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New Math- Boise State Edition

If you need help with terms or definitions, try these two links first:

Link to glossary:

Link to secondary glossary:

If you still need clarification, ask in the comments.

Hey, it's S&P, that thing I stopped charting after the Iowa game! Welp, it's back now! I'll have a both more succinct glossary up, and a bit of a throw down on the value of S&P vs stats like YPC, YPA, Interception % (All stats I love, to be clear!) sometime soon. For readers who were around here last year, you should have some idea what's up. If you're a new reader or need your memory refreshed, again, I'd recommend checking out the above glossary links. For new or wary readers, I will also try to explain a couple of ways that I think taking the time to break down and analyze a game in this way can provide us some superior evaluations.

Box Score:

MSU 17, BSU 13

MSU Boise State

MSU Boise State
Close % 100.00%
Enemy Territory % 56.47%


Success Rate 39.29% 17.86%
Leverage % 65.88%

PPP 0.256 0.123

S&P 0.649 0.302

EqPts 21.712 9.681
Close Success Rate 40.00% 23.64%
Success Rate 41.38% 29.63%
Close PPP 0.255 0.176
PPP 0.253 0.231
Close S&P 0.655 0.412
S&P 0.666 0.527

EqPts 13.755 2.696
Number 4 2
Close Success Rate 38.30% 12.50%
Points off turnovers 10 0
Close PPP 0.293 0.112

Close S&P 0.676 0.237

Q1 S&P 0.737 0.318

Q2 S&P 0.508 0.546
Q3 S&P 0.426 0.404
EqPts 7.957 6.985
Q4 S&P 0.991 0.351
Close Success Rate 42.11% 32.26%
1st Down S&P 0.435 0.257
Close PPP 0.209 0.225
2nd Down S&P 0.836 0.546
Close S&P 0.630 0.548
3rd Down S&P 0.791 0.48

Big Plays 7 6
Yards Per Point 26.71 15.92
Yards Per Play 5.34 3.76
Penalties 10 for 90 yards 3 for 35 yards
Run-Pass 55.29% 43.64%

If that all looks crazy to any of you, it did to me at first too. All I am saying, is give S&Peace a chance.

MSU dominance on standard downs, not specifically first downs, was the real key.

I hate to do this to a Blog Brother, but it just so happened that I got handing a really nice example to critique. When Chris lead off in his Freep piece that:

Winning first down is a focal point of the battle in the trenches.

If you do well on first downs, it makes everything else easier on offense.

He's not wrong. But he's not as right as he could be, and, in particular interest to analyzing this game, the data doesn't necessarily show his second sentence to hold true all the time.

And take the title of the piece: "Big key to Michigan State's first win was first-down success"

He's not all wrong there either, but hasn't put his finger on as good as a cause for success as I think I've identified. First down success was a key factor, maybe even a big key factor as the title states, but not one of the biggest key factors.

To understand why, first consider the simple fact that BSU and MSU were both more efficient and more explosive on passing downs than on standard downs. What does this mean? Well, paradoxically enough, in this game, it means that both teams were actually more offensively dangerous on 2nd and 7 or longer, or 3rd and 5 or longer than they were on 2nd and 6 or shorter, or 3rd and 4 or shorter (and in Boise's case, they were dramatically better in these longer yardage situations). This means 'winning first down' didn't seem to matter as much as you'd expect, at least it didn't for Boise.

Further, If you quickly calculate the net S&Ps (subtracting Boise's from MSU's) you'll find that MSU is 'winning' every individual down, but is racking up its biggest margins on 3rd and 2nd down, in order, with 1st down bringing up the rear. While the MSU defense was excellent on 1st downs, it's offense was not that great. The chasm becomes bigger on 2nd and 3rd downs and that's where MSU really cooked it's bacon.

It turns out that the real success story on these standards downs wasn't on 1st downs, but rather was the difference between the two teams on 2nd and 3rd and 4th and short. Neither teams got into these situations very often (again, because neither of their 1st down offenses were terribly effective,) but when they did, one team took advantage and one team did not. Let me drive this point home.

Here are the two offenses on first down and ten yards to go:

1st and 10
MSU 21.88% 0.173 0.391
BSU 15.00% 0.127 0.277

You can see that Boise is bad, but that MSU is not doing very well either. There's a difference between the two teams here, but not a massive one.

Now let's look at all other 'standard down' situations:

2nd and 6 or less, 3rd and 4 or less, or 4th and 4 or less
MSU 63.16% 0.408 1.039
BSU 28.57% 0.113 0.399

Alright! Now THERE's a big key to the game. BSU is still far below average in these shorter yardage situations, even though you'd expect it to be a more favorable opportunity, but hey, look at the MSU offense! Any S&P above 1.0 is excellent, and you can see that when MSU managed to get in these good down and yardage situations they just pounded BSU. The .64 S&P gap between the teams is huge on this metric, especially compared to the closeness in the team's values elsewhere in the boxscore (including on 1st downs).

S&P as an evaluative tool is still wonky, and it takes time for those little 3 point decimals to start clicking in your head and for you to figure out what's a good performance and what's a bad performance, and what the difference between the two is, but it just provides so much breadth and depth of analytical power. I wish it were simpler and quicker to explain and retain (something, again, that I'm working on) but I'm always impressed with what it allows me to examine.

2. Don't get it twisted.

Both OBNUG and our own writers here have rightfully praised Le'Veon Bell's escape job on 3rd and 16 as a masterful example of Bell's vision, balance, power, and surprising speed. And they are absolutely right about that, when that play happened I let out one of those involuntary whoops that truly reveal humanity's deep genetic ties to sports.

But both also keyed in on it as one of the games most, most, important plays (OBNUG put it explicitly at #2, Jim put it implicitly at #2), to which I shout "I DISAGREE!".

