Players and coaches matter. Great play calls and ‘‘players making plays’’ tend to win games most of the time. I wanted to investigate which stats best represent UK winning games. Here's what I found.
There are two factors that correlate strongly with Kentucky either winning or losing games the last two seasons: turnover margin and getting more explosive plays than the opponent. If UK achieves one of the two it usually won, but if it achieved both it won 100% of the time.
Between 2014-2015, the Wildcats went 6-3 (67% winning percentage) when they won the turnover battle. Additionally, they went 3-3 (50% winning percentage) when the turnover margin was zero.
What happens when UK loses the turnover battle? Well, they almost always lose. In the last two seasons, UK has only lost the turnover battle once, but still won the game, and that was in overtime against FCS Eastern Kentucky in 2015.
To drive home the point, one can examine the most notable close losses and see how much turnovers hurt UK’s efforts. The triple overtime game against Florida in 2014 saw UK have a -2 turnover margin. The five point loss to Florida in 2015 saw UK have a -1 turnover margin. The three point loss to Auburn and four point loss to Vanderbilt in 2015 each saw a -1 turnover margin.
Those games could have ended differently if UK doesn’t turn it over more than their competition.
For our purposes, we will define explosive plays the way former offensive coordinator Neal Brown did while in Lexington. Explosive plays are either runs that go at least 10 yards, or pass plays that go at least 15 yards.
Between 2014-2015, UK totaled more explosive plays than its opponents on nine occasions (out of 24 games). UK won seven of those nine games with the exceptions being against Florida and Auburn in 2015. In games where UK had more explosive plays than its opponent, the ‘Cats won 78% of the time.
What happens when UK loses the explosive plays battle? Well, once again, they almost always lose. The two exceptions being in 2015 versus EKU and Missouri.
As an aside, man, was that EKU game weird. UK lost both explosive plays and turnovers and still somehow squeaked out a victory.
Combining the Two Leads to a 100% Winning Percentage
So, UK wins the majority of its games if it wins the turnover battle (67%). UK wins a higher percentage of games if it creates more explosive plays than its opponents (78%). What about combining the two?
In the last two seasons, there have only been eight games in which UK has had at least a neutral turnover margin, and had more explosive plays. UK has won all eight.
This fall keep a mental note of turnovers and the number of big plays. Doing so will help you predict the winner to the amazement of your friends and family. Maybe try and get them to put some money or chores on the line prior to fleecing them.