September 29, 2010

Utah by the Numbers . . . .

Today, I take a look at Utah in a few statistical categories after four games into the season.

First off, Utah's Offensive line has been phenomenal. I'll be the first to admit that their first few games haven't been the toughest. However, sacks are given up even to the worst of teams, so the fact that Utah has only given up a single sack through four games speaks volumes of the Offensive line unit (stat). Additionally, you'll remember that Utah's first opponent (Pittsburgh) boasted two of the nation's premier pass-rushing DE (Romeus, Sheard). Pittsburgh led the nation in sacks the previous year (stat), and returned their two top sack leaders from '09. For Utah to have only given up 1 sack thus far is impressive.

Additionally, Utah has only given up 6 TFL in 4 games, a number which leaves them tops in the country through 4 games (stat). This stat also indicates Utah's Line is not allowing penetration into the backfield and keeping gaps open long enough for positive yardage gains on every play. This could dip as the schedule gets tougher, but to be sitting on top after 4 games is a very positive sign, regardless of who Utah has played.

Tackles for Loss Allowed

2Penn St.464478.02.00

Sacks Allowed

1Middle Tenn.41.05.25
1San Diego St.41.06.25
1Penn St.41.019.25

Predictive Statistics (Pass Efficiency Differential Margin)

One statistic which I enjoy measuring for predicting outcomes is the pass efficiency differential margin (PEDM). This is obtained by taking the difference between the offensive and defensive pass efficiency ratings for a team.

Pass efficiency (PE) is a measure of a team's passing ability, which is measured by four categories: (1) yards per pass attempt, (2) pass completions per pass attempt, (3) touchdowns per pass attempt and (4) interceptions per pass attempt. In the NCAA formula, four constants (i.e., 8.4, 100, 330, and 200) are used such that an average passer will have a rating close to 100. Pass efficiency is explained in more detail (here). Pass Efficiency Defense is calculated using the same formula, except it measures the PE of the opposing quarterback from week to week. Cumulatively, as opposing QB numbers are tallied each week, the Pass Efficiency Defense is determined from the cumulative opposing QB numbers.

The Pass Efficiency Differential Margin (PEDM) is the difference between Pass Efficiency (PE) and Pass Efficiency Defense (PED), and I believe it is a good predictor for wins and losses.

There are of course many other indicators that can determine the outcome of a football game, such as home/away, turnover margin, weather, special teams play, etc., etc. However, I believe that this metric (PEDM) is particularly suited to predict Utah football outcomes for one reason: Utah's Defense has consistently shown it can stop the run over the years. Their defensive system hasn't changed for years under Kyle Whittingham, and it has long been known for imposing defensive lines, filling up the box, and stuffing the run. In other words, I'm not paying much attention to the run defense here, since I'm assuming this is generally a constant under Utah's defensive scheme, and they are not often going to get beat by giving up massive amounts of rushing yardage.

With that disclaimer stated, let's look at the numbers: DATA

Since I'm using the difference between team's PEDM to predict wins and losses each week, I use the cumulative data from the beginning of the season up to the week before the game to be predicted. For example, to predict the Iowa State vs. Utah game winner, I'd include all the data for each team prior to that game.

A few things should be pointed out when using this analysis:

(1) This predictive power of this metric becomes much more reliable as the season wears on. Early on, teams with hard / easy schedules may not reflect an accurate PEDM.
(2) As the conference play approaches and teams begin to play each other within the same conference, the metric becomes much more meaningful.
(3) Obviously, the PEDM metric can be effected suddenly when QB are injured, or switched. For example, a team with a great QB1, but a terrible QB2 might have a great rating after 5 games. But if QB1 gets injured, the metric might easily predict a win, even though QB2 is going to hurt those chances significantly.
(4) As with (3) above, this is another reason why I feel this metric is particularly suited to predict Utah outcomes this year, since we've already seen good levels of production from QB1 (Wynn) and QB2 (Cain).

A quick look at the data reveals some interesting observations:

(1) Pass efficiency differential margins (PEDM) are shown in the colored column for Utah's opponents (left) and Utah (right). The Legend at right shows what the colors mean. Green means you're a good team . . . and red means . . . you're not. The greener the better, the redder . . . the worse. You get it.

