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Statistical Comparison of the UK 2013 Football Season to The 2012 Football Season [15 October UPDATE]

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Update: Fremeua has updated the game splits to include the UK-Bama game, and the results are encouraging. The new breakdown:

Kentucky 7
Alabama Final: 7-48 L NG Final: 7-34 Off: -2.7 Def: -21.4 :
ST -1.0 :
EX -1.9
FP -5.6

TO 9.1

After incorporating the strength of the opponent and garbage time stats UK faired better against 'Bama than the final score would suggest. UK performed better defensively than it did against USC, and the offense was only a little worse than the UF game. For the season UK's offense still sits at +31 points which is about 2.5 times larger than this point in 2012 and TO went from -27 to +9. UK can build on this.

Halfway through the 2013 season the University of Kentucky football team’s record stands at 1-5 which is an identical record to the halfway point of the 2012 season. Looking solely at the records one would be hard pressed to determine if this team is any better than the 2012 team. Yet, there have been promising signs.

This year’s team appears to be better coached in all three phases of the game. Aside from the Alabama contest, game plans typically seem effective, and if they are not adjustments are made. I’m not sure game plans varied much last season, but they certainly weren't executed on the field. Additionally, players appear to continue to fight through adversity, and aside from the Alabama squash match, have kept games interesting.

That also was not the case last year. Nonetheless, is the 2013 team better than the 2012 team at the midpoint of their respective seasons? Is the "eye test" accurate and the 2013 is better? To investigate this question I compared performance statistics of the 2013 team's first six games with the first six games of the 2012 season.

Team

Wk

Opponent

Final

NG Final

Off

Def

ST

Ex

FP

TO

Kentucky

1

Western Kentucky

L 26-35

L 26-35

7

-15.9

-0.1

0

0.2

3.3

Kentucky

2

Miami (OH)

W 41-7

W 34-7

18.7

15.5

-5.4

-1.9

-11.2

-6.4

Kentucky

3

Louisville

L 13-27

L 13-27

-6.3

-12.5

2.9

1.9

0.1

-6.9

Kentucky

5

Florida

L 7-24

L 7-24

-2.6

-14.5

0.1

0

2.1

2.8

Kentucky

6

South Carolina

L 28-35

L 28-35

16.6

-24.2

0.5

0

4.2

3.3

Total

33.4

-51.5

-1.9

0

-4.5

-4

6 games into 2012

12.2

-53.9

2.5

3.8

-26.7

The above are game splits done by Brian Fremeau who compiles the Fremeau Efficiency Index. Fremeau is an author at Football Outsiders, ESPN and BCFToys. Game splits data is a function of all possessions in FBS vs. FBS games in the given season while filtering out "garbage time" scoring that inflates stats. Game splits represent the scoring margin components of a game, the value contributed to the margin of victory or defeat.

Not counting the Alabama shellacking (which will hurt the overall numbers but maybe not as much as we think due to garbage time stats), five games into 2013 and our offense (Off) is more potent when compared to six games into the 2012 season (33.4 compared to 12.2). Defensively (Def), the team is not much better with the only positive performance being the Miami (OH) game (-51.5 compared to -53.9).

Special Teams (ST) and field possession (FP) are not as good as last year but that's solely due to the poor performance of ST in the Miami game hurting both values. ST will need to be positive to increase UK's chances of winning games in the second half of the season because neither our offense or our defense are overwhelming. Turnovers (TO) are vastly improved. In fact, halfway through the 2012 campaign UK's turnover margin was -6, and this year that margin has improved to +1 for a huge difference of seven. Extra position (Ex) is almost neutral.

I selected a few other stats "under the hood" to determine what improvements, if any, have occurred. The first was yards per play:

Off YPP 2012

UofL

5.33

Off. YPP 2013

WKU

6.98

Kent St.

7.81

Miami, OH

9.12

WKU

4.66

UofL

5.53

Florida

3.71

Florida

3.68

USC

3.86

USC

5.02

Miss St.

3.74

Alabama

3.2

midpoint avg

4.85

midpoint avg

5.58

Def YPP 2012

Def. YPP 2013

UofL

6.47

WKU

6.49

Kent St.

5.11

Miami, OH

2.14

WKU

4.49

UofL

7.13

Florida

5.6

Florida

6.38

USC

5.19

USC

7.31

Miss St.

5.47

Alabama

8.35

midpoint avg

5.38

midpoint avg

6.3

Yards per play will control for tempo since this year's offense by nature operates faster than last year's so it should provide a more accurate measure of performance for both our offense; likewise, adjusting for the pace our defense faces. Offensively, UK's offense has improved to midpoint average of 5.58 yards per play (6.06 yards per play prior to the ‘Bama game). This improvement has come despite: lingering quarterback issues, executing a new offensive system, and vast inexperience at the skill positions.

Nonetheless, last year's numbers may be artificially low because Maxwell Smith's injury was cataclysmic for UK's offense. Defensively, this team has taken a step back to a midpoint average of 6.3 (figure was 5.89 prior to ‘Bama) which is puzzling because if one looks at the raw non-adjusted stats that Hank has helpfully provided, our defense has improved in several ways. Most importantly, until the Alabama game, our defense was allowing one fewer touchdown per game.

