The 2017 season wrapped up with a fearful symmetry.
September saw Longhorn fans spit up their Shiner while the team fell to the crab cake-eating Maryland Terrapins, while November made them vomit up their Thanksgiving feast as the team turned in a turkey against the crab-infested Texas Tech Red Raiders. Both performances featured lowlights on each side of the ball. But while both the offense and defense were shocking in September,
Courtesy of the great Huckleberry at AdjustedStats.com, here’s a look at both the baseline and opponent-adjusted numbers for the Longhorns’ offense, defense and special teams units in 2016 and 2017.
I much prefer to use the Adjusted columns, which correct for the caliber of opponents played and provide the truest sense of how a team stacks up to the college football landscape. Likewise, while full-game stats can be useful I’m a fan of per-possession and per-play stats that normalize for things like pace and starting field position to provide the best view into a team’s efficiency.
Or lack thereof.
- While the 2017 Longhorn offense only endured a modest decline in Adjusted Total Points (from #49 to #54,) that figure may more accurately be called Adjusted Total Team Points as it doesn’t strip out defensive or special teams scores. To get a truer sense of the offense’s output you have to take a look at things on a per-possession basis, where Texas declined from #68 to #85 in scoring efficiency this season.
- Similar declines took place in overall yardage gained per possession (from #64 to #82) and per play (from #55 to #84), but Texas did enjoy a significant improvement in turnovers lost (up from a woeful #103 ranking in 2016 to a respectable-esque #40 on a per-possession basis this year).
- Getting into the nitty-gritty on a per-play basis, rushing efficiency (minus sacks which correctly count against passing in Huck’s stats) declined from #62 to #97 while passing yardage fell from #51 to #75 and passing efficiency slumped from #52 to #68. That passing efficiency number falling despite a massive decrease in INTs speaks volumes about our ability to get anything going down the field or get playmakers the ball with space to create.
- Texas actually improved on last season’s abominable third-down conversion rate, moving up from #93 to #75. Unfortunately that corresponded with a fall-off from #79 to #104 in fourth-down conversion rate, as both Binder- and Rowland-driven 4th and whatever attempts frequently flopped. Red zone scoring percentage also slipped from #81 to #89 - eschewed field goals and our outright flailing shenanigans against Tech will do that to ya.
- While Texas’ 2016 per-possession and per-play defensive efficiency stats weren’t as bad as you probably remember, Todd Orlando’s unit surged in just about every measure to field one of the nation’s best defenses.
- Both per-possession scoring (up from #34 to #10) and yardage allowed (up from #24 to #8) stepped up into Top Ten Territory as per-possession turnovers also took a nice step up from #88 to #51.
- Total passing yards allowed on a per place basis only saw a slight uptick from #26 to #24, but per-play passing efficiency took a major step up from #55 to #18. A key driver there was Texas’ increased ball-hawking ability in 2017 as per-play interceptions forced jumped up from #61 to #24.
- The “Todd Orlando will stop the run if it kills him” meme largely proved correct, as the Longhorns’ per-play rush yardage allowed zoomed up from #56 to #4 in the country. Considering both the Maryland bed-shit and the fact that we played the back half of the season with a five-man box, that’s just wildly impressive. Orlando, Oscar Giles and Yancy McKnight should all take a bow.
- The only real areas of fall-off on the defense were sacks, which fell from #5 in the country to #38 and forced fumbles which tumbled from #19 to #92. The story on sacks (and interceptions) is largely about differing blitz philosophies - while Strong and Bedford would frequently send five or six (and often give up a big play when the pressure didn’t get home,) Orlando’s three-, four- and five-man pressures were more about harassing the QB and ensuring an extra body or two on the back end to capitalize on mistakes. Texas doled out hard hits aplenty this year, so the decline in fumbles feels like pure randomness as much as anything else.
- The Longhorn D was absolute money on money downs, taking 3rd down conversion defense up from #27 to #5 and 4th down conversions all the way up from #65 to #8.
SPECIAL TEAMS & MISCELLANEOUS NOTES
- Michael Dickson got marginally awesomer
- Kickoff return average shot up from #77 to #22. This was largely a function of guys actually kneeling balls that went five yards deep in the end zone rather than bringing them out, but guys like Kyle Porter and Lil’Jordan Humphrey made some hay on legitimately well-blocked returns.
- Texas’ time per offensive play (where bigger numbers mean you’re going faster) slowed down slightly from #126 to #106. This number could have moved further, but when you’ve got a mismatch like Cade Brewer or Kendall Moore on the field you have to hurry and split them out in order to...wait, what?
- In other news, moving on from the flailing disorganization and non-optimization of the Charlie Strong regime saw Texas fall from #19 to #58 in net kickoff average, tread water from #53 to #59 in punt return average, absolutely shit themselves on the field goal side of things (which to be fair is pretty much individual-specialist failure) while taking 2016’s atrocious #110 ranking in penalty yards per game and...declining to #114.
That’s the tale of the tape, folks. As we wait for the
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Alamo Bowl, we’ll take a look at what drove those numbers and where we can reasonably expect improvement (or cross our fingers against decline). But the bottom-line tangible improvement story in Tom Herman’s first season was, “The defense improved more than the offense fell off.” Learning whether Herman’s efforts to build a winning culture will bear long-term fruit will be more of a wait-and-see affair...though seeing which potential contributors elect to give it another go in 2018 could offer some early feedback.