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Third Down Efficiency - 2005 vs. 2006

Is there anyone who can surpass Brian at MGoBlog in statistics? If there is I haven't met them yet. He has compliled the 3rd down efficiency statistics for the NCAA and put them in an unbelievable chart format. Let's take a look at how Penn State did in 2006.

The Offense

First of all, how to read these charts. The dark line represents the NCAA average in third down efficiency. The thin line represents Penn State's third down efficiency. The delta is shaded either green or red. If you do better than the NCAA average at converting on third down it's shaded green. Do worse and it's shaded red. Obviously, green is good here.

The first chart looks at 2005. Remember a guy we used to have playing quarterback named Michael Robinson? Really good at scrambling for the first down, but not so great when you put him in third and long and he has to throw.

This chart is exactly what you would expect. Penn State was fantastic at converting on third down and less than five yards to go. But when the yardage increased the Nittany Lions weren't terrible, but looked pretty average. Now look at the chart for 2006.

Obviously, we missed Michael Robinson and the experienced offensive linemen a lot. Penn State was just below average at just about every yardage under ten. But notice the better than average numbers in the 11-13 yard range. Obviously, Morelli can throw the rock better than Robinson, so Anthony was actually able to do better than the NCAA average at converting on third and long situations by almost 10%.

Now, these numbers do not tell the entire story. Sure you may be the best at converting on 3rd and 2, but what if you're so crappy on first and second down you rarely see 3rd and short. Behold the third down distance for 2005.

Now, important note here. Like before, the thick line is the NCAA average and the thin line is Penn State. This chart indicates the number of attempts from each yardage. If you're good on first and second down, you'll see a lot of 3rd and short situations, thus the area less than 5 yards will be shaded green indicating you are better than average. Once you get into longer yardage situations, you want to be less than average, so over five yards red is a good color. Obviously, in 2005 we were very good at getting into short yardage situations as noted by the green shade under five yards. Now look at 2006.

You can see this is almost the complete inverse of 2005. How many times did we see Tony Hunt run up the middle only to be stuffed on first and second down? Penn State did a piss-poor job of getting into 3rd and short situations all year. Consequently, the number of 3rd and long situations were greater than the NCAA average.

The Defense

First up is the 2005 defense. Here you want to be below the NCAA average, so green is good just like before.

Pretty much all green. Very fine indeed, but then we knew that already. How did the 2006 defense compare?

I would say probably a little more efficient at stopping the opponent than the 2005 squad. How did the compare on first and second down? Let's look at the 3rd down distance for 2005.

Teams were pretty good at getting a few yards and working it down to the 3rd and 5-8 range in 2005. They were quite a bit below average in the 3rd and 10 range. Now let's compare 2006.

Inside of five yards the two charts are identical. But notice how the 2006 defense was better at denying the mid-range 3rd down yardage and forcing twice as many 3rd and 10 situations (6% vs. 13%). To me this suggests a few things. Ed Johnson was much better at stuffing the run than Scott Paxson. Playing Paul Posluszny in the middle may have had something to do with it too. I also think this number suggests the 2006 secondary may have been a tiny bit better than the 2005 defensive backs in forcing incomplete passes on 1st and 2nd down.

Another interesting difference happens around the 12 yard range. The 2006 squad forced a lot fewer 3rd and 12-13 situations. How can we explain this? I'm not sure, but I suspect the answer is Tamba Hali. The 2005 squad had 89 tackles for loss (TFL). In 2006, the defense only had 72 TFL. Hali recorded 17 TFL in 2005. 89 - 72 = 17. Coincidence?