An Analysis of Coach Sarkisian’s Comparative Statistics at UW

I always like to look at “comparative statistics” to get a better gauge at how a team is doing.  This post will look at Coach Steve Sarkisian’s comparative stats over his years at Washington.  First, we will define what a comparative stat is.  Then, we will look at both offensive and defensive stat categories from year to year, starting in 2008 up until this season.

What is a Comparative Stat?

A lot of basic statistic comparison done in football is the pure numbers.  For instance, USC averaged 392.3 yards per game of total offense, or #79 in the nation.  It is a good basic measure of offensive capability.  However, it doesn’t take into account things such as strength of schedule.  Playing a bunch of bad teams will inherently boost your numbers, making your team look better than it actually is.  On defense, you can also run into a similar issue where playing a couple teams that primarily run the ball causes your pass defense numbers to look better than they actually are (since you are not “allowing” as many passing yards).

A comparative stat takes it a little bit further to normalize these types of situations.  When looking at comparative stats, you will look at how your team did compared to what the opponent typically allows.  For instance, USC gained 192 yards rushing against Hawaii.  Seems reasonable enough on the surface.  However, Hawaii’s rushing defense allows an average of 213.6 rushing yards per game.  This means that in comparative stats, USC had a -21.6 yard margin in rushing offense.  Put another way, USC did below average against Hawaii rushing the ball.  You can then average these numbers over a season and you start to get a better picture on how “good” or “bad” a team is in each category, normalized based on strength of schedule and other factors.

How we’ll look at Sark

What I wanted to do was look at the comparative stats for Washington over all of Coach Sarkisian’s tenure.  Much has been written and dissected about his win-loss record over this time period, but I wanted to see if he generally improved his numbers throughout the years or if they stayed stagnant (similar to his win-loss record).

In the sections below, we will look at a line chart which will depict the comparative stats margin for each category from the 2008 to 2013 seasons.  The reason I included 2008 was to show improvement in the transition from Willingham to Sarkisian. Each chart will have a trend line which shows the overall trend from 2008 to 2013.  I also color code each chart based on Offensive and Defensive Coordinators, so you can tell when notable coaching changes were made.


Coach Sark is an offensive coach, which is why I was most interested in his offensive comparative stats.  Before we jump in, I want to describe the color code for the offensive charts.  In all offensive charts,  the red segment shows the switch from Willingham at HC and Tim Lappano at OC in 2008 to Sark at HC and Doug Nussmeier at OC.  The blue segment from 2009 to 2011 is Doug Nussmeier’s time at OC before he started coaching at Alabama.  The green segment from 2012 to 2013 is the time period with Eric Kiesau as OC.  It is worthwhile to note the OC during Sark’s tenure, but remember that Sark was calling the plays as the head coach and ultimately had final say in the offensive gameplan.  It is also important to note that Sark completely revamped the UW offense in 2013 to feature a no-huddle spread offense, so keep an eye on how that changes their comparative stat margins.

First, let’s look at rushing offense.  The first chart we’ll look at is rushing offense.

Sark_Comp_Rushing_OffenseAs can be seen here, Sark took a rushing attack that was averaging nearly 32 yards below average and brought it to about average in his first year.  The trend continued improving into 2010.  The rushing attack started to decline over the next two years and fell below average again in 2012.  However, after revamping the offense, UW’s rushing attack gains almost 60 yards more per game than the opposing defense typically allows.

Now let’s look at yards per carry.

Sark_Comp_Rushing_YPCYards per play is an important statistic to look at when looking at no-huddle offenses.  This is because these teams typically get more offensive snaps than average, which leads to inflated yards.  The yards per carry numbers matches up pretty well with curve we saw in the rushing offense chart.

Now let’s look at passing offense.

Sark_Comp_Passing_OffenseIn passing offense, a large gain was made in the first year under Sark.  The second year showed a regression, but this regression was overshadowed by the gains made in the 3rd year.  However, 2012 showed a dramatic drop in passing production as the OC coaching spot was changed.  This drop was mitigated by the change up in offense in 2013.

Now let’s look at yards per attempt, yards per completion, and completion percentage.

Sark_Comp_Passing_YPASark_Comp_Passing_YPCSark_Comp_Passing_CompPercAll these charts are interlinked.  The yards per completion chart is a compilation between the yards per attempt and the completion percentage charts.  One interesting thing to note is 2010, when the completion percentage dropped quite a bit and a corresponding drop in yards per attempt, but yards per completion rose.  This could mean that UW was more aggressive in their passing attack that year, attempting deeper throws and therefore completing fewer of them.

