Getting to Know Coach Petersen - the Numbers

Otto Greule Jr

With Chris Petersen hired as the next head coach of Washington football, it's time to start taking a closer look at his time at Boise State and getting to know the details of his career so far. First up, we take a look at the statistics from his time with the Broncos.

As a football fan you'd pretty much have to have been living under a rock the last 8 years to not know who Chris Petersen is. You almost certainly know him as the coach of the Boise State Broncos football team, and you probably know he's been very successful there. You likely have some inkling that his offenses have been good, and you might even recall that Justin Wilcox used to be his defensive coordinator.

That's a reasonable high level summary, but what about the details? Just how good have those offenses been under his watch? What about the defenses - what was it that got Wilcox noticed and hired away to the SEC by Tennessee, and then pursued by Steve Sarkisian to turn around the Husky defense? Has Petersen just been a passing fanatic, or has he run the ball effectively?

I decided to dive into the numbers. I gathered what I consider the most informative statistics and compiled a table of information for both offensive and defensive results. Here's the offensive info:

year W/L OC O FEI O S&P O PPG Rnk O Tyds/G Rnk O Tyds/P Rnk
2006 13-0 Bryan Harsin 10 39.7 2 420.6 10 6.38 11
2007 10-3 Bryan Harsin 49 26 42.4 4 467.4 12 6.21 15
2008 12-1 Bryan Harsin 43 8 37.6 t12 440.8 18 6.47 16
2009 14-0 Bryan Harsin 49 2 42.2 t1 450.3 10 6.53 10
2010 12-1 Bryan Harsin 17 2 45.1 2 521.3 2 7.46 2
2011 12-1 Brent Pease 23 9 44.2 5 481.3 t9 6.46 t12
2012 11-2 Robert Prince 52 40 30.2 54 391.3 t68 5.83 49
2013 8-4 Robert Prince 51 37 38.8 t16 470.8 24 5.97 44

year W/L OC O Ryds/G Rnk O Ryds/p Rnk O Pyds/G Rnk O PEff Rnk
2006 13-0 Bryan Harsin 214.15 6 5.05 8 206.5 52 161.46 6
2007 10-3 Bryan Harsin 184.92 33 4.64 31 282.5 23 152.97 6
2008 12-1 Bryan Harsin 152.31 54 4.41 48 288.5 13 157.69 11
2009 14-0 Bryan Harsin 186.14 26 5.13 10 264.1 29 159.52 5
2010 12-1 Bryan Harsin 200.23 21 5.37 10 321.1 6 179.95 2
2011 12-1 Brent Pease 171.92 40 4.54 34 309.4 11 171.57 4
2012 11-2 Robert Prince 168.15 56 4.57 47 223.2 71 141.80 38
2013 8-4 Robert Prince 201.83 t32 4.61 47 269.0 31 150.53 25

The columns are listing the following: national rankings in FEI, S&P, points per game, total yards per game, total yards per play, rushing yards per game, rushing yards per play, passing yards per game, passing efficiency rating and finally the offensive coordinator and W/L record for each season.

For those not familiar with the FEI and S&P rankings, they are the two main college football evaluative measures used by FootballOutsiders, (including SBN's own Bill Connelly). They analyze possessions, drive data and play-by-play and make adjustments for quality of opponent to come up with advanced metrics that attempt to focus on the factors that correlate best with success.

I include total yard per game measures because folks are so familiar with them, but a better gauge IMO is yards per play, as this reduces the distortion that can be created by up-tempo offenses that get more possessions per game which inflates gross totals. For passing I've included the NCAA pass efficiency measure. While you can certainly argue the formula they use, I think it's a better metric to use than gross passing yards per game.

Anyway, let's take a look at the offensive numbers. The first thing that sticks out is that S&P is much more bullish on those offensive numbers than FEI. By S&P, five of those eight seasons saw BSU field a top-10 or better offense. FEI on the other hand never rated them higher than 17th and as low as 52nd. Not terrible by any stretch, but perhaps not as high-flying as you might have thought.

By standard stats, the Broncos looked pretty good, almost always ranking among the scoring leaders and nearly always topping 400 ypg and besting 500 ypg in 2010, ranking 2nd in the country. That doesn't really change when you look at yards per play - again, they were 2nd in the country in 2010.

Their running game was typically pretty good, especially by yards per carry, topping out at 10th in the country. This was helped by the fact that Boise State typically ranked among the best teams in the country at avoiding sacks, so they weren't seeing much in the way of negative sack yardage taking away from their rushing numbers. For those Husky fans that love seeing Washington run the ball, it's worth noting that while Petersen likes to run the ball - and in fact had 1,000 yard rushers in 7 of his 8 seasons at Boise State - he typically did not run the ball quite as frequently as the Huskies have this season

Where they've really shined has been in the passing game. While they don't put up huge passing yardage numbers like an Air Raid offense (they ranged anywhere from 71st to 6th in the country in yards per game passing), their pass efficiency ratings have typically been extremely good. They feature QB's with high accuracy, few interceptions, lots of touchdowns and good to great yards per attempt ratios.

