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The College Football Five Factors Review: Louisville Cardinals vs. Clemson Tigers

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NCAA Football: Clemson at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

As I finish up this week’s Five Factors Review article Wednesday night, there’s really not much I can (or want) to say about the debacle we just watched last Saturday, even after a couple of days to process what happened. Let’s just quickly run through this week’s Five Factors and then forget that any of this happened.

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.

The below stats have been adjusted for garbage time, which is defined as:

Scoring margin is 28+ points in the 1st quarter, 24+ points in the 2nd quarter, 21+ points in the 3rd quarter, or 16+ points in the 4th quarter.


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: 6.3

Clemson: 7.6

Louisville’s 6.3 YPP is the lowest average of the short season so far. To be fair, it is almost identical to the YPP in the season opener against Purdue (6.4). However, the Cardinal’s defense giving up 7.6 YPP to Clemson is the highest they’ve given up in the season thus far, and that 7.6 YPP isn’t including some big plays that Clemson was able to make in what we defined above as “garbage time”. While it wasn’t the “explosiveness” stat that did Louisville in, it certainly didn’t help that we weren’t able to really hit some of those home run plays that we are accustomed to seeing to really get the offense going.

Louisville had a total of eight “explosive” plays (five rushing, three passing), to Clemson’s 11 (six on the ground, five through the air). Aside from one Malik Williams run, Lamar Jackson had accounted for all of Louisville’s big plays.


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: 22%

Clemson: 47%

Run Success Rate

Louisville: 26%

Clemson: 42%

Oh, man. This is ugly. There’s a lot that you could look at as to what caused the outcome of the game last Saturday night, but you could probably just start and end here at this factor. To put things in perspective, the Tigers had nine “successful” plays before Louisville recorded their first, a 15 yard run on second down by Lamar. To continue the trend from above, Lamar accounted for all but two “successful” plays for Louisville. The first “successful” play created by someone not named Lamar was a Reggie Bonnafon run in the middle of the third quarter.

All around just embarrassing.

Field Position

Louisville’s average starting field position: 21-yard line.

Clemson’s average starting field position: 25-yard line.

Field position for this game has been pretty similar to the other two previous games against Purdue and North Carolina. While average starting field position seems like a key stat that gets lost in the shuffle, it wasn’t too much of a factor in this game. You hope that Louisville can start getting some bigger returns on special teams so that the average starting field position is pushing closer to the 30-yard line than the 20-yard line.

Finishing Drives

(Defined as points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line.)

Louisville: 7

Clemson: 3.3

Don’t let this statistic fool you. Adjusting for “garbage time”, Louisville only made it inside the Clemson 40-yard line twice the entire game. One time in the first half and one time in the second half. Compare that to Clemson’s six times inside Louisville’s 40-yard line and it’s enough to frustrate you just as much (if not more) than Louisville’s Efficiency rating from above. The final score for this game could have been a lot worse, because the Cardinals were able to limit the Tigers to just two touchdowns in Clemson’s six trips inside the 40-yard line.

Just for the heck of it, I looked at how many times the Cardinals got inside Clemson’s 40-yard line without the “garbage time” parameter. It wasn’t much better: a total of four times did Louisville get within scoring position. So even when taking the “garbage time” adjustment out, the Cards did not get in to scoring position more times than Clemson did when adjusting for “garbage time”.


Louisville: 1

Clemson: 0

All things being equal, one turnover when there is still over 20 minutes left on the clock usually doesn’t really put the final nail in the coffin, but that’s exactly how it felt after Dorian O’Daniel nabbed a pick-6 from Lamar in the middle of the third quarter. It seemed like whatever momentum Louisville could build to get back in to the game was shot in an instant. After that, Clemson was able to secure momentum and pull away from the Cardinals heading in to the fourth quarter.

Final Thoughts

Essentially everything right here.