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Cal Football, Evans Hall Edition: Reviewing the Jake Spavital Offense

What does Cal's new OC/QB Coach Jake Spavital bring to the table? I will do a review of the advanced statistics on Texas A&M's offense during the 2014-2015 seasons. The breakdown will be focused on two aspects: the passing game and the running game. Let's get to it!

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Let me lay down the methodology first. I picked the last two season where OC/QB Coach Spavital split OC duties with Clarence McKinney. I did not include the 2013 season due to the fact that Johnny Manziel, in the whole spectrum of college football, is an outlier when it comes to QB performance. This is the same logic I would apply to Jared Goff. These QBs aren't the QBs that are most likely to start on Saturdays, they are special talents that skew observations during their time in the game. I don't think it would be fair to use those data-points to extrapolate future performance.

Overview of the Spaviffense

(Note, www.footballstudyhall.com only has the more indepth data for the 2015 season so I will have to depend on less detailed data from www.footballoutsiders.com for the 2014 season).

2015

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Off. S&P+ 30.4 55
Explosiveness 1.18 106 1.27
Efficiency 43.00% 47 40.30%
Average Field Position 30.3 56 29.9
Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.4 90 4.67

These aren't very encouraging statistics--for someone like me who values time of possession the 43% Success Rate is discouraging. Furthermore, the lack of explosive plays is often correlated with overall poor offensive performance of a team. Mack "the Devil" Brown and Bill Connelly both agree that explosive plays are the most important for an offense. Being efficient is important, but as Bill Connelly stated in "Study Hall", 5-yard plays will be efficient, but running 14 plays (70 yards) can be taxing on an offense.

Texas A&M fans and sportswriters were wondering about the sudden decline in the offensive production by the team.

2014

Avg. Rk
Off. S&P+ 37.6 18
Rushing S&P+ 116.5 26
Passing S&P+ 126.6 14
SD S&P+ 121.5 20
PD S&P+ 121.5 25
Success S&P+ 120.4 12
IsoPPP+ 126 20
FP+ 104 26
Redzone S&P+ 112.8 33
Success Rate 46.80% 20
IsoPPP 0.9 37
Adjusted Run % 43.10% 111
Adjusted Pace -1.9 27

Here lies the rub. Was 2014 or 2015 the statistical aberration? All across the board we have an offense that was consistently very good (Top 25 on all but rushing) in the nation. Especially with the high levels of explosiveness and efficiency. Furthermore, the rushing and passing offenses were working equally well on the field. We can see that the 2014 offense was quick of the line with a low run percentage to the rest of the NCAA.

What changed?

In the 2015 NFL Draft the Texas A&M offense only lost T Cedric Ogbuehi (#21 in the 1st Round) and G Jarvis Harrison (#152 in the 5th Round). Kenny (Trill) Hill (2,649 yards, 66.7%, 23/8 TD/Int) was benched halfway through the season after losing three consecutive games (@ Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and @ Bama). He was replaced with true Freshman Kyle Allen who posted a pretty good season ( 1,322 yards, 61.5%, 16/7 TD/Int).

However, in 2015 A&M WR gained Christian Kirk (#4 WR ESPN, #3 WR Scout, and #3 WR Rivals) who headlined the #10 recruiting rank. This is on top of #6 recruiting ranked team in 2014 that featured Speedy Noil (#1 WR ESPN, #1 WR Scout, and #3 WR Rivals). QB Kyle Allen was in his second year in the system. By all means the performance of the team from 2014 to 2015 should've been more or less similar. So let us delve into the 2015's detailed statistics to find out why?

Spavifense 2015

Passing Offense

In 2015, the Texas A&M team exploded with a win against #15 ASU (the rumors of how good ASU was were overblown). And then went on a 5–0 tear (with a win against #21 Mississippi State). After collecting four losses in the regular season (blowouts against #10 Bama and @ #24 Ole Miss, as well as vs. Auburn and LSU) and a bowl loss against Louisville, the team fired OC/QB Spavital.

At the Ole Miss game, Kyle Allen was benched and then HC Sumlin and OCs Spavital and McKinney decided to start freshman Kyler Murray in the following game against South Carolina over Allen. This QB carousel exhibited itself on the statsheet:

Player Ht, Wt Year Comp Att Yards TD INT Completion Rate Sacks Sack Rate Yards Per Attempt
Kyle Allen 6'3, 210 SO 160 283 2210 17 7 56.50% 23 7.50% 6.7
Kyler Murray 5'11, 188 FR 72 121 686 5 7 59.50% 8 6.20% 4.9
Sum 232 404 2896 22 14 57.43% 31 7.67% 7.2

It has to be noted that 66.1% of the passing yards went to two WRs Kirk and Reynolds (with Speedy Noil having to deal with suspensions and injuries). When we look at receiver data:

Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Targets Catches Yards TD Yards per Catch Yards per Target Catch Rate Target Rate
Christian Kirk WR 5'11, 200 FR 129 80 1009 7 12.6 7.8 62.00% 28.20%
Josh Reynolds WR 6'4, 195 JR 85 51 907 5 17.8 10.7 60.00% 18.60%
Ricky Seals-Jones WR 6'5, 240 SO 75 45 560 4 12.4 7.5 60.00% 16.40%
Speedy Noil WR 5'11, 192 SO 46 21 226 2 10.8 4.9 45.70% 10.00%
Tra Carson RB 6'0, 235 SR 33 29 183 1 6.3 5.6 87.90% 7.20%
Damion Ratley WR 6'1, 190 SO 32 15 200 2 13.3 6.3 46.90% 7.00%
Jeremy Tabuyo WR 5'11, 192 JR 15 9 102 3 11.3 6.8 60.00% 3.30%
Edward Pope WR 6'4, 170 JR 12 8 65 0 8.1 5.4 66.70% 2.60%

Thinking about this data we can see that there were three main receivers in the offense with the oldest being Josh Reynolds. Furthermore, we can see that none of the top-four receivers were able to crack 65% Catch rate... which is awful (in 2015 Cal's receivers were: Kenny Lawler (61.2%), Bryce Treggs (61.6%), Darius Powe (68.1%), and Stephen Anderson (68.3%) in their catch rates). Additionally, Kirk had as many targets as Powe and Anderson had combined last year, with Reynolds having as many targets as Lawler.

