I tread carefully into any analysis of statistics in college football. There are so few games that stats can be incredibly misleading — the type of schedule a team plays can greatly skew the numbers, as can just one bad game or half.
That said and acknowledged, I figured five games was enough time to at least throw some of UW’s numbers out there to compare to a year ago and see what that might tell us.
To be fair, UW has played what Sagrain rates as the eighth-toughest schedule in the country so far (and in typical Pac-10 fashion, half the conference rates in the top ten with Oregon State at No. 1, WSU at No. 4, Arizona State at No. 6 and UCLA at No. 7).
But I think the schedule UW has played to date makes looking at the numbers somewhat relevant for two reasons — the schedule really isn’t that much different than what the Huskies played a year ago, and the schedule the rest of the way isn’t getting any easier. To wit, you can probably argue that UW won’t play a team worse than Syracuse the rest of the way, with the possible exception of WSU, though given the nature of that rivalry and being on the road, that could be a dicier game.
And UW may play at least one more team as good as Nebraska in Oregon, a game that will also be on the road (and by the way, for the protests about Syracuse being 4-1, the Orange have beaten Maine, Akron, Colgate and South Florida, a schedule Sagarin rates 152nd in the country. Syracuse is probably the worst 4-1 team in the country, though give it credit for putting together a slate that will likely land it in a bowl game).
So there’s nothing about UW’s schedule the rest of the way that will inherently tilt the numbers one way or another, meaning maybe there is something we can learn.
First off, let’s look at UW’s offensive numbers, first listing this year’s stat compared to last year’s:
2010 — 399.4 yards per game; 2009 — 375.5.
2010 — 169.6 per game, 4.9 per rush; 2009 — 139.0 per game, 4.3 per rush.
2010 — 229.8 yards per game; 2009 — 236.5.
2010 — 124.4 rating; 2009 — 130.5.
2010 — 25.0 points per game; 2009 — 26.1.
Overview: Statistically, UW’s offense has slightly improved in yards per game, thanks mostly to a little better rushing attack, which is due in part to Jake Locker running a little bit more, averaging 11 yards per game more this year than last season, and the addition of Jesse Callier — Chris Polk is averaging 93.2 yards per game this year, almost identical to his 92.8 of last season.
The passing attack, meanwhile, is about the same as a year ago (though again, skewed quite a bit by the poor showing against Nebraska, so overall slightly better if you throw that game out).
The numbers also show UW’s offense to be more balanaced than a year ago, with the passing yardage coming down slightly (though admittedly that’s due largely to the low output against Nebraska. Still, UW has rushed for 145 or more yards in four of five games this year, better than the average of last season, indicating both a little more success rushing, and a little more commitment to it — UW has almost exactly a 50-50 run-pass ratio so far, attempting 172 runs to 173 passes. UW also had about a 50-50 ratio last year with 390 runs and 396 passes, but was a little more successful through the air than on the ground.
So the goal of becoming a little more balanced has statistically been achieved, as has the goal of becoming a little better running. What hasn’t is turning that into more points. The thought going into the year was that UW would have an improved offense, one capable of scoring 30 or more points per game. But UW has broken that barrier just twice (41 against Syracuse, 32 against USC), held to 23 or below in its other three games.
If there’s a reason for that, it might be the third- and fourth-down conversion rates. Last year, UW converted 46 percent of third-downs (78 of 169) compared to 40 percent this year (30-75), and 60 percent of fourth downs (9-15) compared to 36 percent this year (4-11).
Now, some defensive numbers:
2010 — 429.6 yards per game; 2009 — 389.5.
2010 — 207.6 per game, 5.4 per rush; 2009 — 148.8 per game, 4.5 per rush.
2010 — 222.0 yards per game; 2009 — 240.7.
PASS EFFICIENCY DEFENSE:
2010 — 136.6 rating; 2009 — 139.8.
2010 — 30.0 points per game; 2009 — 26.7.
Overview: Obviously, the numbers show a little regression with the defense this year, though again, the 533 given up against Nebraska overall and 383 on the ground skews things a bit (though I note again that Oregon appears to have the same ability as Nebraska, so it’s relevant to compare a little bit to look at what may be in the offing). If you take out the Nebraska game, UW is allowing 403.75 yards per game and 24.5 points per game, each comparable to a year ago.
Most notable there are the rushing numbers, and again skewed by the Nebraska game, as well as USC (take out Nebraska’s 383 yards and UW is allowing 163.7 rushhing yards per game, a little more than a year ago but not much). UW held Arizona State to 99 yards rushing last week, a stat lost a little bit in the grumbling over the final score — though obviously, ASU had a lot of success through the air.
The defensive numbers, though, probably aren’t way out of line from what many outside observers figured they might be heading into the season. The conventional wisdom about this team was that the defense might struggle at times, losing the top two players from last year and appearing to simply not have as much proven talent as the offense.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian has said after two of the team’s losses — BYU and ASU — that the defense did its job well enough to put the Huskies in position to win. And the numbers seem to bear out that while there has been some statistical regression, that if you throw out the Nebraska game, the defense has probably played to expectations. It’s the offense, where you would have expected the numbers to improve, that has lagged a bit.
Obviously, special teams has also played a role in UW defeats this season. In the two most telling numbers, opponents are averaging 24.5 yards per kickoff return this year compared to 20.7 last year, and 12.1 per punt return compared to 7.7 last season.
In general, the numbers suggest a team performing slightly better than a year ago in some categories, slightly worse in others, and about the same in others. Which probably all explains why UW sits today with a record of 2-3.