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A Metrics Breakdown of Northwestern's Offense Through Week 3

Taking a look at Northwestern's QBs and WRs from the past three weeks of play

David Banks

This week in Quantifying the ‘Cats I wanted to take a broader view of the offense. Games like the one against Cal are fun to chart because you can really get a feel for the flow of the game from the numbers. Saturday’s game was less enthralling statistically, so I’ve pulled back to take a look at the season so far and a deeper look at the wide receiving core (hint, Tony Jones is pretty good).

2013 Season Charts (so far)

Since the Western Michigan game was a bit boring in terms of charted passes (All Screens Everything), these charts represent the entire season to this point.

  • If you consider screens an extended part of the run game and not ‘passes’, then Kain has only thrown 16 legitimate passes through the season so far. I’m not a big proponent of the idea of rhythm of the need for extended reps to get warmed up, but depending on what goes on in the Maine game, Colter could come into the Ohio State with only one combined entire game of passing reps.
  • Ideally you’d like to see Kain get some completions deep downfield just to get a feeling for it this year. So far he only has one completion deeper than 10 yards. This could lead to Ohio State really stacking the middle of the field against the run and short passes. We know Colter has the ability to hit those passes, but he simply hasn’t so far.
  • I keep waiting for Siemian’s deep completion percentage to drop, but for the season he’s good for a 60% completion rate. That’ll obviously drop, but I’m still astounded that he’s gone from worst in the BCS at deep completion accuracy last year 27% to near best this year.
  • I’ve seen the occasional post on NU fan sites suggesting that Trevor could be a high draft pick. Up until recently I’d been dubious due to his past issues with deep accuracy, but if he was able to maintain numbers close to this in his senior season he’d be in draft discussions at least.

Misc Passing Stats

  • Listen Trevor, we need to have a talk about throwing into coverage. Every week you throw some brilliant passes. From great touch passes to accurate deep balls, there’s a lot to like about your game. But you have to stop throwing into coverage where defenders can get their hands on the ball. Every game 2-4 of your passes are defense, against Western Michigan it was 2 on 14 passes (14%). Chris Borland of Wisconsin and Ryan Shazier were statistically two of the best linebackers against the pass last year, and Dennard and Robey of MSU and OSU could go high in the draft. Those guys will make you pay and it won’t be pretty. /imaginary Trevor
  • The wide receivers deserve some serious praise this year. I’ve watched and charted every pass so far and haven’t counted a dropped ball that is solely on the WR. Teams typically average a drop rate of 8% on all targets. That means we should have expected around 7 drops so far. I don’t know if this will average out throughout the season or if the WRs are just that good.
  • Who are the QB’s favorite targets? Turns out that Siemian’s favorite target is Christian Jones with 28% of Trevor’s total completions (used completions instead of attempts to adjust for throwaways, etc) with Tony Jones next at 26% and Vitale at third with 13%.  Colter has completed passes equally to ToJo and Vitale with 26% of his total completions each. His next favorite target? Everyone’s favorite transfer, Kyle Prater at 13%.

The Danger of ToJo

Many wide receivers at the college level only have one specialty, they’re either a deep-threat, a shifty slot player, or a middle of the field possession guy. Tony Jones has quickly proven he doesn’t fall into any of one of those boxes, instead proving a threat everywhere on the field.

  • He’s a deep threat. In the young season, Jones has caught 18 passes for 293 yards, giving him an average completion of 16.2 yards. When we take out yards after the catch, 39% of his completions (7 receptions) were caught deeper than 10 yards. 22% of his total receptions (4) were caught deeper than 20 yards.
  • He’s shifty. One of the best metrics to evaluate a receiver’s ‘shiftiness’ is their run after the catch ability on screens. Ball placement and coverage are taken out of the equation – it’s the receiver and his blockers against the defenders. On his 6 screen receptions (the highest among all WRs) he has averaged 11.7 yards after the catch. That’s among the highest I’ve seen including noted speedsters Tavon Austin, Sammy Watkins and Cordarrelle Patterson.
  • He’s good in the open field. I count that out of his 283 total yards to date, 111 came from yards after the catch. That is to say, 39% of his yardage is coming after the catch while he averages 6.2 yards after each catch; above- average to elite in college football.

If you’re game planning for Jones you can’t press up close to the LOS to combat the screen because he can beat you deep. You can’t back off to defend the deep pass or else you’re guaranteed to get hit for yardage on a screen. Jones is an invaluable weapon for an offense that averaged just under 3 yards after the catch in 2012.

For some reason I couldn’t edit the video for this week’s passes, my video editor didn’t appreciate a 6GB recording of the game. I apologize for that. I did some charting on Campbell, but figured I’d save it for next week because I can’t imagine the charts for the Maine game will be terribly exciting. Let me know if you have any questions, I didn’t include data about blitzes/ situational passing this week.