Hidden Points- First Down Percentage


Aug 7, 2012
Understand my brand of writing is not for everyone. If you have feedback on what makes it boring I’m happy to listen.
I think a breakdown of Miami's Havoc rate overall and front 7 rate vs La Tech's Havoc Rates would be a good read to predict potentially how effective Blake Baker could be in running Miami's defense.

In 2018 Miami was # 1 in overall and front 7 havoc rates, but 20th on DB Havoc rate.
Where as La Tech was 26th overall, 62nd in front 7, and 10th in DB havoc havoc rates.

For reference

Go Canes
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Nov 4, 2011
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in every break of the game, every minute, every second.
On this team, we fight for that inch.
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch.
We claw with our fingers for that inch, cause we know when we add up all those inches, that's going to make the f'ing difference between winning and losing.
I'll tell you this - in any fight, it is the guy who is willing to die who is going to win that inch.

Al Pacino


Dec 19, 2014
Peter Drucker said, ""If you can't measure it, you can't improve it." That applies to everything, including football. Once you can see where the problems are, you can start doing root cause analysis and improve.

Of course to the lesser among us, the solution is simply, "Play offense better."


Mar 26, 2013
Last season Miami converted at least one first down on 64% of their offensive possessions. On the surface, it sounds like a good result, but this percentage actually ranked 63rd out of 66 P5 teams. Only Rutgers, Florida State, and Louisville converted a first down on a lower percentage of their possessions than Miami, as Miami was more than 1.50 standard deviations below the mean in this area. The top teams are converting at least one first down on much higher percentages: Alabama (88%), Oklahoma (86%), Georgia (83%) of the time, so Miami has a long way to go to get to the upper tier in this area.

When I first ran the numbers, I expected to be writing about the impact that this has on the defense, but multiple studies have shown that rest time for the defense, number of plays for defense etc. have zero impact of the ability to score on that defense. The first study from 2011 has shown the same results as the latest study in 2018 on the subject.

What the lack of first downs on offense DOES impact is field position. Surprisingly, Miami had the 10th best starting position among P5 teams last year (34-yard line). What this means is we have a baseline that we can use to start to quantify the number of expected points that moving into higher tiers of 1st down percentage would add. The average team converts a 1st down on 73.3% of their offensive possessions. One standard deviation is 79% and two standard deviations is 85%.

To put this in chart form:
View attachment 87176

Excluding kneel-down possessions to end the half or the game, there were 164 Miami possessions, of which 59 possessions did not result in at least one Miami first down. Adding an average of 12 yards for a first down (“expected” yardage on a first down) for the 15 additional possessions that would need a first down to get to the average of 73% would add 180 yards to Miami’s season total. As you would expect due to Miami’s abysmal punting game last year, Miami opponents actually had better starting field position than Miami had on their drives, despite an elite defense (Miami’s defense was third in the entire country by only giving up 1.12 first downs per opponent possession behind Clemson and Michigan State).

By moving Miami’s percentage of at least one first down to even an average level, Miami would gain roughly three points on the scoreboard. This isn’t a major impact on the scoreboard, but when you factor in that Miami’s defense was so dominant at forcing three-and-outs by the opposing team, this impact would actually be even greater to the expected gain Miami would have on offense from the additional field position gained. A conservative estimate for the impact that would come towards Miami’s offense from being an average offensive team at first down percentage (FDP) would add seven points net gained. As you would expect due to the sliding scale nature of expected points, adding more than 12 yards average per first down (a very conservative estimate) only increases this net gain for Miami.

To get Miami to one standard deviation above the mean, Miami would have gained at least one first down on 25 more possessions than they did last year (to get percentage to 79% for one SD above the mean). These additional first downs would mean Miami would be 12 points net gained over last year.

For an elite offense, Miami would need to gain a first down on 35 additional possessions, leaving them with only 24 possessions on the season where they did not gain at least one first down. These additional possessions and yards would add an additional 20 points net gained over last year.
When you factor in that the data suggests teams see an incremental expectations on possessions after they create the initial first down than possessions that would normally be “expected” to score from that yard-line initially, and you can see how the impact overall could be even greater for Miami.

Here is the game-by-game chart for Miami last year on FDP:
View attachment 87177

Not surprising that Duke and Wisconsin were our worst games from this standpoint, but it does surprise me that Miami was so consistently bad in this area against most teams last year. It really helps to illustrate just how broken the offense was from a consistency standpoint last year.

Miami finished near the bottom in the percentage of possessions where they created at least one first down with a percentage of 64%. This was 62nd out of 66 Power-5 teams.

As a net gain, moving to the average percentage of 73%, Miami could expect to add seven additional points. By moving to one standard deviation above the mean (79%), Miami could expect to add 12 points net gain. For two standard deviations, Miami could expect to add 20 points net gain. Since Miami was essentially the same against P5 teams (62.3%) as they were overall without the Savannah State game (65.1%), I decided to include all games, rather than just P5 games.

Getting to average in FDP only increases Miami’s expected win total by a half game. Getting to one standard deviation above the mean gets them close to one full win, and two standard deviations gets them an additional 1.5 wins. Moving Miami from a true talent 7-win team last year, to a true talent 8.5 win team. It’s important to note that this is a 21% increase in expected win percentage, simply by becoming very good at creating at least one first down on each offensive possession.

FDP is another area that Miami can improve their team and gain Hidden Points during the 2019 season.

