Last week I titled the beginning of this series “High School football is dumb, let’s make it smart” for two reasons.
One, and an obvious one, had I named it “Let’s talk about high school football stats differently” many readers would have passed right over it with their glazed over, early morning eyes.
Two, it’s a simply true statement. For those of you who didn’t get a chance to read last Tuesday’s paper, I would highly recommend you check it out again to refresh yourself before diving into this any further.
Okay, so now that you’re caught up — why should you want to be a smarter football fan? So you don’t sound like some of the fans at Burke County last Friday when I went to go visit to cover the Statesboro game.
After making the 50 minute drive through not much scenery other than a DQ Grill and Chill and a McDonalds on highway 80, I arrived to a festive scene at Burke County High School where the parking lot was at near full capacity more than an hour before kickoff. Excited at the prospect of talking some football with the Burke media in the press box, I quickly made my way up the bleachers upon entering the Bear Den.
Alas, when I arrived I was met with the same gibbering gab pedestrian football fans speak when I had arrived atop the rafters. I inquired with some of the guys who work with the team about their thoughts on Burke’s game last week against Groves. Now, I knew what had happened — but I do this everywhere I go just to test people on whether or not they actually know football.
I looked to bait one of the officials with a “So I saw their offense struggled a bit” when bringing up last week’s game. The man in question responded, “I don’t think so! They rushed for about 200 yards.” Now on its face, 200 yards rushing sounds pretty impressive -- but when you take a look at some simple details this feat actually becomes rather unimpressive.
I had looked at the box score from the previous week, it took the Bears 67 times to reach 198 yards on the ground. I repeat: 67 times. That’s not even three yards a carry, which is woefully inefficient and does not constitute an even “good” running game — it more or less makes for a “bad” running game.
I walked away from the conversation knowing that guy didn’t know what he was talking about, and let me say something people of Statesboro -— I do not want that to happen to you. So let’s dig in on the most important of the five factors: explosiveness.
As briefed on last week, the five factors are the five, single most important stats in football. They decide the winner of every football game guaranteed, every time. The most important factor of that five is explosiveness: the ability of a team to create big, game breaking plays/prevent the other team from creating them.
The best teams in football at any level are the ones who can create big plays and stop other teams from having them. Big plays can negate other deficiencies an offense has, like a lack of efficiency, bad field position or turnovers. A defense can play a perfect game for 59 minutes, but one big play can ruin a whole days work. It can keep you in games you should have no business being in.
Need an example? Look no further than Statesboro’s game against Burke County from the past week. Burke had five possessions in the first half, four of them were actual drives (the fifth was one play at the end of the half that went for 48 yards). Of those four drives, one ended in a turnover, another was derailed by a botched snap and another ended in a turnover on downs. Only one ended in a touchdown, and all four drives pushed the Bears inside the Statesboro 40 yardline.
By most metrics, that’s a bad half for Burke. But hidden in those drives where plays of 24, 16, 10, 18, 27, 12, and 32 yards — which illustrates just how crucial big plays can be in bailing a team out of a bad hole. And if you keep hitting those big plays consistently, eventually good things will start to happen.
Starting in the middle of the fourth quarter, things started to click for Burke. A 16 play drive spurned by three 10+ yard plays put the Bears ahead 12-6. With Statesboro falling apart with turnovers and failed fourth down conversions, the Bears stomped down with a 13 yard play to score the third touchdown, a 27 yard play to help set up the fourth touchdown and a 41 yard dagger to end the game and run out the clock.
Despite having bad field position most of the game, not being especially consistent on offense and turning the ball over twice — Burke won the game on 10 different plays of 10+ yards. The sum of those plays totaled 262 total yards — take those away and Burke only averaged 3.7 yards per play. That’s simply not good. But Burke actually averaged a whopping 7.4 yards per play, masking an offense that for the most part underperformed all night.
In the end what really killed Statesboro was their inability to produce big plays. Statesboro managed only three plays over 10 yards, totaling a mere 42 yards. In the end, Statesboro only averaged 4.5 yards per play — quite below average by most standards. Until the Blue Devil’s can generate bigger plays more consistently, be ready to buckle in for another lone season.
Next week, we’ll discuss efficiency and how it ties in to explosiveness. So the next time somebody throws “200 rushing yards” at you, ask them how many runs or passes it took. You may just be surprised at what comes next.