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McCoy The Magician (Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit: Texas)

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UPDATE: The Chief Executive Officer And The Texas Longhorns is now up at the mothership.

I am typically not a fan of firing coordinators. I feel blaming offensive coordinators and/or play-calling is both lazy and misguided about 95 percent of the time. It is a cop-out designed for misplaced rage. However...

...Greg Davis just had to go. Colt McCoy's passing downs magic act (which we'll discuss in today's Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit) disguised and bailed out an offense that had otherwise been trending toward underwhelming for quite some time. Standard downs struggles hinted at problems with play-calling and execution long before 2010, and when McCoy left, it was like taking off Vader's helmet.


In 2008 and 2009, Texas had one of the best passing downs offenses in the country. In 2008, in fact, their S&P on passing downs (2nd-and-8 or more, 3rd-and-5 or more) was actually better than on standard downs. Let that sink in a bit. They succeeded more on 3rd-and-8 than 1st-and-10, better on 2nd-and-9 than 2nd-and-3.  Colt McCoy pulled rabbits out of his hat so often on passing downs (thanks in part to magician's assistants Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley) that the Horns came within decimal points of back-to-back BCS title game appearances despite being only good on standard downs (25th in 2008, an improved 13th in 2009) instead of great.

Heading into 2009, I expected Texas' offense to slide because they were too disproportionately good on passing downs. I compared it to teams being a little too good at hitting with runners in scoring position. (In other words, I compared the 2008 Longhorns to the 2003 Kansas City Royals. Tell me again why I get to write for respectable organizations?) Texas did, in fact, slip a bit, from seventh in Off. F/+ to 16th. But they were still outstanding, and they still had one of the higher passing-downs-to-standard-downs performance ratios in the country.

And then Colt McCoy (and Shipley) left.

In 2010, Texas' overall offensive performance plummeted. They fell to 106th in Off. F/+, and their Passing Downs S&P+ rank fell from second in the country to 93rd. It appears that disproportionate success on passing downs is tied as much to quarterbacks as to luck.  With McCoy gone, Garrett Gilbert couldn't pull off the same tricks.  He was Gob Bluth to McCoy's Criss Angel.

In six seasons of play-by-play data, only seven teams have managed an S&P higher on passing downs than standard downs:

Year Team Passing
Downs S&P
Downs S&P
2005 Tulane 0.637 0.582
2006 LSU 0.937 0.931
2007 Nevada 0.888 0.867
2008 East Carolina 0.732 0.705
2008 Texas 1.006 0.970
2010 Houston 0.879 0.872
2010 San Diego State 0.911 0.890

Oddly, 2006 LSU and 2008 Texas were the only teams on this list who were truly strong on standard downs (and still better on passing downs), and both teams made the national title game the next year. And just to dump on my theory, LSU did so despite losing their quarterback (Jamarcus Russell).