One of the perks of working for SB Nation is having Bill Connelly of FootballStudyHall.com as a colleague. I wasted about 90 minutes Monday trying to track these stats by hand, and finally gave up and asked Bill, who had them in about a minute.
Success rate is a measure of how many plays gain 50% of needed yards on first down, 70% of needed yards on second down, or 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down. A standard down is "first downs, second down with 1-7 yards to go, or third/fourth down with 1-4 yards to go." Passing downs are 2nd & 8+ and 3rd/4th downs & 5+ yards to go.
Why is success rate important? It is a good measure of consistency. Teams may put up a lot of yards but lack consistency that should translate from week-to-week.
I'll start with the defense because FSU's defense is much better than its offense so far this season and is the clear strength of the 2015 Seminoles so far.
The defense held USF to only 30 percent success overall, which is good.
But where it did incredible work was on third down (eight percent allowed) and on passing downs (again, eight percent allowed). And it did not allow even a single conversion through the air on a passing down (zero for nine!). Part of this is USF not really challenging FSU in the passing game and having a QB who is closer to a RB than a true throwing QB.
Something that was a huge problem in 2014 seems to be improving, but is still far from perfect: 1st down. The Seminoles faced 18 2nd downs of 7 or less yards, and 5 of 2nd & 7+. FSU is very, very good on third and long-ish, but it must force more of those situations.
Turning to the offensive side of the football, where FSU continues to have concerns at quarterback, offensive line, receiver and tight end, it's pretty easy to see where the Noles had success and where it struggled.
FSU was very good on second down, especially when running the football, finding success on 60 percent of its 2nd down rushes.
But first down and third down are real concerns.
FSU cannot repeat as ACC champs if it is finding success on fewer than a third of its 1st down plays. That creates a lack of leverage situations. And what was very concerning was that FSU had just seven 2nd downs of 6 or fewer yards, compared to 18 2nd downs of 8+. That is not sustainable. To remedy the situation, Florida State must use Everett Golson's legs in the run game, though it is understandable for FSU not to risk it in a relatively automatic win over USF.
FSU had numerous third downs where it basically just gave up and ran the football (4X on 3rd & 10+). Jimbo Fisher rightfully does not trust his passing offense to convert in those dangerous situations.
Of course, success rate is not the entire story, as explosiveness matters, too. Offensively, FSU was far more explosive than USF.
The formula of being patient with the run, avoiding turnovers, hitting some explosive plays, and making teams drive a long way against this defense will give FSU the best shot to win an ACC title.