Projecting Oregon Football to Score 50 Points Per Game in 2016

Scoring on OSU

In a recent articleCharles Fischer laid out his observations and visions for the new Oregon defense. One of his insightful takeaways was that, under Brady Hoke, we can expect to see more turnovers and shorter opponent drives. These insights inspired this article, which projects how the Oregon offense will benefit from longer time of possession TOP) and an improved turnover margin (TO).

In recent history, the Ducks have been able to put up a lot of points in very little time. With scoring drives lasting less than one minute, the TOP is often lopsided in favor of the opposing team. Yet the score is often lopsided in favor of the Ducks.

GLB23265

Gary Breedlove

Celebrating yet another Oregon touchdown!

Yes, Oregon scores – a lot. Year after year, the offense is ranked among the top scorers in the nation. In 2015, Oregon ranked fifth, averaging 43 points per game. In 2014, the Ducks ranked fourth in the nation, scoring 45.4 points per game. For the past seven years, 2009 through 2015, Oregon has averaged 44.6 points per game.

Over that same time period, the average TOP per game has been a mere 26 minutes and 44 seconds. That time of possession is among the lowest in the NCAA.

In fact, for the year 2015, Oregon averaged approximately 27 minutes of possession and ranked 112th in the nation. The lowest time of possession TOP belongs to Hawaii with 23 minutes per game, while the highest TOP belongs to none other than Stanford with 34 minutes per game.

So if Oregon is scoring so many points with so little time, imagine what the offense could do if it had more time. Hoke’s new defense will be aggressive. It will force TOs, sacks and tackles for loss. With that added aggressiveness, also comes risk. There may be times when big plays are given up and the opponents see pay dirt. But guess who comes marching onto the field if that happens? The Oregon offense.

To show how the offense might benefit from a more aggressive defense, we can look at historical TOP by quarter and offensive points scored by quarter. In collecting historical data for TOP and points scored, I have excluded overtime periods.

table1_may23

Points scored by quarter and TOP by quarter are summarized in the table above. You can see that Oregon scores the most points in the second quarter, which just so happens to be the same quarter with the lowest TOP.

So the question is twofold, “Can we predict what might happen if the Oregon offense got more time?” and “Can we predict what might happen if Oregon increased its TO margin?”

It turns out we can. To do so, a simple ordinary least squares (OLS) regression is estimated.

In other words, an equation is fitted and coefficients are estimated, which minimizes the difference between the dependent variable (total points scored) and the explanatory variables (quarter-by-quarter TOP and TO margin). For the detail oriented, the following table presents the results of the OLS regression.

table2_may23

In the table above, you see the regression results and the resulting R-squared of 0.9213. This implies that the quarter by quarter TOP and TO margin explains about 92% of the variation in total offensive points. The associated p-values in the far right column are loosely described as the probability of the true coefficient being equal to zero. As you can see all of the probabilities are very small. It may seem counter intuitive, but in this case we want those probabilities to be a small as possible.

I should make a disclaimer that this is a simple model. The intercept has been suppressed, and all sorts of other variables have been left unaccounted for. But, it has often been written that forecasting is as much art as science. Let’s just say I’m being a little artsy here. In other words, I’m not being academically disciplined about my specification.

But we’re not interested in identifying causality here, we’re exploiting the data to identify patterns, which allow us to make interesting forecasts. Besides, this is purely for entertainment purposes, and sometimes you just need to play fast and loose – just like our beloved Ducks! – with this stuff. And as you can see, this simple model happens to fit the data very nicely.

Linear Prediction

In the plot above, you can see that the predicted values fit nicely over the actual values. You wouldn’t want to bet the farm on this. Clearly there are times where the model over-predicts and under-predicts, but on average, the model seems to approximate the true pattern fairly well.

Suppose Oregon improved their TOP by three minutes per game to average 30 minutes per game. This would put Oregon in line with other teams that run a spread offense matched with a 4-3 defense. For example, the Tennessee Volunteers are in this situation, and the Vols averaged 30 minutes of possession per game last year.

