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How Does Shannon Dawson Compare To Neal Brown?

How does Kentucky's new offensive coordinator compare to the offenses that Neal Brown oversaw? Let's dig into the numbers. Spoiler alert: I think he's an upgrade.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

According to multiple media members, West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson will be named Mark Stoops' second offensive coordinator sometime very soon. Dawson joined the West Virginia staff in 2011, and after one season as the receiver coach moved to a co-offensive coordinator role. Since 2013 he's been the sole offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Last season, the West Virgina offense improved across the board, including quarterback Clint Trickett passing for over 3,000 yards.

That sounds alright.

Others may disagree, but I'm willing to bet this is by far Stoops most thoughtful hire as a head coach. Neal Brown had earned the chance to be a SEC coordinator with his prior work, but his move to Kentucky always had the air of being strongly suggested to Mark Stoops upon his hire, rather than his own thorough vetting and choice.

Stoops very likely came to think of the arrangement with Brown as working well, but Dawson will be "his guy" from the very start. I sense the deliberate and secretive nature of the search adds to that notion.  One of the possible factors working in Dawson's favor: he's only been a coordinator for two seasons, and was co-OC for one of those years. He's not a candidate that leaps off the page to leave for a head coaching job in the next one or two seasons as opposed to East Carolina's Lincoln Riley who appeared to be another serious candidate.

The key question for a lot of BBN tonight is probably: did Mark Stoops hire an upgrade?

Performance Comparisons (Raw and Adjusted Stats)

Offensive Ratings Neal Brown 2013 Shannon Dawson 2013 Neal Brown 2014 Shannon Dawson 2014
F+ 74th 92nd 70th 49th
SP+ 81st 97th 62nd 37th
FEI 69th 86th 73rd 58th
Points Per Game (PPG)
20.5 26.3 29.2 33.2
Run:Pass Ratio*
-- -- 51% : 49% 41% : 59%
Yards Per Game 341 410.8 384 502

*sample size is three games within 14 points until the start of the fourth quarter from games in September, October, and November each.

Dawson oversaw an offense that improved greatly in his second season as offensive coordinator. In fact, West Virginia's metrics improved even more than Kentucky's did in its second season under Brown. They aren't adjusted numbers, but the additional 90 yards per game is specifically impressive. Also notice the 41% to 59% run-to-pass ratio. Commonwealth gets to keep its Air Raid sirens.

I have previously written a lot about how I view Brown's performance at UK - both good and bad. Ultimately, he inherited a youthful mess, and he helped to improved most things by his second season, especially UK's "quick strike" abilities. A lot of that had to do with signing better athletes, but he also knew to get them the ball in space. What he would have done next season with a more experienced squad will never be known.

Now that we know the performance comparisons, let's see how Dawson did in terms of overall team experience compared to Brown.

Team Experience

Neal Brown 2013 Shannon Dawson 2013 Neal Brown 2014 Shannon Dawson 2014
Returning Starters 6 4 7 6
Upperclassmen In Two-Deep 12 13 10 16

Dawson also had to work around a lot of inexperience in his first season, and it increased fairly comparably to Brown's second season. Remember though, he also put up bigger numbers than UK did this season even though the Wildcats improved in several scoring areas.

With that in mind, what else can we compare? Let's try to measure the level of talent at both schools.

Recruiting Rankings (per Rivals)

Neal Brown 2013 Shannon Dawson 2013 Neal Brown 2014 Shannon Dawson 2014
Quarterback 3* (5.5) 3* (5.6) 4* (5.8) 3* (5.6)
Running backs (median) 3* (5.7) 3* (5.7) 4* (5.9) 3* (5.7)
Receivers (median) 3* (5.6) 3* (5.6) 3* (5.6) 4* (5.8)
Offensive Line (median) 3* (5.5) 3* (5.5) 3* (5.5) 3* (5.6)

This table compares the talent each had to work with. The quarterback is represented by the individual who had the majority of pass attempts. The running backs are comprised of the top three rushers. The receivers are the top 3 pass catchers, and the offensive line is represented by the starters.

This is probably another major factor in hiring Dawson. He was successful with talent levels that are very similar to UK's current roster make-up. WVU did not have as highly rated a quarterback or running backs coming out of high school, but they did have higher rated receivers and linemen in 2014.

Level of Competition

Neal Brown 2013 Shannon Dawson 2013 Neal Brown 2014 Shannon Dawson 2014
Median Opponent Defense F+ Ranking 19th 43rd 22nd 51st
Median Yards Allowed by Opponent's Defense 350 yards 375 yards 359 yards 382 yards

Dawson has not faced defenses as tough as Brown did regularly despite the raw stats being comparable, according to F+. On average, more or less, Brown's offense regularly faced defenses in 2014 comparable to SEC East champion Missouri.

At WVU, though, they did face Alabama, TCU, Texas, and Baylor this year and those were all borderline Top 15 defenses in F+. In fact, 'Bama and TCU were #2 and #6 respectively. Dawson's offense's scored 23 points against 'Bama, 30 against TCU, 41 against Baylor, and 16 against Texas.

Recruiting Skills

Another important factor is recruiting.  Neal Brown was in charge of recruiting Kentucky and he held off major programs for the services of Matt Elam, Ryan Timmons, Eli Brown, Javess Blue, and Landon Young among others. He was probably more responsible than any assistant at locking down the Commonwealth's sparse talent the last two seasons (presumably, John Scharlman will take over his a lot of those duties since he's a UK alum from Kentucky).

How about Dawson's recruiting abilities? Here's his list of commitments, according to 247. He looks to have secured commitments from prospects in Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi. Those are areas that UK has exploited in the past, and this suggests they are ready to get even stronger in those geographic areas.


Going solely by the measurements above, Dawson looks to be an upgrade over Brown. His offense operated more efficiently with comparable experience and recruiting rankings. The big question mark is will his offenses hold up week-to-week in the SEC? He faced tough defenses in the Big 12, but that will be a more common occurrence in the SEC.

I would also suspect that his run:pass ratio gets closer to being balanced (who knows how much Dana Holgorsen called plays at WVU?), and we'll see how he tutors UK's young quarterbacks with only two seasons specifically coaching that position. He developed Trickett well last year, so there are positive signs.

Programming Note

We have more in store in regards to this hire. Greenwell is breaking down WVU tape as we speak, the WVU SB Nation guys have already told me they are open to answering my questions about Dawson, and with the help of someone at Football Study Hall, there are some very cool visualizations being made from the charting data from this season of WVU and UK. Stay tuned!