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Fun With Targets and Catches, or, Why Short Passes Are A Good Idea


Today, Bill C. of the wonderful Football Study Hall shared, via Google Docs, targets-and-catches data for the first 5 games of the 2011 season. The data details the number of times a receiver was targeted with a pass, how often that receiver caught the pass, and the percent of the team's total targets which were directed at that receiver. For example, here's UConn's targets-and-catches data, which is current as of the Western Michigan game.

  • Isiah Moore - 28 Targets, 18 Catches (64.3% Catch Rate), 14.7 YPC (9.4 Yards Per Target), 20.9% Target Rate
  • Kashif Moore - 26 Targets, 16 Catches (61.5% Catch Rate), 13.8 YPC (8.5 Yards Per Target), 19.4% Target Rate
  • Ryan Griffin - 23 Targets, 12 Catches (52.2% Catch Rate), 19.0 YPC (9.9 Yards Per Target), 17.2% Target Rate
  • Lyle McCombs - 17 Targets, 8 Catches (47.1% Catch Rate), 13.3 YPC (6.2 Yards Per Target), 12.7% Target Rate
  • Geremy Davis - 12 Targets, 4 Catches (33.3% Catch Rate), 10.5 YPC (3.5 Yards Per Target), 9.0% Target Rate
  • Tebucky Jones - 8 Targets, 3 Catches (37.5% Catch Rate), 11.3 YPC (4.3 Yards Per Target), 6.0% Target Rate
  • Nick Williams - 7 Targets, 3 Catches (42.9% Catch Rate), 46.3 YPC (19.9 Yards Per Target), 5.2% Target Rate

I didn't include any receivers with less than 5 targets, since there's little that can be determined from such a small sample size.

So, what does this data say about Johnny McEntee, George DeLeone, and UConn's passing game as a whole? There's a lot of promise, but inside the statistics lie the head-scratching horrors that we've grown accustomed to seeing from UConn's offense in 2011.

First, the good stuff (There really is good stuff! I swear!) The Moores have improved dramatically from last season. In 2010, Kashif Moore only hauled in 46% of his targets for an average of 5.7 yards per target, which is not good at all. Isiah Moore was arguably worse than Kashif, as his lack of explosiveness led to a yard-per-target average of 5.1. This year, both have bumped their catch rates up by around 10%, and they are producing very respectable yard-per-target numbers. For context, consider this: Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles, widely considered one of the nation's best receivers, averaged 9.1 yards per target last year. Isiah Moore is averaging 9.4 this year, and Kashif is not far behind at 8.5.

This suggests to me that Johnny McEntee is a better QB than we give him credit for. He's been bombing it to both of his top wideouts, and so far they've risen to the task. The Moores can be credited with some of this, but the statistical leap they have made could not have come without an improvement at quarterback. Johnny Mac may not lead the Huskies to a BCS game repeat, but he's certainly not playing any worse than Zach Frazer did last year.

Also, can DeLeone please make Nick Williams the full-time slot receiver? Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones haven't done anything with their opportunities on the field. Williams' catch rate isn't great, but it's a small sample size and he showed a ton of potential in the Buffalo game. I thought DeLeone were going to work in some more 3WR packages in the Western Michigan game, but he only had one catch...for a 26-yard touchdown. Seriously, George, why is this man not playing more?

Of course, UConn's passing game is far from perfect, and the proof is in the catch rates. UConn lacks any semblance of a possession option, or a receiver that could function as a safety valve against blitzes. Ryan Griffin was that man last year, sporting a healthy 68.9% catch rate in 2010. This year, Griffin has been productive, but he's strangely turned into a 250-pound deep threat. His catch rate has dropped to 52.2%, and while his yard-per-target average has ballooned to 9.9, he hasn't been consistent at all. In the Iowa State and Buffalo games, he caught only one pass for 11 yards. In those two games, UConn's offense scored a combined 37 points against a couple of iffy-at-best defenses. A steady, reliable possession option could have dramatically helped the Connecticut passing game.

Lyle McCombs' receiving numbers are absolutely horrifying; a catch rate under 50% is bad for a receiver, unacceptable for a tight end and simply incomprehensible for a running back. Running backs are the definition of safety valves, often sporting gaudy catch rates. For comparison, Todman caught 70.4% of the passes thrown his way in 2010, and he wasn't even a good receiver. This, in combination with Griffin's stats, suggests one (or more) of three things are happening.

  1. Johnny McEntee cannot deal with pressure and often struggles to find his checkdowns.
  2. DeLeone is calling too many long routes for Griffin and McCombs, causing their weird boom-or-bust receiving numbers.
  3. Lyle McCombs is a horrible receiver.

I'd love to further analyze these hypotheses, but UConn's ridiculous SNY deal means that I can't view any games unless I witness them firsthand. Still, one thing is clear to me: UConn's offense desperately needs to work on its short passing game.

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