Analytics is becoming a key aspect in all sports. However, due to the immense amount of strategy required by the game of football, the rise of analytics is still in its course. The pre-game,in-game, and post-game analyses performed by coaching staffs across the game are quickly becoming the difference between good teams and great teams. As the game advances in its depths of formulas and analytical studies, great teams are jumping on board with their use of analytics to improve their game plans.
I am Joshua DePasquale, Special Teams Coordinator and Director of Analytics at Jersey Coast Prep Academy, a junior college football program located in New Jersey. I am starting the first analytics department at Jersey Coast, and this is not a new experience to me. After my playing career ended, I spent a year as an offensive assistant at Division 2 powerhouse Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) Football. I did quality control during my season there, and during the offseason I spearheaded the movement toward a more analytical approach to the game. Thanks to offensive coordinator Tate Gregory and student assistant Declan Peer, I had both support and assistance in this endeavor.
I am Joshua DePasquale, Special Teams Coordinator and Director of Analytics at Jersey
Coast Prep Academy, a junior college football program located in New Jersey. I am starting the first analytics department at Jersey Coast, and this is not a new experience to me. After my playing career ended, I spent a year as an offensive assistant at Division 2 powerhouse Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) Football. I did quality control during my season there, and during the offseason I spearheaded the movement toward a more analytical approach to the game. Thanks to offensive coordinator Tate Gregory and student assistant Declan Peer, I had both support and assistance in this endeavor.
Analytics programs can be implemented even at small schools, and I hope to have demonstrated and set a precedent for analytics departments in small schools across the country. Anyone with a love and understanding for the game and a certain level of skill in mathematics is able to perform analytical studies. That is why young coaches and student assistants are perfect for this job.
Analytics has shown clear benefits for teams at the Division 1 and professional levels, and I hope and believe it will become an influential aspect of game planning at the small school level as well. It benefits teams greatly because of the fact that studying analytics leads to a deeper understanding of values such as expected points, expected yardage, and other important aspects of the game.
While quality control is important for the game because it can tell what coverages will be used, what plays will be run, what formations will be seen, and many more insights about the game, it cannot be used as a substitute for analytics. The analyses which I have run have made it possible to see the expected value of a drive, when a team should attempt a fourth down conversion, when a team should attempt an onside kick, and other answers to scenarios which cannot be found by traditional quality control studies. However, if it was not for my start in quality control, I would never have been able to start an analytics department. That is why I thank Coaches Luke Barker and Mike Box for introducing me to the fields of quality control and analytics, and Coach Mike Campolo for allowing me to present weekly studies to him and the offensive line at IUP.
I have used and created formulas which can be applied to any team utilizing analytics. These formulas, while complicated, are based a lot more on common sense than one might assume. I will go in-depth with the first formula I created, which is that which determines whether to attempt a conversion or punt on fourth down.
First, I determined, along with the help of Coach Gregory, how many points should be expected from a drive starting at any particular point on the field. Here is the methodology: Take all drives from the sample (which can be a game, season, or set of games depending on the purpose of the study) and categorize them by where they started. Drives starting between the goal line and -10 averaged two points, between the -10 and -20 averaged three points, and so on. If there are any outliers for whatever reason, I would recommend using a trendline to determine how many points should actually be expected.
The next step involves determining the likelihood of converting a fourth down. If the fourth down sample size is small, use third down as well. These are both need-to-convert situations, so they will both apply. On third or fourth and one, we converted at 85%. Third or fourth and five held a conversion rate of 53%. Again, I would recommend a trendline to eliminate any outliers.
The next step, and the final one before the calculations, is to determine the expected value of a drive for the opponent. The methodology is the exact same as determining the value of your team’s drive.
The final step is the calculation. Take your conversion rate, multiply it by the point value of the line to gain, and subtract the amount of expected opponent points you are giving up by not punting. IUP was a very good all-around team, so it turned out it was almost always beneficial for us to attempt a conversion. However, we were rarely in the position to do so.
Here is how the formula would be applied, given we averaged 4.1 points in a drive starting at the -35, converted 85% of the time with one yard to go, gave up 3.8 points on average when the opponents started at their +35, had a net punt average of 33 yards, and gave up about 2.1 points per drive when the opponent started at their -32: .85(4.1)-(3.8-2.1)= 1.79. That means we should expect a 1.79 point advantage, on average, by going for it on fourth down in that exact situation. While this does not factor in the inevitably human nature of the game of football, it shows clearly how much of an advantage we would have by attempting to convert in that scenario.
Many other formulas can be applied throughout the game of football to determine what the numbers favor. Without analytics, I highly doubt many people would realize how much of an advantage a team is at going for it on fourth and one in their own territory. This is the advantage of analytics, and this is why analytics is the future of football.
I have learned quickly that analytics is a great skill set for a young coach. First of all, it makes one extremely marketable. Head coaches at all levels are catching on to how much the game needs analytics, and the obvious advantage or disadvantage a team will have depending on whether they have an analytics department or not. It is also great for a young coach because they can bring new ideas to the table and demonstrate the value they have. It is a quick and easy way to become an asset to any program. It is also a great way to become part of game planning. While a 21-year-old coach such as myself often has little influence on the game plan because of the knowledge and experience other coaches bring to the table, the analytical knowledge and ability one has will show the true value one is bringing to the table.
While analytics is still relatively new to the game of football and sports in general, its value has been demonstrated immensely. Due to its rise in the game, it is important that young coaches work their way into this field as quickly as possible. This is not only a rising part of the game of football, but its future.