Friday, July 8, 2011

Better Know the Units: Offensive Line

Our latest recurring feature "Better Know the Units" (or "BKtU" for you Internet hipsters) is back, and this week I had a hard task ahead of me: finding a way to quantify and assess how effective an offensive line is. No biggie, right?

In my last BKtU entry, I used a multitude of easily referenced statistical categories to roughly guess how good each pass defense on the 2011 schedule might be. But what stats do you look up to see how good an offensive line is? The number of steak dinners their quarterback treats them to in a season? The number of corny group pictures they take with their running backs over the summer? The number of preachy Sandra Bullock movies that have been made about each of their lives?

I found a great entry from the Texas A&M blog I Am The 12th Man which tackled this question head-on (no pun intended, but you have my permission to boo me for it). It assigns specific point values to certain running and passing plays to help generate efficiency metrics for the line's performance in a game. But since that would involve two sets of calculations for each of twelve or more games for each of Nevada's twelve opponents -- and because my time is already extremely valuable, as you've all no doubt surmised -- I decided against this.

What I did come up with, however, was another set of composite rankings that I still feel can shed some light on an offensive line's general effectiveness. Using 2010 stats, I looked at how many sacks the line allowed, how many tackles for loss it allowed, the average yards per carry of the team's rushing game, the completion percentage of the team's passing game and their offense's average time of possession per game. I then calculated composite rankings and looked at how many starters return from that line in 2011 to make my final assessment. Granted, these categories still have the potential to be misleading, particularly average time of possession (as an example, Oregon was 106th in this area last year), but again, I have neither the time, the patience, nor the general math-iness to do an efficiency metric like the Aggie blogger's.

#12 UNLV ~ These poor dopes were what I like to call P.D.W. ("pretty damn wretched") across the board. Throw in only two starters returning for more punishment this year, and you should consider sending some preemptive "Sorry About Your Shattered Ribcage" cards to whoever their new quarterback will be.

#11 New Mexico ~ The Lobos' line is the next (small) step up from that of the Rebels, but in terms of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, that's like "moving up" from "Jingle All the Way" to "End of Days."

#10 Idaho ~ Pretty much the only thing separating Idaho from New Mexico is the three starters they return to the Lobos' two. Otherwise, they're essentially at the same level of badness.

#9 San Jose State ~ Two teams are on our next level up, and like the rest of their team, a unit that was ravaged by injuries last year has some potential for upward mobility from this spot as the season goes on.

#8 Utah State ~ Again, I have to put them fairly low initially, but with four out of five starters returning, all they need to be considered decent is a quarterback who can complete more than 60% of his passes under their watch.

#7 Fresno State ~ Here's a team that seems to have equal potential to either fall back or jump ahead numerous spots. They had a lot of injuries last year and only return one starter, but they did help the Bulldog offense control the ball for many long scoring drives.

#6 Hawai'i ~ The other team on the slate with one starter returning. Their rushing and passing stats were both good (25th in yards per carry and 28th in completion percentage), but they HAVE to give their skill players some better protection (113th in sacks allowed and tied for 81st in tackles for loss allowed).

#5 New Mexico State ~ Believe me, I'm just as surprised as you are to see the Aggies ranked this high in anything. They pass-protected surprisingly well last year and return four of five starters, but the lack of good skill players around them to complement their efforts is a shame.

#4 Louisiana Tech ~ In my opinion, the best of the WAC's offensive lines not named Nevada. They ranged from average to good in the most important categories and could really help running back Lennon Creer to a great season.

#3 Oregon ~ This was a line that pass-protected very well, but showed an unusual proclivity for giving up tackles for loss. They also lose quite a bit of experience from last year's team that will be interesting to see the replacements for.

#2 Texas Tech ~ The only team on the 2011 slate whose line returns all five starters. I felt their overall prowess was a hair below Oregon's, but I have to give the nod to all that returning experience.

#1 Boise State ~ I'm only two entries into this series and it's already annoying to see how many categories the Broncos were in the top ten of last year. But at least my composite ranking of the Pack's line was ahead of theirs!

So that was my way of saluting the titans of the trenches. What are your thoughts on the conclusions I arrived at?


student4ever said...

Good stuff PackBacker. Where would Nevada fit in your assessment?

Pack Backer said...

They'd be #1, baby! :-) And I'm not just saying that out of excessive Kool-Aid consumption -- they were in the top ten nationally in all but one category I looked at for this entry (passing completion percentage) and return the same number of starters BSU does.

As I alluded to, my method is not without its flaws and it doesn't take into account potential "instant impact" kinds of players who have yet to play, but I think it can be helpful to at least provide a glimpse of how effective a unit is at what they did.