(2) Since no data is available for the first game of the season (PITT), I used the PEDM for both teams from the conclusion of 2009 (post bowl-game). A positive difference of 1.97 is a small positive margin, indicating a narrow win. Utah beat Pitt 27-24 . . . in OT.

(3) UNLV and NM games show PEDM differences of +79.27 and +110.89 in Utah's favor, easily predicting wins, and they were . . . blowouts. The game against SJSU shows a PEDM diff of +91.26 . . . another blowout.

(4) The ISU game currently shows a +72.22 PEDM difference in Utah's favor, but this number will change after ISU plays its week 5 game against Texas Tech. I'll update the number then, but it's not going to change enough to effect the prediction of a W! The number indicates that this should be the toughest game since Pittsburgh, but just slightly harder than UNLV. Given that the game is on the road, it will be a bit tougher. But this should still be a big win for Utah.

(5) I've shown the PEDM data for each of Utah's opponents up to the current week. I will only update the information for the teams Utah hasn't played, so that the PEDM data reflects what it was the week before the game was played. For example, this week I'll update ISU's data and all teams further out, but will not update any teams data prior to ISU.

September 27, 2010

PAC10 is ranked 2nd best conference behind SEC

UCLA's drubbing of Texas probably helped the PAC10 move up this past week. The PAC10 seems stronger this season as a whole than it has in th past few seasons.

Stats & Info Blog - ESPN

September 23, 2010

Pac 12 Cooler Proposed Divisions

A Site called "" has come up with the best division alignment I have heard yet.  I won't outline all the arguments being tossed around for divisional alignments, but 3 things seem to be important to schools:

1) That they have access to the LA schools for recruiting purposes
2) That they play their natural rival every year
3) That they maintain their near-natural rivalries (i.e. Washington v. Oregon, etc.)

This alignment would define divisions by left and right according to the figure above.  You would play each team on your half of the graphic  (your division), and also play each team on your row on the opposite side of the graphic (division).  You would then play two of the remaining four teams, then alternate each year with the two remaining teams.  This alignment satisfies all three of the criteria above.

I think there is a good shot this is what the PAC alignment looks like.

More at

September 17, 2010

So this AP ballot voter really likes the Utes.

He has Utah second to only Oregon in his PAC-10 power rankings. This bodes well that a writer based right in the west coast, who sees all the PAC-10 teams play each week (and presumably Utah) votes us high.

Pac-10 football ratings: What’s wrong with UCLA | College Hotline

September 14, 2010

Riley Nelson will start vs. FSU, Bronco says | BYU Sports | The Salt Lake Tribune

I'm skeptical about the way Bronco is handling this. But I guess I'm not the coach. Heck, Whittingham took a lot of criticism when he pulled Terrance Cain last year in favor of a much less experienced true freshman Jordan Wynn. Cain was 7-1 as a starter, but he had a lower ceiling to where the offense could reach. I see the same thing with BYU this year. The ceiling is higher with heaps, but Nelson seems like the safer choice at the moment. I think Bronco will have to name one or the other a full time starter after the next two games, especially if they drop both of them. He'll get too much heat for the QB situation being the reasons for the losses. Of course, if they win using this same situation, then maybe it will continue all season.

Riley Nelson will start vs. FSU, Bronco says | BYU Sports | The Salt Lake Tribune

Kragthorpe: BYU’s season already at critical juncture | The Salt Lake Tribune

Kragthorpe: BYU’s season already at critical juncture | The Salt Lake Tribune

September 13, 2010

Utah vs. UNLV Game Thoughts

This game, unlike the last one against Pitt, is a game you expect the Utes to win  (bad memories of 2007 flashing back here . . . ).

The game showed us a little bit more about this Utah team . . . strengths and weaknesses.

