The Speed of Tebow’s Release

April 17, 2009

One of the major complaints about Tim Tebow by those who say he won’t make it in the NFL is that he has a slow release. This critique is related to the charge that he has poor mechanics.

I am not a trained coach, but I believe I can show you at least what armchair NFL GMs see in him that causes the real scouts to fret. I will compare him to Sam Bradford, a guy who was said to be a surefire top-five pick in the draft if he had come out.

All times that I quote here came from studying the national title game frame-by-frame in Avidemux. It’s not as precise as professional video gear, but it’s close enough for these purposes and any error will be consistent throughout.

Here is a sequence showing Bradford’s throwing motion. Pay close attention to the second frame, as that is where the biggest difference between the two guys comes from.

bradford1bradford2bradford3bradford4

Bradford has a compact throwing motion, which is what NFL scouts are looking for.

In the first frame, he is holding the ball in the classic quarterback stance. Frame two shows the farthest out his arm goes in his windup. You can see that the ball is close to his body and his arm is about at a right angle.

The final two frames finish out his motion. This throw, which is representative of his standard throws, takes about 467 milliseconds to complete.

Here is a sequence of Tebow’s motion.

tebow1tebow2tebow3tebow4

In the first frame, Tebow is in the same starting position as Bradford was in. The second frame shows a very different story however. The ball is far away from his body, and his arm is almost fully extended.

The final two frames finish out his motion. This was the most extreme example of Tebow’s long windup I could find, and it took 734 milliseconds to complete. That time is 267 milliseconds longer than Bradford’s throw.

Not every one of Tebow’s throws take this long, but it illustrates the perils of having a longer motion. Even moreso in the NFL than in college, a fraction of a second can be the difference between a catch and a tipped ball, and a tipped ball and an interception. The throw above was Tebow’s first interception of the national title game, a pass that was picked off by a safety reading his eyes and jumping in front of a receiver.

As I said though, this was the longest delivery I could find for him. I chose it because it makes for the clearest pictures. To find out a rough approximation of how much longer Tebow’s motion is than Bradford’s is, I took a sample of ten normal passes apiece and timed their motions. I did not include passes where the players were being hit, throwing on the run, or shovel passes.

I found that Tebow’s average time across the ten passes was 557 milliseconds, with all but one pass taking a half second or more. Bradford’s average release was 487 milliseconds, with the most common time being 467 milliseconds. The difference in average was not great at just 70 milliseconds.

As I said though, my ability to time their motions is not exact, and certainly Bradford’s motion looks a lot quicker than Tebow’s does. Tebow has a habit of bringing the ball down near his waist during his windup, while Bradford generally brings the ball straight back from his neutral stance.

Simple physics says it takes more time to move an object along a longer path, so Tebow’s release is labeled “slow.” It is not a huge difference, but just think back to Michael Crabtree’s catch that beat Texas. If the ball came a tenth of a second later, the defensive back coming to help may have gotten a finger on it.

Florida’s new quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler has been working with Tebow this spring to shorten up the motion. He is also working on getting Tebow to have a “10 o’clock release point,” as opposed to the sidearm-like delivery you can kind of see in his fourth frame. Bradford’s fourth frame shows what I would assume to be a 2 o’clock release point (since he’s right handed and Tebow’s a southpaw).

Tim Tebow is one of the most driven people I’ve ever seen though, so the effort will be there. He has almost a full year from today to prove to the Mel Kipers of the world that he can be something other than an H-back in the pros. Shortening up his delivery and fixing his release point will go a long way to that end.


A Wrapup On Pace in 2008

February 20, 2009

The past four days I’ve posted topics on how pace affected football in 2008. The primary impetus for doing the series was to put Oklahoma and Tulsa in their proper historical context.

Oklahoma scored the most points ever in a season, and Tulsa gained the most total yards ever in a season. When two records like that fall in the same season, especially one where a clock rule change reduced plays per game and scoring from the old rules, it’s worth taking a look to see why that might have happened.

The easiest answer is that both OU and Tulsa played in 14 games. The twelfth game added to the schedule earlier this decade, when combined with conference championship games and bowls stats counting towards season totals, basically meant that it was a matter of time before some of these records fell. Anything set back when the season had only 11 games and bowl stats didn’t count towards season stats was doomed.

The extra game doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Each of these records, both points scored and yards gained, were set by 2006 Hawai’i. That team played 14 games, and that season’s clock rules lowered plays per game and scoring even more than 2008’s clock rules did. The extra game helped OU and Tulsa pass most teams, but it was not the deciding factor in breaking the records.

That is where playing at a faster pace comes in.

