2013 Statistical Postmortem: Drive Extending Penalties

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

We're looking at an unusual statistic today and asking whether it's worth being tracked on a regular basis. Is this something that's being overlooked?

This is the first post in what may or may not become a series of posts looking at the 2013 season from a statistical perspective. I'm playing around with the data and I found a mostly-untracked statistic that I found interesting and somewhat enlightening: drive extending penalties. Take a look.

Background

Before I go into the statistics, I feel like I should give the "how I got here." After reading Bill Connelly's excellent Study Hall: College Football, Its Stats and Its Stories, I had the notion to start creating his "New Box Score" that he talks about in his book. For those that have not yet read it, do. It's excellent. He spends a chapter talking about how we've spent the past however many years looking at the same basic box score without improving upon it at all. He attempts to do so, providing similar information but expanding upon it, eliminating fluff, and giving us a more complete snapshot of the game for us to digest and understand. I thought that it would be an interesting addition to our football coverage over the course of next season, so I started learning how to calculate each of fields so that I would be ready come this August. More on that in a moment.

As I mentioned, some "fluff" is removed from the traditional box score. For instance, time of possession is removed since it doesn't necessarily communicate offensive dominance like it once did, and Baylor is the prime example of that fact. Another significant removal, and our focus today, was penalties. Here's Bill's take on why he removed penalties from the box score:

Generally speaking, penalties just do not correlate strongly to wins and losses. If we were to categorize penalties as either procedural or aggressive, we could get somewhere. Penalties like false starts are typically inexcusable to coaches, but a personal foul here and there signifies a level of aggressiveness that coaches are probably okay with encouraging.

Initially, I'm inclined to agree with Bill. When simply looked at from the "number of penalties-penalty yardage" aspect, we don't really get a good feel for much of anything. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by the defense on an extra point attempt counts 15 yards in that total, but means relatively little since all it does is ensure a touchback on the ensuing kickoff. But as I thought back to the last few games for Baylor, I got the sense that if we leave out penalties entirely, there's the possibility that we miss an important aspect of the game.

Enter what I'm calling "Drive extending penalties."

The Drive Extending Penalty

If you watched any of the past few Baylor games and especially the Fiesta Bowl, you should have a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about. In the second quarter on a 3rd-and-10, a Blake Bortles pass falls incomplete but a flag is thrown for pass interference. A nine-yard penalty and an automatic first down. The drive is extended. Two plays later, UCF scores to go up 28-20. Before that, the defense seemed to have found its footing and the offense looked like it was rolling. One could argue that the entire game turned on that PI call, but that's a conversation for another time.

Because of calls like that, I started to look at play data for penalties that extended drives. It turns out, there's actually something of a precedent in looking at this type of behavior. According to the NCAA Football Statistician's Manual, certain penalties are considered when measuring a scoring drive:

Penalty plays (when the down remains the same but the ball changes position) are not included in the total number of plays in a scoring drive. However, penalty plays in which the down changes and the ball changes position are included in the total number of plays in a scoring drive.

This is what I'm calling a drive extending penalty. I'm looking at penalties that occur on 2nd, 3rd, or 4th downs that award the offensive team with a new set of downs. If I were to include it in a box score-type of summary, here's what it would look like to me:

Random Box Score Snippet
UCF Baylor
Drive Extending Penalties-Points Off 3-21 1-7

Something like that. But, you know, prettier. A basic box score line like that doesn't tell you much about what happened, though, which is why I'm not 100% on it. It's true that UCF scored touchdowns each time Baylor had a drive extending penalty. But it doesn't tell you where those penalties happened, on what down, or what the distance to the first down was at the start of that play.

Sometimes, that information is supremely relevant. For example, Baylor committed one drive extending penalty against UT. It occurred on a 4th down field goal try (the Shawn Oakman jump), gave the Horns a new set of downs, with which they ultimately scored their only touchdown of the game. On the other hand, each of the Fiesta Bowl penalties that extended UCF drives occurred in UCF's half of the field. Additionally, down-distance provides greater context, but doesn't necessarily mean there's a correlation. For example, the UCF penalties occurred on 2nd-and-7, 3rd-and-10, and 3rd-and-5. I'd be inclined to think that the later the down and/or the farther the distance, the greater the chance of impact on the game's score, but I haven't had time to run any kind of statistical analysis on a larger data set to see if that's the case.

Season-Long Data

Looking at the entire season, Baylor gave up 21 drive extending penalties throughout the course of the 13 games played. They committed no drive extending penalties against Wofford, Kansas State, Iowa State, or Oklahoma State. While Wofford and Iowa State didn't surprise me, I was a little surprised to see that none were committed against K-State, and definitely surprised to see that none were committed against OkState. Of those 21 penalties, 12 were committed prior to the Oklahoma State game and 9 were committed against TCU, Texas and UCF. Of the first 12, only drives extended resulted in scores, both of which were touchdowns, only one of which came while the game was in doubt (first drive against Texas Tech). On those last 9 drives, 7 drives went for touchdowns. Interestingly, no drive extended by a penalty resulted in a field goal for the opposing offense. Here's the data I've been looking at:

Game Score Down & Dist Spot* Penalty Ydg Drive Result
Buffalo 7-7 2-and-6 Own 22 15 PUNT
Buffalo 13-35 3-and-9 Own 26 15 INTERCEPTION
Louisiana-Monroe 0-0 2-and-10 Own 25 15 DOWNS
Louisiana-Monroe 7-49 3-and-5 Own 33 15 PUNT
West Virginia 7-28 3-and-8 Own 21 15 PUNT
West Virginia 7-42 2-and-10 Own 25 15 TOUCHDOWN
West Virginia 21-66 3-and-2 Baylor 40 15 DOWNS
Kansas 0-0 3-and-8 Own 36 10 PUNT
Oklahoma 0-3 3-and-8 Baylor 45 15 DOWNS
Texas Tech 0-0 4-and-7 Baylor 36 10 TOUCHDOWN
Texas Tech 27-42 2-and-8 Baylor 49 15 DOWNS
Texas Tech 27-49 2-and-5 Own 15 19 PUNT
TCU 13-3 3-and-3 Baylor 9 5 TOUCHDOWN
TCU 17-13 2-and-6 Own 17 15 FUMBLE
TCU 17-34 3-and-13 Own 20 15 TOUCHDOWN
TCU 24-34 2-and-8 Baylor 49 15 TOUCHDOWN
TCU 31-41 3-and-5 Own 34 5 PUNT
Texas 20-3 4-and-15 Baylor 16 8 TOUCHDOWN
UCF 14-13 2-and-7 Own 35 15 TOUCHDOWN
UCF 21-20 3-and-10 Own 49 9 TOUCHDOWN
UCF 28-28 3-and-5 Own 40 6 TOUCHDOWN

*Spot is the pre-penalty spot of the ball. Sorry that wasn't clear. I've updated it now.

As you can see, these penalties really hurt Baylor against UCF and TCU. The Texas penalty was an annoyance because it took 3 points off the board and replaced them with 7, but it didn't make any difference, and it required the Horns going for it on 4th down and a mad Case McCoy scramble to get it anyway.

Since I'm over 1300 words already for this post, I will go ahead and end it here. There are more questions that I have that we can discuss in the comments if you'd like to.

Questions

  • What do you make of this? Interesting statistic, worthy of introducing into an expanded box score?
  • Do you think there may be a correlation between down & distance, field position, or something else that I haven't considered and a drive extended by penalties resulting in points?
  • What do you make of the stark difference between the main bulk of the season and the TCU through UCF games?
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