The Good:

  • Utah's O and D Lines continue to impress.  I didn't think the offensive line was as dominant as I expected after watching Wisconsin just man-handle UNLV, but they still moved the chains.  Utah avoided disasterous news this week as it looks like Zane Taylor will not have a season ending knee injury.  This unit did not allow Terrance Cain to be sacked.  Unless I'm mistaken, Utah hasn't given up a sack yet this season.
  • More on the lines . . . The defensive lines are amazing against the run.  On goal line situations and 3rd and short, I'll put some money on this unit.  They are nails.  Less impressive is the pass rush.  Despite controlling the LOS, the D Line is not getting much pressure on the opposing QB's.
  • Shaky Smithson Redemption.  After almost costing us the PITT game by himself, Smithson totally redeemed himself by earning MWC special teams player of the week.  He also had a nifty punt return for a TD that's as good as you'll ever see. (link)

The Bad:
  • Punting Unit.  2 weeks, 2 blocked kicks. This will cost Utah a game if it's not fixed . . . pronto.  If you get a kick blocked, you statistically lose 80% of the time.   Sellwood, you don't have 10 minutes back there to orient the ball to your liking before punting it.  YOU WILL GET BLOCKED.  Snapper . . . . more velocity.  Everybody else . . . block.
  • Calling Devonte Christopher?  1 week after hauling in 9 for 105 and a TD, including MWC offensive player of the week, Devonte apparently was sleeping somewhere near the water cooler for this game.
  • 3rd down defense.  UNLV was converting a very high percentage of their 3rd down conversions. This was untypical for a Utah defense and I expect to see some adjustments for New Terrible Mexico.

September 3, 2010

Utah beats Pittsburgh 27-24 - My Postgame Thoughts

What an amazing season opener!  It took me an hour to fall asleep after that game!  Utah sure likes to play with fire, but they ended up pulling it out in the end, thanks to some key plays.  This game felt like Oregon State or TCU a la 2008, except it was the first game of the season.


(1) Papa Smurf.  Jereme Brooks was in full papa smurf form last night, looking quicker than ever.  He was killing it over the middle and broke off some good runs, including this 46 yarder.  He had two touchdowns where he was able to get wide open. (1 , 2).  Lucky that we didn't get called for a pick play on number two.  That's the exact play that lost us the TCU game a few years back.  Brooks finished with 5-85-2TD's.  Not a bad nights work.

(2) Devonte Christopher aka "Count."    Perhaps the biggest surprise was Devonte Christopher.  He's had a long road to get where he is.  Devonte was recruited and competed to play as a quarterback out of High School.  After being listed too far down the depth chart, the coaches tried him at receiver, and after last night's performance, it's easy to see why.  He finished with 8 receptions for 155 and a TD.   He had two BIG plays, one he almost could have turned into a touchdown, and another beautiful slant where he just turned the burners on.

(3).  Utah's Offensive Line.  This should really be the number one positive.  A few facts:  Pitt led the nation in sacks last year and returned their two starting DE's, including all-american candidate Greg Romeus who eats opposing quarterbacks for breakfast.  Enter John Wayne Cullen (no joke about Wayne).  He holds Romeus all night without a sack (or even a knockdown I think), and the OL as a whole allows 0 sacks, despite 39 passing attempts from Jordan Wynn.  This OL is going to be a good one.  I'm not sure I even remember a false start, impressive especially during the first game.

(4) Utah's Defensive Line.    This was perhaps the group I expected the most from, considering the talent and depth the Utes have.  They didn't dissappoint.  Things looked sketchy early when Dion Lewis took his first carry for 18 yards.  But after that,  he only gained 57 yards on 24 carries the rest of the night . . . a whopping 2.4 YPC.  As a whole, Utah held Pitt to 84 total rushing yards on the night.  Junior Tui'one was a big surprise, putting a lot of pressure up the middle.  Pitt is a physical, run heavy team, and Dion Lewis is one of the best backs the Utes will face all season.  There is reason to be optimistic about Utah's defense again this year.  As a whole, the D gave up 266 yards.  About 40 of them came on a busted coverage that proved critical in Pitt's comeback.

Honorable Mention:  Brandon Burton.  Except for the blown coverage (which I think was actually the safety's fault), 6'0" Brandon Burton absolutely blanketed 6'5" star receiver Jon Baldwin.

