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Inside the numbers on Boise State versus Michigan State

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I walked away from Friday night's game optimistic about the 2012 version of the Broncos. I was content with the quarterback play and excited about how good the defense could be. After a deeper look into the box score, there are still question marks about a team that had a total of 45 yards on scoring drives and a defense that surrendered over four yards per carry en route to allowing the opponent to be successful on 40 percent of all snaps.

The standard box score often doesn't paint the full picture of how a game plays out. In an ongoing attempt to build a better box score, these Inside the Numbers posts will look at various advanced statistics to see inside what traditional statistics cannot provide. Announcers love to cite key stats that are not always correlative to which team wins and which team goes home the loser. Stats such as yards gained, time of possession or even 3rd down conversions are often the residue of a deeper statistic that provides a finer detail. The Oregon Ducks have dispelled the power behind time of possession and the percentage of 3rd down conversions can be skewed based on the relative success achieved on 2nd down.

More advanced stats analysis after the jump.

THE GOOD - Special Teams

Statistically, there were not a lot of positive aspects to the opener. Given the recent history with the kicking game, it was certainly great to see both field goal attempts go through the uprights. With the exception of the early punting, the rest of special teams played well, including a 17-yard return by Chris Potter and a 56-yard Trevor Harman punt pinning Michigan State on their own 10 yard line.

THE BAD - Sneak or Spike

At one point Friday night, a fellow fan mentioned that the Broncos should just throw on every down since an incompletion would net as many yards as our running game. At about that time, Joe Southwick sneaked for two yards and a first down and the plan was amended to using the occasional sneak.

EDSBS just resurrected their Spike Factor, awarding a Tetanus Spike of the Week to the team that had the highest percentage of plays that would have been just as well off if they spiked the ball. Boise State is the inaugural winner with 47 percent of their plays resulted in zero yards or a loss.

If you account for all of the plays where Boise State only managed two yards or less, there were 36 (of 56) plays where the Broncos might as well have asked Joe to take the snap and fall forward.

THE OBSCURE - By the Numbers

  • 0 - The number of successful plays run by Boise State in the Red Zone. The Broncos only had 10 snaps inside the 20 yard line and none of those resulted in a gain that would be considered successful.
  • 8 - The number of net rushing yards for DJ Harper. Also the number of rushing yards gained by Kellen Moore the previous night while playing for the Detroit Lions.
  • 8 - The total number of receivers targeted by Boise State the entire game. Add rushes by Jack Fields and Joe Southwick and the Broncos only had 10 players with offensive touches on the night - far fewer than the variety we have become accustomed to in the multi-formation offense. This was not only the first start of Joe Southwick and a host of other Broncos, it was also the first game that Robert Prince has been in charge of calling the offensive plays. Perhaps he is still getting his rhythm, and I would expect huge progress in his learning curve in upcoming games.
  • 24 - Lowest number of rushing attempts since also attempting 24 rushes against Virginia Tech in 2010 (168 yards). The 37 net rushing yards is the lowest total since only managing 28 yards against TCU in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl. (Surprisingly, BSU only had 38 rushing yards in their 2008 victory against Oregon at Autzen Stadium)
  • 42 - The longest offensive play by either team was 42 yards. The play ended with a Tony Lippett fumble and one of the Spartans' four turnovers.


Success and Leverage Rate

Successful plays are defined as plays that gain 50 percent of needed yards on first down, 70 percent of needed yards on second down, and 100 percent of needed yards on third and fourth downs.

Leverage Rate measures the percentage of plays a team runs on standard downs. Standard downs are those plays where a team statiscally has both a run and pass option. 1st and 10, 2nd and 7 or less, and finally 3rd/4th down with less the four yards to go are considered standard downs. Leverage Rate can be a more meaningful measurement of offensive efficiency than the traditional third down conversion statistic.

Leverage rate (team)

Boise State 55%, Michigan State 70%

Success rate by quarter (team)

Q1 // Boise State 19%, Michigan State 41%
Q2 // Boise State 22%, Michigan State 38%
Q3 // Boise State 27%, Michigan State 30%
Q4 // Boise State 27%, Michigan State 50%

After weathering the storm of the initial Spartan drive, the Boise State defense put up respectable numbers during the middle half of the game. The wear and tear of being on the field for 90 snaps eventually wore down the Bronco defense, resulting in 50% 4th quarter success rate and the go ahead touchdown. The offense however only put themselves in a position for a run/pass option just over one-half of the time. Considering 11 of those 31 standard plays were the result of a change of possession, the Broncos never had a chance to show their full offense.

First down success rate was so bad that Boise State, on average, their yardage needed for a first down was greater on 2nd down (9.83) than it was on 1st down (9.70). The Broncos only had three successful 1st down plays.

Quarterback success rate

Boise State

Joe Southwick 11 for 31 (35%)


Andrew Maxwell - 18 for 38 (47%)

Neither quarterback completed the ball downfield with consistency. Maxwell's performance was shaky, but he performed just well enough to prevent the Broncos from fully committing to stop the run.

Running back success rate

Boise State

DJ Harper - 0 for 15 (0%) 
Shane Williams-Rhodes - 1 for 3 (33%) 
Jack Fields - 0 for 1 (0%) 
Joe Southwick - 1 for 4 (25%)

Michigan State

Le'Veon Bell - 16 for 44 (36%) 
Larry Caper - 2 for 3 (67%) 
Nick Hill - 0 for 2 (0%) 
Tony Lippett - 0 for 1 (0%)

Ugh! The Broncos had a total of two successful running plays. One was a QB sneak and the other and end-around from a true freshman. Many have criticized D.J. Harper, but his O-line did him no favors. He had many remarkable runs where he gained an extra three yards just to get back to the line of scrimmage. I may have to watch the game once more just to chart his yards after contact. Harper may have only had 8 net yards rushing, but I would guess he had close to 30 yards after contact.

