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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: Doing the Stats Dance

September 7, 2017
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Perhaps we should stop asking coaches about stats. Particularly defensive coordinators. The guys who are in the point-prevention business seem to especially rankle when confronted with a question containing numbers.

“We don’t really talk about statistics,” defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said on Monday. “We really don’t care. We try to build the plan to keep the points down so that at the end of the game we have one more point than our opponent. That’s the defensive objective.”

Fair enough. But he then went on to detail how many explosive plays Nebraska allowed, including the yards after contact those plays gained, and the Huskers' points allowed per red-zone trip. Both were good numbers for Nebraska against Arkansas State.

Makes you wonder how Jim Leavitt, Oregon’s new defensive coordinator and the guy who engineered Colorado’s stunning defensive turnaround last year, feels about things like this.

Oh, somebody asked him:

"Wins," Leavitt said when asked what statistics he focuses on. “I think people that look at anything else, they’re nuts. I look at wins, losses. I think if you start looking at the other stuff, you’ve got issues.
“Now I look at every play and fundamentally how do we play defense. What are we doing right or wrong? Those things are big for me. Takeaways are really important, score is critical, fourth quarter score is critical, explosive plays are big for me. Runs like 15 yards or long pass plays are big. You don’t want that.”

To paraphrase: Don’t care about stats, but here are some stats that came to me while speaking extemporaneously. (Leavitt’s off-the-top-of-the-head answer also includes, in my opinion, the two most important numbers: turnovers and big plays.) I guess that makes Leavitt nuts? This is the same dance as above.

Maybe this tweet explains it best…

I often get labeled as a “numbers guy,” which doesn’t bother me but I don’t really view myself that way. I have no specialized training when it comes to statistics, but I use numbers in my writing a lot because I’m looking for things that can increase my understanding of what’s happening. That’s really the only goal. And I too know that the only bottom-line number is wins and losses. That’s what will get coaches hired and fired, but trying to figure out how those wins and losses are made will always have value to me.

I’ll never understand why coaches have to approach this from the other direction. Here, let’s remix that Leavitt quote:

“I look at every play and fundamentally how do we play defense. What are we doing right or wrong? Those things are big for me. Takeaways are really important, score is critical, fourth quarter score is critical, explosive plays are big for me. Runs like 15 yards or long pass plays are big. You don’t want that.

“Those are things I look at to get an idea of how we played, but at the end of the day only one number matters — wins.”

That fictional answer really isn’t any different than Leavitt’s actual answer other than that it doesn’t make a show of dismissing stats. Is acknowledging stats viewed as a sign of weakness? An indication that, maybe you can understand certain things about football without having coached the game for a couple of decades?

I don’t get it.

But I don’t pay attention to quotes like that. People that do are nuts.

Pixies and Fairies

Urban Meyer gets a bad rap in my opinion. It seems as though people outside of the schools he's typically leading to a ton of wins view him as an unfeeling, shark of a coach. He can't stop moving and he's driven by only one thing.

But Meyer frequently displays his thoughtfulness, and he did it again this week in a story from Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. After Texas lost to Maryland last week, head coach Tom Herman (and formally Ohio State's offensive coordinator) said he couldn't just "sprinkle fairy dust" and make everything better at Texas right away.

Didn't sit well with Meyer:

"C'mon man. I don't know where that came from," Meyer told CBS Sports. "It's like a new generation of excuse. [Herman] said, 'I can't rub pixie dust on this thing.' He got a dose of reality. Maryland just scored 51 points on you."

Meyer's right.


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