Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Successes of Robert Anae — v1.0

When Robert Anae left BYU at the end of the 2010 season, it was in the midst of a significant amount of fan discontent in the wake of a 7-6 season. That discontent seemed to largely drown out what had largely been a very successful 6 year run as BYU’s offensive coordinator. This blog post is not going to attempt to address criticisms of Anae’s first tour of duty in Provo, but rather highlight specific areas where BYU was particularly successful during that time. Even though the Anae v2.0 offense, influenced by his time with Rich Rodriguez in Arizona, may be quite different in some respects from the offense we saw from 2005 to 2010, there is a chance that we will see some of these same strengths in v2.0


BYU finished in the top 25 in scoring in 4 of Anae’s 6 seasons, finishing as high as 5th in 2006. BYU also averaged a solid 33.3 ppg in bowl games, including 2 of the 3 highest scores in BYU bowl history (44 vs Oregon State and 52 vs UTEP). Overall, BYU had the 15th highest scoring average under Anae v1.0:


3rd Down Conversions

From 2005 to 2010, BYU absolutely dominated their opponents on 3rd down, converting over half of the time during that span. So dominant, they converted nearly a full 2% more than Navy, the next best team on 3rd down.


It also didn’t matter where on the field BYU was during 3rd down; they were able to continue to convert 3rd downs as they got progressively closer to the end zone:


EDIT: Just a quick note that the first chart shows all 3rd down conversions, including conversions through defensive penalties, but the second chart only includes first downs via pass and runs. It’s a limitation of the data available.

Red Zone Efficiency

Perhaps most importantly, when BYU got into the Red (Blue) Zone, they were not just able to score, but score touchdowns. Only Texas Tech (Anae’s former employer) was more successful in finding the end zone once they had crossed the opponent’s 20 yard line:


So while Anae v2.0 may have some striking differences from v1.0, there’s still reason to believe that his offense will find ways to put points on the board by excelling in 3rd down situations, getting themselves into the Red Zone and turning those opportunities into six points.

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Do BYU QBs Have Favorite Receivers?

BYU has seen its share of changes at quarterback over the past 3 seasons, with 4 different QBs getting at least 1 start during that span. A question that is often raised is just how much does a change at QB affect the distribution of passes to the receivers? In other words, do different QBs have different “favorites” they like to throw the ball?

Below is a heat map showing how often receivers were targeted (i.e. were recorded as the intended receiver, regardless if the pass was actually completed) by different BYU QBs over the past 2 seasons. The heat map shows that there were definitely some receivers that benefited/suffered by the change in who was throwing the ball to them.


Conventional wisdom was that in 2011, Jake Heaps favored Apo more than Hoffman and it was vice versa when Riley Nelson took over as the starter. It turns out in this case that conventional wisdom was actually correct. Heaps threw to Apo 19.1% and Hoffman 17.8% of the time, but Nelson only looked to Apo 14.0% and Hoffman 25.9% of the time. That’s a pretty pronounced swing in receiver preference.

Something that appears to have gone largely unnoticed is that McKay Jacobson suffered even more by Nelson’s playing time, having his targeting percentage cut nearly in half, from 14.8% to 7.8%.

In 2012, the distribution of the ball was a little more consistent between QBs. The biggest differences were that JD Falslev was targeted much more frequently (7.1% increase) and Kaneakua Friel much less (6.9% decrease) by James Lark, compared to Riley Nelson.

All 3 QBs in 2012 relied equally heavily on Cody Hoffman, targeting him between 30.3% and 33.8% of the time. With most of the receivers from 2012 returning in 2013, it will be interesting to see if the ball distribution will be a little more even than it was last year.


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Is “Go Fast, Go Hard” Contagious?

This blog post from a couple of weeks ago discussed whether or not BYU should expect to have to play an additional 15 to 20 plays per game on defense compared to 2012, due to the Cougars going with a very uptempo offensive scheme in 2013.  The post’s conclusion was that based on historical data of other uptempo teams, that the number of additional defensive plays these teams faced was considerably less than Bronco’s estimate of 15 to 20 per game.

A question that arose while analyzing this topic was whether or not facing an uptempo team would affect the opponent’s own offensive tempo. Would their offensive pace increase because they get sucked into a track meet, or perhaps their tempo would slow down in an attempt to counterbalance the hyper-speed approach they were up against? The answer appears to be neither.


The bar chart shows a classic “bell curve” shape where the average time per play is almost exactly the same against uptempo teams as it is against the rest of their schedule. This is based on 270 games involving all teams between 2005 and 2012 which averaged over 80 plays per game for an entire season.