There are distinct advantages to running a hurry-up offense full-time beyond just getting more opportunities to score. When you go at a faster pace, you can disrupt the defense and gain an advantage. The defense may not be set every time and it will not be able to substitute as often. Plus, your team is better conditioned to play at the faster pace than a team that doesn’t, so you can tire out the other side too.

Whether each team has six drives apiece or 15 drives apiece during a game, you still want to score on more of them than the other guy. Cranking up the pace is done with the idea of gaining an advantage that you cannot get at a normal pace and exploiting it to score more often than the other team.

Oklahoma chose to turn up the pace in response to the new 40 second play clock. Gus Malzahn of Tulsa has long been a proponent of the hurry-up, and you can purchase his book on the topic on Amazon. The end result of each team’s fast paced attacks was two big records falling.

As I mentioned yesterday, 1989 Houston still holds the record for points per game. That 2006 Hawai’i team that used to hold the total yards and points records still holds the yards per play record at 8.6 as well. Since Tulsa and Oklahoma do not now hold the rate records, only the total records, it is reasonable to conclude that the records fell almost entirely because of each team’s fast pace allowing them to run more plays than teams in the past.

I want to be clear about one thing though. I am not trying to bring down either of these teams. Each turned in remarkable offensive seasons that are among the greatest college football has ever seen.

There also is no way of knowing if those Houston and Hawai’i teams of the past could have kept up their rates at the faster pace either. After all, 1970 Notre Dame holds the plays per game record at an astonishing 92.4, but that Irish team doesn’t hold any other records to go with it. It’s one thing to theorize what a team could do, but it’s another to actually do it.

Bill Simmons of ESPN.com wrote a piece recently on the way that Mike D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” offense affected stats in the NBA. The most dramatic effect was taking Steve Nash and turning him from a good point guard into one of only nine players ever to win back-to-back MVPs. Simmons then showed that Nash’s stats from this year without D’Antoni are nearly identical to his stats from his pre-D’Antoni Dallas days.

As a fan, I have absolutely nothing against fast-paced offenses. I loved watching D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns teams, and what I got to see from Oklahoma and Tulsa this year was very exciting as well. Kevin Wilson and Gus Malzahn appeared to maximize the talent they had with their uptempo schemes, and that’s a beautiful thing to see any time it happens.

At the same time, it’s important to realize the distinction between the NBA and college football. What people think doesn’t matter in the team sense in the NBA thanks to the league having a playoff. College football determines its champion largely thanks to opinion polls, so what people think does matter.

I can’t think of a year in which what people thought mattered more than it did with Oklahoma and Texas this year. I don’t mean to rehash old news, but Oklahoma’s impressive scores were largely the reason why it passed up the Texas team that beat it earlier in the year. That then allowed Oklahoma to go to the Big 12 title game and on to the BCS title game.

It’s possible that had OU operated at a slower pace and didn’t put up 60 points in five straight games, it might not have passed up UT. If that doesn’t happen, Texas likely beats Mizzou in the Big 12 title game and goes on to play Florida for the national title.

There’s no way to know, but Texas could have beaten Florida and won the national title. If Texas makes the national title game, then Colt McCoy probably wins the Heisman trophy as well. So, not only did pace potentially affect the Heisman race as it affected the NBA’s MVP race, but it potentially affected the championship.

It’s not likely we’ll ever get all of the voters to look at efficiency stats like points per play or points per drive instead of final scores, so as long as the BCS exists, this same thing can happen again. The moral of the story is that cranking up the pace is a fantastic way to game the system if you can pull it off, and for the record, I’m all for gaming the system.

The 2008 Oklahoma and Tulsa offenses are the two most prolific we’ve ever seen at generating points and yards. They were special, and no one can deny that. They were not uniquely special in the annals of the game though, and that’s the takeaway for thinking about the ’08 season in historical context.


2008 Scoring at Oklahoma’s Pace

February 19, 2009

Pace was one of the hot button issues in the 2008 college football season. Oklahoma’s highly publicized switch to a fast paced offense in reaction to the new clock rules was the major reason for it. The Sooners ended up leading the country in plays at 1,106 (79 per game), and they set a record with 716 total points scored.

The Sooners weren’t the only team to crank it up. Tulsa, under no-huddle guru Gus Malzahn, was second in plays behind OU, and Houston, TCU, and Nevada also broke 1,000 plays for the season.

The average number of plays per team for the whole season was 858.52. The average number of games played was 12.68. Therefore, the average number of plays per game for any given team was 67.7.

But what if everyone played at Oklahoma’s pace? Here is a look at what the top ten in scoring would look like if everyone ran 79 offensive plays a game.

This would be the point where I mention that this is based off of the NCAA’s “scoring offense” stat, which includes defense and special teams scores in the totals. Because this study is looking at pace in terms of plays, and it proportionately increases or decreases each team’s total plays, it still works out under the assumption that teams would continue to get defense or special teams scores at the same pace as before.

