Bad News: This is another football post.
Good News: At least the post is based on statistical analysis.
(Bad/good from the standpoint that this blog’s tagline used to be “A statistical look at Michigan State basketball.”)
Brian Hoyer remains an enigma to Spartan fans. His season stats are pretty mediocre to date: 59-127 (46.5%) for 961 yards (7.6 yards/attempt) with 2 interceptions.
A significant question, though, is the degree to which the run-heavy offensive attack Mark Dantonio is choosing to employ is affecting Hoyer’s performance. My sense has been that MSU needs to pass a tad more on first down to keep defenses honest and give Hoyer more of a chance to get into a rhythm. Since the Cal game, when MSU was playing from behind for most of the game, Hoyer has averaged only 14.3 pass attempts per game. He’s had limited opportunities to make plays and has been inconsistent with those opportunities.
To investigate Hoyer’s performance further, I went back and broke down his passing stats for first down passing attempts, which have been even more limited in number, and attempts on other downs, when the defense presumably is more accutely aware a pass atempts is coming. Here are the stats through five games:
First down attempts: 18-38 (47.4%) for 353 yards (9.3 yards/attempt) and 1 interception
Attempts on other downs: 41-89 (46.1%) for 608 yards (6.8 yards/attempt) and 1 interception
There’s no negligible difference in completion percentage; Hoyer’s been equally inconsistent on first down and second/third downs. But the yards/attempt figure is two and a half yards higher on first down. In fact, Hoyer’s yards/attempt have been higher on first-down attempts than on second/third-down attempts in all five of Michigan State’s games to date.
We’re obviously working with a limited sample of data against uneven competition, but it appears that, when Hoyer gets the chance to throw the ball on first down, the odds of a big passing play are pretty good. Now some of that is set up by the fact the opponent expects MSU to run the ball three out of four time on first down, so the advantage may diminish if MSU beings passing more on first down. And Hoyer’s sub-50% completion percentage on first down means that throwing the ball on first down has put the team in a second-and-long position more often than not.
As the team moves into games against better Big Ten defenses that MSU won’t necessarily be able to force their will on with the running game, Mark Dantonio and Don Treadwell have a fine line to walk. They have to mix in more first down passing attempts to keep defenses honest, without foregoing the advantage that gaining 4 or 5 yards on first down by running the ball can create.
And, of course, Hoyer has to increase his passing percentage on all downs (with the help of his receivers not dropping balls)–but on first down in particular. Hopefully, Saturday’s 14-26 (53.8%) performance was a step in that direction.