A Tale of Two Offenses

Note: I'm sure many of y'all are weary of the negativity that naturally resulted from two consecutive ugly losses. I am too, and strongly considered withholding this piece.

But I spent some time researching and writing this, and thought it was worth posting for posterity. And I tried to exclude any ad hominem comments. This is an objective case study conducted with the intent to decipher the source of our offensive woes, not an insult piece. That said, it's impossible to write a relevant article about our offense this season without dwelling on negatives. My apologies in advance.

We're mired in the middle of the bye week and I've been sitting home sick for the last two days with nothing better to do than torment myself with memories of the Longhorns' last two nightmarish losses. So I decided to comb through the statistics from a few of this season's triumphs, hoping to find a glimmer of hope to carry me through the rest of the season.

Yeah. That didn't happen. What I did find, however, is a nice opportunity to compare Texas's performance in two of its out-of-conference wins to that of another Division 1 team who faced the same opponents in nearly identical conditions. The comparison is humbling.

Perennial doormat SMU has also played both Texas Tech and Rice this season. So, why not see how our mighty Longhorns stack up against those Lovable Losers of Lovers Lane?

Oh, oh, oh! I know why not - because the result is embarrassing, right???

Right:

vs. Tech
SMU: 327 yards, 5.04 YPP
Texas: 320 yards, 4.05 YPP

vs. Rice
SMU: 472 yards, 8.91 YPP
Texas: 369 yards, 5.27 YPP

Ugh. SMU outgained Texas in both instances. And the comparison isn't even close. SMU not only outperformed Texas - the Ponies destroyed our YPP stats. Smashed them. Not once, but twice. That's humiliating.

Yes, yes, yes. SMU lost to Tech. Spare me the non sequiturs. Texas won its game against Texas Tech on the back of a dominant defensive performance. SMU's defense was trampled by Tech, but its offense still accounted for 24 points (Texas's only accounted for 21 against the Red Raiders, and one of its touchdowns was set up by a fumble recovery inside the 10).

So, what could possibly cause SMU's offense to outperform Texas's in two separate tests? Let's look at the possibilities.

Is it Bad Luck? (No)

It's possible that SMU just got lucky. Twice. And that UT got unlucky. Twice. I suppose sheer luck is a possible culprit, but it's not a very useful theory and there is absolutely no evidence suggesting that the games against Tech and Rice were aberrations for Texas. We're playing bad, not unlucky, offense. The comparisons against SMU are just examples of that general trend.

Non-Supernatural Causes

Other than misfortune, there are a number of factors that affect offensive performance. I would roughly categorize them as follows: (1) Quality of opponent; (2) Game venue; (3) Player seniority / experience; (4) Player talent; (5) Player development; (6) Scheme; and (7) Playcalling.

The Wash

For the purposes of this comparison, factors (1)-(3) are an almost perfect wash between Texas and SMU:

Factor (1) is even. We're considering only games against common opponents.

Factor (2) is a wash, although it might slightly favor Texas. Both SMU and UT played Tech in Lubbock. Both played Rice in Houston, although Texas' game was a virtual home game played in a somewhat neutral venue.

Factor (3) is very close to even, but slightly favors SMU. The offensive starters' average recruiting class year for the Tech game was 2007.82 for Texas and 2007.64 for SMU. The offensive starters' average recruiting class year for the Rice game was 2007.73 for Texas and 2007.73 for SMU. In terms of key positions for seniority, both teams fielded a quarterback from the 2009 recruiting class and the offensive line's average recruiting class year was 2007.4 for Texas and 2007.2 for SMU (i.e., SMU's offensive line enjoyed one player-year of seniority more than Texas's) in both games.

The two offenses are virtually even on factors (1)-(3). So, if we're trying to explain SMU's clear superiority to Texas on offense, that leaves factor (4), talent, and factors (5)-(7), which I will generally refer to as "coaching." If you disagree that player development, schematic design and playcalling are the coaches' responsibilities, then I ask you to stand up and receive your Bill Little Award for Shameless Apologism. You are an American hero, and need not read another word of this ridiculous article, which was penned by Satan himself to tempt God-fearing Longhorns with the seductive sins of logic, reason and non-dipshittedness.

Those of you who stuck around: thank you. Your lavender-scented Barking Carnival travel pillow is in the mail.


It looks just like this, but with more sweat stains

Now let's get to the bottom of this mystery.

Talent

Between the two remaining potential culprits, I've chosen to address talent first, for the following reasons: (a) it's easier to quantify, and (b) it's not the real problem (yes, I already know the answer - be patient, I'll fill you in soon enough), so it would be anticlimactic to address it last.

So, has SMU outperformed Texas on offense because the Ponies' players are more talented? You already know the answer to that. It's "no."

I researched the ESPN recruiting grade for each of SMU's and Texas's starters on offense. The grading system runs from 0-100, although the lowest-rated player I saw was a 40 (SMU had several at this grade). As you would expect, Texas's players were graded much higher. The average grades of the offensive starters for each game were:

vs. Tech

SMU: 53.9
Texas: 80.4

vs. Rice

SMU: 51
Texas: 80.4

Let me put the approximately 30-point difference into perspective. Texas's average of 80.4 would, if it applied to an individual player, qualify at around #115 on this year's ESPN 150. That means that the average Texas offensive starter ranked well within the Top 150 players in the nation as a senior in high school. As I documented on another thread, more than 70% of Texas's offensive starters ranked in the ESPN 150 in their senior years.

