The SEC Close Game Leader
Since Arkansas entered the SEC in 1992, no other SEC team has played more regular-season conference games decided by 3 points or fewer than Arkansas. Averaging almost 2 close games per season in SEC play every year, the Hogs’ 34 games fitting that bill are 22.4% of all Razorbacks’ regular-season conference games played. Arkansas has at least one close game against all eleven SEC opponents. Through 2009, LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn have 6 close games each against the Hogs while Alabama is close behind with 5 close games. Through 2003 (12 seasons), Arkansas was 12-4-2 in close games, but beginning in 2004 the rate of close games went up, and Arkansas’ fortunes went down as the Hogs’ 6-10 close-game record accounted for 27.6% of all close SEC games.
In a nutshell, over 18 years Arkansas has played more than 4 complete SEC seasons of close games.
The effort put in here to learn about close games and field goal kicking is time well spent. Once again, we try to bring you information you won’t see elsewhere.
The Relationship between Field Goals and Wins
Before you go any further, the title of this section doesn’t say “The Relationship between Field Goals and Close Wins.”
It makes common sense that there would be a positive relationship between better field goal kicking and the number of wins a team produces. To take a closer look, the final complete season records for SEC Teams were paired with field goal information for each team for each year from 2000-2009. Teams were sorted according to the number of wins 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, and so forth, and then their numbers of field goals made, attempted and percentage made were averaged according to the number of wins achieved at the end of the year. Alabama in 2009 was the only SEC team in the last 10 years with 14 wins so its data alone was used for 14 wins. Six squads achieved 13 wins so their FG’s made, attempted and percentages were averaged together and so forth.
When it was finished the chart looks like this.
Click ^ to Sort.
A pattern develops at three wins and above. For each win over 3 wins (which is associated with a 53% field goal accuracy), continuing up through 7 wins, each field goal percentage increase of roughly 3 percentage points equates to each additional win over 3. It’s not quite a straight-line increase, but it’s darn close.
Between six and seven wins, one thing dramatically changes. Instead of making between 8-11 kicks per year up to six wins, for seven, eight and nine wins, kickers average between 13-15 made field goals. Instead of a 3 percentage point increase in accuracy, there’s a 4 percentage point increase in accuracy for each win above 8.
Lastly, the average number of made field goals associated with 10, 11, and 13 wins is 19 in all three winning groups. Each has at least six teams which have finished with that number of wins. Only one team had 14 wins and only 2 ended with 12 wins so those are too light on occurrences to draw any conclusions.
Other Teams in 2009, Arkansas and Particularly Alex Tejada
2009 was particularly good year for SEC kickers overall.
From 2000-2008 SEC kickers collectively hit 68.8% of their field goal attempts in all games played, while SEC kickers in 2009 made 78.2% of their field goals. Of those SEC kickers in the set of top 100 scorers in the country, Wes Byrum of Auburn lead the SEC in FG % with 93.75%, followed by Georgia’s Blair Walsh at 90.91%, Alabama’s Leigh Tiffin at 85.71%, LSU’s Josh Jasper at 85%, Josh Schene of Ole Miss at 75%, Caleb Sturgis of Florida at 73.33% before you reach Alex Tejada’s 72.73%
In any other year, Arkansas’ 2009 field goal percentage of 72.73% would be better than average. Of the 120 SEC team field goal averages for the last 10 years, 72.2% would rank 45 of 120.
As you know, Alex Tejada accounted for all of Arkansas’s field goals last year and PATs. For PATs he was 58 of 59. For field goals he registered 16 of 22. Correlating his 72.73% field goal percentage to wins, as above, 8 wins is associated with a kicking percentage of 71.1% and around 14-15 made field goals. Two attempts against Florida, if made, would have squeezed out an additional win, but the one attempt missed against LSU would have only guaranteed more playing time.
Of all football players at any position in the country, Alex ranked 30th in points scored with 106. Only 12 kickers did better than he in terms of the number of points scored, and only Caleb Sturgis of Florida and Leigh Tiffin of Alabama scored more points in the SEC, 110 and 132 respectively.
Despite overall numbers which are really pretty good, when I mentioned these to a friend, the response was, “I still don’t like Alex Tejada as our kicker.” The reason is probably more involved than 2009.
A Short, Stormy History of Arkansas Kickers and Close SEC Games
2005 is likely the root of negativity regarding Arkansas’ kickers. After going 5-6 the year before and splitting close games, Arkansas was in the midst of a difficult 4-7 season as the Hogs lost to Georgia (23-20) and LSU (19-17). Georgia was 3-3 in field goals, and LSU hit its only attempt. Balseiro was 1-3 in Arkansas’ 2 point loss to LSU and 2-3 against Georgia. The “what ifs” are almost audible now.