Bell was a workhorse and his 36% success rate is much lower than what it felt like while watching the game. Add in his receiving statistics and Bell was successful on 20 of 51 touches/targets for an overall 39% success rate. The general consensus is that Bell carried the Spartans to victory - and that is true - however, Michigan State was successful on 16 of the 39 snaps (41%) that didn't include Le"Veon Bell.

Wide receiver completion and success rate

Boise State

Kirby Moore - 5 of 8 (63%) 
Matt Miller - 2 for 9 (22%) 
Mitch Burroughs - 2 for 5 (40%) 
Gabe Linehan - 1 for 3 (33%) 
Shane Williams-Rhodes - 1 for 1 (100%) 
DJ Harper - 0 for 3 (0%) 
Chris Potter - 0 for 2 (0%) 
Dan Paul - 0 for 1 (0%)

Michigan State

Dion Sims - 7 for 11 (64%) 
Le'Veon Bell - 4 for 7 (57%) 
Tony Lippett - 3 for 4 (75%) 
Benny Fowler - 2 for 7 (29%) 
Rest of Team - 2 for 5 (40%)

This year receiver success rate accounts for the number of successful plays per pass that was targeted at that receiver. The play-by-play data does not always list an intended receiver, so these numbers may vary for those of you scoring at home.

Even though Boise State's overall completion percentage was 47%, it drops even further to a success rate of 34% due to many short throws being stopped before any yards could be gained after the catch.

Successful plays are defined as plays that gain 50 percent of needed yards on first down, 70 percent of needed yards on second down, and 100 percent of needed yards on third and fourth downs.


Unfortunately, the Mountain West Conference changed the format of their box score and they no longer include the play-by-play data. The backup plan was to use ESPN's play-by-play data which does not provide defensive tackles for each play. Defensive players are people, too, and future Inside the Numbers installments will work to include stats from the other side of the ball.

Stops are defined as plays that prevent a successful play by the offense.

Line Yards

Boise State - 26 yards, 24 attempts, 1.1 average - 70% of total rushing yards
Michigan State - 124 yards, 52 attempts, 2.4 average - 58% of total rushing yards 

With Offensive Line Yards neutralizing the two Le'Veon Bell runs of over 30 yards, Boise State's defensive effort looks much improved. However, there is no stat to mask the ineptness of the Bronco running game.

Line yards measure the effectiveness of offensive line play by assigning value to rushing yards gained near the line of scrimmage. View the complete formula.

Swing Points and Wasted Yards

Swing/Explosion points

Boise State - 10
Michigan State - 3*

Wasted yards

Boise State - 184 (89% of total net yards)
Michigan State - 312 (68% of total net yards)

Neither team maximized their offensive output, and six overall turnovers will lead to a bushel of wasted yards. Boise State squandered chances to get in the end zone on two drives that started inside the 35-yard-line.

Swing points account for points scored on defense, special teams, or drives of 25 yards or less. I have also added field goals for 50 yards or greater to the swing points metric. Any points scored from a field position that most teams would be punting should be considered a bonus. Explosion points are accrued when a team has a play of over 60 yards that scores or leads to points being scored.

Wasted yards are the yards gained on non-scoring drives.

Field Position Rate

Boise State - 43%
Michigan State - 57%

This is the first time that Boise State has been on the short end of this statistic in a very long time. Michigan State ran an astounding 51 plays in Boise State territory. Without the turnovers and swing points, the final could have been a very ugly outcome.

Field Position Percentage shows the percentage of a team's plays that took place on their opponent's side of the field versus the number of plays the opponent snapped in their side of the field. The higher the number, the better. Good teams have over 40 percent. Great teams get over 50 percent. There are a few different interpretations of Field Position Rate on the various sites. For this column, FPR accounts for the percentage of all plays in BSU territory versus plays in the opponents territory.

Box Score

Over the course of the season, I hope to come up with a box score presentation that gives an in depth glance of the game, while still being concise and easy to read. This is version 1.0 of that process. What statistics do you think tell the true story of the game? What other numbers would you like to see included in the weekly Inside the Numbers breakdown?

Score 13 17
Offensive Possessions 11 12
Offensive Pts Per Possesion 0.55 1.42
% of Total Possible Pts 7.8% 20.2%
Success Rate 23% 40%
Leverage Rate 55% 70%
Avg Starting Drive OWN 32 OWN 31
Field Position Percentage 43% 57%
Turnovers 2 4
Turnover % 18% 33%
Wasted Yards 184 312
% Yards Wasted 89% 68%
RedZone Trips 3 3
RedZone Point % 29% 67%
Swing/Explosion Pts 10 3
% of Total Points 77% 18%

A brief thesis on advanced stats

Good statistics should reinforce what you see on the field. And they should have cool-sounding names.

Inside the Numbers seeks to settle both accounts with some advanced stats analysis of the Boise State football team. Make no mistake: Some of these stats are confusing. But most of them are the type of information that will give a well-rounded look into the why and how of Boise State domination. Swing by the OBNUG glossary for a primer on some of the more advanced stats.