May 26, 2018

3 and Outs

One component in measuring efficiency is the number/percent of drives that end in 3 and outs.  The reason for this is simple: you don’t get to 99 plays, like Clemson did in the National Championship game against Alabama, by running 3 plays and punting.

Typically, there are 12-17 possessions in a college football game and if you’re on the high end of that range, you would have to average just shy of 6 plays per possession to get to 99.  The number of plays alone is not always indicative of winning, but it does give you a better chance of ending up with more yards and that does correlate to winning, especially for efficient offenses like 2016 Clemson.

For the 2016 Clemson Tigers it’s pretty clear that the defense was on a mission after the Pittsburgh debacle, forcing 3 and outs on at least 41.7% of opponent drives in each game from that point forward.

On the offensive side, it’s interesting to note that as much as the Tigers struggling early was a storyline for ESPN, Clemson only had three 3 and outs the entire game against what was billed by some the best defense in the history of college football.  By this measure the Tigers struggled more against Auburn, Troy, Louisville, Boston College, N.C. State, Florida State, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Ohio State than they did against mighty Bama.

The offensive numbers also show what we all saw with our eyes – the offense struggled at Auburn and even at home against Troy, but was a juggernaut for the most part post-Florida State.

A note on counting drives and 3 and outs:

  1. “EOH” means end of half, where a team did not attempt to score (generally a kneel down or victory formation) – these were not counted as “drives” for the purpose of this exercise.
  2. End of half drives of less than 3 plays where a team attempted to be competitive were counted. While this is can be subjective this type of possession are few and far between.
  3. Drives of 1 or 2 plays that ended with a turnover are considered “3 and outs” for these purposes. The general idea of the stat is a first down was not gained when the offense was trying to gain a first down.
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