I have a few theories about this. One, opposing teams are keeping their starting offenses in the game longer because games are more competitive. Two, our rushing defense has been so bad this year that it is negating the improvement of the pass defense in the overall stats. For example, every opposing starting running back outside Miami (OH) has rushed for at least 99 yards against our defense. Heck, Alabama had two running backs reach the century mark. Three, our defense resembles the classic "bend but don't break" defense. Which leads to the explosive plays metric...

2013 Offense Defense
30 rushing 41 rushing
33 passing 38 passing
Total 63 79
2012 Offense Defense
32 rushing 33 rushing
27 passing 37 passing
Total 59 70

I define explosive plays by rushes or passes that go further than 10 yards. I have excluded any explosive plays that took place when UK was up by more than 14 points, or when UK was down by more than 14 points against Alabama starting halfway through the third quarter (I only did this for Alabama because when UK was down by that margin in prior games there was still at least two full quarters to play, the outcome remained in doubt, and the opposition was operating normally schematically and with mostly first team personnel).

Explosive plays are important measure because it is difficult for teams to sustain drives over a course of 10-14 plays. The "bend but don't break" defense is viable simply because a lot of offenses will trip themselves up. This metric illustrates UK's offense has marginally increased to 63 total explosive plays in six games in 2013 from 59 total explosive plays in six games from 2012. which is notable given some of the issues this offense has faced this season.

Defensively, the team is giving up more explosive plays (79 total compared to 70 total); however, prior to the ‘Bama game the defense had only given 60 explosive plays this season and that was largely due to the stark improvement in the pass defense. Ironic that at the beginning of the year the major concern with this defense was with the secondary. Kudos to the DBs for improving the pass coverage and to the defense linemen putting pressure on the quarterback.

2012 midpoint

3rd Attempt

3rd Conversion

%

1st downs

avg. 1st downs/game

Offense

85

36

0.423

118

19.7

Defense

95

51

0.536

138

23

2013 midpoint

Rank

3rd Attempt

3rd Conversion

%

1st downs

avg. 1st downs/game

Offense

117/123

70

18

0.257143

103

17

Defense

41/123

75

32

0.426667

131

21.8

UK's defense has improved on 3rd down by 11% down from 54% to 43% (3rd down stoppage was 0.361 prior to the ‘Bama game), and has improved slightly on the number of first downs it allows per game (131 in 2013 compared to 138 in 2012). Again, I chalk this up to the improvements in pass defense.

Offensively, we are awful on 3rd down and that isn't a surprise to many of us. In 2013 the offense has only converted 26% of 3rd downs at the midpoint which is down from 42% in 2012. Disappointingly, the biggest failing on 3rd down has been on 3rd down with 1-3 yards to go and 4-6 yards to go. In those situations we convert the first down 6 out of 14 occurrences and 3 out of 15 occurrences respectively.

Lastly, we are 1/9 when converting 3rd and 7-9 yards to go. If we improved only 40% in short and medium distances and 20% in 3rd and long then the percentages would increase to a respectable level, and this should largely be achievable as the schedule eases. If you're curious we are 9-for-13 on 4th Down which is ridiculous and reiterates that UK's offense can and should be executing better on 3rd down and short and medium situations.

Overall, UK has experienced some offensive and defensive improvements thus far but it has been marginal and there could be a solid explanation for that (I chose these metrics somewhat randomly - though they are inspired by Bill Connelly's work at Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall - so it's possible other metrics would put UK's performance in a more positive light - or possibly one that's even more negative though I doubt it).

This team hasn't experienced any serious injuries yet - aside from Jalen Whitlow possibly missing some time so I don't think that explains the constrained improvement. Rather, it's possible the improvements would be larger but have been blunted by a tougher schedule. It was difficult to find a strength of schedule (SOS) rating for the 2012 season by week on multiple websites, but I did find one and this site states halfway through the 2012 campaign UK had the 22nd ranked SOS, and this year the ranking is currently 13th.

The increased SOS seems logical. Both schedules share four opponents and of those four WKU and UofL have both improved offensively and defensively; UF is about the same (much stronger defense and a little worse offense), and USC is a little worse (both offense and defense are slightly worse). Of the replacement teams the 2012 Kent St. team that finished 11-3 is much better than this year's Miami team, but this year's Alabama team is much better than last year's Mississippi St. team.

TL;DR

Comparing select performance metrics of the first six games of the 2013 season to the first six games of the 2012 season highlights UK's marginal improvements in several areas and drawn back in a few others. UK has taken some steps forward but almost as many back in the metrics I randomly chose. Although this year's schedule is tougher, meaningful progress in multiple fields is difficult to discern statistically.

The second half of the season should tell us a lot about this team now that they've finished the toughest part of their schedule. Nonetheless, the weaker stats must improve and the positive stats need to be even more pronounced against the upcoming weaker competition for performances to translate to victories. If UK performs statistically against their last six opponents the way they have against the first six they will win one more game and maybe an additional one. These numbers reinforce for me that there won't be any quick solutions, and another season or two may pass before real progress is realized.

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