Summer Vacation: Structuralism, the New Coach Crapshoot and the UL(L) Ragin' Cajuns

We wrap up the Louisiana schools before heading north toward Jonesboro. Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom.

When we released the Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 projections last summer, there were a few immediate outliers, and they all had something in common.  Texas Tech, Tennessee and Kansas were all projected strangely high ... and all three were entering their first seasons under a new regime.  (And we whiffed on all three.)  As the season approached, I tried to tackle the topic of coaching changes, and how we might be able to adjust projections, in Varsity Numbers.

At the non-BCS level, teams are picking from a different pool of candidates. How does the data shape up there?

Two-year change at Non-BCS Conferences Based on Coaching Type
Type of Hire N 1st Yr
Chg.
Avg. Two-Yr
Chg.
Applicable 2010 Teams
College Assistant 52 +0.8% +1.2% Akron, Buffalo, Central Michigan, East Carolina,
Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Memphis,
San Jose State, UL-Monroe, Western Kentucky
Fired BCS Conf. Coach 8 -5.0% +1.1%
FCS Coach 7 +0.2% +7.2% UNLV
Non-BCS Conf. Coach 5 +3.3% +7.3%
BCS Conf. Coach 2 +9.8% +21.9%
NFL 2 -1.5% +1.9%
Grand Total 76 +0.4% +2.7%

One thing is certain: If you can stumble across a major-conference coach at this level, snatch him up. Unfortunately, it takes pretty crazy circumstances for that to happen. The only two coaches who went from a BCS conference to a non-BCS conference without getting fired for performance-related issues were George O'Leary at Central Florida (successful at Georgia Tech, hired by Notre Dame before it was revealed that he fudged his résumé) and Mike Price at UTEP (successful at Washington State, hired by Alabama, fired before his first game for questionable behavior). Because neither was removed from his job for matters pertaining to their coaching ability, they both were labeled BCS Conf. Coaches.

The problem with attempting to make projections based on the "type" of coach that was hired, of course, is that most coaches have diverse backgrounds.  I knew it at the time, but I didn't know a different way to attack the issue (without spending weeks on it, anyway).

The "type" issue comes vividly into play with the new coach of the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns.  How exactly do you categorize new coach Mark Hudspeth's career to date?  In the last 11 years, he has gone from Delta State offensive coordinator, to Navy offensive coordinator, to highly successful head coach of DII North Alabama, to two-year wide receivers coach at Mississippi State.  Going the simplest route possible, he would show up under "College Assistant," but that doesn't really tell the tale.

Regardless, Hudspeth appears to be an absolutely tremendous hire for Ragin' University.  He went 44-8 in his last four years at North Alabama, and he seemed to play a pretty strong role in Mississippi State's recent offensive improvement.  He has extreme familiarity with the region and success in a number of different offensive roles.  But here's where I ask the same question I asked of UL-Monroe: what exactly is the ceiling here even if Hudspeth -- an enthusiastic dude, for what it's worth -- is the best coach in Ragin' Cajun history?

(And by the way ... is it Louisiana-Lafayette?  UL-Lafayette?  University of Louisiana?  Everybody says something different -- can we just all agree on one thing?  And can it not be the University of Louisiana?  And why did they change from Southwest Louisiana, anyway?  That was very easy to remember ... if geographically ridiculous.)

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 0-12 | Final F/+ Rk**: 103
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep at Georgia 7-55 L 6.3 - 26.3 L
11-Sep Arkansas State 31-24 W 26.0 - 27.2 L
25-Sep Middle Tennessee 14-34 L 18.1 - 33.3 L
2-Oct at North Texas 28-27 W 19.6 - 31.0 L
8-Oct Oklahoma State 28-54 L 27.0 - 29.9 L
16-Oct at Troy 24-31 L 18.1 - 27.3 L
23-Oct Western Kentucky 21-54 L 17.8 - 42.3 L
30-Oct at Ohio 31-38 L 32.4 - 38.9 L
6-Nov at Ole Miss 21-43 L 9.3 - 36.5 L
13-Nov at Florida Atlantic 23-24 L 21.4 - 35.7 L
20-Nov Florida International 17-38 L 20.6 - 32.8 L
27-Nov at UL-Monroe 23-22 W 15.5 - 29.7 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 22.3 92 37.0 112
Adj. Points Per Game 19.3 113 32.6 104

