The first game of the season is difficult to preview from a statistical standpoint because no games have been played. It usually takes a couple games to get a decent sample size to really know what a team is doing. In addition to this, Minnesota is especially difficult to do a preview due to the fact that they have changed their head coach and both coordinators.
This means that a lot of the data we can gather from previous seasons isn’t accurate. However, we can always just run the numbers and see what we can come up with. What we will do is look at the season play calling statistics for the 2010 Minnesota team and also the 2010 Northern Illinois team. We will look at the Minnesota team because it may give us clues into their tendencies based on personnel. We will then look at the NIU team because it may give us clues into the tendencies of Head Coach Kill and Offensive Coordinator Limegrover. It will be an interesting and fun exercise, even though it may very well be completely irrelevant.
2010 Minnesota Play Calling
First let us look at the play calling for Minnesota. In 2010, Minnesota ran the ball 490 times (53%) and passed the ball 437 times (47%). However, all signs show that their tendency is that of a running team. First, let us look at the play calling based on down.
Minnesota has a lean towards the run in all downs other than 3rd down. On 3rd down, they passed the ball almost twice as much as they ran. However, their lean towards the pass can be attributed due to a 7.04 yard average distance to go on 3rd down. When looking at 3rd down and less than six, which is typically the threshold to still have the threat of a run, Minnesota ran the ball 51 times (53%) and passed the ball 46 times (47%).
Now let us look at their play calling by quarter.
As before, Minnesota leaned towards the run except in the fourth quarter. This was likely when they were down and would pass more to attempt to catch back up. In fact, when the score was close (within seven points either way), Minnesota ran the ball 316 times (58%) and passed the ball 227 times (42%).
Let us take a quick look at the play calling by field position. Please note that all plays in the Goal to Go category are also counted within the Red Zone category.
From a field position viewpoint, Minnesota tended to be fairly balanced behind midfield. However, once reaching midfield, they tend towards the run. Red zone plays were particularly leaning towards the run.
2010 Northern Illinois
Now let us look at Coach Kill’s tendencies at Northern Illinois. First let us look at the play calling by down.
As can be seen here, NIU heavily leaned towards the run on first down, running over three times more often than they passed. Second down also ran the ball over 1.5 times more often than they passed. Third down had a lean towards the pass. However, NIU did lean towards the run when in 3rd and 6 or less, similar to Minnesota.
Now let us look at the play calling by quarter.
NIU tended towards the run all game long. Of course, this is in stark contrast to Minnesota as NIU won most of its games while Minnesota was often playing from behind. In fact, NIU tended towards the run in all scoring margin categories unless they were down by over two touchdowns.
Now let us look at the play calling by field position.
In contrast to Minnesota, NIU likes to run both behind and beyond midfield. In fact, their most “balanced” section of the field is from midfield to the red zone. Overall, NIU didn’t change their play calling much based on the field position.
Expect to see a lot of running. Minnesota tended to lean towards the run last season under Coach Brewster (and then under Coach Horton after Coach Brewster was fired). New Head Coach Kill leans even more towards the run. Add in the fact that Minnesota is breaking in Marqueis Gray as QB (he has played the last two seasons as WR) and it looks even more like Minnesota will try to run the ball. Expect a lot of QB scrambles, whether designed or not, from Gray as he is very athletic. Expect to see USC key in on the run and even spy on Gray to try to force him to beat us through the air.