2013 Army Football Stat Tracker: First Downs

How does a football team fare in relation to its in-game statistical achievements (or lack thereof)? What stories do numbers tell about a specific set of results over the course of a full season? Today begins the first installment of a multi-part series that will attempt to put Army's 2013 season into perspective.


FIRST THINGS: TURNING FIRST DOWNS INTO SOMETHING MORE THAN SECOND-BEST

The 2013 Army football team won't have the benefit of a new coaching staff. The 2014 Black Knights will be starting fresh under Jeff Monken, a turn of events that will hopefully infuse new life into a relatively stagnant program that briefly improved under Rich Ellerson but could not sustain the gains made in 2010. There's a new leader in West Point, and Army is naturally trying to turn the page as a program. Yet, the Black Knights need to learn from their 2013 season so that they can attempt to make the right adjustments this coming autumn.

We're going to spend multiple weeks slowly unpacking what Army did last season in relation to its in-game statistical output. Did Army win various statistical games-within-the-game, and if so, did the Black Knights translate that edge into any meaningful degree of leverage and success? Obviously, you can look at the Black Knights' 11 FBS games last season and arrive at some obvious conclusions, but a more detailed examination of the statistical record can shine a light on what West Point football must do in 2014.

We'll start this weekly series with a look at first downs. In 11 FBS games, Army won the first-down battle on six occasions. The Black Knights finished with fewer first downs than an opponent on four occasions, and one game ended in a statistical tie.

How did these smaller results affect the win-loss column for Army? In the six games in which the Brave Old Army Team finished with more first downs than its opponent, the Black Knights finished 2-4. When it lost the first-down race, Army finished 0-4. It lost the one game in which it finished in a statistical tie.

One can arrive at a few conclusions here. First, Army's only FBS wins came in games when it did win this statistical category. It stands to reason that the Black Knights do need to collect first downs in a drip-drip-drip fashion so that they can drain clock and shorten games. Playing a mean game of ball control can simultaneously rest a defense and remove the burden from the defense to have to make game-defining stands. Monken and his staff know how to increase Army's margin for error next season.

Yet, while it's true that Army's wins came when it won the fight for first downs, the Black Knights weren't able to reach the .500 mark in those games. A 2-4 record when collecting more first downs than an opponent is simply not good enough, and no one around the program should be inclined to disagree.

Here's the way forward for Army in 2014, relative to first downs: The Black Knights need to play more than six games in which they win this category. Hopefully, Army can get to eight such games. Second, the Black Knights need to find a way to be a .500 team in those games. Third, Army has to find a way to steal one of the games in which it fails to gain more first downs than its foe. If you put the numbers together, the Black Knights – should they meet these three targets – would win five FBS games in the season to come. That's not a brilliant campaign, but it would certainly represent a huge step forward from 2013.

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