Of course, before going too overboard about how good a hire Hudspeth seems to be, we should point out that the last guy seemed like a pretty good hire too.  Rickey Bustle came to UL(L) after 23 years as an assistant coach, nine as offensive coordinator at either Virginia Tech (eight years) or South Carolina (one).  He had strong ties to the south (he also had stints at UL-Monroe, East Carolina and Gardner Webb ... plus a year as RBs coach for the USFL's Arizona Wranglers, which is awesome).  He stayed in Lafayette for nine seasons ... and could never break through the six-win ceiling.  The Cajuns tied for the Sun Belt title in 2005, but the quality was fading.

In 2010, UL(L) never once played well enough to beat a perfectly average team; they came close a couple of times, but with a poor defense and a worse offense, they earned that 0-12 Adj. Record.  The offense was all over the place, but an iffy defense got much worse when injuries set in.  See that sudden jump in Adj. Points allowed for the Western Kentucky game?  The Cajuns were without four starters, including two on the defensive line.  That'll do it.

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 105 113 99
RUSHING 112 113 110 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 95 100 87 117
Standard Downs 112 117 104 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 105 104 110 77
Redzone 120 118 120
Q1 Rk 115 1st Down Rk 115
Q2 Rk 82 2nd Down Rk 101
Q3 Rk 85 3rd Down Rk 101
Q4 Rk 120

The transition from Bustle's pass-heavy personnel to what I assume will be a somewhat run-heavy Hudspeth offense could be interesting.  In Hudpseth's final year at North Alabama, the Lions ran 64% of the time.  Granted, with a +24/game scoring margin, a decent chunk of those runs were probably of the "we're up big in the second half" variety, but combine that with the fact that Mississippi State was one of the most run-happy teams in the country, and you start to see what Hudpseth's intentions might be.

That's great news for potential starting quarterback Blaine Gautier.  Gautier wasn't much of a passer last year (51% completion rate, 3 TD to 6 INT), but he could run (280 rushing yards, five touchdowns), and in the spring's first scrimmage, Gautier ripped off touchdown runs of 32 and 95 (!) yards.  Of course, he's got plenty of competition for the starting job.  After all, Chris Masson (1,842 yards, 53% completion rate, 11 TD to 6 INT) has started for a good portion of two seasons now, and Brad McGuire (561 yards, 55%, 3-to-3) has experience.  And that says nothing of Houston transfer (and former four-star recruit) Terrance Broadway, who had a stellar passing line (71%, 10.1 yards/pass, 3-to-1) with the Cougars last year but lost playing time due to sackandfumbleitis.  Hudspeth's got quite a few options here, but you have to wonder if Gautier's legs will help him out in the competition.

Other tidbits:

  • One thing is certain: whoever wins the starting job has a ridiculously good tight end at his disposal.  Big Ladarius Green (794 receiving yards, 18.0/catch, 7 TD) was perhaps the best big-play tight end in the country last year, and he is a legitimate 2011 All-American candidate.  Green had almost double the catches of anybody else on the team, and outside of him, the receiving corps leaves something to be desired.  Andrew Joseph is the only returning wideout who had as many as 20 catches last year.
  • Outside of the quarterback position, the depth dries up in a hurry.  Running back Aaron Spikes (a team-leading 339 yards, 3.3/carry, 2 TD) was decent for a true freshman last year -- he certainly got no help whatsoever from one of the worst run-blocking lines in the country -- but he didn't exactly perform well enough to clinch a four-year starting gig.  He was, however, the only Ragin' back to get more than 50 carries all season, however.  Methinks that probably will not be the case again this coming fall.
  • The aforementioned terrible run-blocking line returns three starters, which ... well, I'm not sure if that's good or bad.
  • And yes, UL(L) apparently had the worst red zone offense in the country last year.