Of these 2005 losses, which sounds more egregious? From a kicking standpoint, Arkansas missed out on 6 points against LSU when either kick might have provided the margin of victory. However, LSU’s decisive points were scored with a touchdown and an extra point.
Arkansas won both of its close games in 2006 with kicking playing a role in the part of failures on the opposing teams. Against Alabama, Jeremy Davis went 1-1 while Leigh Tiffin went 1-4 and missed a PAT as Arkansas won 24-23. Vandy played Arkansas to a 21-19 game, but Davis wasn’t called on to make a field goal.
When Alex Tejada entered as a true freshman in 2007, impressions from mid-season may be lasting ones. When Arkansas lost to Alabama 41-38 in Tuscaloosa, Alex made the only field goal he was asked to make. One month later Tejada missed his only attempt against Auburn in Arkansas’ 9-7 loss. What made the circumstances more pointed was that Auburn’s kicker didn’t have a stellar performance either but carried the day by hitting 3-5 field goals. Six games later, Arkansas added to its close game resume in Death Valley. LSU was gunning for a BCS Championship Game when Arkansas beat the Bengal Tigers 50-48 in three overtimes Arkansas didn’t attempt any field goals.
Coach Petrino diffused some kicking concerns in 2008 as he played both Alex Tejada and Shay Haddock. While going 5-7 on the year, Arkansas scrapped like no other time in their SEC history. Five Arkansas SEC Games were decided by 3 points or fewer. Coach Petrino’s decision to play Shay Haddock paid off as Shay was 2-2 in Arkansas 25-22 win over Auburn. The following week, Kentucky squeaked by Arkansas 21-20 in a game where Haddock made his two field goal attempts. Seven days later, Ole Miss was the culprit, beating Arkansas 23-21 but fortunes for Shay Haddock turned. He missed the only attempt he tried. A little more than 1 month later, Arkansas was in another close one with Mississippi St. Fortune didn’t smile on Alex Tejada as he went 0-2 with a missed FG try in the last 2 minutes, and Mississippi St. eeked out a 31-28 win. 2008 wouldn’t go away without another close contest. In the final game of the year, Arkansas beat LSU 31-30. Alex Tejada made his only field goal attempt and made all PATs.
In 2009 Alex Tejada made 2-4 field goal attempts against Florida and made 3-4 field goal attempts against LSU.
So let’s play the games out on paper. The SEC has had a total of 58 close games since 2004. Suppose that both teams made all the field goals they attempted. The loser would have become the winner in only 12 of them. Nine others would have resulted in tie games.
Of Arkansas’ 16 close games, the loser would have become the winner in 5 of them. However, don’t fool yourself into thinking that would be preferable. Arkansas would lose 3 more games and win 2. In 2009, not only would the LSU game have ended in a tie, but the Florida game would have as well. Florida’s Sturgis was 3-4 on the day.
If you were to change the thought and suppose that the losing team made all of its field goals as we wished last year, over the 6 years of close games the outcomes would have been changed in 22 of them. In games involving Arkansas, the Hogs would have picked up 5 wins over the last six years, but the Razorbacks would have dropped 3 others.
With much of the information in place and despite the fact it would take some time, the play-by-play charts were looked up on Yahoo Sports to determine how the points were scored by the winner in each of the 58 close games, and the manner of the “decisive points” were noted next to each game.
It was then that something appeared which nearly wipes out all straightforward analysis.
An Odd Observation Screams Significance
In 2010, for Coach Petrino the most difficult scenario to explain would be where none of the kickers provided an edge in close games despite each having an opportunity as Alex Tejada and Shay Haddock had in 2008. The issue would spread to recruiting, evaluation and development of kickers on top of the clamor over missed chances.
After a hard look at close SEC games in comparison to those Arkansas has played, it’s doubtful that anyone but statistics geeks actually on teams’ payrolls have discovered what follows. However, if statistics geeks have figured out certain characteristics of close games, none of it has escaped the mouths of former coaches or players who professionally comment on football in almost every media outlet that exists. The Data Table is at the end of this post.
In an observation made exclusively here after the Liberty Bowl, Coach Petrino’s first win with a field goal in his seventy-six-game college head coaching career is truly significant and not some “Wow, that’s weird!” kind of number. To put it succinctly, a basketball maxim is borrowed and expanded.
