How Much Did Andy Ludwig Improve Utah's Offense?
Updated: Feb 3, 2020
An advanced statistical look at Utah's 2019 offense and Ludwig's record of success.
Bryant Conger | January 30, 2020
The University of Utah’s jump to a Power Five conference was one of the most seamless and impressive transitions in west coast football.
The combination of stout defense, elite special teams, solid trench play, and an excellent rushing attack forced coaches to accept, very quickly, that Utah belonged in the Pac-12.
But to become a dominant force in the Conference of Champions, to make the move from good to great, Utah needed to break away from a one-dimensional offense.
One of the best traits of a great leader is the ability to identify deficiencies and change course. So Kyle Whittingham hired Andy Ludwig to run his offense, a decision proved effective from both an advanced statistics perspective and from the eyeball test.
This is not to say that Utah’s offense was not improving before the Ludwig hire.
The Utes ran through a rough stretch on the offensive side of the ball according to Beta_Rank (which you can explore for yourself using the Team Deep Dive Tool here) and S&P+. Between 2012-2016, the Utah offense, on average, finished 77th in the country in Beta_Rank and 64th on average in S&P+.
Performance started to change in 2017 under Utah offensive coordinator Troy Taylor when, for the first time in 5 years, the Utes finished higher than 69th in Beta_Rank (63rd) and also placed 53rd in S&P+.
The momentum continued in 2018 when the Utes finished 62nd in Beta_Rank and 45th in S&P+. But in 2019 Andy Ludwig was a game changer. Look at the comparison between 2017- 2018 and Ludwig’s first year in 2019.
*Note: S&P+ full metrics outside of standings, total offense, and total defense were not available to the public in 2019.
Utah’s Offense With Andy Ludwig
Beta_Rank Total Offense: 22 | Rushing Offense: 19 | Passing Offense: 58 | Play Efficiency: 38 | Drive Efficiency: 48 | Explosive Drives: 27 | Negative Drives: 15
S&P Total Offense: 16
Utah’s Offense Before Andy Ludwig
Beta_Rank Total Offense: 62 | Rushing Offense: 41 | Passing Offense: 69 | Play Efficiency: 40 | Drive Efficiency 85 | Explosive Drives 42 | Negative Drives: 69
S&P+ Total Offense: 45 | Rushing Offense: 31 | Passing Offense: 57 | Efficiency: 27 | Explosive Drives 86
Beta_Rank Total Offense: 63 | Rushing Offense: 67 | Passing Offense: 49 | Play Efficiency: 101 | Drive Efficiency: 44 | Explosive Drives: 68 | Negative Drives: 73
S&P+Total Offense: 53 | Rushing Offense: 62 | Passing Offense: 43 | Efficiency: 35 | Explosive Drives: 80
In 2019, Ludwig produced a full 40-point jump in Beta_Rank with, basically, the same players that Troy Taylor had. Utah saw major pops in rushing offense (+22), drive efficiency (+37), and negative drives (+54) over their numbers in 2018. Even more impressive is Ludwig’s sustained numbers over an already improved offense left by Troy Taylor.
And this isn’t the first time Andy Ludwig has transformed an offense.
Kyle Whittingham hired Ludwig away from a five-year stint as the play caller at Vanderbilt. Take a look at his quick turnaround in Nashville:
Vanderbilt’s Offense With Andy Ludwig
Beta_Rank Total Offense: 12 | Rushing Offense: 35 | Passing Offense: 13 | Play Efficiency: 9 | Drive Efficiency: 62 | Explosive Drives: 7 | Negative Drives 22
S&P+ Total Offense: 24 | Rushing Offense: 23 | Passing Offense: 55 | Efficiency: 54 | Explosiveness: 14
Beta_Rank Total Offense: 36 | Rushing Offense: 93 | Passing Offense: 12 | Play Efficiency: 49 | Drive Efficiency: 70 | Explosive Drives: 28 | Negative Drives: 35
S&P+ Total Offense: 41 | Rushing Offense: 102 | Passing Offense: 35 | Efficiency: 69 | Explosiveness: 27
Beta_Rank Total Offense: 77 | Rushing Offense: 64 | Passing Offense: 72 | Play Efficiency: 79 | Drives Efficiency: 89 | Explosive Drives: 69 | Negative Drives: 79
S&P+ Total Offense: 48 | Rushing Offense: 39 | Passing Offense: 29 | Efficiency: 48 | Explosiveness: 49
Beta_Rank Total Offense: 115 | Rushing Offense: 89 | Passing Offense: 114 | Play Efficiency: 88 | Drive Efficiency: 97 | Explosive Drives: 107 | Negative Drives: 120
S&P+ Total Offense: 120 | Rushing Offense: 108 | Passing Offense: 118 | Efficiency 112 | Explosiveness 120
Vanderbilt’s Offense Before Andy Ludwig
Beta_Rank Total Offense: 100 | Rushing Offense: 99 | Passing Offense: 83 | Play Efficiency: 100 | Drive Efficiency: 93 | Explosive Drives: 93 | Negative Drives: 102
S&P+ Total Offense: 106 | Rushing Offense: 117 | Passing Offense: 112 | Play Efficiency: 112 | Explosiveness: 124
Ludwig took Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt!!!) from one of the worst offenses in Division 1 football to a top-15 unit in four years. That’s impressive.
Oregon fans that were burned by Ludwig during the Mike Bellotti years have a right to be weary. And Utah fans will need to see if he can continue his success. But two offensive turnarounds in three years, plus two top-25 offenses during his time at Wisconsin, and a decent tenure at San Diego State before his time in Madison should make Salt Lake City optimistic about the coming seasons.
For further details into the X's and O's of Utah's offense (and defense) we highly recommend Hythloday's Utah film breakdown article on Addicted to Quack: https://www.addictedtoquack.com/2019/12/5/20996245/duck-tape-film-analysis-of-utah