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Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

Fixing the Sooners: Exploring offensive efficiency

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Previously, we took a look under the hood of the Oklahoma Sooners' defense and found evidence that it might not have been quite so horrific as the firebrentvenables.com crowd would have had you think. Now, let's examine the other side of the ball.

Ever since Bob Stoops took over in 1999, the Sooners have consistently fielded strong offensive teams. When OU transitioned to an uptempo spread offense in 2007, the Sooners' output ramped up significantly.

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As detailed previously, the rise in OU's offensive numbers coincided with an overall explosion in the Big 12. While I'd hesitate to say that OU's offense necessarily "improved" beginning in '07, the Sooners certainly saw their stats start to look more impressive at that point. Playing at a breakneck pace, OU frequently ran off 100 offensive snaps in a game, juicing the O's output.

 

We shouldn't mistake compiling Nintendo-type numbers with quality, though. As we did with the D, let's take a look at the Sooners' offensive efficiency since '07 via our friends from Bill Connelly and Brian Fremeau with Football Outsiders. First up is Connelly's S&P+ series, which is based on play-by-play data and takes competition into account.

 

Oklahoma S&P+, Offense (Nat'l. Rank)
Year Off. Rushing Passing Std. Down Pass Down
2007 13 31 10 34 5
2008 1 4 1 6 1
2009 71 72 43 87 38
2010 18 11 23 52 7
2011 16 14 29 21 25

Looking at the S&P+ stats, the discrepancy between running the football and throwing it in the last two years stands out. OU's high-powered passing attack has been the Sooners' calling card, but OU actually ran the ball very effectively.

Additionally, check out how well the Sooners performed on passing downs in 2010. OU was nothing special on standard downs, a function of the offense's inability to run on first down (3.68 yards per attempt, which ranked 102nd nationally, according to cfbstats.com). The passing game was so strong that it didn't make a difference.

With production falling off on passing downs a year later, OU's third-down conversion percentage fell from 44.3 percent (34th nationally) to 41.8 percent (51st), according to cfbstats.com. Not a huge difference, but still worth noting, especially in light of the fact that OU went from an average of roughly 18 third-down conversions attempts per game in '10 to 15 in '11.

Fremeau's FEI statistics, which are based on drives, add to the picture of what the Sooner O looked like.

Oklahoma FEI, Offense (Nat'l. Rank)
Year OFEI FD AY Ex Me Va
2007 15 39 13 3 75 6
2008 1 8 2 5 29 2
2009 60 65 63 62 59 63
2010 11 40 26 51 11 23
2011 18 17 11 11 87 23

Note that OU's methodical and explosive statistics essentially flipped from 2010 to 2011. Nearly 20 percent of the Sooners' drives in 2011 averaged 10 yards per play or more, up from approximately 14 percent a year earlier. Conversely, about 19 percent of Oklahoma's drives in 2010 went 10 plays of more. That fell to nearly 12 percent a year later.

In other words, whereas the Sooners patiently matriculated the ball down the field with aplomb two years ago, OU appears to have generated more of its offense from big plays last season.

Conclusion

We've devoted much of this to comparing just the last two seasons. However, backing up and looking at all of this with a little wider lens, what was different about the 2011 version of the Sooners and the teams that won conference championships in 2007, 2008 and 2010?

Not that much.

In reality, the O moved the ball with relatively the same level of proficiency that it did in '07 and '10. It was a notch below the '08 squad, which was one of the greatest offenses of all time. Teams through the years might have taken different paths to get there, but in terms of offensive output, they generally ended up at the same destination. (You could say the same thing for the defense, really.)

As an OU fan, that's frustrating, because, numbers be damned, something about last season's offense definitely felt "off."

In the next installment, we'll look at the "momentum" of OU's offense, which may hold the key to getting the Sooners back on track.