Thursday, January 08, 2009

BCS Championship Index, Grand Unified Edition

In search of the superstring, quark or neutrino of CFB that will tell us, with blinding, universal simplicity, who the hell is gonna win.

For starters, I don't need Ferme Lab to tell me its been a while since two such overtly arrogant, unlikable teams got at it, huh?  Not that Ohio State, SC, LSU, Texas and the rest aren't arrogant.  But in terms of the players and staffs both just radiating entitlement and disdain for their opponent, these two are arrogant and don't see why they should pretend they aren't.

Many questions may decide the game.  Here's one that won't:

Can OU stop Tebow/Harvin et al?

Sure as gravity, which is Step 1 in any Grand Unified Theory worth its weight, OU gives up lots of points.  Florida scores plenty, by crazy, Tebow-fed, Harvin-fired, Meyer-madness methods.  They can roll down the field in perfect form, and they pick up cheap stuff as good as anyone.  They'll score.

The question is: when?  Let's explore that.

Four Tough Games
60:  FLA first-half points in games against Miami, LSU, UGA and BAMA.
97:  second-half points in those games

I sensed it having watched these games, and those numbers confirm it.  Against good teams, Florida wins late.

How does that match up with OU?  Intriguingly, it turns out.

Four More Tough Games

91:  points scored by OU in the second QUARTER of its four toughest games, Texas, Tech, OkSt and Mizzou.  For comparison....
154: points scored by Florida in 2nd Quarter of ALL 13 GAMES.

122: 1st Half points, same games
101:  2nd half points, same games
129-68: Same stat (!) if you (very reasonably) substitute the stats from OU's win over TCU for Ok State.

OU plays football like certain UFC fighters with preposterously chiseled bodies and low body fat - they bring one round of pure electro-magnetic fury (Step 2 in our theory).  If you make it to the bell, you know they're spent.

So given that Tebow will score some but probably not enough to overcome OU's best effort, the question really is:

Can OU throw on Florida?

All other questions either don't matter, or aren't questions.  This is the Heavy Lifting of the Grand Unified Theory, exploring the Weak and Strong forces of our equation, Passing O versus Pass Rush.

I think I'm most fascinated by Florida's fate in last year's Outback/Cap One bowl (can't remember which), when they got TORCHED through the air by the supposedly-slow-witted and plodding Big 10 also-rans from Michigan.  Sure it was the swan song of Llllllloyd, Chad Henne and his trio of ThreeLetterWord-ING-ThreeLetterWord recivers (Arrington, Hemingway, Manningham).  But that was absolutely the last time Florida faced anything like the passing game for OU.  And that Florida defense - or rather, any defense even remotely similiar to that one - would be a monsterous underdog to OU's passing game.

So is Florida better?  A lot better?  Tough to say, since they played few competant passing teams.  We could start here:

174: Passing yards allowed per game by Florida.
19:  National rank.

But then... who throws a lot in the SEC?  Does that tell us anything?

How about if we look at completions-per-game.  Why that stat?  Well, mainly because that's what OU is going to be looking for - lots of completions.  Why?  Attempts are just attempts, and yards per game suffers from long-ball variations and the general truism that passes are longer and easier between the 20s.  Completions, on the other hand, suggest a rhythm.  Anyone can hit two 40 yarders in 2 attempts and look great if you run the ball 10 straight times to set them up.  But to pile up completions, you need a plan and you have to impose it - 5 yard out, 7 yards to the TE, run, 12 yard screen, 5 yd out, etc.

If you have a lot of completions, your O is beating the opposing defense.

16.6:  Completions per game allowed by FLA defense.
37:  National rank.
Other teams allowing between 16 and 17 completions (ie, 16.1, 16.2, etc) per game.

Northern Illinois
Air Force
Penn St.
Wake Forest
Notre Dame

A mixed bag of peers, for sure.  BUt not damning.  In fact, hard to read.  Can we say that Florida definetly doesn't have an elite pass defense?  Or does no one throw against them in the SEC?
   One thing's for sure - OU will:

24.9: OU completions per game (12th nationally, with Texas and Purdue).

(And for you puritans -
3: National rank of OU's passing offense, in yards per game.)

Perhaps, though, we are missing half of the equation.  If Florida DOES stop OU, what is that likely to look like?  What factor will have to be in play?  Corners swatting away endless bombs?  Not likely.  Judging half by what we saw from OU this year, and half from what we saw from Fla against MIch last year, I think we can add that to the Questions Which Aren't Questions-pile.  Tebow will get his points, but Fla's coverage will not slow down OU.
  Which is not to say OU won't be stopped.  The last time OU took a Heisman-winning QB to a national title game, they discovered that ninja receivers and brilliant schemes are for shit if the other DLine holds a dance party in the backfield.

How to measure that?  Well, how about sacks?  They won't need a sack every play, of course, but if you get one sack out of every five good rushes, that still makes sacks a good barometer of pressure.
  Looking at sacks, we can ask if Florida's D gets to the QB better than, say, Texas or Tech or Ok St?  And, alternately, does OU's line generally give Bradford a lot of time?

31:  Sacks, Florida in 2008
31:  National rank (not a typo)
(for comparison
42:  Sacks, OU
3:  National Rank)

1: National Rank of Texas, who beat OU
2: National Rank of TCU, who OU whipped
5: OU opponents with more sacks than Florida - Texas, TCU, Tech, Mizzou, Nebraska
6: National Rank of Ol' Miss, who beat Florida - the only SEC school in the Top 25 of sack leaders

hmmm.....  sacks are not Florida's thing nor the SEC's in general, and Florida lost to the one school that does it well.  And OU is 4-1 (almost 5-0) against teams that are really good at sacks.  Hmmmm....

OU Offense vs Fla Defense, or, The Grand Unified Theory of Passing

So let's roll it all together.  Can Florida's defense get to Bradford - ie, gets some sacks - enough to break up OU's passing game long enough for Tebow and the offense to crank out points in the second half?  Or will OU's line keep Bradford safe long enough for him to find a rhythm which, almost definetly, will spell first-half doom for the Gators?

Grand Unified OU Offense
29:  OU completions per Sack-allowed (In English, Bradford completes 29 passes between sacks - enough for perhaps 3 length of the field drives).
2: National rank of that stat.  Only 5 teams are over 20.
421: OU passing yards per sack-allowed - a flat-stupid number.
1: National rank of that stat.
385, 295, 271:  2nd (T Tech), 3rd (Miz) and 4th (Boise St) in that category.

Verdict:  OU's protection and Bradford's production is, collectively, WAY better than anybody else in the country and miles past anybody in the SEC.

Grand Unified FLA Defense
8.6: Fla completions allowed per sack made.  To put that in context, if an 80 yard drive lasts 9 plays and if a sack kills a drive, then - on average - you can't drive the field on FLA by passing.  Barely.
29:  National rank.
72:  Yards allowed per sack made.

Verdict:  Florida has caused a decent amount of trouble - though not complete chaos - for passers in a league short on good passing.

Grand Unified Advantage:  OU.

And since run games, special teams, coaching adjustments and mental focus never matter, you can take that as a lock!

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