SMU, on the other hand, started no single player who graded out at or above Texas's average grade. In fact, the highest grade for any SMU starter was 73 - two points lower than the lowest-graded Texas starter. Every single Texas starter had a higher recruiting grade than every single SMU starter.

For the most part, these kids weren't even in the same recruiting pool. Texas's players were blue chips, SMU's were red. Or pink. Or orange. What color chip is really worthless? Whatever it is, that's what color SMU's players were.

So, raw talent isn't the answer. And that leaves just one possible cause remaining.

Coaching

Yes, coaching - all of the things that go into coaching (except recruiting), with scheme, player development and play-calling chief among them. This stuff is difficult to quantify, but, like dark matter, its influence can be deduced by observing its effects and eliminating other possible causes.

In our effort to explain why SMU's offense has outperformed Texas's against their two common opponents this season, we've ruled out every other possible cause. Opponent quality, venue and experience are even. The talent disparity would suggest that Texas, not SMU, should field the far more productive offense. So that leaves coaching. It's the only possible answer.

And, what a whopper of an answer it is. SMU has far outperformed Texas against their common opponents. And Texas is not only more talented - but astronomically more talented - at every position. So, somehow, the coaching disparity has to explain how the far less talented team significantly outperformed the superior unit. In other words, the coaching gap has to be tremendous.

Either SMU's offensive staff is phenomenal, UT's is pathetic, or a bit of both. My guess is that the disparity results more from Texas's funk than some out-of-this-world run by SMU. My view is supported by the Mustangs current #36 ranking nationally in Huckleberry's adjusted YPP measure - good, but not great. We're not exactly comparing Texas to the Joe Montana-era '49ers. Or even Boise State.

All of that points to one conclusion: Texas's coaching staff has coached a very talented team to appalling sub-mediocrity.

Questions I will Assume You Are Asking As You Read This

1. But Brick, what about execution? Isn't poor execution the real reason Texas isn't scoring, and it's not the coaches' fault when the players don't execute, right?

First of all, that's a really awkward compound question. Next time, please put more thought into your hypothetical queries before littering my post with poor grammar.

Now, on to your question. I hear this a lot. It's always annoyed me, and I finally figured out why. "Execution" is not a factor affecting performance; rather, it is performance. Execution is the culmination of talent, development, scheme, playcalling. It doesn't cause statistics; statistics are merely a measure of execution.

So, you can't shift blame from coaches to players by arguing, tautologically, that our problems are attributable to "poor execution." Of course they are. The question is why execution was poor: Was it a scheme set up to fail? Are our players physically inferior to their opponents? Have our players not been properly instructed how to run the play? Or did the players make dumb mental mistakes?

If "execution" is just a stand-in term for "inexcusable player error," then that opens up a whole new inquiry: why are the players consistently making errors? Isn't this something the coaches are responsible for preventing?

Ask one question, and I toss six more right back at you. That will teach you to ask me stuff.

2. Recruiting rankings are flawed. Our players aren't as talented as the recruitniks thought they were.

That may be true. But recruiting rankings are pretty good evidence of how talented our players were coming out of high school. The rankings aren't perfect, but they largely reflect the collective estimation of players by college coaches nationwide. Numerous studies demonstrate a strong positive correlation between player rating and likelihood of being drafted into the NFL. No, I don't have a link for any of these studies. Because they are too numerous. Too numerous to link. Okay?

Back to the point - I use recruiting rankings as the measure of talent for two reasons: (1) they make "talent" easy to quantify, and, more importantly, (2) they offer a measure of talent that is largely independent of our coaching staff. The second point is key - by looking at the players' estimated talent coming out of high school, you can largely separate the measure of natural talent from the effects of development and scheme. The latter are harder to quantify, but their effects (for good or ill) can be seen once you separate out talent as an independent variable.

In any case, lack of talent doesn't exactly exonerate our coaches, either. If the offense lacks talent, that's because our coaches failed to identify and recruit talented players. The Texas staff has no problem getting the vast majority of players it wants - if the players it gets are untalented, the coaches have no one to blame but themselves.

3. But you forgot a huge factor that's totally outside of the coaches' or players' control: weather.

Nice try, smart guy. Yes, weather also affects performance. But there's no reason to believe it made a difference in these games. And, in both cases, Texas was blessed with slightly milder weather:

Texas v. Tech: 84, 12 mph wind, partly cloudy
SMU v. Tech: 95, 15 mph wind, clear

Texas v. Rice: 72, indoors
SMU v. Rice: 85, 6 mph wind, clear

4. Your theory is based on a statistically insignificant data set. There's no way you can draw such sweeping conclusions from just 4 data points.

Unfortunately, limited sample size in terms of games played is the reality of college football. But the relevant data set - which, since we're considering YPP, is the set of plays run - isn't really that small. Texas ran 149 total plays in the two games considered; SMU ran 118.

So, suck on that, argumentative stats geek.

5. So what's your point? Mack isn't going to fire Greg Davis. You're stupid for even worrying about this stuff.

Okay, that's really out of line. There's no reason to call me stupid. Well, there are actually plenty of reasons to call me stupid. Good ones, too. But it's still rude.

Anyway, I know that continuing to harp on our offensive woes is largely a sisyphean ordeal. But I believe in the persuasive power of facts. The myths surrounding our program thrive on ignorance and sloppy thought. The more often thoughtful observers put pencil to paper to document the appalling reality of our offense, the more difficult it becomes to propogate those myths and the more likely the necessary changes become.

I hope.

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