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The importance of Autzen Stadium going into the Civil War

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"Where good teams go to die."
"Where good teams go to die."

In preparation for the biggest Civil War in 45 years, there is one factor not being mentioned all that often: Autzen Stadium.

The reasoning for this is understandable. After 10 years of domination by the home team, the last two meetings between the Ducks and Beavers have been won by the road team. Because of this, many people seem to be overlooking the very important fact that Oregon gets this game at home. Now, I could care less about the 10 year streak and all that. Those years just happened to coincide to years that both Oregon and Oregon State were having good or bad years, and the better teams in those seasons just happened to be playing at home, or were catching the opposing team at the right time.

And for the most part, I'm not a huge proponent of home field advantage in general. I think that a lot of fans like to overstate its effects. On the whole, home field is a few points, nothing more. One of the best minds in college football, Bill Connelly, who writes for SBNation's Missouri blog RockMNation and also Football Outsiders, has done a lot of great work on trying to quantify the advantage. And overall, it's very tough to do. For that reason, I tend to undersell it, because there are so many other variables that are in play.

However, this year I can't. The Ducks are a significantly better team at home than on the road.

Statistically, there is no comparison. And frankly, the disparity between Oregon's performance at home and on the road is shocking. Below I have some of the major statistics for the Ducks this season. I have included home and road splits for all games, and even removed WSU from conference home games, to remove that possible outlier.

Home (Pac-10) Home (PX-WSU) Home (Overall) Away (Pac-10) Away (Overall)
Scoring Off.
46.3 44.3 42.3 38.3 32.2
Scoring Def.
12.5 14.6 18.3 30.3 28.0
Scoring Dif +30.8 +29.7 +24 +8 +4.2
Rush YPG 303.3 298.3 270.5 222.8 184.4
Total Offense 509.8 508.3 451.2 437.0 380.0
Total Defense
225.8 248.3 275.2 388.0 382.6
Total Yards Dif +284.0 +260.0 +176 +49 -2.6
First Down Dif +14.5 +10.3 +7.5 -1.0 -4.0

 

For reference, here are the Sagarin ratings for teams at home: 74 (Purdue), 27 (Utah), 20 (Cal), 118 (WSU), 14 (USC), 59 (ASU). For road teams: 8 (BSU), 37 (UCLA), 53 (Washington), 19 (Stanford), 22 (Arizona).

These numbers simply shocked me. In every indicator of success, points yards, and yards per game, the differentials show a stark difference. Even throwing out WSU, Oregon has been dominant at home, against great to solid competition. Though the road schedule is slightly harder, it does not begin to explain the shocking disparity between home and road performance.

What is so intriguing about these numbers is that they back up what we've been seeing on the field. It's tough to put a finger on it, but the Oregon team is just not the same on the road. I was willing to look past sub-par performances at UCLA (Masoli was out), Washington (at least in the first half, Masoli was just getting his legs back), and Stanford (they just executed). But, after Arizona, I'm very glad we don't have any more road games. On the road, something just seems, well, off. Both sides of the ball just simply are not the same.

On offense, the team just does not execute at the same level. Overall, the team has more penalties, averaging two more per game and an extra 20 yards). Failure to convert on 4th down has been a huge problem, especially against BSU, Stanford, and Arizona. The Ducks are converting 4th downs at a 3/7 rate on the road, and 7/10 at home. While 3rd downs have been merely slightly better at home at 37% to 35%, the offense just simply does not execute on the same level away from Autzen. The rushing game hasn't been the same, which has led to an increase in passing, which is improving but is not the bread and butter of the offense. The Oregon offense simply seems to shoot itself in the foot. There have been times when it clicks, and all seems to go well. But there have also been stretches of missed opportunities.

On the opposite side of the ball, Oregon has been able to get off the field on 3rd downs. Opponents are converting at a mere 30.21% at Autzen, while on the road the Ducks are allowing  a 43.75% conversion rate.

One exception to this is the red zone performance for both the offense and defense, where the Ducks have been phenomenal on the road. On offense, the Ducks have scored touchdowns on 14/15 opportunities, and on defense, opponents are scoring less than 70% of the time, with touchdowns a mere 56% of red zone trips.

A lot of this could be explained away by matchups, strength of schedule, small sample size, etc. But I think the disparity is too large to do this. The simple fact is that the Ducks just don't execute to the same level on the road. The level of their game rises to a different level when at home. I didn't think that USC would be fazed by Autzen, and outside of a number of false starts, I don't think that it was. However, on offense and defense, the Ducks played at a much different level, just as they did against Cal, WSU, and during the first half of the Arizona State game. At home, Oregon is just far more consistent, and execute well on almost every play. That has not been the case on the road, and the numbers (especially first down differential) back that up.

Going into the Civil War, I think that this home field advantage will be a huge factor. It's not getting a lot of attention yet, but it should. The Ducks are a better team at home. They play at a completely different level. And if the Ducks can come close to that level, I love their chances next week.