Yards Per Attempt: A Closer Look

The numbers suggest that this Thursday's Cards-Canes tilt should be quite an even match-up, despite what many Miami fans would have you believe. I have analyzed a rarely-used stat – yards per-attempt – that is in reality one of the best ways to evaluate the overall strength of a team. Analyzing yards per-attempt takes out of the picture the one factor that often renders total yardage figures a poor indicator of a team's strength on offense and defense: field position, which varies greatly due to turnovers and impacts total yardage stats on both sides of the ball. It also takes sacks into consideration in the passing game, rather than the running game, painting an overall more accurate picture of a team's potency running and passing the ball.

Measuring a team's average yards per rush and per pass attempt, as well as its average yards surrendered per run and pass attempt, gives the best overall picture of a team's raw offensive and defensive performance. I have broken down these numbers from the games that are arguably Miami and Louisville's most impressive wins – Georgia Tech and North Carolina, respectively – and analyzed them compared to the averages of those opponents against the rest of their schedule. What emerges is an interesting picture of the two teams – nothing particularly shocking, but intriguing nonetheless.

First I broke down the season averages for both Louisville and Miami. Offensively, U of L has played some very weak teams. But it has put up obscene numbers: 5.1 yards per rushing attempt and 9.37 per passing attempt – 6.65 YPA overall on offense. For reference, the passing number is a full 2 yards per attempt better than what Cal averaged Saturday against USC, when its quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, was nearly perfect throwing the ball. The rushing number is similar to what Nebraska's '95 squad, arguably the best running team of all time, averaged. The overall yards per-attempt number, sustained over an entire season, would likely qualify this Cardinal unit as the most efficient offense of all time. Obviously, the competition is not equivalent, but the numbers are impressive nonetheless.


Brent Johnson with the tackle (ITV)
Meanwhile U of L's defense has faced slightly better competition, especially from UNC, which has a good offense. The Cards are allowing only 2.91 yards per rush, which is an excellent figure, and 5.59 per pass, which is also very good. Overall, the Cardinals are surrendering just 4.34 yards per attempt while gaining 6.66 YPA on offense – this is a recipe for domination, which is exactly what has happened so far.

Miami also has impressive averages, particularly on defense, where it is simply incredible, surrendering only 2.56 per rush, 4.5 per pass attempt and 3.33 per play overall. The Canes' offense has been closer to average, however. Their 4.17 YPC average is good, and 6.96 per passing attempt is nothing to sneeze at – but both fall short of being outstanding numbers. They average 5.35 yards per offensive play overall.

Next I analyzed how the Cards and Canes performed against UNC and Georgia Tech, respectively, relative to what those teams have averaged overall for the season. While one game, obviously, does not a season make, this comparison is interesting because it is the closest thing to a common opponent between the two teams. Here's how the numbers stack up:


'The Hammer' Robert McCune (ITV)
U of L held Carolina to 3.5 yards per rush and 5.6 yards per pass attempt, when prior to the two meeting a weeks ago, the Tarheels were averaging 5.09 per rush and 8.33 per pass. To say the least, this is an impressive defensive performance against a very good offensive team. Miami, meanwhile, held Georgia Tech to 4.4 yards per rush and 2.6 yards per pass attempt, while coming into the contest the Yellow Jackets were averaging 4.45 per rush and 6.05 per pass. What do these numbers suggest? Miami's run defense may be vulnerable, as it allowed Georgia Tech, which – according to the numbers, is not a very good offensive team – to gain its season average on the ground. The Canes did, however, hold Tech to 3.7 yards per play overall, which is an excellent figure. This is due to the dominating performance of Miami's pass defense, which is in every respect superb.

The offensive numbers are interesting. U of L controlled the ball on the ground, averaging 5.3 yards per rush, and passed at a clip of 7.4 yards per attempt for an overall average of 6 yards per offensive play. Surprisingly, all of these figures are actually below what the Tarheels surrender on average: 5.57 YPC, 7.84 yards per pass attempt and 6.48 yards per play overall. Is this a cause for concern that U of L's offense may not be as good as suspected? Probably not, since UNC's overall stats are skewed by the UL game itself and a blowout loss to UVA. Also, the Cardinals substituted liberally toward the end of the game and continued to run to control the clock even when UNC played eight-man fronts to stop the run.

Miami's offensive performance versus the Georgia Tech defense is also interesting. Miami averaged just 3.7 per rush but 8.6 per pass, for an overall figure of 5.7 yards per play. Georgia Tech's defense, meanwhile surrenders 4.98 versus the run and 5.95 against the pass. What does this mean? Miami, like Louisville, fell short of the average yards per play that GT has surrendered throughout the year, but, also like U of L against UNC, they won handily.

What conclusions can one take from all this? Well, first of all it is important for comparison's sake to remember that UNC beat Georgia Tech handily. The numbers show that, against UNC, U of L played outstanding defense, as did Miami versus Tech. Miami may not have as strong of a running attack as its fans believe, but Louisville may not either. Both teams appear to have strong defenses, with U of L's being better against the run and Miami's being good against both but superb against the pass.

Analyzing the averages from the season so far, the teams appear similarly strong. Louisville is averaging 2.31 yards per play better than its competition while Miami is averaging 2.02 yards per play better. Taking the varying strengths of schedule into account, it appears that the teams have both performed at a relatively equal level this year, as both have dominated their opponents on both sides of the ball, U of L more on offense and Miami more on defense.

If Louisville does not get flustered playing under the bright lights of the Orange Bowl, this game should boil down to special teams, turnovers and big plays either way. Both of these teams are very good, and it should be a superb battle Thursday night.


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