September 20, 2014

Balance Doesn’t Tip the Scale

The Hogs were balanced offensively Saturday – 29 rushing attempts, 31 passes.  Yardage wise – 153 rushing yards, 175 passing.  But something is missing, and became glaring in the second half.  Balance is great, but it doesn’t tip the scale in your favor.  What’s missing is a credible threat in the passing game.

Any time that you hear talking heads talk about completion percentage, or passing yards being a good gauge of the passing game, just stop and put ‘the hand’ up.  They should know better.

Passing yards per attempt is the single most important indicator of a successful and efficient passing game.  End of discussion.

It’s not how many times you throw it, or how many yards you throw it for.  It’s all about when you do throw, are you effective enough to make teams RESPECT your ability to HURT THEM with the pass.  And right now, the answer for the Razorbacks is NO WE CAN’T.  That’s a big problem.

Yards Per Attempt is a statistic that is an all inclusive indicator of not just one player (Brandon Allen in our case), but the receivers as well.  Poor routes, inability to get separation at the line of scrimmage, dropped passes, inaccurate passes – all these things factor into a sub par YPA number.

So here’s the guide…in college football, the elite passing teams (Florida State, Baylor, Texas A&M, Oregon, Louisville) hover between 9.0 to10.0 yards per attempt (YPA).  8.0 YPA is widely considered to be an ‘effective’ baseline.  7.0 YPA is average.

Last year the Hogs tallied a 5.8 YPA (110th nationally).  Against Auburn Saturday – even worse – the Hogs posted a 5.6 YPA.

The game Saturday was a perfect example of this key performance indicator.  When things were clicking with the run game, and the play action passing was working, the Hogs posted an 8.3 YPA in the first half.  In the second half, when Auburn ganged up to stop the run and forced Brandon Allen and the receivers to make plays, we were an abysmal 3.5 YPA.  Auburn finished the game with a 13.3 YPA.

When you play Gus and Auburn, you know they can burn you quick with the vertical passing game.  Because of that, you can not cheat to stop the run…you just can’t.  That’s what balance looks like for a ‘run heavy’ attack.  Even though Bielema and Malzahn approach offense in a different way, the threat of the down-field passing attack is the difference in the two offenses.

So what can we do besides – as Spurrier tells us – ‘recruit our way out of it’?  Well, here’s a few things to chew on:

  • First, figure out which receivers can get separation and catch the ball, and which ones can’t.  Cut bait on the ones that can’t and move on with the rest.
  • As soon as Jojo Robinson gets healthy, get him on the field and in the slot.  This team is desperate for playmakers and guys that can get down the field.  Robinson and fellow freshman Jared Cornelius have to play.
  • The tight ends are your best mismatches and receivers down the field…use them.  Hunter Henry caught one pass Saturday.  Henry, A.J. Derby and Jeremy Sprinkle can all run.  Let them work the middle of the field for you.
  • And finally, we’ve got to continue to look for ways to get the ball to our best players…the running backs.  Bielema loved the screen game at Wisconsin, but it has been almost non existant with OC Jim Chaney.  The running backs caught 4 passes Saturday for 5 yards.  More screens, swing passes, throwbacks, etc. are good blitz control and will take the heat off.

If the Hogs are striving to be a balanced offense, then you’ve got to be effective when you do throw it.  By taking efficient shots down the field, you release the ‘pressure valve’ and open things up closer to the line of scrimmage.  We just can’t run into 8 and 9 man fronts forever.

  • razorfan

    One key pass for a touchdown… One key pass on third down dropped. We cant be dropping passes against good teams

  • Mike in Magnolia

    Your observation of the passing game was the best assessment I have read to date. Excellent!

  • Tomahog

    I saw where Georgia was ranked # 12 and Clemson was ranked #16 a four point differential. Georgia beat Clemson 45 to 21. From my deductive reasoning I saw that Aubrun was ranked #5 and they beat Arkansas 45 to 21 so we should be ranked # 9 in the country. Then I read your article and I was forced to lay my rose colored glasses aside. Thank you for a great piece of work that was done very well. I now believe that the koolaid could be toxic

  • Roadhog

    Sunshine, you say, “Passing yard per attempt is the single most important indicator of a successful and efficient passing game. End of discussion.” But you don’t end it there, you’re just getting warmed up! You may be right. I don’t know (agnostic). But there are obviously key passing situations that are more important than others, like converting long third downs. I think one of the reasons B. Petrino’s passing game was so effective was that his play calling was unpredictable, even unorthodox at times. It’s obviously harder to complete a pass when the defense knows you must pass, such as in third and long. So “balance” by itself, as you point out, in terms of run/pass ratio, is nearly meaningless. I’m no football authority, so I could be wrong about this, but after watching countless football games in my life I have come to the conclusion that the only numbers that really count are the points scored. As important as first downs are, and they are important, you get no points for them. Most points win.

  • Todd

    Very good read. With no plausible down field threat every team will continue to load the box.

  • GolfHog

    Hard nosed football teams do need to be able to run with 8 and 9 in the box but, certainly you can’t do it exclusively without a great defense and a good punter. Either Cheney is not the talent we were sold or Burt has his foot on his neck.
    For all of our blowing smoke about what this team will be in 2016, I’m not sure we have a personality in 2014. Build for the future fine. But, lets go ahead and play this year with the team on hand. We MUST score early and often with this defense. We must, as you say, put the play makers on the field and call plays that surprise. Run the ball, build for tomorrow, but not to the exclusion of coaching this team.
    I can’t help but wonder why this passing game is not built around these tight ends.

    • http://www.razorbloggers.net/ Walking on Sunshine

      Well said Golf.