Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

Jonathan Grimes

In Football, William & Mary on August 26, 2011 at 10:49 am

Hey look! Jimmye Laycock is giving a six-part lecture on the history of the wheel route next door!

The William and Mary fan-police delightedly rush out of the room.

Hi. Can we talk? I’m sorry I had to do that earlier. The truth is, there is no lecture on the history of the wheel route. I made that up. It’s not that I wanted to lie to you. Heck, it’s not even that I think Laycock is a bad coach. I’d rank him second among current WM coaches (Chris Norris is first). I just wanted to talk about Jonathan Grimes a little bit and needed them out of the room.

Not JONATHAN GRIMES®. Jonathan Grimes. The one who was William and Mary’s tailback last season. I want to talk about the fact that last year was probably his worst year at William and Mary.

Look at the stats. He rushed for his lowest total in three years, only 887 yards on 207 carries. Yes, I know he essentially missed two games (North Carolina and Maine). But his yards per carry were about a half a yard less than his sophomore season, a yard and a half less than his freshman season. His average per game was twenty yards less than his junior season. I mean, his longest run of the season only went for 30 yards. The previous two seasons Grimes’ longest runs were for more than 60 yards. I know its bordering on heresy to say this, but I feel like Jonathan Grimes wasn’t that good last season.

Luckily, people smarter than I am have ways of measuring a player’s ability that go beyond what they feel was right. Take Football Outsiders, one of the best football analysis sites around. They invented this statistic called “success rate” which operates similar to batting average.

Here’s how it works. First, you determine what constitutes a hit or a miss for a running back based on down and distance. Through the first three quarters, if a running back gains 40 percent of his team’s necessary yardage on first down, 60 percent on second down or 100 percent on third down, the running back is successful. If he gains less than that, it’s a miss.

If the running back’s team is behind in the fourth quarter, those numbers turn into 50 percent on first down, 65 percent on second down and 100 percent on third down. If his team is ahead, then it is 30 percent on first down, 50 percent on second down and 100 percent on third down. The helpful part is that it realizes not all yards are created equal. A three-yard run on third and two is much more valuable, for example, than a 12-yard draw play on an impossibly long third-and-25.

Once you add up the total hits and misses for a running back over a season, and divide the number of hits by the back’s total carries, you can create a batting average by subtracting .200 from that percentage. Running back success rates essentially mirror baseball batting averages –anything over .300 is very good, .280 is ok and .260-.250 is bordering on problematic.

Want to know something amazing about Grimes? Even in an injury plagued season, even with an inexperienced offensive line in front of him, even occasionally with a third-string quarterback that wasn’t even allowed to throw a pass behind center, with the defense keying solely on him, Grimes still had a pretty good running back success rate. In fact, he had a great rate. Grimes hit on 101 of his 207 rushing attempts, giving him a .312 success rate.

What Grimes did last season was essentially the equivalent of a power hitter breaking his hamate bone in spring training, robbing him of his power, and yet, by altering his stance and changing his swing, still being able to lead the team in batting average and walks. Jonathan Grimes wasn’t a threat to hit home runs last season, but he still got on base.

That’s why I wonder about his role a little bit. About 19 percent of Grimes’ carries came in the fourth quarter last season, a small number, but one that is a little explainable. He did get hurt, after all, in the first quarter versus Maine and North Carolina. He also wasn’t needed in the fourth quarter versus VMI or Richmond.

Still, is it possible Grimes doesn’t carry the ball enough in the fourth quarter in the games that count? And it’s not just because William and Mary doesn’t have a lead in those games. Grimes had only three carries in the fourth quarter versus UMass despite the fact that William and Mary led until 2:05 remaining in that game, and then only trailed by four. He only carried the ball three times in the fourth quarter versus James Madison even though William and Mary only trailed by a touchdown or less for the entire quarter.

I’ll even throw Georgia Southern in there, even though William and Mary trailed by 16 in that game. Grimes only got to carry the ball three times IN THE SECOND HALF in that game, even though two of those runs went for nine yards or more. That meant those runs went as far as all but three of Mike Callahan’s passes in the second half, and he wasn’t off by a lot.

Maybe I’m stretching there. I’m only doing it, though, because when Grimes does get the ball in the fourth quarter, he’s really, really good. He helped put away the New Hampshire game. He pretty much singlehandedly won the game versus Old Dominion. The thing I think the running back success rate shows is that even when Grimes isn’t good, and you could tell that he at least was not feeling good at times last season, he’s great at moving the chains. Even when he can’t swing for the fences, he almost always gets on base.

Now that he’s had an offseason to recover and regain that power stroke, I would just like to see him hit the defense with the game on the line more this season.

Okay, let the fanboys back in. Just don’t let them get too excited.


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