The Mad Geek: What statistical analysis tells us about KU and what to expect in today's game
The Kansas football team’s offense is the best in the nation when it comes to passing on second- and third-and-longs. The Jayhawks’ defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in the second quarter, but is in the bottom 10 in the third quarter. KU’s offense has been best on second downs, while KU’s defense has been the most effective on third downs.
Interesting stuff, right?
Well, thanks to Football Outsiders columnist and statistical analysis expert Bill Connelly (who kindly sent along his statistical work this week), we can break down the Jayhawks’ season through five games to see what areas KU has been most and least successful this season.
Also, at the end of this blog, I’ll take a look at Colorado’s strengths and weaknesses to get you prepared for today’s game.
Before we get to the analysis, I first would once again like to highly recommend Connelly’s weekly blog on the Football Outsiders Web site. The statistical analysis boom in baseball and basketball has been well-documented, and Connelly’s great work in college football should be noticed by bigger fish sooner rather than later.
Also, for the following statistics, I have put KU’s national rank first, followed by the actual statistic in parentheses. An * means KU has the best mark in the Big 12 in that category, and a # means that KU ranks last in the Big 12 in that statistic.
Just to let you know, these are the raw numbers have not been adjusted to factor in KU’s (so far weak) schedule.
Let’s first take a look at KU’s offensive statistics by both quarter and downs.
Success Rate (Efficiency)
First Quarter — 42nd (.465)
Second Quarter — 4th (.579)
Third Quarter — 4th (.553)
Fourth Quarter — 2nd (.549)
• Remember, success rate is the percentage of times a team gets 50 percent of its needed yards on first down, 70 percent of its needed yards on second down or 100 percent of its needed yards on third or fourth down.
In the second quarter, KU’s offense accomplishes that on 57.9 percent of its plays. No matter who you’re playing, that’s pretty amazing.
This also confirms what we talked about earlier in the year with the KU offense: It oftentimes has gotten off to a slow start. Still, with the Jayhawks ranking top-four nationally in each of the final three quarters, a sub-par first quarter usually hasn’t held KU back for long.
First Quarter — 29th (.432)
Second Quarter — 22nd (.484)
Third Quarter — 29th (.428)
Fourth Quarter — 5th (.542)
• Pretty consistent across the board here. This does show that KU’s offense seems to be especially potent in the fourth quarter. Not only are the Jayhawks fielding a consistent attack in the final quarter with a 54.9-percent success rate, they’re also springing tons of big plays.
S&P (Efficiency and Explosiveness)
First Quarter — 34th (.897)
Second Quarter — 9th (1.062)
Third Quarter — 13th (.981)
Fourth Quarter — 2nd (1.091)
• S&P gives us a combination of success rate and PPP and is a nice baseline to show us overall effectiveness of KU’s offense. Looking at this, the Jayhawks are best offensively right before halftime and also just before the final buzzer.
First Down S&P — 15th (.9394)
Second Down S&P — 4th (1.1048)
Third Down S&P — 18th (.958)
• The down breakdown is always fascinating to me, because it gives us information that is hard for us to process by simply watching the game. The Jayhawks are pretty darned good on each down, but they are the best on second down, ranking fourth nationally.
Let’s get to a look at the Jayhawks’ defensive numbers.
Success Rate (Efficiency)
First Quarter — 37th (.373)
Second Quarter — 5th (.281*)
Third Quarter — 117th (.527#)
Fourth Quarter — 37th (.357)
• This is probably the most fascinating set of numbers in this entire blog. KU’s defense has been amazing in the second quarter, only allowing successful plays on 28.1 percent of drives. Perhaps the Jayhawks should petition the NCAA to eliminate halftimes. The Jayhawks have been dreadful in the third quarter, allowing successful plays on 52.7 percent of downs. In the span of one quarter, the Jayhawks go from the fifth-best defensive success rate team in the nation to the fourth-worst. Not only that, you might expect that the third quarter would be the time that the defense would improve slightly because of halftime adjustments. Third-quarter defense definitely should be a major area of concern for KU the rest of the season.
First Quarter — 95th (.389)
Second Quarter — 11th (.200)
Third Quarter — 99th (.409#)
Fourth Quarter — 21st (.241)
S&P (Efficiency and Explosiveness)
First Quarter — 63rd (.762)
Second Quarter — 6th (.480)
Third Quarter — 106th (.936#)
Fourth Quarter — 30th (.598)
• I’ll go ahead and lump these two sets of statistics together because they complement the PPP ranking above. The national ranking of 99th in PPP shows us that KU is giving up too many big plays in the third quarter as well as allowing consistent yardage. And how a team can have the nation’s sixth-best S&P defense in the second quarter and the 106th-best S&P defense in the third quarter is something I’m not sure I can explain.
