College football statistical guru Bill Connelly wrote a few weeks back about what he considers to be the five factors that determine the outcome of any football game: explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives and turnovers.
Bill’s not really telling studious fans anything we don’t know intuitively, and I’m sure he’d be the first to admit that. Teams are going to win when they best opponents in terms of making big plays, sustaining drives, getting the ball in better field position, converting possessions into points and holding onto the ball. Nothing revolutionary.
To me, however, the value of these five factors primarily lies in their ability to give us a better idea of what happened in a given game. They offer a convenient schema to articulate and understand a result – and to confirm or negate our interpretations of what we saw.
As painful as it may be, I thought it would be instructive to revisit Oklahoma's worst loss of the season, a 29-point shellacking from Baylor, to get a better sense of how we can use the five factors to explain what happened. (Note: Bill did some of the legwork already in a previous recap of the game.)
Baylor 41, Oklahoma 12
The Bears’ high-octane offense generated 5.74 yards per play, which actually represents a really nice performance by the Sooner D. Up to that point in the season, no team had come within shouting distance of slowing Baylor to that degree. It was about on par with Baylor’s output in a loss to Oklahoma State.
OU’s 3.43 yards per play, on the other hand, sucked royally. It was in keeping with a trend that saw the Sooners sputter in the middle of the year.
Per Bill's numbers, Baylor's margin of 2.41 yards per play gave the Bears a 95 percent chance of winning.
From the standpoint of Equivalent Points Per Play (PPP), this was even more decisive in favor of the Bears. A margin of 0.36 put Baylor in the win percentage range of 99 percent.
Baylor had a success rate of 38.3 percent, more than 20 percentage points higher than OU’s putrid rate of 15.4 percent.
That big of a margin works out to a win percentage of 99 percent.
This was a wash. No real edge either way.
Baylor made 10 trips inside Oklahoma’s 40-yard line. On average, each visit put 4.1 points on the Bears’ side of the scoreboard. In and of itself, that’s really nothing special, corresponding to a winning percent of slightly more than 50 percent.
However, an inability to consistently cash in has flummoxed the Sooners for years now, and it again reared its head in this game. In five chances inside the Baylor 40, OU rang up just 10 points. It’s unclear if teams that score two points per trip inside the opponents’ 40 lose almost all of the time or just most of the time. Either way, that's really bad.
Furthermore, teams that enjoyed a margin of more than two points per trip won more than 80 percent of the time. When teams had more trips inside the opponent’s 40 and more points per trip, as Baylor did in this game, they won 99 percent of the time.
To top it all off, Baylor was +2 for the game in turnovers. Teams that pull that off win nearly 80 percent of the time.
Baylor dominated OU in four of the five key factors, and that came through loud and clear in the final score. However, the way in which Baylor won tells a more important story.
The Bears have garnered a deserved reputation for their explosive offense. Yet, despite surrendering 41 points, the Oklahoma D actually played really well. Holding the Bears to just 5.7 yards per play is actually a pretty good showing, especially in the context of their performance throughout the season. Meanwhile, OU stiffened up when the Bears entered scoring position.
Bottom line: OU's defense played well enough to put the Sooners in position to win.
On the other hand, the O was plain anemic. The low success rate suggests that the Sooners were frequently off schedule in down and distance. That shouldn't come as a surprise in light of of their pathetic average yards per play. Also, OU's opportunities to score came up pretty fruitless.
Was the Baylor D just that good, or was Oklahoma struggling that badly on offense? The answer is likely both. However, a similar "five factor" analysis of OU's other games would probably provide a richer understanding of the offense's issues.