This post will look at the average gain by formation. As an overview, we will first look at the overall average gain in each formation. Then we will take a closer look into each formation and break down the average gain based on run vs pass play call. We will also look at a play’s “success rate” while in a formation.
This post looks at a simplified look at formations. Ace formation is any formation utilizing only a single running back. I-Formation is any formation utilizing two running backs. Empty is any formation with no running backs. Shotgun is any formation where the Quarterback is not under center, regardless of the number of running backs. Wildcat is any formation in which the running back lines up as the Quarterback.
There is much more depth in football formations, such as the number of tight ends and the actual alignment of each player, but we will not go into these details for this post.
Please note that I tracked formations for most plays in all games other than the Oregon game.
First, let us look at the overall breakdown in how USC utilizes it’s various formations.
As can be seen in the chart, USC utilized the Ace Formation and the I-Formation as their bread and butter for the offense. 83% of the offense was comprised of these two formations. Shotgun was used for 12% of the offense, generally on passing downs. Wildcat and Empty formations were only a wrinkle to the USC offense and comprised of 3% and 2% of the offense respectfully.
Overall, I tracked 800 offensive plays with their formations. These 800 plays gained 5,156 total yards which comes out to an average of 6.45 yards per play. Now we will take a look at the average gain based on formation. Please keep in mind the distribution of formations that was shown in the pie chart above.
The most productive formation per play was the Empty formation. This was followed by the Ace Formation, I-Formation, then the Wildcat. Shotgun was the least productive formation per play than any of the other formations.
Now let us look at the specifics of each formation.
Let us take a look at the average yards gained from the I-Formation.
The I-Formation was used for 320 plays and gained 2,048 yards (6.4 yards average). From the I-Formation, USC ran the ball 209 times (65%) and passed the ball 111 times (35%). From this, they gained an average of 5.88 yards rushing the ball and 7.39 yards passing the ball.
Let us look at the overall success found in the I-Formation. Here, we will look at the percentage of plays which were negative yardage plays versus the percentage that were big gains. For this post, negative yardage plays will be defined as any run or completed pass stopped for no gain or for a loss. Please note that incomplete passes do not count as a negative play. Big gains are plays that gain at least six yards. I picked six yards because USC averaged just over six yards per play average on offense. So in essence, these are the “above average” plays.
As can be seen in the graph, USC was stopped for no gain or negative yardage on 14% of their rushing plays and 5% of their passing plays in the I-Formation. On the flip side, 37% of the rushing plays and 45% of passing plays gained at least six yards.
Let us take a look at the average yards gained from the Ace Formation.
The Ace Formation was used 343 times and gained 2,299 yards (6.7 yards average). USC ran the ball 156 times (45%) and passed the ball 187 times (55%). From this, they gained an average of 6.07 yards rushing the ball and 7.23 yards passing the ball.
Let us look at the overall success found in the Ace Formation.
These numbers are slightly better than that of the I-Formation for rushing, but slightly worse for passing. Negative rushing plays are 3% lower for the Ace Formation while big rushing plays are 6% higher. For passing, negative plays were essentially equal while big passes were 4% lower in the Ace Formation compared to the I-Formation.
While these margins are significant, there are a number of reasons that could be attributed to this. For instance, I-Formation may be utilized more in short yardage situations or this could simply be a matter of variance.
Let us take a look at the average yards gained from the Shotgun.
The Shotgun was used 92 times and gained 481 yards (5.23 yards average). USC ran the ball only 15 times (16%) and passed the ball 77 times (84%). From this, they gained an average of 5.0 yards rushing the ball and 5.27 yards passing the ball.
Let us look at the overall success found in the Shotgun.
There is a significantly lower percentage of negative run plays in the Shotgun compared to other formations. There are a couple of factors that contribute to this. First, defenses are likely keying in on the pass rather than the run due to the formation. Additionally, the offense is likely in a passing situation, such as 3rd and long. In these situations, it is not the primary goal for the defense to stuff the run for short or negative yardage, as long as they stop the run before the first down marker. This also contributes to the fact that big run plays have a significantly lower percentage in Shotgun.
For passing plays, negative passing plays are significantly higher than other formations. This is possibly due to sacks while the quarterback waits for receivers to get open. Remember, Shotgun is typically used on 3rd and long formations so plays will take longer to develop and quarterbacks will be less prone to dumping the ball off or throwing the ball away in hopes that they will be able to get a first down by holding onto the ball a little longer. Defenses also may react differently in obvious passing situations as they apply additional pressure on the quarterback and ignore the short dump off passes.
Let us take a look at the average yards gained from the Wildcat. Please keep in mind that the Wildcat has only been utilized for about 3% of USC’s plays.
The Wildcat was used 26 times and gained 159 yards (6.12 yards average). USC ran the ball 23 times (88%) and passed the ball only 3 times (12%). From this, they gained an average of 6.52 yards rushing the ball and 3.0 yards passing the ball.
Let us look at the overall success found in the Wildcat.
These numbers may not mean a whole lot in comparison with other formations due to the sample size being so small. Anyway, USC has had decent success running the ball in the Wildcat. Nearly half their runs have gained at least six yards. As for passes, no passes were completed for negative yards and no passes were completed for more than six yards. There were two passes that were completed for five yards, one of them a touchdown. Another pass was incomplete to a wide open Havili, who would had a big gain.
For more insight into the Wildcat, please read the post by Trojan Football Analysis on the Wildcat found here: http://trojanfootballanalysis.com/?p=629.
Let us take a look at the average yards gained from the Empty Formation. Please keep in mind that the Empty formation is utilized as only 2% of USC’s offensive playbook.
The Empty Formation was used 19 times and gained 169 yards (8.89 yards average). USC ran the ball only 3 times (16%) and passed the ball 16 times (84%). From this, they gained an average of 6.33 yards rushing the ball and 9.38 yards passing the ball.
Let us look at the overall success found in the Empty Formation.
Again, the sample size is so small on the Empty Formation that there isn’t much use in comparing it to other formations. Anyway, one of the three runs in the Empty Formation was stuffed for a loss but the other two gained at least six yards. For passing, a strong 75% of passes in the Empty Formation have gained at least 6 yards.