Dispelling the "Extra Time to Prepare for the Triple-Option Offense" Myth.......again

Frustrating as Hell, isn't it Coach?

"We associate truth with convenience..." - John Kenneth Galbraith

If you've ever read the book "Freakonomics" (which I highly, highly suggest), author and economist Steven Leavitt, channeling the famous Harvard economist Galbraith, describes the process of how certain ideas, whether accurate or not, eventually become "conventional wisdom" in our society because of general ignorance or laziness to validate their veracity. For example, which is more dangerous to your children ...if you own a swimming pool or if you keep a gun in the house? The conventional wisdom says the gun is probably more dangerous...but the data overwhelmingly showed the swimming pool produced more drowning deaths among children per capita than gunshot deaths.

The conventional wisdom held by sports media and many fans is that a defense preparing for the Triple-Option offense sees their chances for success improve the longer they have to prepare for it. The flawed concept driving this mindset is that the Triple-Option derives its success from a defense's inability to adjust to assignment football...and not the offense's ability to execute blocks and make reads. With Georgia Tech opening up their football season on the road in Blacksburg against VPI, the conventional wisdom will again rear its ugly head, as the Hokies will have the entirety of the Fall practice (if they wish) to practice for the Triple-Option.

As I will prove with some meaningful data...the amount of time to prepare doesn't matter very much in stopping the Triple-Option. What does matter, and is many times more statistically certain, is the quality of the rushing defense. But I know you're going to ask..."Isn't this common sense?" YES...IT IS. Conventional wisdom, unfortunately, does not deal in the currency of common sense. Rather, it is more convenient to look at an 0-4 bowl record (and the extra month to prepare for it)...and ignore more impactful success factors such as the ineffectiveness of your own defense, fumbles lost, or the quality of the defensive opponent. I continue to flog this myth after the jump...

The root of such thinking stems from, I believe, an intrinsic lack of faith in the credibility of things we don't know or understand. The football world knows the I-formation, Shotgun Spread Option, Air Raid, and other offensive sets used quite heavily in the NFL and College game in recent years. They've seen those offenses win enough games and are informed enough to understand that superior talent and/or execution by players are the drivers of games Won or Lost. But why not the Triple-Option? After all, it wasn't all that long ago (1995) that Tommie Frazier and Nebraska won a MNC with a Wishbone-Option offense. Did UF not have over 30 days to prepare and it's fair share of good athletes? If that improves a defense's chances of winning, then the score should have been a lot closer than 62-24 right?

So how does one go about proving this? You would want to correlate the number of days for the opposing defense to prepare with Tech's rushing performances. A correlation, if you remember from your Statistics class, is the measure of how two data sets move in relation to each other. The range of correlation is from -1 (strongest negative correlation) to +1 (strongest positive correlation), with 0 representing no measurable correlation. Number of days since the opponent's last game is easy to calculate, but what rushing data do you measure it against? You couldn't compare per-game rushing data because Tech runs a disproportional amount of running plays than most teams. You couldn't use scoring data because scoring is circumstantial and is reflective of the result, and not the process, of rushing offense. You could use Time of Possession, but passing plays may also factor into sustained drives. You would have to find a unit of measure that has the same context to a team like Georgia Tech as it does to any other offense in relation to how a defense performs against it.

That statistic is rushing yards per play (YPP). When Georgia Tech lines up to run, it is after the same objective as any other team whatever offense they run...advance the ball as many yards as they can on each rushing play. Likewise, the defense lining up against any type of offense has the same objective on a rushing play...limit the offenses' ability to advance the ball. Therefore, a superior rushing defense is one that allows fewer rushing YPP, and you can use that to compare the relative strength of the opposing rushing defense...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

For the purposes of this study, I am eliminating the 5 FCS games Georgia Tech has played in the Triple-Option in order to keep the competition variable somewhat consistent...which leaves 48 FBS games over the 2008-2011 seasons. The prep time for Tech's opponents range from 5 days to 45 days, and when compared to Tech's rushing YPP in those games during that span...it results in a correlation of only -.17. What this means is that there's a negligible-to-weak correlation that as Tech's defensive opponents have more days to prepare, Tech's rushing YPP declines (the conventional wisdom). GT's average rushing YPP in those 48 games, was 5.43, but when you look at by the number of days the opposing defense has time to prepare...

