Rice football experienced some growing pains in 2018. What do the numbers have to say about this team? We take a deep dive on yards per play.
Throughout the offseason we’re going to take a closer look at some numbers. These stats and scores will help tell the story of Rice football, give context, and help us understand the trajectory of the program.
We’ll start by looking at a somewhat newer statistic, yards per play. At a high level, the stat itself is self-explanatory. Yards per play measures, on average, how many yards a team gains on each play.
An effective offense gets first downs, and after stacking several first downs on top of each other, reaches the redzone and gets a scoring opportunity. Negative plays (sacks, loss of yards, incomplete passes) make the math a bit more involved than simply 10 yards divided by three plays before a punt. With those additional scenarios taken into account, the average FBS offense in 2018 averaged 5.52 yards per play.
Here’s how the Top 10 looked last season:
- Oklahoma (8.4 yards per play)
- Alabama (7.4)
- Clemson (7.2)
- Ohio (7.0)
- Georgia (6.8)
- UCF (6.8)
- Memphis (6.8)
- West Virginia (6.7)
- Utah State (6.7)
- Ole Miss (6.7)
There are 130 FBS teams, making Pitt (5.6), the No. 65 ranked team in yards per play, the middle ground of productive offenses. Rice finished 118th with 4.6 yards per play. Their most immediate company was Oregon State (4.7), Cal (4.6), Northwestern (4.6) and Michigan State (4.5).
In the modern era of college football, touchdowns trump tackles. Scoring continues to come in bunches and teams who can’t get the ball down the field typically don’t fair as well as those who can. Oklahoma’s explosive offense gave it a chance in every game they played and got them to a playoff. But that’s not the only way to win.
Northwestern won the Big Ten West last season despite finishing near the bottom in this metric. Michigan State went to a bowl as well, largely because their defense allowed a staggering 4.4 yards per play. You can win without racking up a large number of yards per play, but it takes elite defense. In contrast, Rice allowed 6.8 yards per play.
The bottom line
Winning the yardage battle on both sides of the ball will be a crucial objective for Rice this fall. The Owls are bringing in the talent necessary to make those improvements. If they can make meaningful strides on at least one side of the ball they’ll become more competitive week in and week out.