By The Numbers: Foot-Ball? Never Heard Of It

So this thing happened, and it was not a good thing. Let us look further into Not A Good Thing in much the same way that you would take a deep breath of a bad smell to desensitize your nose to it. (Did that ever work for you? Me either.)

There is some good news from this game. Hazell's willing to take risks - three fourth-down attempts, although two came when the game was getting out of hand. Cody Webster with 57.0 net yards per punt, as the punt coverage team actually forced negative total punt return yards thanks to the fumbled return that Purdue recovered and converted into a touchdown - THE touchdown.

For the rest? Let's dig in. (See how all the bad stuff is below the fold? I do watch out for you, the reader, every now and then.)

Rob Henry does not yet seem to be a good fit for John Shoop's offense. With just 4.6 net yards per attempt, the Purdue passing attack looked as bad as it did last season, when it failed to record 200 net yards passing in six of twelve regular-season games. Henry's decision-making was questionable, in particular on the two fourth-down attempts later in the game.

I thought I was so clever, choosing to attend the Mortar Board Premier in Holloway Gym (vs. #4 USC on Friday, vs. Alabama A&M Saturday morning, vs. #21 Western Kentucky Saturday evening, with time in between to watch Purdue-UC at a friend's) rather than making the trip southeast. I learned instead that a) a packed gym with no AC on a summer evening with temperatures in the 90s outside will be hot as hell (I think I drank three bottles of water and a bottle of Powerade in two hours), and b) on fourth down, THROW THE BALL. (This is something of a departure in that I'll be talking about specific plays first rather than looking at larger groups of data.)

The thing about being aggressive on fourth down, particularly by throwing, is that it asks for a different mindset from your quarterback. On downs 1-3, in varying degrees, you want your QB to move the ball downfield but protect it, because the difference between an interception and a punt or a score is huge. On fourth down, the difference is between an interception and a score or a failed play, which means that in some cases, an interception actually helps the offense.

The first play was on fourth and 8 from the Purdue 39 with less than a minute left in the third quarter, down by 21. This isn't normally a good decision, but at this point in the game, it was clear that Purdue needed points, so in that context, it was somewhat understandable. Henry took the snap, looked for a receiver, and then ended up throwing the ball away ... which gave the Boilers no chance at all to convert. What you would like to see there is at least a pass with a chance for YAC; sending the ball out of bounds is worse than a punt, especially when your punter is moving the other team half the length of the field each kick.

The second play was on fourth and 3 from the Cincinnati 21 with about 11 minutes left and Purdue down by 28. This is an easy call, and there's something to be said for going for it even in more neutral situations, especially considering that Griggs had missed a field goal earlier from roughly this distance (from the 22; that was the series that started first-and-goal from the 5), so we might have seen this call in a closer game, too. The result was basically the same: under pressure, Henry threw the ball out of the end zone, which is an understandable instinct, but definitely not the right play here. With the ball outside the 20, even a touchback would be an improvement in field position, and there would have been a chance that a tipped pass would have gone to the Good Guys anyway; instead, Henry did what was probably natural.

Two plays in one game aren't necessarily indicative of anything, but they could be part of a long-term trend that would be a bad sign for the 2013 Boilers. This would be, surprisingly, atypical for a John Shoop NFL offense: with the Bears, for two years, his offense went 10 for 21 in fourth-down attempts, and in 2003, they led the league, going 15 for 23. (Which probably means they were mostly in who-cares situations, but then the last two against Cincinnati were also, right?) His success rate at North Carolina was much more pedestrian, with two years in the top 30 (2009 and 2010, both around 60%) and three years in the lowest quartile (all around 45%), but still suggestive of more success than we saw Saturday.

On first through third down, though, the passing game was just bad. Before the Williams interception, Henry was just 6 of 17 for 52 yards, with 1 sack, 2 first downs, and 5 hurries. He'd thrown six consecutive incomplete passes before the pick-six that essentially iced the game. 24 of 35 attempts were listed as short, slant, or screen, and those attempts produced just 88 yards in receptions with one interception and 4 first downs. Middle-length passes were 3 of 6 for 73 yards and three first downs; deep passes were 0 for 5 with one interception. That's ... that's not good.

Henry was hurried on 8 of his 36 attempts and sacked once; pressure once every 4 pass plays is also not good. Time will tell if this was Cincinnati's defense, Purdue's offense, or both, but right now, we seem to be seeing Bears' fans worst nightmares come true. The John Shoop offense that struggled mightily in Chicago is struggling mightily in West Lafayette ... well, for the good guys from West Lafayette, at least.

Sorry, no graphs yet. I need to work on a way to display fun things at a glance, and I think I need fun data to experiment with. Indiana State ...

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