Carolina 14
Florida 15
Wake Forest 17 Miami 17
West Virginia 21
Clemson 22
Boston College 23
South Florida 35
BYU 37
Maryland 49
Maryland 55
Colorado 56
Wake Forest 71
Georgia Tech 75
Miami 86
NC State 89 Georgia Tech 89
Wisconsin 104
NC State 114
  • If you combine both years, FSU faced 4 of the 5 toughest defenses on the chart in 2009
  • FSU faced the top 3 defenses of either year in 2009
  • FSU faced 8 of the top 13 defenses in 2009
  • 7 of the worst 11 defenses were faced in 2008
  • 4 of the worst 6 defenses were faced in 2008
  • in 2008, the best 11 defenses FSU faced averaged a rating of 50
  • In 2009, the best 11 defenses FSU faced averaged a rating of 32

Did FSU run the ball more often and for more yards in 2008 than they did in 2009?  Yes.  But did FSU run better in 2009 considering competition level?  I now believe so. 

As for the passing game, FSU saw a big jump as well.

  • In 2007, with Drew Weatherford, FSU had the 47th best passing game in the country.
  • In 2008 with the youngest offensive line in the nation, FSU had the 57th best passing attack as the line could not provide pass protection.
  • In 2009, however, the Seminole passing game made a huge jump... all the way to 20th!  The line protected Ponder and he lit everyone up.  E.J. Manuel was serviceable in a backup role as well. 

Probably the biggest factor in the passing game outside of having a Heisman trophy level quarterback in Ponder was the improvement of the offensive line.  FSU was the only team in conference play to prevent sacks on more than 96.5% of passing plays.  That is tremendous.  Click to enlarge.


It would have been very interesting to see if FSU's passing offense could have been top 10 had Christian Ponder not injured his shoulder against Clemson.

I asked Bill who he thought the best offense would be next year and he said

Without considering returning starters, in alphabetical order: Arky, Bama, Auburn, Boise, BYU, Cincy, Fla, FSU, TCU, VT

Considering that FSU returns 10 of 11 starters, it wouldn't be unreasonable to think that FSU could have the best offense in the country next season.

Tomorrow we will take a final look at the 2009 defensive performance. 

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