I know it's really, really tough, but divorce yourself from the incredible athletic feat of the play and ask what it actually accomplished when the play finished:

A. It allowed the drive to continue
B. If MSU is forced to punt now, the other team will be in worse field position
C. If the other team is then also forced to punt, MSU will also have better field position

Now things that it didn't do:

A. Score a touchdown
B. Get into field goal range
C. Get close to FG range or get into four-down territory

A thirty yard gain from the four is not only worth less than a 30 yard run from all but a few places on the field, it's also worth less than 20 yard gains from parts of the field, even 5 or 10 yard runs from certain places on the field.The things on that first list are nice, but the things on that second list are much more important.

If this S&P stuff has emphasized and enforced one point to me, that was never able to be captured by things like YPA or YPC, or even newer stats like yards per point, it's that the structure of football dictates that all yards are not equal and you must find a way to account for that to be as accurate as possible.

To demonstrate this, here are MSU's top ten plays according to S&P's EqPts values and a quick explanation of why they are rated so high (i.e. why the point value is so). Bell's escape is bolded for emphasis:

1. 1.97 EqPts, 2nd and 5, Le'Veon Bell runs to the outside for a 5 yard TD (Touchdowns are really important)

2. 1.477EqPts, 1st and 10, Bell runs 23 yards to the BSU 27 (takes MSU from midfield and into 4 down/FG territory)

3. 1.338 EqPts, 3rd and 1, Bell plows one yard into the end zone (Touchdowns are really important and that last yard is REALLY important relative to all other yards)

4. 1.218 EqPts, 2nd and 11, Andrew Maxwell connects with Bell for 20 yards to the BSU 32 (takes MSU over midfield and into 4 down/FG territory)

5. 1.069 EqPts, 1st and 10, Maxwell hits Bennie Fowler for a 23 yard gain to the BSU 39 (from MSU territory to 4 down territory/close to FG range)

6. 1.046 EqPts, 3rd and 6, Maxwell hits D. Sims for 18 yards down to the BSU 7 (puts MSU from a intermediate field goal to a 1st and goal)

7. .989 EqPts, 2nd and 10, Bell runs 31 yards the BSU 49 (from deep in MSU territory to over midfield)

8. .884 EqPts, 3rd and 16, Bell rushes for 35 to the MSU 39 (gets MSU out of the shadow of its own goalpost to pretty good field position).

9. .747 EqPts, 1st and 15, Maxwell completes a pass to Le'Veon Bell for 11 yards to the BSU 34 (moves MSU from out of field goal range to in field goal range)

10. .744 Eqpts, 2nd and 5, Bell runs five yards to the BSU 2 for a fresh set of downs (Allowed MSU to get close, punch in the touchdown)

Le'Veon's Houdini escape. One of the best plays of the game? Yes! One of the most important plays of the game? Yes! One of the five most important plays of the game? Data says: No!

To the extent that a run like Le'Veon's might set up high value plays further along in the drive, it is important. To the extent that it flips field position and makes high value plays more likely for you and less likely for your opponent it is valuable. But it is not, in itself, one of the highest value plays, at least not in this game for MSU.

And hey, just for fun, here's Boise's ten biggest offensive plays of the game according to S&P:

1. 2.824 EqPts, 2nd-and 24, Southwick hits Matt Miller for a 40 yard gain down to the MSU 4. (obviously puts the team from out of field goal range to right on the doorstep for a TD)

2. 1.332 EqPts, 1st and 10, Southwick completes a 23 yard pass to Gabe Linehan to the MSU 34. (takes Boise from their fairly deep in their side of the field to 4 down territory or barely within field goal range of a strong kicker)

3 .672 EqPts, 1st and 10, Southwick connects with Kirby Moore for 12 yards down to the MSU 20 (putting Boise into the Red Zone and giving them a much shorter field goal distance).

4. 6.15 EqPts, 1st and 10 Shane Williams Rhodes takes a reverse for 13 yards to the MSU 9 (moves Boise from field goal range to 1st and goal.)

5. .544 EqPts, 3rd and 5, Southwick hits Moore for 9 yards to the MSU 39. (putting Boise from punting to 4 downs territory)

6. .442 EqPts, 2nd and 5, Southwick passes to Moore for 14 yards out to the BSU 48 (we're kinda getting to standard first downs at this point)

7. .405 EqPts, 3rd and 10, Southwick to Burroughs for 12 yards out to the BSU 39 (Standard first down)

8. .382, 3rd and 10, Joe Southwick rushes for 8 yards to the MSU 42 (gets the team into MSU territory, sets up a 4th down try)

9. .333, 2nd and 7, Southwick completes a pass to Moore for 8 yards to the MSU 49 (gets BSU over midfield)

10. .322, 2 and 10, Southwick hits Moore for 9 yards to the BSU 32 (10th play and we're at a standard gain at this point, shows how limited BSU offense was, sets up a 3rd and short I guess).

Those top two plays accounted for about 43% of BSU's total Eq Pts. That's usually not a great sign.

3. This game was both further, and closer, and also further than the score and yardage would indicate

Yes, this game was a more dominating performance by MSU than the final four point margin would indicate, but many people are citing the 461-206 yardage comparison without also mention that MSU ran about 30-35 more plays than BSU did. Thus, I'd argue we much less 'more than doubled up' BSU than we did about 1.4 times better than them (by yards per play) or about 1.58 times better than them (by yardage according to total S&P). Unlike basketball, football teams can have wildly different play counts. Gotta divide.


This ends 'Heck's Contrarian Nit-Pick Hour'! Join us again next week, where uh, I'll probably just do more of that (though hopefully without as much friendly fire).