Another way of looking at it is the average seconds per play:

Uptempo teams: 20.97 secs/play

Opposition vs other teams: 25.08 secs/play
Opposition vs uptempo teams: 24.83 secs/play

So the average result of normal tempo teams playing against uptempo teams is that their tempo speeds up by 0.25 seconds per play, or a mere increase of 1%. Also worth noting is that normal tempo teams have a tempo that is 18.4% slower than their uptempo counterparts.

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How Much Does Field Position Matter?

Last week, starting cornerback Jordan Johnson tore his ACL while practicing kickoff returns. Bronco Mendenhall explained that he had Johnson returning kicks because of a study that showed how much impact winning the field position battle had on wins and losses. Unfortunately, Bronco neglected to share any of the specifics of that study with the media. Well, in order to fill that information vacuum, Cougarstats has done its own research.

Of 6,372 games played between 2005 and 2012, the team that won the field position battle (i.e. their average starting field position for each drive) won 71.9% of the time. Even if the battle was won by less than 5 yards, the odds of winning are 57% and the win percentage increases fairly rapidly with additional yardage.


Of course, starting field position is due to a large number of factors of which punt and kickoff returns are only a part. Drives begin after a kickoff 41.0% and after a punt 37.7% of the time, for a combined 78.7%. However, many kicks and punts are not returned. Drives beginning after a kickoff RETURN or a punt RETURN happens only 39.0% of the time, so even if you increase your kick return average 5 yards, it will improve your average starting field position by about 2 yards.

So was the reward worth the risk of injuring one of the more irreplaceable players on the BYU defense? You be the judge.


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Will “Go Fast, Go Hard” On Offense Put an Added Strain on BYU’s Defense?

The mantra heard throughout this offseason has been “Go Fast, Go Hard”.  This is in reference to the offensive tempo as well as the offensive mindset that Robert Anae intends to make the trademark of the BYU offense.

Last season, at times, BYU went fast with their periodic employment of the Nitro offense where Riley Nelson would pick and choose moments to accelerate the pace of the offense and get the next snap off as quickly as possible.  Despite the difficulty in several games to put points on the board, BYU still managed to be successful at winning the time of possession battle (19th nationally at 31:57 per game).  As a result, BYU ran 77 plays per game on offense, which was 5.5 plays per game more than the NCAA average.

In part because BYU was able to win the time of possession and in even larger part because BYU had the 3rd ranked defense in 2012, BYU’s opponents only ran 59.9 plays per game, the fewest in the nation.

As part of Go Fast, Go Hard, Anae has mentioned trying to run as many as 90 plays per game on offense.  Only the 2012 Marshall team has averaged 90 plays per game for an entire season, so this is a lofty goal.  Bronco is mindful of the impact this could have on his defense, mentioning several times that he expects his defense to have to be on the field for an additional 15 to 20 plays a game, due to the increased tempo on offense.

Is this an accurate expectation?  The analysis below will show that may not necessarily be the case.


The scatterplot chart above plots the season average number of offensive plays per game versus the average number of defensive plays per game, both relative to the NCAA average for that season.  The reason for this chart is to visually determine if more plays on offense necessarily results in more plays on defense.

The chart boils down over 1,400 individual data points into a trendline.  If Bronco’s premise is correct, the trendline would be expected to have nearly a 45 degree slope, or in other words, for every additional play on offense, there would a corresponding additional play on defense.  However, the data do not show such a relationship; with the trendline just barely greater than horizontal.

But does this relationship change for the handful of teams that REALLY push the pace?


Since 2001, only 33 teams have averaged at least 80 offensive plays a game for an entire season.  The scatterplot shows that for teams which really push the pace, it does often result in their opponents also running more plays per game than the NCAA average.  Of the 33 teams that ran over 80 plays per game, 10 of them had opponents that failed to run their normal average number of plays per game and 23 of them exceeded their season’s average.   Overall, these 33 teams’ collective opponents ran 3.16 plays more than they averaged for that season; far from the 15 to 20 plays that Bronco has been preparing for.

The 2012 Arizona opponents ran 12.3 plays against the Arizona D more than they did overall, the largest increase of the 33 teams.  It’s also worth noting that the 2012 Arizona defense was ranked 118th in the nation, so the large increase in their number of plays can’t be blamed entirely on their offensive tempo.

The expectation is that the 2013 BYU defense will more closely resemble the 2012 BYU defense than it will the 2012 Arizona defense, so should we really expect to see the Cougar D on the field as much as Bronco fears?  Based on the analysis above, even if BYU can up their offensive output from 77 to between 85 and 90 plays, it would appear the defense will be playing closer to between 5 to 10 extra plays than it will be 15 to 20.

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