Opp Days GT Rushing YPP
FBS Opp<=7 5.60
FBS Opp>7 5.14
FBS Opp>9 5.19
FBS Opp>10 5.40
FBS Opp>12 5.27
FBS Opp>14 4.59

The dramatic change doesn't happen until the opposition has over 14 days to prepare! There it is...right? Not exactly.

So let's return to my original hypothesis, that it is actually the quality of rushing defense that impacts the success of the Triple-Option. Over those same 48 FBS games, I compared Tech's rushing YPP in each game to the defensive opponents' entire season rushing YPP allowed (this ranged from 2.76 to 5.89 rushing YPP allowed for the entire season of that particular year). These two data sets result in a correlation of +.49, which means there's a moderate-to-strong correlation that as the rushing YPP allowed by opposing defenses increase, so does Tech's rushing YPP. Just which teams, you might be asking, is represented by the low end (aka, the quality end) of the rushing YPP allowed range? Here are the 14 defenses GT has played that have given up less than 3.5 rushing YPP...

Year Team Opp Days Opp RD PP GT RO PP FL W/L
2009 UNC 7 2.76 4.59 0 W
2008 Boston College 7 2.87 4.05 3 W
2011 Utah 36 2.97 5.55 1 L
2011 UNC 7 3.14 5.38 1 W
2008 Virginia Tech 7 3.23 5.56 2 L
2011 UGA 7 3.27 4.58 0 L
2011 Virginia Tech 12 3.32 4.96 0 L
2010 NC State 9 3.32 5.15 2 L
2008 LSU 33 3.33 4.10 2 L
2009 UGA 7 3.43 4.02 1 L
2009 Clemson 7 3.46 5.12 0 W
2009 Clemson 5 3.46 6.14 0 W
2009 Miami 10 3.47 2.44 0 L
2009 Iowa 45 3.49 3.49 0 L

You'll notice 2 things. First, 3 of our Bowl losses show up on this list. Second, that despite a 24-8 record against teams with only 7 days or less to prepare, the record against those same teams who also give up less than 3.5 rushing YPP is 4-3.

In no way am I suggesting that limiting rushing YPP is causal to winning or losing football games. As mentioned above, there are a few factors not discussed here that impact the result of football games for Georgia Tech (as well as all teams) outside of rushing success such as defensive performance, turnovers, passing efficiency, etc. Tech's passing efficiency, or lack thereof, since 2008 has been a sore spot for many Tech fans. Against such vastly talented defenses such as LSU 2008 or Iowa 2009 (who have drafted several players to the NFL), the lack of a viable passing offense means that, short of Tech's defense or special teams doing something special, the inability to do something other than run the football is probably fatal against such defenses. When the team can't protect the football (Air Force 2010), or the defense can't hold a 14-point 4th quarter lead (Utah 2011)...you are likely not going to win ANY football game no matter what offense you choose to run. CCG's I-formation offense wasn't the culprit for the 3 Bowl losses before that, was it? No other offensive philosophy has been raked over the coals intellectually more than CPJ's Triple-Option, despite it's contribution to a 4-year record of 34-19 and an ACC Championship. When it succeeds, the defense wasn't prepared or disciplined enough. When it fails, we're reminded that the Triple-Option just won't ever work in big-time CFB. Rarely, if ever, are the players given the proper credit for executing their gameplan since the success of the Triple-Option hinges mightily on blocking well at the LOS.

If the outcome of the game is what the conventional wisdom (when it comes to extra time to prepare) assumes then it's a misguided notion from the start. That's where we have to look at CPJ as a Head Coach and how he prepares his football team, as a whole, to execute efficienctly. That's a whole 'nother post, my friends. But if the conventional wisdom is that the extra time to prepare slows down the Triple-Option offense...then the conventional wisdom is WRONG.

So, now that we've disproven this thing AGAIN...how else might you look at our performances against teams with extra time to prepare?

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