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Taking a look at goal-to-go situations in college football

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NCAA Football: Florida at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

You want to know what drives gamblers, and fans in general, insane? Their team leaving seemingly assured points on the field. Nothing is worse than watching your team bungle a first-and-goal at the 2 with the game on the line, amirite Seahawks fans? An unquantifiable number of television remotes have been shattered after a team fumbles away a touchdown chance at the goal line (typing this has now made me think of Earnest Byner, so please excuse me a few minutes while I go cry into a pillow).

If there were some sort of remote-chucking competition there's no doubt in my mind it would be won by some goon named "Vinny from Joisey" — practice makes perfect and all that.

Goal-to-go situations are critical. Getting within 10 yards and then leaving points on the field or settling for a field goal can turn even the Tony Dungy-est of coaches into Brian Kelly.

The still young season has already seen a few goal line stands turn entire games this year. The end of the epic Clemson and Louisville game came down to a goal line stand with Lamar Jackson and company coming up short. Cal upset Utah on the strength of a goal line stand, stuffing them seven plays in a row to end the game. Texas A&M grabbed the momentum against Arkansas two weeks ago (and never looked back) with a goal line stand and turnover on downs at the end of a 19-play, 89-yard Arkansas drive (more on A&M's goal line proficiency later).

I'm going to take a moment of self-indulgence here to complain about the Florida Vanderbilt game this week. Let's first note that Florida was giving 11 points (please, ignore the fact that it was probably really dumb to think that Florida's offense could cover 11 on an SEC Defense).

Gators up 13-6 with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Neither team has really moved the ball in the second half, aside from a field goal drive apiece … it doesn't look good for Florida covering. Vanderbilt botches a punt, and it possibly looks like it will result in a scoop and score. Alas, down at the 14 (ok). Run to the 5 (warmer). Jordan Scarlett runs backwards for some reason, back to the 13 yard line (what? Why!?). QB keeper to the 1 (Yes! This might happen!). Rush for no gain (that sense of upcoming despair in the pit of your stomach). Botched snap with Austin Appleby under center trying to sneak it in ($#%@$!!).

This led me to try and find what teams do this the most so I can avoid taking their side ever again. Along the way, I realized goal-to-go situations are slightly overlooked for its more ambiguous cousin, the red zone. With the field shrunk and less room for certain route schemes in the passing game, plays inside the 10 are really very different than plays in the red zone.

I pulled all drives that included a goal-to-go situation — in other words, any drive that included a first-and-goal at some point. The obvious exercise is to compare the percentage of goal-to-go drives that ended in a touchdown for offensive and defensive units. I also looked at any odd play calling trends on goal-to-go plays. Here are some interesting things I found…

  • The average TD% on goal-to-go situations is 67%.
  • Home field matters. The home team offense performs better in goal-to-go situations than away team offense, TD% is 68% to 60%.
  • Average rushing play percentage jumps to 73% (it's 51% for plays anywhere on the field).
  • Texas A&M has probably won 2 games already this year due to goal line defense. Against UCLA, they faced 5 goal-to-go situations and only yielded 1 touchdown and 2 field goals. Against Arkansas they also faced 5 goal-to-go situations and only yielded 2 touchdowns and 1 field goal. Offense is another story, where their TD% is 50%.
  • West Virginia defense has also been stout in goal-to-go situations. Allowing just 2 Touchdowns in 6 opportunities versus Missouri and Kansas State (this one also stung personally, as a K-Stater).
  • Some of the notable bad defenses: Pittsburgh (92% TDs), North Carolina (100% TDs), and Tennessee (89% TDs) are all in the bottom 10.
  • Alabama, Ohio State, and Michigan all have defenses in the top 10 of TD%, but have all faced less than 5 goal-to-go drives.
  • Michigan is also in the top 10 on offense in goal-to-go -- 14 TDs in 16 chances. Obviously all due to the centipede formation.
  • Play calling wise, It's notable that Washington really like to pass in goal-to-go situations, throwing it on 13 of 23 plays.
  • Tennessee also shows up towards the bottom on offense, ranking 95th. I can see Vandy keeping them from 10 wins in the last game of the year.
  • Any chance I get to disparage Kansas: they're 127th in offensive TD%, with a big fat goose egg (ok, only 2 chances, but still).

If you want to check out the rest of the rankings and numbers, the google doc for offense is here, and defense is here.