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Maryland football hasn’t been explosive, but it's been efficient

A advanced stats look at how the Terps have fared so far.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the midst of Maryland football’s bye week. The Terps have run through two nonconference opponents and squeaked by another, so it’s a good time to take stock of what we’ve seen from this team so far.

The Terps are 3-0, and certainly in a better place than they were last year as they enter conference play. Still, just from watching, it’s hard to derive too much from any of their performances. Maryland opened its season with a blowout win over Howard, which went 1-10 in FCS play last year. FIU was a step up from that, but still wasn’t much. UCF was a whole different challenge, probably more than it should have been, but Maryland emerged with a double-overtime victory.

SB Nation’s Bill Connelly uses five factors to measure the success of a football team: explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives and turnovers. Using these five factors, lets see how Maryland's offense has fared so far in 2016.
(Note: the five factors are a good deal more complicated than what I'm showing here, but this is a simple version that we should all be able to understand. Also, these stats filter out garbage time, relevant given Maryland's thrashing of Howard and FIU.)

Explosiveness (86 percent correlation with winning)

Connelly measures explosiveness using Isolated Points Per Play (IsoPPP), a measure of yards per play that takes into account that not all yards are equal. A more in-depth definition is here.

Category Avg. Rk
Offense IsoPPP 1.31 58
Passing IsoPPP 1.65 43
Rushing IsoPPP 1.13 51
Defense IsoPPP 1.13 28
Passing IsoPPP 1.23 22
Rushing IsoPPP 1.06 60

Overall, the Terps haven't been particularly explosive, but they've been good at preventing their opponents from being so either. Their passing attack has been slightly more explosive than the rushing game, though not by too much.

Maryland's stood out by not allowing many explosive passing plays. That's a good trend to continue, though I'll note that FIU and UCF pale in comparison to what Maryland's going to see from some Big Ten teams (though these stats are all opponent-adjusted). The Terps are solidly in the middle of the pack in terms of explosive rushing plays allowed, though this could be concerning in the future.

Efficiency (83 percent correlation)

Efficiency is measured by success rate. Here's a definition from Football Outsiders:

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

Category Avg. Rk
Offense Success rate 48.40% 18
Passing success rate 40.40% 73
Rushing success rate 54% 10
Defense Success rate 1.13 28
Passing success rate 36.70% 44
Rushing success rate 38.80% 60

Maryland's been very successful on the ground and slightly below average through the air. If that continues, this team should be just fine. A passing success rank closer to the 40s or 50s would be more ideal, though.

The passing and rushing success rates allowed seem to match up with what we've seen so far. Seeing the team ranked 28th seems high, but the general feel is definitely that the pass defense has been better than the rush defense, with neither being disastrous and neither being that great.

Field Position (75 percent correlation)

This is where Maryland has actually shined. Punter Wade Lees has been exceptional at pinning opposing offenses inside the 20, and opponents have been avoiding punting to Will Likely, which still benefits Maryland.

Category Avg. Rk
Offense Avg. FP 35.8 9
Defense Avg. FP 22 2

Lees has helped the team's No. 2 defensive field position ranking, while opponents' fear of Likely is one of many factors that's helped Maryland's No. 9 rank in offensive average field position. The team's offense and defense obviously play big roles here as well, though.

High marks in these categories mean that Maryland's offense is starting with good field position, while opponents are not. Field position stats take into account special teams performance, but also offensive and defensive success. If a team is at least mildly successful on offense, it will advance a few downs before punting, increasing the likelihood of pinning its opponent inside the 20. Similarly, if a defense is successful, it might force opponents offenses to go 3-and-out, forcing a punt that the team can fair catch at midfield.

Finishing drives (72 percent correlation)

From Connelly:

These measures look not at how frequently you create scoring opportunities, but how you finish the ones you create. And yes, for the purposes of these stats, the "red zone" starts at the 40, not the 20.

Category Avg. Rk
Offense Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.13 52
Defense Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.46 64

Maryland has been okay on offense and defense here, but there's a lot of room for improvement. The Terps need to do a better job of punching the ball in when they get the chance, and they aren't defending the goal line as well as they could. (Remember, garbage-time stats aren't factored in to these metrics.)

Turnovers (73 percent correlation)

We’ve already covered this a bit, but Maryland is doing a muuuuch better job limiting turnovers on offense in 2016 after the whole "leading the universe in interceptions last year" thing last season.

Entering conference play, Maryland hasn’t turned the ball over, though the team’s defense has forced four turnovers, a solidly medium number. The Terps are one of three teams to not turn the ball over yet, and have grabbed five turnovers of their own.

Category Avg. Rk
Turnover margin Expected 3.86 2
Actual 5 6

Connelly notes that there's a large part of the whole turnover thing that teams can't control, but the Terps have done an excellent job controlling what they can.

After this bye week, Maryland opens up against Purdue on Oct. 1.

Hope you liked this. We'll have more five factors coverage throughout the season.