2012 Air Force Analysis: A Statistical Review

More completions, more yardage, more success – right? Lee Corso offers a word of caution: "Not so fast, my friend." Passing yards are one of the more overrated statistics in football, and in this week's statistical review of 2012, we offer a timely reminder of that pigskin truth.

It's so easy for the casual football fan to be wowed by 300- or 400-yard passing performances. Huge numbers capture the human brain's attention, making it instinctive to admire any feat that looks very snappy in a box score. For a service-academy football team, a 235-yard passing performance might as well rate as a 350-yard game for a Big Ten school, or a 450-yard performance for a Conference USA school or a Pac-12 South Division school not named Colorado or Utah. That 235-yard performance is exactly what Air Force produced on one Saturday in the 2012 season. The Falcons posted single-game season highs in completions (17), attempts (29), and passing yards (235) on one afternoon.

It must have been so thrilling and exhilarating to see this change of pace on the gridiron. Working in tandem with a more prolific passing game, Air Force's rushing attack must have been that much more difficult for the opposing team to handle.


Not only were those two assumptions wrong; they weren't even remotely close to being right.

Air Force's seemingly gaudy but profoundly misleading passing statistics were posted in a 20-point loss at Army, a 41-21 setback in which Air Force once trailed by as many as 28 points (35-7) late in the third quarter. That contest on Nov. 3 in West Point showed precisely how fat passing stats are just that – fat, without substantial nutritional value.

Air Force committed five turnovers against Army. The Falcons' stream of mistakes enabled Army to amass a huge lead. Air Force accumulated many of its passing yards in a futile attempt to catch up. The high number of turnovers meant that as Army's lead increased, it became more necessary for Air Force to pass the ball. Attempts and completions kept climbing, but in the wrong contexts and for all the wrong reasons.

Whenever you look at passing statistics – not just for Air Force, but for any team – be sure to identity the situations in which passing yards and completions are accumulated. Few statistics in football are more dependent on contextual references than passing yards and completions. In 2013, Air Force needs to make sure that if it completes 17 passes for 235 yards, it is doing so within the context of a 56-49 multi-overtime win, one in which an improved passing attack supplements a rushing game that cranks out 495 yards and carves out a hard-earned win against a formidable opponent.

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