Looking into the detailed passing statistics:

Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing S&P+ 96 81 100
Passing Efficiency 38.60% 82 40.30%
Passing Explosiveness 1.39 91 1.49
Adj. Sack Rate 93.6 71 100

These are some poor passing statistics. Whichever way we slice this: the passing offense failed to live up to any expectations. Even of borderline mediocrity. There were many explanations: young QBs, injuries, lack of a run game, or poor game planning. Maybe a look at the running game can give us an insight into what might've ailed the offense. Was it due to the youth of the players thrown into the fire too early? Or was it something systemic withe playbook and gameday plans? Did opposing defenses find some flaw in the system that effectively shut down the offense?

Rushing Offense

Before the 2015 season Good Bull Hunting's Ranger222 critiqued the running game from the 2014 season. He cited continuous declines in the yards per attempt and overall rushing yards per game as symptoms of a decline of the run game. Furthermore, Ranger222 observed poor interior o-line play. Each of these factors contributed to the firing of the o-line coach prior to the 2015 season.

Following are the numbers for the 2015 season as per Football Study Hall:

Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 116 16 100
Rushing Efficiency 48.00% 17 42.30%
Rushing Explosiveness 0.99 100 1.08
Adj. Line Yards 122 5 100
Opportunity Rate 43.50% 19 38.90%
Power Success Rate 62.10% 90 66.30%
Stuff Rate 15.60% 11 19.60%

Here we can see some sunshine. Even with a poor passing offense, the production by the ground game remained high (not including Explosiveness, which is an issue). It has to be noted that the measures, besides Power Success Rate, for sub-20 yard runs are very good. Especially with the Adjusted Line Yards statistic, which credits the o-line with a certain amount of a RB's yards. This isn't a perfect formula since it assumes that the first 4 yards are fully o-line's responsibility. Furthermore, the o-line was fairly good at doing its job as depicted by the Opportunity rate (the rate at which the o-line does its job and produces at least 5 yards for the RB).

However, before we sing praises about the run-game design we need to remember that the Aggies have matriculated four first-round o-linemen in four consecutive NFL Drafts (2013: Luke Joeckel, 2014: Jake Matthews, 2015: Cedric Ogbuehi, and 2016: Germain Ifedi). Of course, we need to consider the fact that all of the aforementioned players are Offensive Tackles and the only Center/Guard drafted out of A&M was the aforementioned Jarvis Harrison. Furthermore, from the post-game review of the Louisville-Texas A&M game by GBH's stringsays, and the LSU-Texas A&M game there were complaints about poor overall o-line play and playcalling.

This means that it will be hard to figure out whether it was the scheme that helped the ground game succeed or was it the players that made the scheme look better? I think it is a little bit of both. Having a whole generation (in college football terms) of great tackles helps with the run game when we are running through B and C gaps, but not when the run game goes through the A gaps or depends on a pulling guard.

When we look at the RB splits for 2015 :

Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Rushes Yards TD YPC Highlight Yards / Opp Opportunity Rate Fumbles (Rate)
Tra Carson RB 6'0, 235 SR 243 1165 7 4.8 3.8 39.90% 2 (2)
James White RB 6'0, 220 SO 55 196 1 3.6 2.4 34.50% 0 (0)
Kyler Murray QB 5'11, 188 FR 45 387 1 8.6 6.9 62.20% 3 (1)
Kyle Allen QB 6'3, 210 SO 43 258 2 6 4.1 51.20% 8 (2)
Brice Dolezal RB 5'9, 180 SR 38 191 1 5 2.9 47.40% 0 (0)
Kwame Etwi RB 5'9, 190 FR 21 151 0 7.2 8.7 38.10% 1 (0)
Christian Kirk WR 5'11, 200 FR 11 54 0 4.9 2.2 54.50% 3 (3)

We can see a dependance on a primary back who has the measurements similar to Todd Gurley and Kenny Hillard, and is 10 pounds heavier than Daniel Lasco. He had 53.2% of the carries and 48.5% of the yards gained. This spells well for whichever RB at Cal that is able to showcase the highest level of dependability. Vic Enwere had the most carries last season, however, Tre Watson had most of the carries in the latter part of the year.

Aggregated Thoughts on Spaviffense at Cal

The critique by GBH's writers about the offense as well a poor 2015 passing game performance are on my mind now. A part of this can be attributed to the QBs that were ineffective in the offense after initial success (Kenny Hill, Kyler Allen, and Kyle Allen have all transferred out of A&M), however as QB coach and OC, Spavital carries some of the blame for the decline in the offensive capacity of the Aggies. Furthermore, the passing game in 2015 was led by talented, but not exceptionally dependable, WRs; this could spell trouble for the young and untested Cal WR corps for the 2016 season (as depicted in this post).

After writing this post I am inclined to believe that in 2016 we will fall closer to the production in 2015 than 2014. This is the pessimist in me who is seeing patterns with the young WR corps and inexperienced QB play (which are evident in both seasons, but I tend to lean towards pessimism). There are counterbalancing forces with Spavital not having to split OC duties at Cal and the influence of Sonny Dykes who has established his own defined culture at Cal.

Without further ado,

Class Dismissed!