Apologies for the delay. My new work hasn't allowed me the time it takes to put the numbers together and put a post like this up. I wanted to take opportunity of a brief break in the action to put a cumulative Gaddabout's Grade's together as a measure of ASU's progress this season.
3rd Down Efficiency
2006 ASU offense: 64/129, 37.9% (5th Pac-10, 62nd natoinally)
2007 ASU offense (7 games): 45/106, 42.5% (6th Pac-10, 38th nationally)
2006 ASU defense: 64/174, 36.8% (6th Pac-10, 51st nationally)
2007 ASU defense (7 games): 32/111, 28.8% (2nd Pac-10, 11th nationally)
2007 Pac-10 leader offense: Oregon, 50/99, 50.5%
2007 Pac-10 leader defense: UCLA, 30/112, 26.8%
2007 NCAA leader offense: Missouri, 60/106, 57.1%
2007 NCAA leader defense: Kansas, 29/113, 25.7%
Analysis: It's not hard to see why ASU is 7-0. Moderate improvement in offensive efficiency, strong improvement in defensive efficiency. Defense is about preventing the other team from scoring, but there's a direct relationship between how a defense handles 3rd down and scoring. ASU is 4th in the nation in scoring defense at 15 points a game, more than 10 points better than a year ago. Offensively, ASU is merely taking fewer risks, with more balance in the play calls between run and pass. It's put the offense in more advantageous 3rd down positions where a decent running game can make a difference. ASU ran the ball well last year, but faced too many 3rd and longs because the play calling was heavy on 7-step drops and deep routes on 1st and 2nd downs last year.
2006 ASU: -1, -.8 per game (68th nationally, 7th Pac-10)
2007 ASU (7 games): +6, .86 per game (22nd nationally, 2nd Pac-10)
2007 Pac-10 leader: Cal, +7, 1.0 per game
2007 NCAA leader: Fla. Atlantic, +18, 2.57 per game
Analysis: A positive turnover margin doesn't win games alone, as evidenced by Fla. Atlantic's 4-3 record. But a negative turnover margin is the quickest way to lose games you're not supposed to lose and a general sign of a team that will implode in pressure-packed big games. ASU is doing much better in that category thanks to a ball-hawking defense that has a respectable 12 interceptions. Rudy Carpenter is on pace to throw two less interceptions than last year, a reasonable improvement, although it's difficult to think of an interception that wasn't his fault -- can't think of a tipped pass among them. ASU is doing well holding on to the ball, particularly the running backs, but that is an odd traditional strength for the program since Bruce Snyder first became head coach. ASU has had one nail-biter in 7 contests and it was the game they were upside down in turnovers, although ASU's one interception was a key one -- a game-winning touchdown return by Justin Tryon. It should be noted the +3 in the Oregon State game skews these numbers a bit and ASU is not quite as strong as the cumulative number suggests.
2006 ASU: 7.92/64 yds pg (113th nationally, 10th Pac-10)
2007 ASU (7 games): 7.1 per game/70 yds pg (78th nationally, 4th Pac-10)
2007 Pac-10 leader: Oregon, 5.7/53 yds pg
2007 NCAA leader: Iowa St., 3.5/30 yds pg
Analysis: This is a wacky year for officiating in the Pac-10. The difference between 2006 and 2007 for ASU looks like a slight regression, but the change in clock officiating (a return to clock stoppage after kick team exchanges, for example) has returned about 15 plays per game from the line of scrimmage. Frankly, ASU is more efficient in this category than last year. Quite a bit improved, actually. But it should say something that Oregon is the Pac-10 leader and checks in at 30th nationally. The refs are simply having more influence in our conference than any other. USC, the conference's traditional fewest penalties leader since Pete Carroll arrived, is dead last in the conference and 109th in the nation with a whopping 8.29/74 ypg. average. UCLA is barely ahead of USC with 8.29/65 ypg. Even Cal, traditionally disciplined under Tedford, is picking up almost two more flags a game from the previous year. There's simply no rational way to account for these changes, but ASU's penalty per 85 plays from the LOS is MUCH better than the previous year.
Overall: ASU is much improved, but these are numbers begging to be challenged by the meat of the schedule ahead. It should be noted that Oregon grades out strong in all the efficiency categories and, by those standards, appears to be ASU's most challenging opponent by a long shot. Cal is mediocre in many of these categories and USC and UCLA look entirely capable of shooting themselves in the foot in close games.
College football is an emotional game. It's impossible to measure, say, two fumbles at midfield that produce no points against a late muffed punt return that's easily converted for a score. If a team picks up 7 penalties in the first half and none in the second, which team is more likely to win the game? Personnel changes at QB probably have something to do with the efficiency problems at USC, UCLA, and Cal. Momentum and emotion toys with efficiency stats if you try to place them in a microsystem to predict outcome.
But efficiency stats remain the strongest indicator of performance in three key categories: coaching, player performance consistency, and mental fortitude. Efficiency stats remain the strongest indicator of the big picture, which is which teams are making forward progress to a good season and which teams are likely to falter over 11 or 12 games. ASU definitely looks to have forward progress with at least one potential major roadblock in Eugene ahead.