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Trash total yards — the stats you need to look at when evaluating Florida State

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What is a good yards per play number? How about yards allowed per play?

NCAA Football: Florida State Spring Game Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve read Tomahawk Nation for a while, you know we pride ourselves on better Florida State sports analysis. That means using smarter measures to dig deeper into performance.

As a fan of FSU, you likely could have had some reasonable idea of FSU’s performance if you used things like total points, total yards, etc.

No more. Now that FSU is running an up-tempo offense, these numbers will not provide a good basis for evaluation because they are heavily influenced by tempo (or the lack thereof). And they tell us nothing about efficiency.

The simplest adjustment a fan can make is to follow yards/play instead of total yards. Yards/play is a much better measure of efficiency and effectiveness.

Here is a good example

In 2017, Syracuse was 23rd nationally in total yards/game. That’s excellent. But do you really consider Syracuse one of the top 25 offenses in the nation? Of course not. Syracuse ran over 1,000 plays in just 12 games, one of the top tempos in the game.

On a per-play basis, Syracuse was 95th! That would seem to much better describe how good the Syracuse offense was.

Think about that. The old, outdated metric of total yards says Syracuse is in the top 6th of all offenses. The new one says it is in the bottom quarter, roughly.

Some up-tempo offenses are amazing. Some are not. But if they aren’t evaluated with the proper context and an eye for efficiency, instead of totals, they all basically look unstoppable.

The opposite is true for defense. Playing extra possessions and drives makes a defense look worse in the traditional stats than it actually is on the field.

Example

  • The 2017 Florida Gators’ defense was 31st in yards/game allowed
  • But the Gators were 73rd in yards/play allowed

What measure more accurately reflected how good Florida’s defense was? Clearly, it’s yards/play. The yards/game measure was artificially deflated by Florida’s plodding pace.

What is a good yards/play number?

If you want a quick and dirty number to reference against Power 5 teams, just know that an offense achieving 6+ yards/play is doing great things. On the other side of the ball, a defensive unit holding its opponent to under 5 is having a great day.

Last year, only three ACC offenses achieved 6 YPP on offense in league play, while only three defenses held opponents under 5 YPP. Typically there are only a couple of teams who outgain their opponents by a full yard in ACC competition.

The quick math on this is pretty easy. Looking at a box score, if a team runs 80 plays and gains 480 yards (6 YPP), that’s pretty awesome. Conversely, if a defense faces 80 plays and yields fewer than 400 yards (5 YPP), that is similarly pretty great.

Allowing 400 yards on 70 plays is not very good. Allowing it in 80 is an elite effort. The number of plays and possessions matter.

Yards/play isn’t perfect. It doesn’t tell us anything about consistency, field position, and doesn’t adjust for quality of opponent.

A measure like Success Rate is so much better, but it’s not something easy to eyeball and calculate.