Evaluating the performance of an offense over the course of a season is a much more straight forward endeavor than trying to come up with a series of statistics that lend meaning to a teams performance. The Big Four statistical categories, rushing offense, passing offense, total offense and points per game provide a bit more insight into performance than they do for a defense. There are some other metrics that I like which I will highlight later on but for now we will go to the basics.
Warning: Stat Heavy Post, Proceed With Caution
In 2009 UC averaged 138.69 yards per game ranking 69th in the country and 5th in the Big East. All three of those numbers in a vacuum don't look good at all, but are actually a marked improvement over the previous two years. In 2008 UC gained just 117.64 yards per game on the ground which was 96th in the nation and dead last in the Big East. In 2007 with the remnants of the power running game of Mark Dantonio UC rushed for 147.77 yards per game which was 62nd in the country and 5th in the Big East. Last years rushing numbers look pretty average but there are a couple of important points to be made. The total yardage gained is small, but that has notthing to do with the effectiveness of the running game, more on that in a bit. But it is impossible to accumulate stats when you don't run the ball. UC ranked 109th in the nation for total rushing attempts. When UC did run the ball they were very effective UC averaged 4.99 yards per rush last year, good for 13th in the nation. That number is miles better than 2008 with a 3.62 average, or 2007 with a 4.03. Isiah Pead had the most productive season of any Bearcat RB since Richard Hall in 2004. Everyone should remember what he did to the West Virginia defense last year.
Isiah Pead was a very productive back, but he just didn't get enough touches. He averaged 9.31 attempts per game, which isn't even enough to rank among the top 100 in rushing attempts per game. UC had a good running game, it just wasn't as good as the passing game which was epic, and thus the run game was put firmly on the back burner. UC could run the Football last year, but they chose to be a pass first team, and with good reason.
Last years passing game was an all timer. UC put up 308.8 yards a game through the air which was 8th in the country and 1st in the Big East by a pretty wide margin. That really wasn't too much of a surprise when you think about it. 2009 was the only time in the Brian Kelly era that there was a clearly defined pecking order at the quarterback position going into the season. The passing game was incendiary right from the start.
Even when Pike went down the numbers were still among the national elite. The numbers in 2008 weren't all that bad 253 yards per game, 26th in the nation and 2nd in the Big East. But they were a step down from the 2007 group which had 286.2 yards per game good for 20th in the nation and 2nd in the Big East. While the QB play was always very good under Kelly, there was just something different and better about it last year. But last years team made the leap from being very good to being elite on a national level.
Total offense is another statistic that bears out a fact that everyone has come to grasp intuitively. While the offenses in 2008 and 2007 were very good, they couldn't really compare with the 2009 group. In 2007 the offense helmed by Ben Mauk averaged 433.9 total yards per game which was 4th in the Big East and 30th in the country. That was the first notice that Brian Kelly really had a handle on this offense thing. In 2008 there was that infamous rash of QB injuries and the numbers went down, way down. 370.6 yards in total offense ranking 51st in the country and 4th in the Big East. Almost everyone was of the opinion that the offense was primed to ignite. It typically takes three years to go from a power running, pro style offense to a spread setup. 2009 was year three, the QB situation was settled, the offensive line had finally transformed into a unit designed for the spread and the receiving corps returned everyone of note besides Dominick Goodman. All the pieces were in place to make a big, big move and that is exactly what happened. 447.5 yards of total offense per game which ranked 11th in the nation and 1st in the Big East. Like I said 07 and 08 were very good offenses, but 2009 was special.
As with defense there are some other categories that I find enlightening when looking at a team. Good offenses always do three main things that set them apart from other teams. They convert on 3rd downs, they don't blow scoring chances, they protect the quarterback and display consistency from down to down.
In terms of 3rd down conversions UC was actually pretty average last year. They converted at just 41.67 per cent of chances in terms of rankings that was 45th in the country and 4th in the Big East. That was actually a big improvement over the 2008 team which converted on exactly one third of all chances, 33.33 per cent, 7th in the conference and 103rd in the country. Even the 2007 team wasn't that adept on third downs. They converted 38.89 per cent which was 4th in the conference and 69th in the nation. As good as the offense was under Kelly, this was never one of their strengths.
However, converting in the red zone was. Last years team converted 87.93 per cent of all red zone chances into points that was among the national leaders, placing 22nd, and 2nd in the Big East. In 2008 the conversion rate was 82 per cent of all chances ranking 61st in the nation and 3rd in the Big East. In 2007 the rate was 87.93 per cent which ranked 3rd in the Big East and 19th in the country. This, like every other offensive statistic, shows the difference in quality between previous years and last year.
Kelly's teams had a spotty history in terms of protecting the QB. Part of that can be attributed to the physical changes that the linemen had to make. Pass setting for 40 times a game requires a different body and mind set than run blocking 50 times a game does. The changes take the most time on the offensive line. In the first year the group allowed 22 sacks, 46th nationally and 3rd in the Big East. 2008 saw a rash of injuries up front and at the QB position. Accordingly sacks went to 28 which was 86th nationally and 5th in the conference. Last year the two deep was almost identical to the 2008 unit and correspondingly with that experience the total fell to 15. That was tied for first in the conference and 17th in the nation.
The final stat that I want to look at is the yards per play. Like I said when breaking down the defensive performance yesterday yards per snap is the best indicator of the total quality of an offense or a defense because it is an indication of down to down consistency on a given side of the ball. As a general rule of thumb the more consistent an offense is the better. Last years offense averaged 7 yards per play which is ridiculous. Over the last five season only 12 teams out of a possible 596 have averaged 7 yards per play or better. That 7 was 2nd in the country and 1st in the conference. 2008 (5.6, 46th and 4th) and 2007 (6, 19th and 4th) were good, last year was better. I think that yards per play sums up the point I have been trying to make the best. The offenses in 2008 and 2007 were very good, but last years was scary good.