If those extra three minutes are spread across the first three quarters, that would give the offense an extra minute per quarter. Over the past seven years, Oregon has generally outscored their opponents by a large enough margin, that the fourth quarter is often spent running out the clock and playing prevent defense.

This is evidenced by the largest average TOP and smallest average points scored occurring in the fourth quarter. So any additional TOP created by an aggressive defense is assumed to occur in the first three quarters.

In the past seven years Oregon has averaged a TO margin of 0.88 per game. However, in 2015, that figure fell to just 0.38 per game. So for prediction purposes, I presume the new 4-3 defense returns Oregon back to the seven-year average.

May23_2016

Three different scenarios are predicted.

The first assumes Oregon’s TOP is unchanged from the 2015 season and the average TO margin also remains unchanged from the 2015 season. This is represented by the black dashed line. Here, the 2016 offense is predicted to average 41.7 points per game.

The second scenario assumes the average TO margin returns to the seven-year average of 0.88 per game and the time of possession is increased by one minute per quarter in the first three quarters. This is represented by the yellow dashed line in the above figure.

Given these assumptions, the Ducks are predicted to increase their average points per game to 46.8. No doubt Oregon fans would be happy with that figure. Last year, the Ducks averaged 43 points per game and ranked fifth nationally in the category. Increasing the average points per game to 46.8 would place the Ducks second nationally, ranked only behind Baylor who had 48.1 points per game in 2015.

For the third scenario, the average TO margin is assumed to be 0.88 and time of possession is increased by 1.5 minutes per quarter in the first three quarters. Oregon would be averaging a time of possession of 31.5 minutes per game. This is certainly a reasonable expectation given that 47 teams averaged a time of possession of 31 minutes or better.

For example, Arizona State, TCU, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Houston all averaged a time of possession of 31 minutes in 2015. If this scenario should materialize, my model predicts Oregon to average 50.3 points per game!

In the past 11 years, only eight teams have averaged over 50 points per game, the last to do so being Baylor’s 2013 squad with an average of 52.4 points per game. Oregon would certainly be in elite company.

The 2016 season looks to hold promise. The offense is loaded to the teeth with elite play makers, and there is mounting expectations for an intense, attacking defense. Not only is it reasonable to foresee the Ducks scoring 50 points per game, 2016 may just be a year of broken records.

Evan Markel
Statistical Analyst for FishDuck.com
Knoxville, Tennessee

Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

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Evan Markel

Evan Markel

Evan is a native Oregonian who grew up in the historic town of Oakland, once known as the Turkey capital of America. Evan attended the University of Oregon and is a Lundquist College of Business alumnus. While at Oregon he attended nearly every home football game and fostered his love for all things Oregon Duck. He currently resides in Knoxville where he is pursuing a Master of Science in Statistics and a PhD in Natural Resource Economics at the University of Tennessee. Evan enjoys hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains, and wearing lots of green in the otherwise orange Knoxville.

  • nickpapageorgiotheduck

    Great write up!

    • Thanks…I think Evan did something that you rarely ever see on any site, and while he stole some thunder from what I wanted to present later–he did a superb job showing us how much more time the Oregon offense could have, and what the additional scoring could be.

  • cfluegge

    Great statistical break down. However, realistically speaking, you build a house of cards upon the flimsy premise that a coaching change will have a dramatic effect on how the defense plays. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not convinced it will be that easy. As they say, it’s not the Xs and the Os, but the Jimmy’s and the Joes that win in the end. Does Oregon have the front 7 to be a shut-down defense? While the secondary was a glaring liability last year, I think they’ll be much better. But how about the linebackers and lineman? Until next year’s game at Nebraska (the first legitimate opponent), we won’t really know.

    • FishDuck

      Hey Casey,

      Up at the top on the right are three analyses about the Brady Hoke 4-3 defense that you will not find anywhere else. My only concern is at the safeties positions.

      At minimum his premise is not flimsy because the firepower on offense is unlike anything we have had at Oregon–and most will not be back the following year. 2016 is the best chance in a long time to to for the highest goals–and they can be reached on offense nearly alone with this talent.

