For those of you reading who believe you can control every little thing in your life, this isn’t for you.
Putting it straight, you can’t control everything in your life. Or in the case of this week’s lesson, everything on a football field. There are certain things that you can control, but some factors of the game that are simply up to the wills of the football gods.
We’re combining two factors into this week’s lesson, one coaches and teams can control and one they can’t: finishing drives and turnovers.
Yes, all of you out there who have your arms thrown up in a hissy fit, turnovers are mostly luck based. Before we dive into that, understand football is about getting the most of your possessions. A team;s goal should be to end every drive with a score, preferably, or at least a kick of some sort.
Turnovers are a means to end drives before natural causes come into play, and many turnovers lead to easy scoring opportunities or become scores themselves. Not all turnovers are created equal though, so consider this example.
An “arm punt”, or a deep pass that’s picked off — doesn’t make that big of a difference in field position. On the other hand, a fumble that’s picked up by a defense in opponent territory can flip the field position dramatically — and as we know from our “average starting field position” lesson, flips like that can make a huge difference.
Statesboro has experienced this very phenomenon in two separate games this year. Take the Liberty County game first, when the Blue Devil’s were driving to score inside the 25. Quarterback Davis Wiggins threw and interception near the goal line, where Liberty would take over at their own 15.
While this interception was a drive killer, the silver lining turned out to be the field position loss wasn’t all that terrible. Liberty was then stuck to drive 85 yards, and even though they still scored — the field position certainly didn’t make it easy.
On the other hand, look at this past week’s game against Effingham County. When on their own 25, Statesboro fumbled and allowed the Rebels to pick it up at that very yardline. Not only did Statesboro lose a possession, but the field position flipped dramatically in Effingham’s favor — which allowed them to score easily.
So that illustrates how turnovers can be different, but what needs to be stressed it that most of the time teams are not in control of turnovers. Yes, you can preach “ball security” all you want, but once that prolate spheroid hits the ground it’s as random as a Vegas craps table where and how that ball will bounces. It can go right back to you, or it can bounce away into a defender's hands. You can’t control that.
The same goes for defended passes. When a pass is tipped, there’s no rhyme or reason on the flight path of that ball — anything could happen to it. Sure, better quarterbacks are less likely to have passes tipped and option offense may put the ball on the ground more often — but that’s only a fraction in their control.
Turnovers can be measured by their total value in yardage lost/gained, but for the simplicity of this column we’ll just use turnover margin, the turnovers you commit minus the ones your opponents commit, as a measurement here. It’s a simple stat anyone can find on a box score.
So, yes, luck determines a big part of football. I know a lot of people don’t want to hear that, but it’s simply true. You can’t control what the ball does when it’s out of your hand.
To cool down let’s transition to something we can all control: drive finishing. The best teams will finish their drives off with points, which seems like an obvious thing to say — but we really don’t measure it efficiently.
The first thing most people will go to is red zone percentage as the perfect way to measure driving finishing. While that can be somewhat useful, there are some fallacies within the red zone percentage.
For example, if a team goes 100 percent in the redzone but settles for three field goals -- is that really a success? When has settling for field goals won anyone anything? Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Let’s look at another Statesboro example. In the opening game against Burke County, Statesboro scored 17 points: a touchdown and three field goals. Had Statesboro converted those three field goal drives into touchdowns, you’re looking at a tie game 28-28 — and who knows what happens in overtime.
So how do we determine who finishes drives better than who? With my favorite stat you’ve never heard of: points per scoring opportunity. A scoring opportunity is defined as a trip inside the opponents 40 yard line. Why the 40? It’s kind of a point of no return for most offenses. It’s justifiably too close to punt and some really good high school kickers (like Caleb Dowden) can make field goals from inside the 40.
Many teams will go for a first down if faced with a 4th-and-whatever inside the 40, as they should. The best teams can convert the most scoring opportunities into touchdowns. So, in a perfect world a team averages 7.0 points per trip inside the 40 yardline. Most good teams average around five, while average teams hover around four.
Teams who average more around three (teams who settle for field goals) statistically will only win you a third of your games, so keep that in mind the next time your team of choice kicks a field goal on fourth and one inside the five.