As far as the coaches, Bryan Harsin was the OC for the first five seasons under Petersen before getting hired away to Texas as OC after the 2010 season. He was followed for a year by Brent Pease who himself was hired away to Florida as OC, and then the last two years by Robert Prince. There's been a definite drop-off the last two years which has caused grumbles among Bronco fans, but it's worth noting that those two years also happen to be the two years that have happened since Kellen Moore graduated.

Moore was and is not a very physically gifted QB, but he's extremely smart, very accurate and has shown a knack for making the right play. It's hard to know how much credit to assign Moore himself and how much to credit Petersen and his offensive coaches for fitting the perfect scheme around the talents of Moore. It should also be noted that the Boise offense was pretty damn good prior to Moore's arrival with Jared Zabransky and Ryan Dinwiddie behind center.

On to defense. Again, the same measures are tracked, expect we're looking at opponent yards, etc. Additionally I've listed their ranking in turnover margin for each season:

year W/L DC D FEI D S&P D PPG Rnk D Tyds/G Rnk D Tyds/P Rnk
2006 13-0 Justin Wilcox 12 17.6 t20 284.0 14 4.87 30
2007 10-3 Justin Wilcox 61 28 21.6 25 338.0 25 4.99 t35
2008 12-1 Justin Wilcox 12 5 12.6 3 308.2 t19 4.33 6
2009 14-0 Justin Wilcox 11 14 17.1 t13 300.2 14 4.78 22
2010 12-1 Pete Kwiatkowski 17 1 12.8 2 254.7 2 3.98 1
2011 12-1 Pete Kwiatkowski 21 3 18.7 12 320.8 16 5.17 t40
2012 11-2 Pete Kwiatkowski 21 23 15.8 8 315.6 12 4.62 10
2013 8-4 Pete Kwiatkowski 75 34 23.8 37 410.0 74 5.15 30

year W/L DC D Ryds/G Rnk D Ryds/P Rnk D Pyds/G Rnk D PEff Rnk TO Rnk
2006 13-0 Justin Wilcox 89.08 8 3.21 20 194.2 45 114.87 30 0.85 t10
2007 10-3 Justin Wilcox 130.85 35 3.75 t41 207.2 27 113.39 24 0.08 t47
2008 12-1 Justin Wilcox 118.00 21 3.22 16 190.2 34 94.45 2 0.54 t26
2009 14-0 Justin Wilcox 120.36 28 3.83 49 179.9 21 103.43 13 1.50 3
2010 12-1 Pete Kwiatkowski 103.77 7 2.93 4 150.9 4 95.19 2 0.62 t22
2011 12-1 Pete Kwiatkowski 110.00 17 3.53 t28 210.8 43 124.07 43 0.62 t23
2012 11-2 Pete Kwiatkowski 146.15 47 3.71 t29 169.5 t5 101.41 5 1.54 t2
2013 8-4 Pete Kwiatkowski 161.58 64 3.62 22 248.4 93 129.02 74 0.33 t39

In terms of defense, FEI and S&P see eye-to-eye - they both rated Boise State's defenses as great to elite from 2008-2012. In fact, by those measures it would appear as though the image many have of Boise State having a high-flying offense is gravely overlooking just how good their defenses have been. In 2010 S&P ranked them first in defense.

By more standard measures they still look very good, usually holding teams in the low 300's (or better) in overall yardage, and ranking among the better teams in yards allowed per play.

For anyone that's paid attention to Justin Wilcox's defenses here at the UW, the pass defenses - especially by efficiency rating - will look familiar as they were quite good under his watch and typically better than his run defenses (though his run defenses were no slouches). It's also worth noting that the defensive performance didn't really change under Pete Kwiatkowski for the first three years following Wilcox's departure. However this year they dropped off significantly, which raises a bit of a red flag if Kwiatkowski does in fact end up as the DC here - was he riding the wave of Wilcox's players only to see things fall off once most of the defense was comprised of his guys, or was this season a less conclusive aberration?

One nice thing to see is that the Broncos always came out ahead in the turnover battle under Petersen and were typically among the best in the country in this regard.

Hopefully this research helps shed some light on what we might expect from Petersen's offenses and defenses. In the next installment, we'll take a look at how he's done in big games and games where he's had extra time to prepare - a measure that is typically cited as evidence of coaching acumen (and an area where Don James fared quite well).

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