Analysis: Adjustments and Probability


Posted Sep 5, 2011


UCLA's defense didn't appear to make adjustments in this game that seemingly would have offset Houston's offensive strengths. Then there is the discussion: Is it riskier to press and pressure or bend-and-not-break?

First, let's discuss adjustments.

Let's follow this line of reasoning.

UCLA's defense comes out with the conservative bend-and-don't-break, 7-yard cushion approach.

The reason you do it is to not allow anything deep and make the opposing offense execute a number of short passes to move the ball.

Okay, let's concede that it's the first game of the season, new DC, defense just getting settled in, on the road, you don't necessarily throw them into the fire and press and pressure.

But as the game progressed, it was clear this approach wasn't working. A number of things developed. Keenum obviously was able to pick you apart on short routes, and exploit your cushion. You weren't putting enough pressure on hm. And then, on top of it, it was also clear that Houston was going to occasionally try to go deep and test Sheldon Price, and he answered the test. So, you now realize your cornerback is able to stay with their deep ball threat, Patrick Edwards. That should bolster the case even more that it's time to adjust, go with a press coverage and pressure the quarterback. And then, in that one Houston possession in the first half when the Cougars went three-and-out, the press and pressure clearly worked. So, wasn't that enough evidence to make an adjustment?

Someone on this board cited that the defense did adjust, that it shut down Houston in the second half. I didn't see that. What I saw was UCLA's offense dominate possession and then Houston trip up on their offensive possessions with dropped passes and a couple of key penalties.

Now, on Probability...

Again, I've said this over the years many times. I'd love to get a mathematician who could analyze college football in a Money Ball, Soccernomics way, literally breaking it down to probability. What's easier to do and has the higher probability of gaining more yards in college football?

1) Executing one 30+-yard pass when the defense is blitzing, and then also pressing and bumping your receivers at the line of scrimmage, or...

2) Executing three plays that essentially get a receiver the ball against a 10-yard cushion, with the receiver catching the ball and having plenty of room to create some YAC?

What's the probability of a 30+yard attempt being successful for 30+ yards, as opposed to 3 attempts that get the ball into the hands of receivers 7 yards down the field with a three-yard cushion? One, two or three of those attempts can result in your receiver breaking it. Wouldn't you rather try three easy attempts that could potentially result in a 30+-yard gain, or have a couple combine for that, rather than one far more difficult attempt?

Isn't this the basis of the modern-day offense, either the West Coast or the Spread? That the highest pay-off in probability for gaining yards vs. risk is the short throw? And, then, if that's true, if that's your philosophy on offense, aren't you directly contradicting the philosophy on defense by allowing other teams to do it?

Then, there's so much else to consider besides mere probability.

In my opinion, there is so much downside to #1, which is why a small percentage of pass attempts of 30+ yards are made in college football. You're risking injury to your quarterback with a longer time he has to hold the ball; the longer the throw, the less likely it is to be accurate; it's far more likely the pass is intercepted, or your quarterback fumbles; the higher probability of short passes completed make it far more likely the opposing offense will hold on to the ball longer, run the clock, keep your offense off the field and keep your defense on the field and getting tired; it's far more likely your receiver gets injured going down the field and through a seam of coverage looking to catch the ball; it's far more likely your pass protectors get injured, if they have to hold up a rusher for 3.5 seconds rather than 1.5 seconds; it's far more likely you're going to get called for holding; etc., etc.

Heck, UCLA's offense hasn't thrown the ball down the field for years -- all through the Neuheisel and Dorrell years -- SOLELY because of this theory, that it's a far riskier proposition. So, if that's your theory on offense, why does it change when your team is on defense?

Really, even though it seems riskier to play a press and pressure defense, in the long run I would bet it's less risky than the DB cusion, bend-and-not-break.

***Discuss It In a Message Board Thread***


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