Breaking Down the Playcalling, Part I

Posted by: Avinash on Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Sometimes you can just look at the calls.

I’m going to go more in depth into this when the season is over, but for now let’s focus on the simple details of playcalling. In general, to be good at anything, you strive for balance. Balance between how much you work and play, balance between the carbs, proteins and fats you consume, balance between the beautiful women you hang out with and the beautiful women you take home with you–even if it’s zero to zero, it’s still balance.

In football, and in general with the Bears, you hope to start out with balance early and keep it going until the end. So in this article, let’s see if we can start peeling apart what the differences are between September success and October failure.

Today we’ll look at playcalling as a whole. Here, R:P stands for rush-pass ratio. In this case we’ll say that something between 0.8 to 1.2 is about balanced, and anything to the extremes is worth noting.


There are some stats that immediately stand out from the page. First, you can see that the most dominating of our victories (Tennessee and Arizona) relied primarily on running plays, combined with the other team abandoning the run and going strictly to the pass (we are not counting that Louisiana Tech slopfest). While we didn’t exactly run around the playground with Wazzu, we returned to the balanced attack that was a staple of our five wins.

However, both Tennessee and Arizona found themselves in huge holes (38-21 early 3rd quarter, 28-3 after the first), so we might have to isolate the situations before and after to see how each team responded to the holes.


It’s clear the early deficit threw Tennessee off their balanced attack and placed them in pass wacky mode the rest of the game; after a 5 rush, 4 pass play drive that stalled at 4th and goal at the 1 (crucial possession of the game), Tennessee drew up 23 pass plays and 4 run plays. Arizona was throw-happy from the start, as they’ve been most of the year. Thank God for Mike Stoops not believing in the power of a run game, since that’s been a perfect recipe for defeat in September.

However, even the Bears stayed balanced threw most of these aborted comebacks. Despite the 20-10 disparity, the Bears didn’t really start running until they had a 14 point lead late and grinded out the clock. Their last big drive was a 10 run, 1 pass drive that ended with a fumble at the goal-line but also chewed up most of the time the Vols needed to mount a comeback.

Ditto Arizona. After taking a 25 point lead, only 15 of the 33 plays were runs up to the Wildcats cutting the lead to 38-27. Then the Bears finished up with 13 runs and 2 passes, including the clinching score. Tedford has stayed strong to balance, keeping the playcalling to an even keel to avoid drifting away from any of his weapons. In the wins, that balance definitely existed throughout.

Perhaps an even stronger analysis could be looked into point spreads, and how the score margin dictates the playcalling–something tells me the results will be predictable, but you never know…

If this piece was a little boring and obvious, don’t worry, it’s just an intro to a much larger, expansive topic of interest–how productive is this balance? We’ll explore it in greater depth later in this series.

Next time: Counting the losses.

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