The top ten in scoring, adjusted to be at Oklahoma’s 2008 pace:

Top Ten Points per Game at Oklahoma’s Pace
Team Total Pts Pts/Game Pts/Play Adj. Total Pts Adj. Pts/Game
Florida 611 43.64 0.70 773 55.23
Oklahoma 716 51.14 0.65 716 51.14
Tulsa 661 47.21 0.60 666 47.60
Missouri 591 42.21 0.60 666 47.54
Oklahoma St. 530 40.77 0.58 599 46.11
Texas Tech 569 43.77 0.58 597 45.92
Texas 551 42.38 0.58 593 45.58
Oregon 545 41.92 0.57 584 44.90
Penn St. 506 38.92 0.57 581 44.71
Rice 537 41.31 0.56 572 43.96

Tulsa edges out Missouri in points per game, even though rounding to the nearest point makes them equals in total scored.

What we can see here is that Oklahoma was ahead of pretty much everyone at scoring points. Adjusting for pace, they still were ahead of most of the nation and earned their record 716 points scored.

Florida was the one exception. Thanks to getting points in many ways other than just offense (INT returns, off of blocked punts, in the return game, etc.) while running about an average number of offensive plays, Florida would have shattered the Sooners’ new record in the very year they broke it.

The Gators would have topped out at a little over 55 points a game. That means Army’s all-time record would have been safe, but only barely. In 1944, Army scored exactly 56 a game, less than a point than Florida’s hypothetical total.

It is almost a little surprising to see Missouri so high since the Tigers were a bit of a disappointment this season. It goes to show that the offense was still good at turning plays into scores, but that defense just didn’t quite work out.

As great as Florida and Oklahoma were at turning plays into points by having relatively high points per play ratios, they weren’t the best of the decade. Since 2000, the team with the highest PPP was 2006 Hawai’i, with 0.72 points per play. At Oklahoma’s pace over 14 games, that would come out to 795 points on the season.

One would figure though that if they were that close to 800, they’d find a way to get one last touchdown to get to 802. Maybe something like the Florida Flop?


2008 Yardage at Oklahoma’s Pace

February 18, 2009

Pace was one of the hot button issues in the 2008 college football season. Oklahoma’s highly publicized switch to a fast paced offense in reaction to the new clock rules was the major reason for it. The Sooners ended up leading the country in plays at 1,106 (79 per game), and they set a record with 716 total points scored.

The Sooners weren’t the only team to crank it up. Tulsa, under no-huddle guru Gus Malzahn, was second in plays behind OU, and Houston, TCU, and Nevada also broke 1,000 plays for the season.

The average number of plays per team for the whole season was 858.52. The average number of games played was 12.68. Therefore, the average number of plays per game for any given team was 67.7.

But what if everyone played at Oklahoma’s pace? Here is a look at what the top ten yardage gainers would look like if everyone ran 79 offensive plays a game.

Top Ten Yards per Game at Oklahoma’s Pace
Team Total Yds Yds/Game Yds/Play Adj. Total Yds Adj. Yds/Game
Tulsa 7,978 569.86 7.27 8,043 574.53
Houston 7,316 562.77 7.20 7,395 568.86
Florida 6,231 445.07 7.13 7,885 563.21
Texas Tech 6,903 531.00 7.05 7,241 557.03
Oklahoma St. 6,340 487.69 6.98 7,171 551.61
Oklahoma 7,760 547.86 6.93 7,670 547.86
Missouri 6,778 484.14 6.90 7,634 545.28
Georgia 5,538 426.00 6.70 6,886 529.66
Ball St. 6,195 442.50 6.70 7,407 529.09
USC 5,911 454.69 6.63 6,813 524.10

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane tops the list at an incredible 8,043 yards for the season. The all-time record, if you’re wondering, was 7,826 set by 2006 Hawai’i before Tulsa broke it with its actual 7,978 yards in 2008. However, the per-game record of 624.9 set by 1989 Houston is still safe in theory as well in actuality.

The appearance of two SEC teams on this list while not appearing on the actual list shows that run-first, slower paced conferences can still produce some efficient offenses. That fact was lost on a lot of people when picking the national title game, as many saw Oklahoma as clearly the better offensive team. The Sooners were definitely more prolific, but we can see here that the Gators were more efficient.

Everyone on this list averaged more than 524 yards a game at Oklahoma’s pace. In real life, only four teams averaged that much: Tulsa, Houston, Texas Tech, and OU. Only one other team, Nevada, averaged more than 500 real yards a game.

The presence of Georgia, Ball State, and USC also show that pro-style offenses can be highly efficient just like the spread offenses that are all the rage. You likely won’t hit Gus Malzahn-like pinball numbers, but there is something to be said for doing it the old fashioned way. It still gets the job done.

