How to Analyze Advanced Stats in College Football: Missed Tackles

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Advanced stats are relatively new in football, especially at the college level. So periodically we’ll share some insight into how our stats are collected and how they can be used.

In this article we’re going to look specifically at some of the more subjective negative stats which, understandably, draw the most skepticism from fans who aren’t quite sure whether or not they buy into the advanced stats movement.

We’re talking about these stats because Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com recently wrote an article on Oregon’s tackling improvement and referenced our missed tackle data. He also added a note that our numbers were “slightly more generous than those internally from Oregon’s defensive coaches.”

First, we have to acknowledge that the coaches’ grades are absolutely more accurate than ours. But the fact that ours proved to be more generous (meaning fewer missed tackles charted) was actually an encouraging sign to us.

In order to turn a subjective evaluation, like a missed tackle, into an objective statistic we have to set up definitions for our analysts to follow. The majority of missed tackles are obvious. If Leonard Fournette, for example, runs through a defender, everyone knows it was a missed tackle.

But there are also some that fall in a gray area.

If a defender was close to making a tackle, but didn’t take a great angle, or plugged a gap late, these might look like missed tackles but we don’t know the full story. Sometimes this happens when a defender is out of position, and shows up late to his spot and missed out on making a play. But sometimes this is a case of a defender making a great play just to get into position to cover up someone else’s mistake.

As outsiders it is often difficult to tell the difference between these close-call plays. And so our policy is to give the benefit of the doubt to the defender.

Which is why it makes sense that the Oregon coaching staff would find more missed tackles when they reviewed the tape. They know exactly where each player was supposed to be on every snap.

This strategy we use for charting negative plays is something to keep in mind when analyzing players. While advanced stats like missed tackles add a significant amount of helpful data for fans to analyze, they’ll never tell the full story. For this reason, we firmly believe that the best way to evaluate players is through a blend of statistics and traditional scouting.

The advanced stats can take us a long way, but the insight from coaches and scouts are still critical for filling in some blanks.

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