If you enjoy my work, please follow me on twitter @HurricaneVision. Thank you

Great write-up. One quick question; are first downs the offense gains by way of a defensive penalty included as a "converted" first down by the offense or are they excluded? I can see an argument being made for both ways of looking at that. On the one hand being given a first down due to a miscue by the opposing defense isn't necessarily an example the offense executing their game-plan. On the other hand, defenses don't commit penalties in a vacuum, and offenses can certainly contribute to those penalties occurring.

Just curious how they were treated in your data.

Lance Roffers

Staff member
Feb 23, 2018
The scrub takes all drives three plays or less and removes the drives that had a first down within the three plays but then a turnover on play three or less (this results in the number of possessions without at least one first down).

As an FYI, TD’s count as first downs, so drives that have a TD on less than four plays counts as a first down possession.

I do not exclude penalty first downs. First downs are first downs for the purposes of this study.

Cane Fan 4 Life

Redshirt Freshman
Nov 28, 2012
Yup, not getting 1st downs and unable to convert 3rd downs will not win you games. I knew our offense was very bad last year, but now I know we were absolutely horrible when compared to the other p5 programs.


May 21, 2016

On your quote:

Although it might not directly impact defense rest time, it does present the issue of the opposing teams (assuming they do better at first downs than us) getting more offensive plays - aka: more chance to score. Also there is a psychological factor that cannot be discounted, football is a mental toughness game. If the offense keeps f'ing up and the kick team keeps give the opposition great field position, it starts to drag on a defenses mental focus - especially if that defense is not truly, really mentally tough (Duke/Virginia anyone). I love our defense, but I did wonder at times last year about their mental toughness. Now let me say when I say mental toughness its not just the individual player, but the unit as a whole. The leadership in the huddle, the position leadership. Its not as easy as saying Shaq Quarterman is tough (which he is in spades) or xyz player is a tough guy. That is not what I talking about. Its the unit as a cohesive one, playing with mental toughness. Unless the head coach is instilling leadership, pride, and toughness then as the game/season goes on and the offense keeps sputtering, the defensive units toughness start to erode. Now with that said, I think the defensive unit was much tougher than the offensive - which I attribute to Manny. But a coordinator only goes so far. It really comes from the top down. As it does in any organization. Apple under Jobs == Butch Davis 2000/JJ, under Tim Cook == Larry Coker.
Solid post... at least for the first halfbutthenIgotlostandmytoughnesswaivered and I gave up.

Paragraphs and complete sentences are your friend. I think you had something interesting to say there, but no one is going to get it.
  • Haha
Reactions: reg


Orange County Cane
Jan 11, 2019
Good to know that Manny, Enos, and staff are equally as analytically driven as Lance has shown to be. Good feeling when the HC won't just blame players for "not doing their jobs" and can give aggregated data that shows strengths/weaknesses. Thanks Lance...perfect bite size bit of info here.


Jul 9, 2014
So many issues with the O last year. Lack of first downs was an obvious one. I've always keyed in on 3rd down percentage, but getting first downs from ANY down is critical. Not only could we not sustain drives, we couldn't even get drives going. Painful. Pitiful.

If Enos is half decent, we will see a big jump across the board. If he's good, we will shock the college football world. If he's just barely better than Richt, things will get damn ugly by mid October.


Inane Source
Staff member
Jan 27, 2012
/Lance sneezes

CIS: “Yawn! I didn’t need to hear that to know you had a nose. Noses are very common and I know a lot about them. I mean who couldn’t see you had a nose, I’m sure everyone did. Everyone knew you had a nose before you had to rub it in our faces with your ‘oh I’m lance! i like to sneeze and show off my nose!’ Enough!”


Nov 4, 2011
Anytime someone can quantify what you know in your gut but can't quite put your finger on it - that's some GOOD stuff.

I'm not sure if anyone recalls - but Manny was reported quite a while back to be one of the newer, quantifying coaches - who knows that numbers, percentages, and probabilities tell no lies.

Numbers guys are the future - and we got one right here!


Redshirt Freshman
Mar 23, 2013
For years, Miami's two biggest strategic production problems have been 1) inability to sustain offensive drives via 1st downs (several reasons why) and 2) inability to make timely 3rd down defensive stops (also several reasons why).

Solve those two strategic issues, Miami wins a Natty--probably several.
Miami was actually more than good enough, IMO, in 3rd stops at critical times last year. I think the pain of needing so many "critical stops" because of how inefficient our offense was skews the results somewhat.

Empirical Cane

We are what we repeatedly do.
Sep 3, 2018
Miami was actually more than good enough, IMO, in 3rd stops at critical times last year. I think the pain of needing so many "critical stops" because of how inefficient our offense was skews the results somewhat.
Agreed. It has been a viscious circle.

Offensive couldn't sustain drives to keep defense off the field (amd lessen their risk) amd defense struggled to get the ball back to offense for more point opportunities.

They enabled each other's weaknesses and the losses have continued to pile up since 2001.


Nov 20, 2011
Great stuff Lance, it just goes to show you how one hand washes the other. For every first down the offense gets, it's another few downs of rest for the defense(which adds up over time), and further allows for the opportunity to flip the field. Where the defense (should it do it's job and get off the field quickly) can get the offense the ball in favorable field position.

Move the chains, here, convert there, and that's the difference in a game or two(especially, if there isn't an inordinate amount of turnovers)

Last year there were simply too many 'dead' drives