First Down S&P — 88th (.808)
Second Down S&P — 33rd (.622)
Third Down S&P — 18th (.575)
• Another revelation about KU’s defense comes here, and this most likely explains many of the struggles that the Jayhawks had last week against Iowa State. KU has been excellent on third downs this season based on the numbers above. The problem is, KU’s defense was so unsuccessful last week on first downs that oftentimes the Cyclones had manageable third downs. Of the nine third downs ISU had last week in the second half, seven of them were third-and-4s or less. Four of those were third-and-1s. Those situations make it awfully tough for your defense to force punts. We’ll talk more about KU’s third-down defense a little later.
Let’s go ahead and dive into some other stats that are interesting from the Jayhawks.
A couple other definitions you might need:
• Passing downs are defined as plays that are second-and-8 or more, third-and-5 or more, fourth-and-5 or more.
• Also, “close games” are ones that are within 24 points in the first quarter, 21 in the second quarter, and 16 (two possessions) in the second half. This statistic aims to give us a more accurate assessment of a team’s statistics when the game is on the line and the starters are still in.
Interesting Kansas offensive stats
Close success rate — 4th (.525)
Close S&P — 7th (.976)
Passing close success rate — 2nd (.551*)
• KU fans should be happy with these numbers, as so far, KU is tops in the Big 12 in all three of these “close” categories. That means KU’s numbers aren’t being swayed much by garbage-time stats, and the offense has performed well when the game is being determined.
Passing downs success rate — 1st (.477)
Passing downs PPP — 3rd (.538)
Passing downs S&P — 2nd (1.014)
• I just want to explain the top number again to illustrate how impressive it is. Passing downs, as explained above, are when the offense faces second-and-8 or more, third-and-5 or more, fourth-and-5 or more. All these situations make it much harder for a team to “succeed,” which requires 70 percent of the needed yardage on second down or 100 percent of the needed yardage on third and fourth downs. Yet, when the Jayhawks pass the ball in these situations, they still have a success rate of 47.7 percent, which leads the nation. Not surprisingly, the Jayhawks also have impressive passing down PPP and S&P numbers as well.
Red zone success rate — 19th (.529)
Red zone S&P — 9th (1.248)
• Red zone offense usually isn’t a statistic that is consistent from year to year, but for now, the Jayhawks are getting it done offensively near the goal line. The Jayhawks lead the Big 12 in both of the statistics above.
Let’s look at some defensive numbers.
Interesting Kansas defensive stats
Run close success rate — 32nd (.371)
Run close PPP — 82nd (.301)
• This tells us a little something about the Jayhawks’ run defense. KU is pretty good at stopping the other team from gaining a “success” on the ground (32nd nationally), but the Jayhawks are not very good at limiting big plays on the ground (82nd nationally). KU, therefore, needs to do a better job of damage control on running plays when backs make it past the first level of defense.
Passing downs success rate — 27th (.244)
Passing downs PPP — 13th (.200)
Passing downs S&P — 17th (.444)
• I told you we’d talk more about third downs, and this stat is a key. KU has been good — really good — this season when forcing teams into second- and third-and-long. I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t every defense better during second- and third-and-long situations? Yes, but the Jayhawks have been even better than most teams in these situations, ranking in the top 30 nationally in all of the above categories. KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen told Tom Keegan this week part of the reason for KU’s struggles against ISU was the Jayhawks’ inability to force third-and-longs. In those situations, the Jayhawks have done a good job of bringing pressure from different places to force opposing quarterbacks into quick throws. You can’t call those defensive plays and blitzes, though, when it’s second-and-5 or third-and-1. KU needs to do better on first down so that it can play to its biggest strength defensively, which is second- and third-and-long situations.
Red zone success rate — 37th (.377)
Red zone PPP — 81st (.575)
• Much like the run defense statistics above, the Jayhawks have been feast or famine in the red zone. Teams aren’t very efficient against KU in the red zone (37th nationally), but they are getting their fair share of big plays (81st nationally). Teams that go for the big play in the red zone instead of trying to grind it out have had more success against the Jayhawks so far this season.
Let’s take a quick look at Colorado to break down today’s game.