I don’t know if we can really learn much from this, but it’s still fun to look at and think about how close Tulsa was to getting to eight grand. Malzahn may have left Tulsa for Auburn, but Oklahoma returns a lot of tools from its team last season. What do you say, Bob Stoops and Kevin Wilson? Why not make a run at 8,000 yards next year?


BCS Title Game: 7-7 at the Half

January 8, 2009

My brother texted me not long ago to say that we’re lucky it’s not 21-7 at the half. I don’t fully agree with that because letting teams gain yards but then stiffening up in the red zone is what the defense has done all year. Nothing new there.

Tebow is not having a good game on his handoff/keep reads though. On a couple of the 4-9 yard losses, Tebow should have kept it instead of handing it off. The two INTs don’t help his cause much either,  but he’s been pretty sharp throwing the ball except for those.

In short, the Florida offense is not executing very well. The Oklahoma offense is executing very well, but the Florida defense is stopping them when it counts.

If Florida’s offense can step up the execution and the defense can keep it up, we should be in good shape. We’ll see.


One Last Look at the Defenses

January 8, 2009

The relative value of the two defenses in this BCS title game has been the most pervasive and contentious debate. It’s what both teams have been mouthing off about the most, and it also is perhaps what has inflamed message boards the most (other than the generic Conference Wars woofing).

Something I’ve see brought up a lot in recent days is that one reason why Oklahoma gives up more points and yards than Florida does is because of the fast pace of its games. More plays per game means more points and yards allowed, you see. Another thing I’ve heard is that Oklahoma tends to give up a lot of points when the game is out of hand, skewing their numbers.

I went through the play-by-play of each teams’ games (throwing out each’s game against a I-AA opponent) to see how much this was true.

I counted up how many full drives each faced. I threw out any drives that ended halves with something other than a score or punt from the drive count totals.

I also counted up how many yards and points each defense surrendered. Defensive penalty yards were included in the yardage count because it would have taken too long to pull them out. Plus those are yards the defense allows the offense to move, so they are relevant in that sense.

The twist is that I recorded what the point margin in the game was at the time the yards and points were given up. That way, I could draw some sort of conclusion on the part about Oklahoma giving up a lot of points when the game was out of hand. For points, I recorded the margin before they were scored. So for example, if a touchdown was allowed when the game was 14-0 in favor of OU or UF, the recorded margin goes down as 14.

What makes a competitive game is subjective of course. However, in my casual observation I have noticed that teams generally don’t change their strategy until the opponent’s lead is more than 14 points. That can change as the course of the game goes on, but they certainly do change strategy when the lead is more than 21. Those became the two benchmarks for the “out of hand” analysis.

Here is a handy table organizing my findings:

Defense, Oklahoma and Florida
Oklahoma Florida
Drives 156 136
Points 301 153
% Drives Scor 29.5% 18.4%
% Drives TD 24.4% 9.6%
Yards/Drive 31.27 23.29
Points/Drive 1.93 1.13
% Pts, 14 & under 45.8% 45.8%
% Pts, 21 & under 52.8% 56.9%

So it was true that Oklahoma had to defend more drives than Florida did. Twenty more, to be precise. You can see in the yards and points per drive what happens when you smooth out the difference in drive count. The yardage difference is there but not great, but the Sooners allow almost a full point per drive more.

We can also see that Oklahoma allowed its opponents to score on almost 30% of their drives, as compared to Florida’s defense allowing opponents to score on just 18% of their drives. You can also see in the next row that OU allows touchdowns quite a bit more often than Florida does. That fact is something that can be attributed to the Gators’ incredible red zone defense and its propensity to hold teams to field goal attempts.

The real juicy stuff comes on the last two rows. Each team allows the same proportion of its points when they lead by 14 or fewer points, and the difference when the margin was 21 or less is only very slight.

So while Oklahoma gives up a good number of its points when the game is out of hand, Florida basically gives up the same percentage of its points when the game is out of hand too. Because of that fact, you then have to go back to the chicken-or-egg fight about offensive and defensive strength in the two conferences to settle this one once and for all. That battle is not something I intend to get into here, because there is no ultimate, satisfying answer.

The Sooner players have done an admirable job at defending their defense, and some others have brought up some interesting points about game pace and the timing of when points
are given up.

However, those arguments don’t cut it when it comes to explaining why Oklahoma gave up more points than Florida did this season.

Appendix

If you prefer graphics and pretty colors, here are pie charts for what the margin is when these two teams give up their points.

ou-points

florida-points


A Preview of the Game

January 8, 2009

I volunteered to write a few bowl previews for Bleacher Report, and the final one for tonight’s game is here.