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Fun with Numbers: Week 2

All I do is lose, lose, lose, no matter what

Jonathan Daniel

Drive stats from Saturday:

  1. Each team had 15 drives, but Syracuse received the ball with time expiring in the first half and NU kneeled down to finish the second, for an effective total of 14 per team. There's some garbage time included in those, obviously.
  2. Excluding the end of half drives, Syracuse managed 31.0 yards per drive; Northwestern gained 40.8.
  3. Northwestern also had a 7 yard advantage in average starting field position; those interceptions were helpful.
  4. Syracuse's offense went 3-and-out three times, Northwestern's only twice. Northwestern did, however, fail to gain a first down on a turnover on downs in the fourth quarter, so the effective three and out number there is three.
It was a good day on both sides of the ball, though Syracuse had one of the big-yardage, poor efficiency passing games that we have become accustomed to from Northwestern's opponents. The defensive letdown in the second half doesn't appear in yards per drive; 179 yards on 6 drives is still 29.8 yards per drive. Instead, Syracuse started their drives with significantly better field position, averaging a start at their 30 instead of their 18 (including a TD drive starting from their 46), had more drives (8 to 6), and scored their final TD in backup-on-backup action.

Team Stats

Northwestern's pass defense:
11 passes defended on 45 attempts (24.4%), 4 INTs from those 11 pass defenses (36.4%), 1 sack on 46 dropbacks (2.2%).
Drew Allen was accurate (29-45), but NU did a fairly good job of getting hands on the ball. The only sack came early, when Tyler Scott turned the corner on his man and stripped the ball.
On the season, NU has defended 19.3% of opposing passes, intercepted 33.3% of those passes defended, and recorded a sack on 4.4% of opposing dropbacks. The sack rate is low, the interception rate unsustainably high, and the pass defense rate respectable.

Northwestern's pass offense:
3 passes defended on 37 attempts (8.1%), 0 interceptions (0%, obviously), 3 sacks on 40 dropbacks (7.5%). All of the sacks came against Colter. He had a few big scrambles as well, so I'm not that worried.
Season: 11.9% of passes defended, 25% of defended passes intercepted, 5.6% sack rate.

Turnovers: Both teams fumbled once and recovered their own fumble. Northwestern intercepted more passes than expected and Syracuse fewer, so the Adjusted Turnover Margin was only 1.76 in NU's favor.
I made a mistake in the formula last week (forgot to include fumbles); the actual Adjusted Turnover Margin from that game was 2.1 in NU's favor (instead of 1.1). On the season, NU's Adjusted Turnover Margin is 3.86; the actual margin of 4 is a bit better (pretty hard to get the .86 in a game). Obviously, the actual turnovers were distributed very differently, with the formula expecting NU to be +2 against both Cal (actually an even margin) and Syracuse (actually +4).

Finally, Northwestern's Pythagorean projection, based purely on points for and against, gives a .75 win percentage; that gives 1.5 expected wins through two games and, were NU to continue scoring and allowing points at the same rate all year (probably won't happen), 9 expected wins for the season.


In the quest for more than 12 yards per reception, Christian Jones (16.13), Tony Jones (18.21), and Dan Vitale (15.89) are all still going strong. Tony Jones is tied with Allen Robinson for the Big Ten lead in receptions (14) and only 7 yards behind Robinson for the receiving yardage lead (262-255).
Treyvon Green leads the team in rushing with 195 yards; presumably that will change when Venric Mark gets healthy. I'm not expecting him to have a 1,000 yard season until next year.
Tyler Scott's two sacks put him in an 11-way tie for the conference sack lead. No other NU player has more than one.
Ibraheim Campbell and Collin Ellis each have 2 interceptions, good for second in the conference (along with three other players).

Rankings and Advanced Stats

As you probably know, NU is ranked 17th in the AP and 16th in the Coaches' Poll. The BCS computers have NU at 18 (Colley), 15 (Billingsley), 2 (Massey), and 34 (Sagarin). Until these get more data, they are probably even worse than human polls, so I wouldn't put to much stock in them. SBN's projected BCS standings have NU at 15, if you care at this point in the season.

The points-based systems are also still working out the kinks. The Simple Rating System has NU at 16th in the country, second in the conference to Michigan; it also has OSU at 82nd in the country, so give it some time to accumulate data before you get excited. In the ALL IMPORTANT AND SUPER SERIOUS hoegher rankings, NU is 61st; your small sample size special here is #1 Georgia Tech.
Sagarin, still using last year's data to adjust, has NU at 32 in his Predictor, a 19 point neutral-field favorite over Western Michigan. Northwestern is a couple points behind Nebraska and Wisconsin and about a TD behind Michigan and OSU here.

In the Football Outsiders stats, NU managed to drop a place, from 25 to 26, in FEI; the major result of the weekend was Syracuse dropping from 42 to 52. Western Michigan dropped from 94 to 96, so I'm feeling pretty confident about Saturday. S&P+ continues to be unimpressed, as Northwestern remains at 48. It's also having one of those fun early season moments, with Michigan State moving up to third on the strength of a defense that would be in the low 60s on its own; I'm fairly certain that things will look a bit more reasonable in a few weeks. As one would expect, F/+ splits the difference, with NU coming in 38th, a one position drop.

This was also the first week with S&P+ broken out for offenses and defenses. Northwestern's offensive rating contains an interesting reversal from previous years: NU ranks higher (26) in points per play, which primarily measures a team's big-play ability, than in success rate (49), which measures a team's ability to consistently gain yardage.