Quarter 1 S&P — 82nd (.725)
Quarter 2 S&P — 111th (.597#)
Quarter 3 S&P — 79th (.701)
Quarter 4 S&P — 105th (.619)
• There you have it. If the statistics hold true, Colorado will not score in the second quarter. It’s a matchup of the Big 12’s best second-quarter defense (KU) against the conference’s worst second-quarter offense (CU). Isn’t it interesting as well that CU’s best quarter (third) is also KU’s weakest? If you’re a KU fan, you probably want to see your team have at least a touchdown lead at halftime, as you can assume that the third quarter will probably be the worst for the Jayhawks’ defense.
1st Down S&P — 92nd (.7007#)
2nd Down S&P — 115th (.5891#)
3rd Down S&P — 103rd (.784#)
• This is just ugly and shows the true struggles of CU’s offense. How can a team be last in the Big 12 in first down, second down AND third down S&P? Notice this, though: CU has been at its best on first down, which as I previously mentioned, will be a significant down for KU's defense today.
Quarter 1 S&P — 110th (.927#)
Quarter 2 S&P — 64th (.746)
Quarter 3 S&P — 32nd (.643)
Quarter 4 S&P — 93th (.831)
• Something has to give in the first quarter, as KU’s worst quarter on offense also is CU’s worst quarter on defense. Also notice that CU’s defense has been pretty darned good in the third quarter, which once again could be a bit scary for KU fans if the game is close at halftime.
1st Down S&P — 67th (.753)
2nd Down S&P — 95th (.831#)
3rd Down S&P — 85th (.784)
• KU should be able to continue its success on second downs, as the Buffs rank last in the Big 12 in the category. If you get the chance, pay close attention to KU’s second downs today to see if the Jayhawks are able to continue their prosperity on that down.
Interesting Colorado offensive stats
Close success rate — 105th (.371#)
Close PPP — 115th (.230#)
Close S&P — 113th (.601#)
• This highlights one of the biggest problems for the Buffs all season: They haven’t been able to produce offensively when the game is within reach. CU’s offense is neither efficient nor explosive, which is a horrible combination to have.
Run close S&P — 107th (.230)
Pass close S&P — 111th (.563#)
• At least the Buffaloes are equal-opportunity bad on offense. Remember, though, that all of these numbers are affected by the tough schedule that CU has played thus far.
Passing down success rate — 102nd (.244)
• We’ve already established that KU is strong defensively in passing-down situations. This just confirms how important it will be for KU to force those scenarios. Not only are the Jayhawks good in that category, the Buffs are almost equally as bad. This shouldn’t be surprising, as CU’s inconsistent passing game has made it tough to pick up long third downs. Perhaps new quarterback Tyler Hansen can help the Buffs in this area.
Interesting Colorado defensive stats
Close success rate — 46th (.392)
Close PPP — 103rd (.411#)
Close S&P — 84th (.804)
• Well, at least we know which side of the ball deserves more of the blame for CU struggling early in games. Especially with the tough early schedule, the Buffs’ close S&P of 84th actually isn’t as bad as you might think. The other two statistics perhaps show how KU should attack CU’s defense. Teams don’t have a very high success rate against the Buffs (39.2 percent), but they are getting tons of explosive plays (CU ranks 103rd). The lesson here? KU might be rewarded like other teams if they test the CU cornerbacks with deep passes down the field.
Run close success rate — 27th (.366)
Run close PPP — 104th (.357#)
Pass close success rate — 80th (.497)
Pass close PPP — 107th (.478)
• See a pattern here? The Buffs have been inconsistent in both passing and rushing defense, stopping teams much of the time only to later give up large chunks of yardage via the big play. The spread is especially noticeable in run success rate (27th) and run PPP (104th). Jake Sharp, as I mentioned in a previous pregame story, doesn’t have as many long runs as you would expect a speedy guy like him to have, but his presence still might be a big help for KU in this game if he can play. Going against a run defense that gives up lots of big plays, I’d much rather have a quick guy like Sharp than a 235-pound bruiser like Toben Opurum. That’s not to say that Opurum can’t or won’t have a big game; it’s just that, according to what the Buffaloes’ usually give up in the running game, it probably would be to the Jayhawks’ advantage to get their speediest guy in at the RB position.
Passing downs PPP — 117th (.479#)
Passing downs S&P — 112th (.809#)
• Another instance where a KU offensive strength meets a CU defensive weakness. Even when the Jayhawks get themselves in a hole offensively, they have been able to produce big plays on second- and third-and-longs. Conversely, even when the Buffs’ defense has forced second- and third-and-longs, they haven’t been able to keep teams from getting first downs. Expect KU to at least match its impressive third-down conversion percentage from this season (50.72 percent) in today's game against CU.
For more analysis of the KU-CU game, along with keys to the game and predictions, be sure to check out my live game blog on KUsports.com before gametime.