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Big Play Woes: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (and a Couple of Losses)

One of the main descriptive statistics that we have used here to evaluate performance on the field is that of the Big Play. A Big Play is defined very simply: any play from scrimmage that gains 20 or more yards.

Obviously, a touchdown pass on a 4th & goal at the opponent’s 9 yard line could be considered as a “big play”, but the objective here is to look at the long gains because those are the plays that (1) are a measure of the difference in player speed; and (2) have the biggest tendency to break down the will of the opponent, especially if accomplished multiple times.

In the first five games of 2012, the Vols defense has given up a total of 28 big plays.

How important have they been in defining Tennessee’s season so far? Have a look at this chart…

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Vols-Gators: Looking at the Key Performance Metrics

What correlates to winning and losing a football game?

In other sports, particularly baseball, the use of certain descriptive and analytical statistics has been a developing subject for nearly 40 years (Sabermetrics). However, it is a relatively new endeavor for football. The book The Hidden Game of Football, the highly influential book published in 1988, is considered by many as the first systematic statistical approach to analyzing football in a book. Now there are subscription services, websites, blogs, and other media outlets that assess football games with statistics that have been further developed beyond what Pete Palmer, Bob Carroll and John Thorn started with their 1988 book. The website Football Outsiders is probably thought of as the leader in this arena of assessing the relative rankings of teams and game performances.

Borrowing some ideas from these sources, as well as using some more obvious numerical descriptions, I thought I’d take a crack at examining last Saturday’s Florida-Tennessee game with numbers beyond what you normally find in the game’s box score. All of the tallies and calculations are my own and thus any inaccuracies are due to the same type of errors that caused this author to make B’s in stead of A’s in calculus in two of my three quarters of classes in Ayres Hall.

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