Defense

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 95 89 100
RUSHING 91 88 94 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 99 84 103 75
Standard Downs 94 83 95 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 96 65 106 96
Redzone 94 91 97
Q1 Rk 96 1st Down Rk 89
Q2 Rk 69 2nd Down Rk 83
Q3 Rk 90 3rd Down Rk 116
Q4 Rk 108

UL(L)'s defense was absolutely not the worst one in the country last year (they almost were on third downs, but I digress), but ... they didn't have much going for them either.  They were relatively efficient on passing downs (strange considering their iffy pass rush -- it appears they sent the house to get pressure), but the breakdowns they suffered in that regard more than made up for any good plays.

Is there any hope for improvement in 2011?  Perhaps.  Three of four starters return from a line that was decent against the run; six-foot-five end Emeke Onyenekwu (6.5 TFL/sacks) returns, as do Justin Anderson (3.5 as a redshirt freshman) and Tyrell Gaddies (3.0).  Overall, there is decent size on a line that has to be considered a relative strength.

If the line doesn't make a play?  Hard to say who will if it's not linebacker Devon Lewis-Buchanan (50.0 tackles, 6.0 TFL/sacks, 6 PBU).  UL(L)'s defensive improvement in 2011 might depend on the element of surprise, with a new set of coaches unleashing a new gameplan.

Of course, the element of surprise only lasts a couple of games, so...

Other tidbits:

  • The pass defense was iffy despite a pair of decent corners.  Potential pro Orkeys Auriene (30.0 tackles, 3 INT, 8 PBU) is gone, though Dwight Bentley (53.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 6 PBU) does return.  Safety Lionel Stokes also had a decent stat line -- 49.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR.
  • Three random notes about new defensive coordinator Greg Stewart: 1) He was Jacksonville State's defensive coordinator last year, so at the very least, he knows how to give up 48 points but still win at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. 2) He was a sociology major at Troy, and I'm sure he could go into great detail about why Claude Levi-Strauss' theory of structuralism is a load of crap, optimistic but clearly too uncomplicated, rigid and naive to truly analyze culture and the human mind. 3) His hometown of Decatur, Alabama, is apparently known as the Chicago of the South. If so, I cannot wait to find the Decatur version of O'Callaghan's, which has done more damage to my liver than any other single bar in the lower 48 states.

UL-Lafayette's 2010 Season Set to Music

In honor of Coach Bustle, how about a little "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight"?  Oak Ridge Boys, for the win!

God, I loved them when I was three.

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

It is rather difficult to be as decent as UL(L)'s defense was in terms of passing downs efficiency, yet as terrible as they were at allowing huge gains on passing downs.  The 41-spot difference between their Passing Downs Success Rate+ and Passing Downs PPP+ was one of the highest in the country.

1. Troy (55 spots -- 20th in PD SR+, 75th in PD PPP+)
2. New Mexico State (50 spots -- 33rd in PD SR+, 83rd in PD PPP+)
3. Memphis (43 spots -- 72nd in PD SR+, 115 in PD PPP+)
4. UL-Lafayette (41 spots -- 65th in PD SR+, 106th in PD PPP+)
5. Central Michigan (31 spots -- 43rd in PD SR+, 74th in PD PPP+)

Only one of those defenses was anything resembling good, so ... don't try this at home, I guess.

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 106
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 119
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** -3 / -4
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 10 (5, 5)
Yds/Pt Margin***** +5.0

For much of Bustle's tenure, UL(L) was a league-average Sun Belt team, but they slipped the last couple of seasons.  The Ragin' Cajuns have the second-worst recruiting average in the country, and they only return ten starters.  It's almost a bad thing that so much of the talent Hudspeth inherits seems to come at the quarterback position, unless he is such an offensive innovator that he figures out how to play two quarterbacks simultaneously.  The winner of the quarterbacks derby should be a good one, though, and with a weapon like Green and a great offensive mind like Hudspeth, one has to assume the offense will improve.  But "improving" in this case just means recovering the team's status as an average Sun Belt team.  In other words, 2011 will likely be a baby steps year for Hudspeth and UL(L).

 

 

---

* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter.  For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

***** Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.

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