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BYU’s Gotta Get the Ball Downfield

Ty Detmer set all kinds of school and NCAA records during his time at BYU from 1988 to 1991.  A couple of those records stand in stark contrast to the output of the BYU offense since he took over as offensive coordinator in 2016:

  • Most yards gained per attempt for a season – 11.1 (4,560 yards, 412 attempts) in 1989
  • Most yards per completion for a career – 15.69 (15,031 yards, 958 completions)

Fast forward to 2016 and early 2017 and BYU is nowhere near those record numbers:

  • Yards per attempt – 6.16
  • Yards per completion – 10.32

But the problem isn’t that the current BYU offense isn’t threatening its own per attempt and per completion record numbers, it’s that they are well below what they need in order for BYU to consistently score points.  It’s because yards per completion and points per game are two stats joined at the hip.

With 12 seasons of data and 17,420 games, the NCAA averages are 12.2 yards per completion and 27.3 points per game.  Below is the graph showing the relationship of yards per completion to scoring across the NCAA


In the Portland State game, BYU averaged 12.1 yards per completion, which is right at the NCAA average, but the last two games they had 8.5 and 8.1 yards per completion against LSU and Utah respectively.   The result?  They averaged 6.5 ppg in those two games.

Over the last two seasons for BYU:

  • 2016: 10.5 yards per completion, 29.5 ppg
  • 2017: 9.5 yards per completion, 11.0 ppg

So how does all this relate to wins and losses?  If a team averages 12 yards per completion, they win just above 50% of the time.   If a team averages 8.5 or less (like BYU has the last two games) then they win 30% of the time.


There has been a trend over the last 15 years for passing offenses to trade off yards per completion with a higher completion percentage (aka “Dink and Dunk”).  The problem with this approach, however, is that some teams have taken the dink and dunk to enough of an extreme that their increase in completion percentage is not sufficient to overcome the loss of efficiency resulting from the shorter throws.   When the yards per completion drop below 12, it puts a lot of pressure on the completion percentage to be 65%, 70% or higher in order to have a better than even chance of winning a game.


In the last two games, BYU has completed 54% of their passes and averaged just over 8 yards a completion.  Looking at the grid above, that translates to a win probability of 17%.

BYU has to figure out how to get the ball downfield more.  That doesn’t mean they need to bombs away, but they have to throw past the sticks more often than they have to this point.  The low yards per completion in 2016 is a big reason why 8 of BYU’s 13 games were decided by a TD or less and it’s an even bigger reason why BYU is 1-2 to start the 2017 season.



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Hail Marys – Just How Improbable Are They?

Before digging into this question, let’s celebrate this play just a little bit more:

Intuitively, we all know that a play like this is incredibly rare.  First, because these game situations don’t happen every game and second, because the play usually doesn’t work.  But can we put some hard numbers around that obvious observation?  Here’s an attempt to do so.

Hail Mary – Defined

I was unable to find on the internet anywhere any real work done on Hail Mary probabilities.  Since there is no standard definition provided by earlier analyses, I’m going to set up the criteria as best I can to put the Mangum Miracle in its proper context.

A Hail Mary is most commonly defined as a long pass into the end zone into the middle of a huge group of receivers and defenders.  For the purposes of this blog, it’s going to have to be a little different.  Play by play text doesn’t provide the details of where the ball was thrown and how many people were trying to catch it or bat it down or intercept it.  Hail Mary passes can also occur in the 1st half or 2nd half and don’t always necessarily happen on the last play of the half or game.

In an attempt to make this as apples-to-apples with the Mangum Miracle, this analysis will identify a Hail Mary situation as follows:

  1. A pass thrown on the last offensive play of the game – for either side
  2. The line of scrimmage has to be at least 30 yards away.  The distance requirement increases the probability the pass is thrown a long distance in the air and is contested by a greater number of defenders
  3. The offense has to be either tied or down by 8 points or less, so that a TD ensures a win or at least an opportunity to tie with a PAT/2pt Conversion.

The statistics used in this analysis come from play-by-play data covering 7,220 games from the 2005 to 2013 seasons.

Hail Mary – How Often?

Scrambles on plays that meet the above criteria are ignored.  Given that, 403 games out of 7,220 (5.5%) have pass attempts which fits the criteria.  Broken down by distance from the end zone, they are


So most of the attempts (56%) come from a distance (60 to 99 yards) that is too far for most QBs to throw into the end zone.  Mangum’s attempt from the Nebraska 42 is closer than 344 of the 403 (85%) attempts.  In fact, the longest Hail Mary TD during this span was a 53 yarder by Arkansas State vs Memphis in 2006, so most of these 403 attempts were doomed to fail simply because they were too far away to work.

Hail Mary – How Successful?

Of the 403 Hail Mary situations from 2005 through 2013, only 10 (2.5%) resulted in TDs.  Seven other receptions were stopped inside the 10 yard line.  However as mentioned above, the majority of these attempts came from too far away to have any realistic chance of working, so here is a breakdown of success rates by distance.


For passes like Tanner Mangum’s attempt from 40 to 49 yards away, only 3 of the 65 attempts (4.6%) resulted in a game-winning touchdown.  From the 40 to 49 yard distance, more passes were intercepted (14) than were completed (10).  Of the 297 attempts from 50+ yards away, only one resulted in a TD.

