They say football is a game of inches, and for the sake of this week’s five factors lesson that cliche will ring somewhat true.
Football, at its most primitive form, is simply a game of real estate acquisition. Two groups of 11 bodies violently hurling themselves at one another with the goal of moving down a playing field in order to cross a line to score points.
When that’s the goal of the game, your positioning on the field is crucial - it only makes sense right? Most high school coaches understand this concept, but don’t often use it enough as a way of evaluating performance. But some do, and one of them coaches a team right here in Bulloch County.
It should come to no surprise that Pat Collins, a math teacher by trade, would have a field position metric cooked up in his own box score.
While I’m not here to expose his formula to the masses, it essentially measures how often Southeast Bulloch is in favorable field position compared to their opponent. At the end of the game the metric will read something like “SEB won 55% to 45%”.
When I talked to Collins at the beginning of the season, he told me in 2015 his Yellow Jackets won all seven games where they won the field position metric and lost the four games where SEB was behind in the field position metric. While that hasn’t held true this season - SEB won their field position metric 57%-43% but lost 33-6 to Benedictine - it doesn’t negate the fact field position can decide a game.
But for our sake, there are five factors necessary to win a football game and this is just the third. We’ve already discussed explosiveness and efficiency, the two most important factors in football. We’re going a little out of order this week (field position is the fourth most important of the five) because it was necessary to discuss after an 0-3 start by Statesboro.
While this may be a better looking Statesboro team than in the past two years by some folks’ standards, an 0-3 start is disappointing none the less. Often it can be hard to find good things to say about a winless team, but Statesboro does have some positives going for it. Specifically, their average starting field position compared to their opponents.
Statesboro has won the field position battle in all three of their games by a combined +5.4 margin. According to the collective research at Football Study Hall, that alone gives the Blue Devil’s 59.8% chance to win those games. Five yards doesn’t seem like a whole lot, until you zoom out and see the broader impact.
Through three games this season Statesboro is starting on average at their own 38.7 yard line, or 39 to be realistic.
That’s not just good, that’s superb. The best teams in college football start at around the 36, so let’s not understate how well Statesboro has done in that regard.
Statesboro has had 29 drives this season compared to their opponents 28 drives, who start on average at their own 33.3 yard line - or 33 rounded down. Do the simple math: 9.7 drives per game times 5.4 yards of field position advantage equals 52 yards.
What does that mean exactly? It means Statesboro, per game, already has 52 yards on their opponents in field position. Statesboro’s offense on average has half a football field less field to score on than their opponent - think about that. That’s the difference from an end zone to past mid-field and it makes a huge difference.
That advantage has kept Statesboro in many of their games this year, and thank Caleb Dowden for it, Statesboro’s junior kicker/punter extraordinaire. In my book, he’s the MVP for the Blue Devil’s in 2016. Of his eight kickoffs that weren’t onside kicks, six have gone in the endzone for touchbacks. He’s averaging 36.5 yards a punt with three going inside the 20 and another for a fair catch.
In essence, Dowden’s a field-flipping demon unleashing nightmares unto his opponents as they’re consistently dropped deep into the bowels of their own territory.
This has allowed a Statesboro defense, who’s giving up a whopping 6.9 yards per play this season, to overachieve. Opposing offenses are having to travel further, which has limited the scoring damage against the Blue Devils. Also, this is more space allowing for a greater probability of a turnover or mistake (Statesboro’s forced four in three games).
On the other side, it’s allowed Statesboro’s offense, which is averaging an underwhelming 4.1 yards per play, to slightly overachieve.
Which less distance to travel, they’ve been able to cross over their opponents 40-yard line on 25% of their drives, where they’ve scored all 45 of their points this season.
If Statesboro had a kicker who was just average, I’m not so sure these past three games would have ever been close. Field position has been key to making the Blue Devil’s look better than they have the past two years, and while they’ve been excellent at winning the field position battle - that’s only a fifth of the equation.
Until the Blue Devil’s can mesh together the other four, these games will continue to only be close losses, instead of decisive wins.