Tony DeMeo

Analytics vs Common Sense

The big Buzz Word in sports today is “Analytics” – percentage & probabilities. Every call a coach makes is backed up by analytics. In other words if I go for a 4th & 1 – analytics say that is a good call. However, analytics don’t tell the whole story, especially in football. Good old common sense deserves a place in play calling as well as analytics. Here are a couple of examples of analytics backfiring.

Early in the season LSU was playing Texas in a close game. The Longhorns drove deep into LSU territory inside the Tiger 5 yard line. UT’s coach, Tom Herman decided to go for it on 4th down even though they hadn’t gained a foot on 3 downs. LSU rose up & stuffed the Horns & no points for UT. Later in the game. The exact same scenario came up & Coach Herman did the exact same thing with exactly the same result. No points for UT. The final score was 45-38. If UT had kicked 2 FGs, they would only have needed a FG at the end of the game to win not a TD to tie.

Navy was playing Memphis & leading 20-14 in the 3rd quarter. The ball was on the Navy 29 yard line. It was 4th & 1. Navy loves to go for it on 4th down but Memphis was undefeated at the time & their defense was playing Navy tough especially in short yardage situations. Navy goes for it & gets stuffed giving Memphis the ball on the Navy 29 yard line! Memphis capitalizes on the short field & takes the lead 21-20. The final score Memphis 32 – Navy 23.

Now, I’m not second guessing Coach Herman or Coach Ken,  there are many other similar decisions that go wrong but I am criticizing the criteria for the decisions.

Football is a game of people & matchups not percentages & averages. You may make 4th & goal 90% of the time vs Texas Tech, Rice & North Texas but NOT vs LSU! Analytics doesn’t know the guys you’re playing against. On 4th & 1, Coach Ken may make it 92% of the time vs Holy Cross but not vs Memphis who has been playing them tough all day. It’s about people.

Also analytics doesn’t take into account the weather. Would you make the same decision in a hurricane as you would on a sunny day.

Usually your gut tells you if you’re moving the ball well enough o go for it or are you struggling. For example, Navy was struggling on offense vs Memphis so even if the got the first down, they were only on their 29 yard line. The more experience a coach has the more likely he will sense this is aa time to punt. Navy only scored 3 more points the rest of the game.

The numbers that I go by are the Four Meaningful Stats:

  1. Score 25 points – Win 88% of your games
  2. Hold Opponent to less than 16 points & win 92% of your games
  3. Score a Non-Offensive TD & win 90% of your games
  4. Have a +2 Turnover Margin & Win 98% of your games

                       These Stats are the most significant numbers. These Stats matter and

                       So does Common Sense.  

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