When it came to college football just a handful of years ago, there wasn’t much for fans (or coaches) to examine when analyzing teams in the statistics department. Sure, basic numbers existed, but few advanced analysis sites like Football Outsiders existed back then, and even when they existed, few were paying attention. However, the times they are a changin’. While the advanced movement in football is still in its infancy, many more are paying attention now because it’s valuable information you can’t find everywhere else. While sites specializing in advanced analysis of football are generally fantastic, unfortunately, most are only focusing on the NFL, leaving us college football buffs in the cold. Sadly, helpful things like Estimated Wins Added, Win Shares, and Yards Above Replacement don’t exist in the college game (to my knowledge). Even simple and meaningful stats to evaluate quarterbacks and receivers like Yards After Catch and Air Yards don’t exist like they do in the NFL. I set out to change that.
In the NFL, Yards After Catch is one of the primary tools in judging wide receivers and it’s exactly what the name implies, yards gained after a receiver catches the ball. This stat tells us exactly how many yards a receiver is responsible for on any given passing play. Below you’ll find a literal example with Kentucky’s 1997 upset victory over Alabama. Early in the game, Tim Couch took the snap on Alabama’s 47-yard line under center with two running backs in split formation. The wide receiver on Couch’s right followed his route upon the snap, clearing out the right side for (Running Back) Anthony White who caught to ball at the line of scrimmage. A few seconds after catching the ball at Alabama’s 47, he was brought down on their 31 for a gain of 16 yards. Since he initially caught the ball at the line of scrimmage, White would be credited for 16 Yards After Catch. (For the exact play, fast forward to 1:32)
While Yards After Catch is a statistic a majority of the football population already knows due to it’s popularity in the professional ranks, Air Yards are something that are vastly unknown. While it’s relatively unheralded, it’s also simple to understand. Air Yards are how many yards the quarterback is responsible for on any given passing play. For an example we’ll use Mike Hartline’s go-ahead heave against South Carolina in 2010. Hartline took the snap in shotgun formation on South Carolina’s 24-yard line with a running back to his left and two wide receivers on both sides of the field. After a few seconds and some tremendously blown coverage, Hartline’s pass was completed to Randall Cobb at the goal line for a gain of 24 yards (and a touchdown). Since Hartline was responsible for a vast majority of the pass, he was credited with 24 Air Yards while Cobb was credited with zero Yards After Catch. If Air Yards and Yards After Catch were put into box scores, we’d know that Cobb was responsible for very little on this play even though he technically gained 24 yards. (Start the video at 5:03 to see the play.)
So now that we know how these numbers are calculated, how do they affect the football game? First and foremost, these stats are primarily used for scouting purposes rather than entertainment purposes. Sure, NFL fans use Air Yards to measure the league’s top passers in bar room arguments, but teams use them to dissect other teams’ passing attacks. Take the following hypothetical as an example. Team A and Team B both average seven yards per passing attempt, but Team A averages five Air Yards per attempt while Team B averages three. Both average seven, but they do so in completely different ways. Team A relies more on their Quarterback to throw for their seven yard average while Team B relies more heavily on receivers. Knowing this, a coach can adjust his defensive/offensive strategy to take away the other team’s strength. Now that we know how these numbers are calculated and their relative importance, how effective were Kentucky’s new coaches in these categories with their former respective teams? After observing four Texas Tech games and seven Florida State games, I’ve recorded the data in the below table.
Keep in mind these won’t add up precisely to their season yard per attempt averages as I couldn’t watch every single game, but they’re close.
After observing four Texas Tech games while recording Air Yards and Yards After Catch, it appears as though Neal Brown’s offense relies heavily on the quarterback to move the ball as their Air Yard figures nearly double their Yards After Catch. Stoops on the other hand relied heavily on balance in the passing game. The Seminoles only allowed a minuscule 2.45 Air Yards per attempt while surrendering 2.42 Yards After Catch per attempt. Not only did they not allow yards through the air, but when they did, the defenders almost immediately swarmed the ball carrier. Admittedly, I don’t have much data to compare against as I only observed two teams. It’s anyone’s guess as to where they fell in these categories in comparison to the national average (though I’d suspect favorably due to the strengths of these respective units). But as time goes on, I’ll have more data to compare because I’ll be using these stats to scout up-coming Kentucky games on the site. As for 2013, I don’t know if anyone can accurately predict how Stoops and Brown’s figures will change due to obvious talent differential, but with recruiting and development, they should look like their 2012 counterparts with time.