Unconventional Win

With all the analysis done by fans and media it is easy to lose sight of a simple truth about the game of football.

There are no style points for turnover margin, yards gained, yards allowed, etc. except in polls voted by humans. The win-loss columns depend solely on points scored in a game vs. the points allowed in that game.

Football lends itself to statistical analysis, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that the stats we often think of as critical to winning and losing aren’t really predicting wins or losses, they reveal the most common characteristics of the teams scoring more points than their opponents, without guaranteeing the outcome.

AState was out-gained by 97 yards against USU, but turnovers influence those numbers. AState’s first turnover would have been a first down at the USU 15. The second turnover came on first and five at the AState 30 (pick was at the 33). AState’s third turnover was on first down at the USU 44. The final turnover was on 2nd and nine at the 50. Turnovers cost the AState at least eight opportunities to run plays, based on the yards per play average, it cost AState a likely 32 yards of offense and that assumes no first downs gained on any of those plays. The final two turnovers, which were not forced, came on first and second down with AState at midfield or in USU territory and given the game circumstances were likely four down situations.

For years losing the time of possession battle was seen as an indicator of having the lesser team. The advent of spread offenses has turned that thinking on its head. Spread teams move so quickly and have so many plays that stop the clock (incomplete passes, player goes out-of-bounds, first down) it skews possession time. Now only power running teams care if they “win” time of possession.

Saturday night, AState defied most conventional wisdom about winning.
- AState lost the time of possession
- The Red Wolves were out-gained by nearly the length of the field.
- AState lost the turnover battle 4-1 (really 4-2 with USU’s punter fumbling then being tackled for a loss on fourth down.

Two parts of conventional wisdom were upheld by AState.

Defense wins games or defense wins championships. USU had 10 drives where they started a play on AState’s side of the field and the defense yielded only 7 points. Wins and losses come down to scoring more points than the other team. Since the start of the 2013 season USU has been held to 14 or less five times in those 18 games and are 1-4 in those games.

The AState defense gave the Red Wolves an opportunity to win and that’s the most you can expect.

Special teams can change a game.

Luke Ferguson had three punts downed inside the 20. One resulted in a one play 81 yard drive but the other two resulted in a 3 play six yard drive and a 3 play 18 yard drive (penalty accounted for 15 of those yards). That led to a sequence of possessions with good field position for the Red Wolves that resulted in two scoring possibilities though AState converted only one of them. There is a stat that floats around about blocked kicks. Teams blocking a kick win about 77% of the time. Artez Brown’s block gave AState the chance to turn into an alternating possession 25 yard game. Last year Ryan Carrethers kept Ball State from having that sort of opportunity. It was a messy game. It didn’t fit conventional wisdom but the Red Wolves managed a win over a quality opponent.

The Red Wolves get an extra week to get healthy, iron out some execution issues, and get ready for league play. There was no surprise on Saturday that AState struggled to defeat a team that has won 29 games since 2011, but to have made so many errors and have the chance to make winning plays is a testament to the growth of AState football.