      Think of these players….Carrington, Allen, Stanford, Nelson, Baylis, (the Freak) Pharaoh Brown, Cam Hunt, Crosby, and Freeman. These will NOT be there in 2017….thus a huge opportunity this fall.

      Last fall–I think everyone sees that my July predictions of Vernon Adams leading us to the Playoffs and being a Heisman trophy finalist could have actually happened–were it not for his injury. And this would have been WITH a porous defense.

      We will be much, much better on defense this fall; after listening to Hoke with Grizzled Ol’ Coach at the UO Coaches Clinic and then seeing it in action at the open practice with additional glimpses in the Spring Game.

      • duckusucker

        Safeties, yes. But how about corners? We have few proven playoff-type players on D, period. Mattingly could be a beast, and many others (Seisay, Daniels, Kaumatule) were injured last season and while potential is great, results are what count.
        As far as offense…. Dillon Mitchell, Devon Allen (he has 2 years left), Kirk Merritt, Jalen Brown, Ofodile, Taj, Tony, Benoit— and others point to a pretty darn good “nucleus” for ’17, too.

        • I am very confident in the corners; you could see them improve over the season, and next year will be better yet. The only positions I am not feeling good about are our safeties. You can’t throw chicken-wings and make a good tackle.

          2017 will be “OK” while this year (2016) is a dream year on offense; a QB with 4.50 speed and an accurate passer? With THIS receiving corps? Balanced by Freeman? Sweetened by “the Freak” Pharaoh Brown?

          Unfrickeningbelievable.

          THIS is the year.

          FD

          • duckusucker

            I don’t know— those guys I listed on O are amazing and Jonsen will have a year more experience; either way, with Wilson challenging strongly. I’d say ’17 is at least as good, but it’s close either way; I think the O-line may be the determining factor: will they gell this year?
            Tyree, Juwaan Williams (a really good athlete that’s unfortunately had lots of injury problems but has impressed when healthy), Daniels, Fotu, Oliver—- on paper, safety looks pretty nice.
            I think corner’s more problematic: it was a sieve last year. Springs had a great game-ending pick, yeah, but how many times did he get beaten? Amadi hasn’t looked very good ever and being beaten twice in the spring game by a true freshmen isn’t confidence-building.
            Springs, Amadi, Seisay, Lovette. One proven guy. The others certainly have the physical tools, but I’m conservative for the time being: they need to show me something, including Amadi.
            Very much enjoying the discussion: I wish you could call the games!

      • cfluegge

        Fish, buddy! Hope all is well. As far as the offense goes, you’re preaching to the choir. I don’t doubt we’ll be as awesome as ever. My only cause for concern would be replacing three O-linemen, but we’ve done it before, right? I’m mostly excited about the depth at Q.B. because the lack thereof absolutely killed us last year. That shouldn’t be a problem this year. If Lockey even travels, it will only be to hold on place kicks. I think Wilson will be #3 on depth chart. Looking forward to seeing the Ducks in Lincoln. That’s actually a fairly easy road trip for me. Take care. Go Ducks!

        • FishDuck

          What most people do not realize is that Oregon has been in the top five in the nation in scoring in each of the last five years, and in each of the last two years we had to replace three starters on the offensive line as we do this year.

          I am not going to go thru and name all of them, except to say that I believe we will be fine on the offensive line. In GREATWOOD we Trust….

          • Boggs

            I agree that in Greatwood we Trust, but to be honest, the offensive line has struggled early in each of the last three seasons. Greatwood gets them dialed by the end of the season, but go back and watch early games from the last three seasons. The offensive line looks pretty bad.

  • Christopher Carr

    ” … a Lundquist College of Business alumni …”

    *Alumnus.

  • goducks58

    No question that delivering the ball back to the Oregon offense more often will help the scoring numbers. One caveat though – Think how often the Ducks could have left off the gas with insurmountable leads with a better defense. To me, they will be fine scoring in the 40s as long as the defense returns to giving up points in the teens.