In close SEC Games a team lives by the 3 and dies by the 3 or lives by 6 and dies by 6.
Think for a moment about how games are decided. You could think of all sorts of ways games are won. Who would have thought that Auburn and Mississippi State would have played a FOOTBALL game to a score of 3-2 or that Arkansas would beat Kentucky 71-63? Expectations would be that close games would be no different. A coach would always profess, “We’ll take a win however we can get it.” That’s why uncovering the maxim above was never expected.
From the study of 58 close SEC games over the last 6 years, in 26 games a field goal provided the winning margin. 32 were decided by a touchdown and extra point. Of the 32, the margin was actually the extra point in 6 of them.
From there only one more comparison needed to be made to understand the observation made after the Liberty Bowl.
When the number of field goals made by teams whose decisive points were provided by a field goal were compared to the number of field goals made by the losing team, the winning team made more field goals than its opponent in 19 or 73% of the 26 games. In two other games the teams who won with a field goal made the same number as their opponents.
An even stronger correlation exists between the winning margin being provided by a touchdown and PAT and the winning team kicking fewer field goals. Of the 32 games won by a touchdown and PAT, in 24 of them (or 75%), the winning team kicked fewer field goals. In one other, the teams made the same number of field goals.
In what was initially expected to be random, an understanding of close SEC Games emerged. Teams whose decisive points came with field goals in close games strongly tended to score more field goals during the course of a game. Teams who scored decisive points with a touchdown and an extra point won close games more often and scored fewer field goals.
When it comes to Arkansas, Coach Petrino has been one to live and die by 6 in close games. In fact, his history at Louisville and Arkansas has a stronger correlation to the new maxim than the SEC’s close games since 2004. Who would expect Coach Petrino to call plays in a way which tries to produce a win with a less advantageous method? Touchdowns + PATs produced 55% of the winners in close SEC games since 2004.
So where does that leave Arkansas’s kickers?
To the extent that the best performing player should be the one to fill a roster spot, the Coaches’ decisions regarding the starting kicker matters, but in Coach Petrino’s scheme the kicker is truly only one weapon. The kicker is an important one but not the one relied upon to win games.
Whoever the starting kicker is in the coming days, pull for him. If he doesn’t do well, there are others there to try.
Pull for them all including Alex Tejada. Which one of us didn’t struggle at some point in school, even in our chosen area, before it all “clicked?” Players and Fans need to leave past kicks in the past.
If none of the kickers do well, cheer louder for the offense and defense because Arkansas and Coach Petrino will ultimately win more close games with touchdowns + PATs than with field goals.
|2007||MS St.||1||1||1||100||17||14||0||1||0||* Miss||3|
Click on Up/Down Arrows to Right of each Column Title to sort according to that particular column.
Smokehouse on Hogville.net asked for information on the timing of kicks in a game. When did they occur?
During the course of preparing for this post, I logged whether the Winner’s decisive points for FGs were scored within the last 2Min of a game. I also logged whether the Loser missed FGs in the last 2Min or 5Min of a game as well as whether the Loser made a FG in the final 2 minutes of the game or OT.
+2Min = Made FG in the final two minutes or OT
-2Min = Missed FG in the final two minutes or OT
-5Min = Missed FG in the final five minutes or OT
One more note, before I had decided whether to use this chart or not, I logged at least two 2s on this chart representing kicks hit or missed in regulation then in OT. I ultimately decided (maybe not a good decision) that having a “2” required additional explanations and that it was confusing when only 1 score could provide the margin of victory. Also there was even one more variation for which I made a note off the beaten path which didn’t get deleted. The 2004 Ole Miss-Vandy game had Ole Miss actually missing a FG inside of 2 minutes but they WON.
I hope this helps. Also, further below I’ve added a listing of ALL SEC Games decided by 3 points or fewer since 1993. — SharpTusk
|2008||MS St.||1||1||2||31||28||0||2||1||*Ark. AT|
|2004||Ark. CB||1||1||1||24||21||0||1||*MS St.|
Click Up or Down on the column Header to Sort.
This Table will list 50 games at a time. The Tie Games were dumped at the end, so you may want to sort by Margin. Click on Next 50 to see… you know.
|1993||Louisiana State||18||16||*Mississippi State||2|
|1994||South Carolina||18||17||*Louisiana State||1|
|1999||Mississippi State||17||16||*Louisiana State||1|
|2001||South Carolina||16||14||*Mississippi State||2|
|1995||Louisiana State||20||20||*South Carolina||0|