Now let us look at total offense.


Total offense shows a very large jump in Sark’s first year where it generally stayed static before regressing in 2012 under new OC Kiesau.  However, 2013 showed a dramatic boost in offensive production with the installation of the new spread offense.

Time for yards per play on offense.

Sark_Comp_Offense_YPPYards per play shows a similar chart.  However, it is worthwhile to note here that the yards per play between 2011 and 2013 are similar, yet 2013 had many more yards per game (from the last chart).  This illustrates how a no-huddle offense will skew the numbers.

Finally, let’s look at scoring offense.

Sark_Comp_Scoring_OffenseScoring offense follows a similar peaks and valleys as the other charts.  UW’s offense was at its best in 2013, scoring almost 8 more points than the opponent typically allowed.


Now it is time to look at the defensive side of the ball.  In the defensive charts, the red segment shows the switch from Wililngham at HC and Ed Donatell at DC to Sark at HC and Nick Holt as DC.  The blue segment from 2009 to 2011 is the era with Nick Holt as DC.  Nick Holt was fired as DC after the 2011 season and Sark brought in Justin Wilcox, who is represented by the green segment in the 2012 to 2013 seasons.  It is important to note that for defensive comparative stats, more negative is better (meaning you are allowing less yards than your opponent is typically gaining).

First, we’ll look at rushing defense.


Rushing defense improved dramatically in Sark’s first year.  Still, that improvement brought UW only to about average, with only 1.6 fewer yards allowed on the ground than average.  The rushing defense progressively got worse under DC Nick Holt, and again improved once Justin Wilcox was brought in (again, only to average).  It stayed as an average rushing defense in Wilcox’s two years.

Let’s look at yards per carry defense.

Sark_Comp_Rushing_YPC_DefenseAgain, it is important to look at yards per play for 2013 with the installation of the no-huddle offense.  When you have a no-huddle offense, it means that the defense is on the field a lot longer which can inflate the yards allowed.  When looking at yards per carry defense, It has been pretty static since Sark has taken over.  UW hovered at around the same spot despite the DC change and despite the switch to the no-huddle offense.

Now let us look at passing defense.

Sark_Comp_Passing_DefenseSurprisingly, UW got worse on passing defense after their winless 2008 season.  All of the years under Nick Holt had worse passing defense than under Willingham.  However, passing defense dramatically improved under DC Justin Wilcox and continued to improve from year 1 to year 2.

Now let’s look at yards per attempt, yards per completion, and completion percentage.

Sark_Comp_Passing_YPA_DefenseSark_Comp_Passing_YPC_DefenseSark_Comp_Passing_CompPerc_DefenseAll of these charts show a steady improvement from below average to above average.  There was spike in 2012 in yards per completion, which is notable.  This may be due to the change in style with DC Justin Wilcox.  It is notable that even though yards per completion rose in 2012, completion percentage dropped dramatically.

Now let’s look at total defense.

Sark_Comp_Total_DefenseTotal defense had a general downward trend as well.  2011 had a large spike, which was the year that DC Nick Holt was fired.  This spike was completely negated by Justin Wilcox coming in and further improving UW’s defensive performance.  It is somewhat surprising to see a total defense improvement in 2013 after the no-huddle offense was implemented.  Typically the total defensive yards suffer under no-huddle since the opposing offense just has more time with the ball which leads to more yards.

Now let’s look at yards per play defense.

Sark_Comp_Offense_YPP_DefenseAgain, UW continued to progress throughout the years, other than 2011.  The defense continued to improve under Justin Wilcox, with UW allowing 1 yard per play less than the opposing offense typically gained in 2013.

Finally, we look at scoring defense.

Sark_Comp_Scoring_DefenseScoring defense improved in Sark’s first year, but then steadily regressed under Nick Holt.  After Nick Holt was replaced with Justin Wilcox, the defense improved vastly and continued to improve from year 1 to year 2.


Coach Sarkisian had a five year run at UW.  During that time, he went through two OCs and two DCs.  Also in those five years, it seemed as if Sark had hit a bit of a ceiling on his season win total.  However, looking at each statistical category, there is a general improvement in the trendline for every single category.  The main areas that UW did not improve very much after Sark was brought in was yards per rush and rushing defense.  It will definitely be interesting to see how much of these stats carry over to Sark’s tenure at USC.


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