It’s worth noting there was an attempt from 79 yards that was stopped at the 6 yard line and a 62 yard attempt which was stopped at the 1, but no other attempts outside the 50 came even close to the end zone.

A Hail Mary pass was intercepted on 19% of all attempts, which is nearly 8 times more frequent than a Hail Mary touchdown.

It is freely acknowledged this analysis is limited by the limited detail in the data available, but hopefully this post sheds at least some light on how unlikely an occurrence this win over Nebraska really was.

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BYU vs UConn – Statistical Extract

The season opener versus was Taysom Hill’s best passing game as a starter in several respects:

  • Hill completed 28 of 36 of his passes.  The 77.8% completion percentage ties his career best.  He was 14 of 18 against Nevada in 2013.
  • His 308 passing yards was his 3rd best passing total in a game, behind his 417 vs Houston and 339 vs Boise State.
  • Taysom’s 177.14 pass efficiency was his career best as a starter.
  • This is the 2nd start Hill had 3 TDs with 0 INTs.  He also had 3 TDs and 0 INT against Boise State.
  • Last year, BYU was atrocious passing on 3rd down and 7 or more yards to go.  In 2013, they were 21 of 69 (30.4) for 329 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs and a pass efficiency of 61.8.  They converted only 17 of those 69 attempts for a first down (24.6%).   Against UConn, they were 6 for 6 for 45 yards and a pass efficiency of 163.0 and converted 3 of the 6 attempts for a first down (50.0%).

Hill “only” had 97 yards rushing vs UConn.  This snapped his 3 game streak of running over 100 yards, dating back to the Notre Dame game. Other Hill rushing notes:

  • With at least 21 yards against Texas, Hill will pass JJ DiLuigi for 12th in the BYU career rushing list.
  • Hill’s 5.7 career rushing average is better than anyone else in the top 16 of the BYU career rushing leaders.  Casey Tiumalu (17th) averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
  • The UConn game marked the 4th game where Hill ran for at least 2 TDs.  His career high of 3 was against Texas last year.

Other odds and ends:

  • In every game where Taysom Hill has thrown for 300+ yards, BYU has also rushed for over 200 yards.
  • BYU’s average kickoff distance of 54.3 yards is the 5th worst in the nation thus far this season.
  • The Cougars had the ball for 9:36 in the first quarter, but afterwards UConn won the time of possession 28:08 to 16:52.
  • Bronson Kaufusi is 4th nationally with 2 sacks per game.
  • BYU is 9th with 4 sacks per game.
  • BYU’s 150 penalty yards is 31 yards more than any other team in the nation this year.
  • BYU has had over 100 yards in penalties 15 times since 2001.  Their record in those games is 10-5.
  • It would seem that 513 yards of total offense would be really good, but it’s only good enough for 35th in the nation after week 1 (thanks largely to the numerous FBS vs FCS matchups this week).
  • The Cougars’ defense only allowed a total of 10 points on 5 UConn red zone possessions.

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BYU vs Utah Statistical Extract

Due to unpopular demand, there will be no BYU vs Utah statistical extract post.  Optometrists and Gastroenterologists everywhere rejoice!   In the near future there will be a lengthier examination of Pass Efficiency and why it is absolutely vital that BYU improves significantly from their last place ranking in this category.

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CougarStats 2000s all-decade team: Linebackers

You selected the 2000-2009 all-decade defensive line last week. The winners were Brett Keisel, Jan Jorgensen, Chris Hoke and Ryan Denney. Now we turn to the linebackers. The nominees are Matt Bauman, Coleby Clawson, Justin Ena, Cameron Jensen, Bryan Kehl, Isaac Kelley, David Nixon, Brady Poppinga, Kelly Poppinga and Paul Walkenhorst.

Vote for three. The poll will remain open for the rest of the week.

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BYU’s Long-Distance Shooting: Sinking to New Lows

A week ago, was posted, using a little mathematical thought exercise about how unlikely BYU’s 4 game shooting slump from three point range was.  Times have changed, but BYU’s shooting woes haven’t.  Over their last  6 games, BYU has only hit 17 of their last 101 three point attempts.  A mere 16.8%.

Let me introduce you to the Grambling State Tigers.  Grambling State has a wonderful football legacy; Eddie Robinson had over 400 career wins, placed dozens of players in the NFL and they get a national appearance on NBC every Thanksgiving weekend.  However, their basketball program is another story.

Grambling is the worst shooting team in the nation.  Period.  They are the 2nd worst in the nation in 3 point percentage (26.0%) and are the worst in the nation in two point percentage (37.2%).  There are 345 Division 1 basketball teams and they are 344th and 345th in 3 point and 2 point shooting respectively.

HOWEVER, they have not had a 3 point shooting slump anywhere near as bad as BYU’s current slump this season.  The worst 6 game total for Grambling was their first 6 games of the season, where they shot 21 of 95 (22.1%) from outside the arc.  Their worst is still 5% better than BYU’s worst.

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CougarStats 2000s all-decade team: Tight Ends

Last week’s poll was exciting. With 324 votes cast, John Beck won the CougarStats QB of the decade over Max Hall by a mere 7 votes.

Now for the tight ends. We’re going to give 6 options. You can decided what your voting criteria is. Is it Harline for beating the Utes on his knees, George for splitting the gap in OT, Pitta, BYU’s all-time receiving leader, Doug Jolley for his role in BYU’s great 2001 season?

Choose on, the poll will be open for one week.


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