Moral victories aren’t for everyone, but in the case of Statesboro High School you’d like to think you’ll take any morsel of victory you can considering how the last three years have gone.
Friday’s loss to Burke County featured a new-look offense from the Blue Devils unlike anything fans had become accustomed to during the Pennington/Busby years. From 1999 to 2016 fans were used to seeing tight, bunched in formations focused on inside runs. Whether it was the wishbone or the single-wing, Statesboro could afford to break off three-yard runs at a time because no one could score on their defenses — until recently that is.
Starting in 2014 the defenses lost their edge and the offense could no longer get by scoring 14 points a game against the top tier teams on Statesboro’s schedule. This went on for three years before Jeff Kaiser took over as head coach and put his own flavor on the Blue Devil offense.
No more does Statesboro line up in tight, wing-t style formations. The Blue Devils are spread out to decongest the opposing defense’s front seven while subsequently keeping true to their run-first origins. The changes in formations have paid huge dividends for Statesboro and it’s all apparent in the advanced metrics.
Comparing the 2016 and 2017 Burke County-Statesboro games works here because of how similar the teams are from year to year. Burke County returns a majority of their roster from last season as did Statesboro and most of the intangible variables that come with playing the opening game stay the same as well.
Comparing the five-factor box scores from 2016 to 2017 show some jaw-dropping differences and some striking similarities. For those who raise an eyebrow to the reference of “five factors”, allow me to give you a quick refresher from last season’s lessons.
The five factors are the key stats which decide football games. Those stats are explosiveness (yards per play), efficiency (success rate), field position (average starting field position), drive-finishing (points per trip inside the 40) and turnovers. If you win those categories, you win the football game. Every time, no exceptions.
Here in the article I’ve written out the box scores from this season and last season, so reference is as we go through the five categories and their differences.
Right off the bat you can see a major difference for Statesboro in the explosive play category. Last season Statesboro pretty much hovered around the 3.8 to 4.8 yards per play mark, which is not good by any stretch. A good offense will average at least six or more, which opposing offenses routinely averaged against Statesboro last season.
In last season’s Burke County game Statesboro ran the ball 26 times and of those 26 carries only five went for at least five yards. That’s a pitiful opportunity rate (19.2 percent) and nothing close to what Statesboro did on Friday (36.4 percent).
This year Statesboro more than doubled their 5-yard carries and saw a staggering difference in the efficiency of their run game. When Tupac Lanier (6.4 ypc) and Davis Wiggins (9.9 ypc) have that much space to work in the gun, you’ll see your averages boost significantly.
However on the flip side Burke County was able to gash Statesboro’s defense for big runs in essentially the same fashion this year as they did last year. Burke’s opportunity rate was basically the same from year to year (48 percent in 2016, 53.2 percent in 2017) and in both games came close to topping the 400 yard rushing mark.
Safe to say, Statesboro still has a lot to figure out on defense. But offensively things have improved by leaps and bounds, which at least gives hope for breaking that losing streak down the road.
Believe it or not, Statesboro was actually more efficient in 2016’s game by a very slim margin. This goes to show how much big plays can go in erasing inconsistencies on offense. Statesboro’s 37.7 success rate clip isn’t great or really even all that good, but when you’re averaging 7.5 yards per play it can mask an offense which struggles to stay on schedule.
Burke was much better from an efficiency standpoint in this season’s game, putting together three drives of at least 12 plays or more which turned into touchdowns. In last season’s game Burke committed two turnovers and saw some mental errors derail an offense which very well could have hung another 40 on Statesboro.
In the end, when you’re averaging nearly a 50 percent success clip and over seven yards a play that’s a formula to be virtually unstoppable on offense. It’s early on the season, so Statesboro still has time to figure out what they’re going to do on defense so something like Friday doesn’t happen again going into region play this October.
Even going into last season, Statesboro would consistently outperform their opponents in average starting field position. Give a lot of credit to their kicker Caleb Dowden, who gives the Blue Devils a huge advantage every time he kicks a football.
Dowden kicked the ball off five times and put them all for touchbacks. Burke County had ten drives and seven of them started at the 20 yard line. This is a huge advantage In high school football because of the small number of kickers who have the leg to consistently balls into the endzone for touchbacks.
Most high school kickers struggle to get the ball to the 10 yard line, so most good kick returners have the speed to have their team starting around the 30 every time. With Burke starting on average at their own 22, Statesboro had almost two first downs on Burke to start every possession.
In saying all of that, Statesboro did not take advantage of this on either side of the ball. Burke County ate up yardage at an insane clip no matter where they started and Statesboro scored on only four of their nine possessions. Like i said earlier, Statesboro has time to figure things out.
Keeping on the theme of Dowden, it’s nice to have a kicker who can give you a 58-yard field goal. However, settling for field goals in most cases will lose you football games. Once you cross your opponents 40 yard line, you better be thinking six.
Burke County put on a clinic in this aspect this season by going a perfect five-for-five on drives which reached the Statesboro 40. Last season they would have matched that if not for two fumbles and still did well to average four points per 40 trip.
Statesboro on the other hand saw three drives reach the Burke 40 and come away with zero points — the most painful of the bunch being the fumble in the endzone in the first quarter. Last season Statesboro saw turnovers and stalled drives kill their drive finishing statistic, but at this point you’ll take the improvement where you can find it.
Imagine if Statesboro turns two of those 40 trips Friday night into touchdowns and gets a field goal out of the other. That’s the difference between a win and a loss.
Last season turnovers kept Statesboro in the game and this season turnovers kept Statesboro out of the game. Last season Burke fumbled twice on drives inside the Statesboro 40, allowing Statesboro to hold a lead over the Bears heading into the fourth quarter.
This season the one turnover made a dramatic change early in the game. The fumble in the endzone flipped seven points quickly, turning what could have been a 14-7 game into a 21-0 game. Statesboro took care of the ball for the most part last season and by all means could do the same this season.
Granted, I come from the school that turnovers are based on luck once the ball hits the ground but in the end you can’t put the ball on the ground to begin with. There’s a lot of good things to take away from Statesboro in this game, but there’s also still some of the same lingering issues from last season Kaiser and his staff will have to tweak.
If at the very least Statesboro can find a little more consistency on offense and finish a couple more drives, a win next week against Liberty County isn’t out of the question.