In the new era of sports, analytics has continued to grow into having a significant impact on how the game is played.
As we approach the storied and trialed beginning of the 2020 season, there have been a number of statistics released that show obscure yet innovative perspectives on the game of football.
In a graphic posted to Twitter by SportSource Analytics, the impact that offensive drives with negative yardage plays have on a team’s chance to score points is broken down. Doing so for the entirety of the FBS in 2019, the graphic gives an outlook into the production, on average, for the 130 offenses with and without negative plays.
In that study, teams scored on drives that contained one or more negative yardage plays only 25% of the time, compared to 43% of the time when a drive did not include a negative play.
This 18% change shows how the loss of even just one yard can derail drives and result in minimalistic scoring, if any, at all.
Based on these stats, I decided to crunch the numbers for the Florida Gators offense in 2019 in an attempt to represent how negative plays impacted and will impact the outcome of a drive.
When breaking down Florida’s performance on a game-by-game basis, the Gators surpassed the FBS average of the aforementioned categories, a testament to their offensive firepower that reemerged in Gainesville for the first time in nearly a decade when Dan Mullen took over the program in 2018.
Out of 149 total meaningful drives for UF in 2019, 69 drives contained at least one play of negative yardage. Out of these 69 drives, Florida scored only 22 times (31.88% on average), with 15 times being for touchdowns (21.74% on average).
However, 80 drives did not contain negative yardage plays, and uncoincidentally, the number of scoring drives and touchdowns increased as a whole. 58.75% of the time, Florida ended one of these drives putting up at least three points on the scoreboard and 47.50% of the time resulting in six.
Despite being above the national average, the trend of scoring more often when staying in the positive every play still stands and should go unsaid as an essential piece to any team’s success around the nation. In a year that brings a lack of preparation to the table, unpredictability, and the shortening of the season to a conference-only schedule, the importance of staying in front of the chains can be even more crucial than ever.
This can be especially evident when matched up against other top teams in the SEC.
Last season, when facing off against teams that finished in the top 25—Auburn, LSU, and Georgia—Florida totaled 33 drives that were near-evenly split between negative and non-negative at 17 and 16.
In these games, Florida tended to struggle when they lost any amount of yardage, given the stingy nature of some of the best defenses in the nation. When losing yardage on a drive, the Gators were only able to score two times (17.65%) and found the end zone only once in 17 tries (5.88%).
However, in games against unranked opponents, Florida found themselves making up for lost yardage at a higher frequency, despite continuing to struggle overall for scoring (28.46%) and reaching the end zone (26.92%).
Despite being a simple concept, the lack of execution of limiting negative yardage plays can be the difference between a team’s ride to glory or eventual downfall.
Recovering from negative yardage is already difficult to do, but keeping those losses to a minimum can set any team apart from the rest of the pack, especially in a conference as competitive as the SEC.
With a bulk of the Florida Gators offensive unit returning to the field in 2020, an experienced offensive line continues to grow into a talented and cohesive position group while a veteran signal called gears up for his second year at the helm.
As a result, increased efficiency in the run game is bound to come into form after the lackluster play in that phase of the game last season, and pass protection looks to stay producing at a high level to give Kyle Trask a chance to build off an impressive campaign.
In order to live up to their high expectations, the reliance on the abundance of the returning starters to keep them in front of the chains will be a tell-tell sign for their success.
As the Gators look to come together for what could be their most successful season since their National Championship runs in the late 2000s, Florida’s ability to prevent falling behind the sticks can be the difference for their season as they set out to be contenders in 2020.