Thursday, April 2, 2009

"If They'd Done Their Research.....": First Edition

Welcome to the first edition of "If They'd Done Their Research....", a new segment we're going to do here at VSL (time permitting and content permitting) where we take sports articles that have any vague notion of hostility towards the Commodores, and we demonstrate what makes the article (and vicariously the people who wrote them) the largest representation in the ever-expanding pool of idiot sportswriters. We may even have an award at the end of the year where you loyal readers (all 7 of you) can vote on the biggest moron of this ridiculous crew.

And for our first nominee, we have Matt Hinton, the self-proclaimed Dr. Saturday (thanks to Anything But Gatorade and the excellent poster Bob Loblaw for this link).

Dr. Saturday seems to think that the positive press regarding Vanderbilt's improvement is actually a myth, and in his "fact-checking" segment indicates that really the Vanderbilt team of 2008 wasn't much better than the previous editions. He uses a statistical analysis (which really was nothing more than showing our ranking within the conference in certain statistical categories) to indicate that we haven't been getting any better in performance as compared to our previous teams. He uses this as a retort to an article about how our practice of redshirting a lot of players has led to our emergence as a "respectable" football team, a terms which apparently Matt abhors, even though I find it to be fitting, considering it insinuates that we require "respect" from other teams in the conference, or else, well...ask Georgia in '06 or South Carolina in both '07 or '08, or Auburn in '08, or Ole Miss in '08...hmm.

Anyway, that discussion is for another day as to what "respectability" means. But I'll go ahead and explain why his complex "analysis", which when you cut the crap is nothing but a fancily framed statement that our offense was pretty terrible (which it was), is a perhaps not so idiotically worded pile of poo, but nonetheless is an idiotic pile of poo.

Matt's analysis focuses on our finish in 11 statistical categories (Total Offense, Yards per play(offense), Scoring Offense, Rush Offense, Pass Efficiency Offense, Total Defense, Yards/Play Allowed, Scoring Defense, Rush Defense, Pass Efficiency Defense, and Turnover Margin) over the course of the past five seasons. As he notes, the offense is worse, and we didn't improve our position vis-a-vis other teams in the conference "discernibly" from any of the prior editions (although Matt, those 10 and 11s on the defensive side of the ball from 2004-2006 look to have been improved on pretty substantially).

Statistics can say whatever you want them to say, and Matt perhaps should be applauded for using them creatively to give his argument an aura of intelligence, but in the end his observations don't really do anything more than skim the surface.

First, Matt plays down our 2nd in turnover margin ranking by noting that it's a "fickle" statistics. The only thing that's fickle about turnover margin is that whoever is on the plus side of it is likely winning ball games. The only team that had a better turnover margin than us in the SEC was Florida, and they are national champions. Who was directly behind us in that ranking? Alabama, who held the #1 spot for a sizeable chunk of the year.

Second, Matt really takes it to our offense. And I mean really. In fact, his whole argument is pretty much premised on the fact that our offense was dead last in the SEC last year. And deservably so, it isn't the first time we've observed that ourselves. The offense hasn't improved in this, or that, or anything else. Blah Blah Blah.

And this really leads into my point about how statistics say whatever you want them to, because in highlighting those 11 categories, you didn't mention two of the biggest gamechanging stats in football, sacks and interceptions. There's a reason that we won ball games (and got that field position which you also summarily dismiss, have you ever even played football before Matt?), and it's because we were fifth in the SEC in sacking the quarterback, and second in the SEC in picking the ball off. Pressure up front plus a very good and disciplined secondary equals turnovers which leads to less time the other team can score. So while our 10th in the SEC in rush defense and 8th in total defense may look bad on paper, if the other team is not getting 3 or 6 off those running games it really doesn't matter (by the way, 3rd in red zone defense AND offense, which explains where we get our "scoring" from). But turnover margin could have told you that story, should you have chosen to pay attention to it. (Also of note on Matt's chart, we finished in the middle of the pack on yards per play allowed, which means we weren't giving up homerun plays as much as the other half of the SEC.)

Third, there is zero indication in any of your statistics about what just about every coach (including national champion coach Urban Meyer) will tell you is the most important part of all of football (because after all, it determines field position), and that is special teams. Vanderbilt ranked 7th in the SEC in net punting average and 4th in field goal percentage. I couldn't find old stats for field goal percentage, but let me give you the rankings in net punting over the previous for years, starting with 2007 and going backwards: 12, 8, 12, 12. Chalk that one up as another improvement. If you're keeping opposing teams AWAY from your side of the field, then you are winning ball games.

Now, here is where the Nashville City Paper's "homer" article comes in. In order to have good special teams and generate good pass rush, you have to have depth, which comes from redshirting guys and letting them take a year to develop. Wake Forest does the same thing, and they won an ACC title. The difference between these Vanderbilt teams and others is not in their playmakers, who in actuality we have had in the past, but rather in their depth of quality players. We can go for 60 minutes now and not get gassed at the end. We can rotate d-ends and d-linemen in to get a pass rush. We have guys who are not walk-ons playing regularly on special teams. So in fact the "homer" article wasn't really a homer at all, but was actually pointing out the truth. You, on the other hand, chose to ignore it by pointing to the most supportive statistic you could, our offense.

And in the end, that's really your argument's undoing and why use of fancy charts and nonsense doesn't really mean all that much. Because despite having a terrible offense, we went 7-6 and won a bowl. Over the past five years we've beaten Georgia, South Carolina (twice), Auburn, Tennessee, and Kentucky (who hasn't been doing too shabby themselves I might add). The reason we can pull these upsets off and piss off coaches, boosters, and fans all over the conference? Because we don't rely on fancy recruiting services to tell us who good players are, we find good kids with hard work ethics who are smart, and we make sure that they are ready to go before we put them out there in the field. And we've been harvesting them for a while now Matt. Here's some names to help you out: Jay Cutler, Jovan Haye, Earl Bennett, Jonathan Goff, Hunter Hillenmeyer, and Chris Williams, soon to be accompanied by D.J. Moore. All guys who are playing on Sundays and all guys who played under Bobby Johnson.

So next time you decide to write an article under the self-applied pen name "Dr. Saturday", you'd better make sure that you DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Peace moron.

3 comments:

Taylor Leachman said...

Good Post. Did you email it to "Dr. Saturday?"

Stanimal said...

I thought about it. But to be honest I doubt he'd pay too much credence to it. But if you so feel the need to send him an e-mail with this retort please feel free to do so.

Bob Loblaw said...

Well played, Stan. Thanks for the link!