The Bad:

(1)  Shakey Smithson.  What can I say?  An epic fail by a Sr. Wide Receiver who I expected to be the #2 WR on this team.  (Thank you DVC for picking up the slack).  He had two turnovers in the first quarter.  Not acceptable.   After he botched a punt return, he was officially in the doghouse.  Hopefully he can get his act together and see if he still appears on the depth chart top 3.

(2) Special Teams.  NOT SPECIAL.   Note to Jay Hill . . . either find someone who can field punts, or let's just not field them.  Honestly we should just let the ball bounce and start where it stops.


Utah was the better team last night, without question.  They went down 7-0 early, and was one play short of going into the half up 21-7, despite having 3 turnovers.  The defensive line could give some teams major problems this year . . . I'm pretty giddy about that group.  In all, Utah has 3 turnovers and a blocked punt inside their own 20, plus one MAJOR blown coverage for a TD, yet still pull out the win.  They outgain Pitt 405-266 in total yards and for the most part control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.  The bad news is the Utes shot themselves in the foot so many times last night.  The good news is that none of the problems are unfixable (i.e. lack of talent or athleticism).  They are all mistakes that can be fixed, hopefully sooner than later.

Next up:  The first game of the MWC farewell tour.  UNLV.

August 31, 2010

A little something to hold Utah fans over until Kickoff . . .

# of NFL players from PAC, MWC

I found a link on ESPN that shows the current players in the NFL listed by College.  USC is tops within the PAC-10 which comes as a surprise to no one.  California, surprisingly, is second, which doesn't necessarily match the success they've seen.  The other surprise is Arizona State, which obviously knows how to recruit talent to Tempe, but can't seem to convert that to wins on the field.  Washington and Washington State again find themselves in familiar territory . . . near the bottom.

One of the big surprises from the MWC is Fresno State.  Though they've been good, I'm surprised they have this much talent in the NFL.  This could speak to Fresno's recruiting.  Utah (not shown) would be second currently in the MWC.  The other big surprise is Boise St.   If Boise continues to see the success they have, I suspect they'll put more players in the NFL and their current standing will rise, but I'm surprised they're so low.   Air Force is the obvious caveat here since student-athletes have service obligations upon finishing their schooling.  UNLV should just stick with basketball.

August 26, 2010

How much does Utah help the PAC-10 BCS auto-qualifier status?

A LOT.  In fact, immediately upon joining the conference, Utah will have the highest average computer rankings over the two years which count for the next BCS cycle (2008, 2009).

Average BCS computer rankings for all current (and future) PAC-10 schools for the current BCS cycle (2008,2009) are shown below:

The most surprising result for me was to see that Colorado wasn't the worst!  :)   Washington state is a lead weight around the neck of the PAC and Colorado and Washington aren't helping much either (Though I think Washington is on the rise).

Just for the Heck of it, I did the same analysis to see how the future MWC schools will compare.  I've kept BYU and Utah in the next graph (even though Utah's stats won't count for the MWC and BYU may not be in the conference either).  Boise's stats should count for the MWC, but I'm not sure about Fresno and Nevada, but I've included them anyway, just hypothetically.

A quick comparison of the two conferences graphs shows that the difference between the MWC and the PAC lies more in the middle teams than anywhere else.  In fact, the average rankings for top and bottom teams are very similar.  But the middle teams in the PAC are on average ranked higher.  I should note that the additions of Fresno and Nevada are an upgrade, at least statistically, for the MWC middle tier teams.  They are ranked only ranked Lower than the top teams (Utah, Boise, BYU), and AF.  

The figure below compares the previous two graphs more directly.  Utah is removed from the MWC graph which only leaves 11 teams to compare from the MWC graph against the PAC graph.  Team 1 is compared against Team 1 from the other confernce, Team 2 vs. team 2, etc.  A positive number indicates a better average BCS computer ranking for the MWC, and vice versa for a negative number.

Take BYU out of the MWC (Independence) and the graph looks like this (now with one less team to compare directly).

Full data set of all computer rankings (except Peter Wolfe) are shown for the MWC here, and for the PAC here