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The College Football Five Factors Review: Louisville Cardinals vs. North Carolina Tar Heels

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Lamar was efficiently explosive, while Malik Williams took advantage of his opportunity. Sirmon will need to preach to the secondary if the Cardinals want a shot at the reigning national champions come Saturday night.

Louisville v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Last Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, we saw the type of offense that we have come to expect when Lamar Jackson is on the field. Lamar was, well, once again Lamar, but Louisville did see Malik Williams take advantage of his opportunity for playing time. While the offense continues to find its rhythm and will inevitably start clicking on all cylinders, the secondary of the defense desperately awaits the return of star defensive back Jaire Alexander.

One thing that I wanted to start looking at after Louisville’s football games were the College Football Five Factors, which are five factors that can alter and determine the outcome of any single game. SB Nation’s/Football Outsiders Bill Connelly came up with this advanced statistical look at college football stats. You can delve in and learn more about these metrics, and other advanced statistical metrics, over at SB Nation’s Football Study Hall, but we’ll just look at the basics of them for now.

A quick rundown of how much each factor plays in to the outcome of any given game, per Football Study Hall:

If you win the explosiveness battle (using PPP), you win 86 percent of the time.

If you win the efficency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.

If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.

If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.

If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.


While looking at explosiveness (yards per play) doesn’t fully tell the whole story, it is a good place to start. If a team averages 5.8 yards per play, is that from one 99-yard play and a bunch of two-yard plays, or is it from more consistent 5- and 7-yard gains? Again, it doesn’t completely tell the entire story, but it does start to paint a good picture.

(Note: we’ll also throw in the number of explosive plays. For the sake of argument, we’ll go with rushes of 10 or more yards and passes of 15 or more yards.)

Yards Per Play:

Louisville: 8.4

North Carolina: 6.6

The Cardinal’s offense really improved upon last weeks performance against the Boilermakers by almost two-yards per play (6.6 yards per play last week). Louisville’s defense was prone to giving up bigger plays this past Saturday (4.4 yards per play last week against Purdue), but that is to be expected when you’re down your best defensive player and you go against a much more high-powered offense.

The offense was able to generate 23 total explosive players (11 rushing, 12 passing), a pretty big up-tick from the previous week’s 15 explosive plays. Last week, Lamar Jackson had three explosive rushing plays, but he increased that number against the Tar Heels to five, including one on fourth down. However, it wasn’t just Jackson that was able to create big plays on the ground. Running back Malik Williams really took advantage of his opportunity, and was able to create four explosives plays himself (most notably his 74 yard run in the 4th quarter).

On the defensive side, the Louisville defense gave up nine explosive plays to North Carolina. That number increased from six last week, and every one of the big plays that the Tar Heels made came through the air against the secondary.


Efficiency helps explains things that looking purely at explosiveness can’t. Efficiency is defined by the “Success Rate”. Essentially, was any given play deemed a success or not. Success Rate is defined as below:

Our Varsity Numbers column calculates Success Rate for teams, not just running backs, using a set of baselines that differ slightly from our NFL Success Rates: 50% of needed yards on first down, 70% of needed yards on second down, or 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down.

Pass Success Rate

Louisville: 58%

North Carolina: 60%

Run Success Rate

Louisville: 50%

North Carolina: 30%

The good news: Louisville was able to improve upon their success rate from last week in both running the football and passing (the Run Success Rate jumped a tremendous 14% from last week). Also, the Cardinals were able to shut down the Tar Heels ground game.

The bad news: North Carolina was able to make up for that lack of ground success by airing it out.

The increase in the Pass Success Rate given up by Louisville’s defense can be attributed to a few things. First and foremost, Jaire Alexander wasn’t in the game. Also, North Carolina’s offense was expected to be a tougher match-up for the Cardinals, despite losing a lot of talent from last year’s team. But I think the biggest culprit for this is that the defense wasn’t able to harass Chazz Surratt or Brandon Harris as much as they were able to against David Blough and Elijah Sindelar. Against Purdue, Louisville was able to record four sacks and seven QB hurries. In Chapel Hill, they were just able to record two sacks.

One thing I did want to point out was the Run Success Rate for Louisville running back Malik Williams. Of Malik’s 13 carries, nine (69%), were deemed a “success”. Jackson had 11 of his 19 carries qualify as “successful” runs. It is just a one-game sample size, but with Jeremy Smith going down for the year, it would be quite a boon for the Cardinals if Williams is able to continue his explosive/efficient running to help take the pressure of Jackson, especially come Saturday night against Clemson.

Field Position

Louisville’s average starting field position: 20 yard line.

North Carolina’s average starting field position: 26 yard line.

The edge in special teams this week clearly goes to the Tar Heels. Not only were they able to consistently get better starting field position, but Anthony Ratliff-Williams returned a kick-off 94 yards in the 3rd quarter to help keep North Carolina in the game.

Finishing Drives

(Defined as points per trip inside the 40).

Louisville: 4.8

North Carolina: 4.6

This is the area where the Cardinals (thankfully) made a pretty big jump from last week’s 3.4 points per scoring drive. Louisville was able to get within UNC’s 40-yard line seven times, and were able to get four touchdowns and two field goals, but did turn the ball over on downs during one drive. Obviously, this is something we expect more of as opposed to last week’s nine trips inside the opponents 40-yard line while only getting three touchdowns and three field goals and turning the ball over twice.

One thing that you’d like to see more of is Louisville’s defense limiting the opposition to more field goals and fewer touchdowns. Again, it’s only a two-game sample size, but of the 12 trips inside the Louisville 40-yard line by Purdue/UNC, the defense has given up eight touchdowns.


Louisville: 0

North Carolina: 0

Fairly clean game from both offenses. North Carolina did technically fumble the ball twice, but both times they were able to recover.

Final Thoughts

We’ll still need a few more games to really get a grasp on how this team performs and what the overall strengths/weaknesses are (although we have a pretty definitive idea of one strength: Lamar). However, it is encouraging to see the improvements for both efficiency and explosive plays from the offense, and not solely coming from Jackson. It seems that whatever miscommunication issues there were between Robbie Bell and Lamar Jackson have been addressed, as there was only one false start penalty on the offensive line compared to last week’s absurd 10 false starts.

A couple of things that you’d like to see start becoming a strength for Louisville and not seeming to hinder them is forcing field goals instead of giving up touchdowns when opponents get in to scoring position and not giving up big plays in the passing game. Yes, Jaire was out this past week, but even then, the defense has given up 14 explosive passing plays so far this season, while Purdue and North Carolina were able to be efficient throwing the ball.

On to Clemson.