Bulldogs take different look at red zone statistics

October 9, 2013 8:42:57 PM

Matthew Stevens - [email protected]


STARKVILLE -- It should come as little surprise that Dan Mullen and the Mississippi State coaching staff have a different take on a critical statistical breakdown.  


Mississippi State ranks third in the Southeastern Conference in red-zone scoring percentage. In 23 trips inside the 20-yard line, the Bulldogs have come away with points 20 times. 


"I see a lot of 'well, you scored this percent of time in the red zone,' (but) that's irrelevant to me," Mullen said. "It's how much of your potential points have you scored." 


Mullen, who has a degree in exercise and sport science from Ursinus College and a graduate degree in education from Wagner College, has already stated previously that his staff has a different viewpoint on amount of touches for individual offensive players. Mullen didn't have a problem sharing his mathematical viewpoint on red zone scoring this week.  


In a very sabermetric way of looking at red zone scoring, Mullen looks at what he calls "point potential." The MSU staff considers every red zone trip should result in a touchdown and therefore, should end with seven points. Mullen then subtracts the potential points from the red zone possession as a converted field goal would be leaving four points off the scoreboard. A turnover or no points on the drive would be seven potential points lost. In the 59-26 loss to No. 10 LSU, Mullen placed Mississippi State's offense at a -15 rating. Three of Mississippi State's drives ended with two field goals and a missed field goal. In those three drives, MSU (2-3) left 16 points on the field if you account for the missed two-point conversion on the first score.  


The same mathematical formula applies to the Bulldogs defense as well. On Saturday the MSU defense held LSU to just a field goal. Therefore the -16 on offense and the +4 on defense which leaves that final number at -12 as a team. 


"When you get down there, you have to get touchdowns," Mullen said. 


This has been a problem for the MSU offense as they come into this weekend's contest against Bowling Green (6:30 p.m., FSN South) ranked 12th in the Southeastern Conference in getting touchdowns while in the red zone. The Bulldogs' 60.87 percent is only higher than Florida and Kentucky, which have touchdown percentages below 50. 


"Red zone offense on both sides of the ball is critical, it's a huge part of winning the football game," Mullen said. "You've got to hold people to field goals and field goal attempts, where you have to score touchdowns." 


Many statistical analysts in football have come to the conclusion the idea of how your offense works inside the 20-yard-lines isn't any different than anywhere else on the field.  


"The idea of red-zone efficiency is essentially a myth," said Aaron Schatz, creator and editor in chief of Football Outsiders.com. Schatz is one of the main contributors to Football Outsiders Almanac, published yearly since 2005 that looks specifically at professional football. He holds a degree in economics from Brown University.  


"What matters is simply how good an offense or defense is overall," Schatz said. "Although play in the red zone has a disproportionately high importance to the outcome of games relative to plays on the rest of the field, NFL teams do not exhibit a level of performance in the red zone that is consistently better or worse than their performance elsewhere, year after year." 


Bowling Green will make its first trip to Davis Wade Stadium Saturday with the second best red zone defense in the country. In 17 trips inside the 20-yard-line, opponents have scored eight times (47.06 percent). In Mullen's math, Bowling Green's opponents have left 63 total points, or 10.5 points per game, on the scoreboard in six games this season. The national average for opponents red zone scoring is 82.61 percent - a difference of 35.55 percent from Bowling Green. 


"They've got a quarterback who can make a lot of plays with his arm, he can throw it all over the place and keep plays alive," Mullen said. "They have a different type of receivers than we've seen, a lot of big receives, real tall guys to create miss-match advantages. When you match that with the experience on defense you can see why they're 5-1 and probably the top team in the MAC conference this year." 


Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.