It always happens this way. I would, in fact, prefer to look back at the football season right after it ends, but as a practical matter, that's always right in the heart of men's basketball season, and that keeps me pretty busy, and then I review basketball when IT ends, and now I'm ready to look back at football. It does end up being in the middle of spring practice, which is not too bad.
The big caveat is that we lost so many players, I'm not sure how relevant what we learned is for next season. Let us plow ahead and look at our offense.
Obviously, we had some players with record-setting offensive seasons, and some really good skilled players. We also finished 3rd in the MAC in scoring (conference games only). I'm going to argue that actually represented underperformance, and that we left enough points on the board that it probably cost us a shot at a title. That doesn't mean that we would not have benefited from improvement in other areas. It means that with the offensive attack we did have, we could have scored even more.
The area of trouble is the red zone. Let's look at some basic red zone facts:
- BG had 50 red zone trips. This is an astounding number and the top number in the MAC---the next highest is 41. CMU only generated 39. BG clearly was moving the ball into scoring territory.
- We scored on 34 of those attempts, which is tied for second in the MAC, based on raw numbers.
- However, this obviously leaves us with 16 red zone whiffs, the highest number in the MAC. CMU had 3. NIU had 1.
- That's a 68% rate, if you are scoring at home.
- Part of the story is scoring mix, too. Obviously, at some level, a red zone FG is a minor setback. CMU, for example, led the MAC with 36 redzone scores. 33 of them were TDS. They averaged 5.3 points per redzone trip, a number BG reached during the UM tenure. That is simply deadly. BG averaged 3.6 points per trip.
The anatomy of BG's misses were as follows:
- 5 missed FGs. (WMU missed 4, no one else missed more than 2).
- 4 turnovers (Top MAC teams had 0 or 1. It is even more significant for BG, however, because BG did a great job overall taking care of the ball. We had only 9 turnovers, second in the MAC. Which means that 4 of our 9 turnovers were in the red zone).
- We had 6 losses on downs. The next highest team had 3, and 5 teams only did it twice.
- We had 1 "other." No idea what that means.
Not a pretty picture. And it cost us. If we had scored in the red zone like an above average MAC team (say 4.5 points per trip), we would have scored 45 additional points and that is 5.6 PER GAME in the MAC.
Obviously, there are some factors here. That's way too many missed FGs. With sample sizes this small, it is impossible to know if the 4 turnovers were just bad luck or due to some weakness in the skills or strategy. There is a school of thought that BG could be deadly on the big field, when everyone is spread out but struggles in the tight spaces of the end zone.
The 6 losses on downs are probably largely based on the weakness in the field goal kicking. At some point, we went for it because we were afraid our guy would miss the FG. But, that's not the whole story either. We were ALREADY trying FGs on a quarter of our red zone trips, and if you add the losses on downs, we were staring at 4th down on at least 19 of our 50 red zone trips (presumably, we converted some and the turnovers could have been on 4th down too)..
Many people will postulate that our inability to run the ball when we got down close was the major culprit. I'm interested in this and I'm going to do some research--do teams that run the ball poorly do worse in the red zone than teams that do not.
BG certainly DID run the ball poorly. Some running game facts...
We ran the ball 226 times, the lowest in the MAC. Miami ran 227. The median for the conference was 284, almost 7 more carries per game.
Our running average was 3.1 yards per carry, better only than Miami (2.6), and a half yard a carry lower than the next highest team. 9 of the 12 teams in the MAC averaged 4 yards per carry, and you'd like to think we could be in that vicinity.
Clearly, the offense was carried by passing. We were 3rd in the MAC in attempted passes, and led the conference in passing yards per game. In 354 attempts, Sheehan threw only 3 INTs, a really impressive number. He complete 62.7% of his passes, which was 4th in the MAC, but best among the teams with over 300 attempts. BG had 7.4 yards per attempt, which was also 4th, but does represent an attempt to go downfield more than in past years. The fact this was done while preserving completion percentage and improving the interception rate is a testament to high quality, senior QB play.
Finally, as noted, the offense did an outstanding job taking care of the ball. 9 turnovers was second lowest in the MAC.
So that's the story of offense. It was a very good year, and only red zone failures kept it from being a great year. Defense next.