Last Friday, NC State football put out a rather silly stat promoting its team:
If you can't see the picture for some reason, it says, "The 2014 Wolfpack fielded the nation's most balanced offense." It then cites the team's 2,659 rushing yards and 2,652 passing yards as proof.
Sorry NC State, but you didn't have the nation's most balanced offense in 2014.
For one thing, it's unclear whether simply being balanced in and of itself is a virtue. Aiming for balance when you don't have the players available to be balanced is a bad idea. Beyond that, being unbalanced on purpose can be a virtuous thing for Air Raid and flexbone offenses that need to overcome talent deficiencies. Plus, we saw 2013 Auburn get very unbalanced with its run game well surpassing its passing game in effectiveness, and the Tigers nearly rode that unbalanced offense to a national championship. They ended up losing to an even more unbalanced FSU team whose pass game was far better than its run game.
Anyway, looking at raw yardage (or yards per game) is the first refuge of the statistical scoundrel. It always makes more sense to at least look at something like yards per play (or per rush or per pass attempt), and we have better stats than that too.
As far as balance goes, a truly balanced offense is one that runs and passes at about the same effectiveness. Coming up with nearly identical end totals of run and pass yards may not actually mean balance if the numbers of runs and passes are way off—not to mention that passing by its very nature tends to yield more yards per play than rushing does, all else equal.
To find out who actually was balanced last year, I looked at S&P+ in the 2014 season to see who had run and pass S&P+ ratings close to each other. The most balanced team was... drumroll... Florida Atlantic! The Owls rated 95.5 in passing and 95.6 in rushing S&P+. FAU might have been below average at both running and passing—remember, 100 in S&P+ is by definition average—but it was below average to almost the same exact degree. Here's a reminder that balance doesn't mean much if you're not actually, you know, good.
So where did NC State end up? The Wolfpack rated a 130.8 in passing and 105.4 in rushing S&P+. The difference there was 25.4, and that places NCSU 114th in the country in balance. Turns out, the team wasn't balanced at all.
But let's take things on the school's own terms. If the team was truly balanced, we should see a similar number of rushing and passing yards in every game. Do we?
|Opponent||Rush Yards||Pass Yards||Difference|
No, we do not. The Wolfpack only had their rushing and passing be within 50 yards of each other twice on the season. It was pass dominant in games against Georgia Southern, Florida State, and Boston College, but it was run dominant in games against Wake Forest, North Carolina, and UCF. The similar rushing and passing totals had little to do with consistent balance but rather in being unbalanced in similar numbers of doses.
I looked at Mississippi State for a comparison, as the Bulldogs were the third most balanced team by that S&P+ measure I made up a few paragraphs ago. They had rushing and passing totals end up within 50 yards of each other four times, twice that of NC State. They even rushed for 280 and passed for 279 on Texas A&M. Talk about balance!
As for who had the least variance between run and pass in games, I don't know. I don't care. It's a bad way to judge who has a balanced offense. I can also tell you that NC State's social media crew didn't separate sack yardage out from rushing, and doing so would mess up their neat little tidbit.
The point of all of this is that neat little stats that you hear about like this usually fall apart under any amount of scrutiny. I don't expect the P.R. interns at NC State to care about this, as that's not their job. I just hate that people do stuff like this, because the justified skepticism that surrounds statistical analysis because of things like this holds back the acceptance of the legitimate things that are happening.