On Sequencing And Ignoring All But The Last Drive

Werner time. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

My girlfriend got me a subscription to Joe Sheehan's newsletter for my birthday. It's a collection of nerdy baseball stat musings and history, and I find it pretty interesting. Here's an excerpt from today's article, which focused on Josh Hamilton:

I spend a lot of my time trying to make points about sequencing. In baseball, the order of events takes on an outsized importance. We celebrate the closer who gets the last three outs by retiring the bottom of the order, but forget about the set-up man who worked out of a first-and-third, one-out jam against the sluggers in the middle of hit. The players who drive in the runs -- who created the cheers -- get credit disproportionate to the players who score them -- who made the cheers possible. The game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth of a 6-5 game is remembered in a way that the grand slam that made the game 4-0 in the first will never be. So much of performance analysis is making the point that sequencing isn't within the control of the players, and trying to convince fans and decision makers to tease out what players have actually done themselves from the clouding effects of context.

And as I was reading, I couldn't help but think about how this applies to Florida State's football defense. There are some who believe that this elite defense crumbled late in games. I don't buy that, and think that line of thought fails to recognize the defense's performance in many other high leverage situations.

Let's take the Oklahoma game. Everyone remembers Kenny Stills burning Greg Reid for the touchdown. But in the eight drives preceding that, the defense forced two interceptions, four punts, and allowed two field goals, the most important of which came on an Oklahoma drive that started on Florida State's three yard line!

Against Miami, folks see the two late touchdowns allowed, but fail to remember the fumble return for touchdown and the massive Bradham hit/Dawkins interception that were nullified by blown calls for which the ACC later apologized. Seven Miami points were scored on those nullified possessions, field position was flipped, and FSU was denied seven points as well.

Virginia is perhaps the best example, with UVA scoring a TD on its last possession. But how soon we forget the very good second-half performance by the defense. The Cavaliers had five possessions after halftime. You know what happened on the last one. The other four drives, however, combined for 20 plays and 82 yards, none spanning more than 36 yards. That's really good.

And against Notre Dame, everyone remembers the late interception by Brooks to seal the game, but Bradham's pick to open the fourth quarter may have been even more important, as it gave FSU the ball at the Notre Dame 18 and set up one of FSU's two touchdowns.

I'd have no objection if FSU does better on the final drive of a game in 2012, but this defense was already excellent in 2011. I don't think there exists a big final step that must be taken.


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