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What Sean Gleeson’s Offense at Princeton Tells us About His Upside at OSU

Gleeson is used to putting up big numbers. He’ll do it at OSU, too.

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Sean Gleeson was an out-of-the-box hire for Mike Gundy this spring in the traditional sense: he’s a young up-and-comer; he last coached at an Ivy League institution; and his experience with legos is still unclear. In an unconventional way, however — an approach that you can uniformly apply to Gundy’s attack of hiring play-callers — the fit was seamless.

Not only does Gleeson represent new, fresh blood who can reinvigorate the offense and whichever quarterback wins the job this fall. He can take that new quarterback and mold his own system in Stillwater, starting with a clean slate as OSU is hitting the reset at football’s most important position.

Most of all, though, Gleeson knows his stuff. Being an offensive coordinator is about more than numbers and putting up stats (or is it, really?), but Gleeson can certainly fill up the stat sheet as well as just about any play-caller despite his youth and inexperience. I took a look at some of his numbers from last season at Princeton and matched them up with how the numbers would have ranked at the FBS level last season, and …. stunning. Mouth agape-level stunning. This is video game type stuff! First, the scoring and passing stats:

  • Points per game national rank: 3rd (47.0 PPG)
  • Pass touchdowns per game national rank: 13th (2.4 per game)
  • Completions per game national rank: 55th (19.5 per game)
  • Pass attempts per game national rank: 83rd (29.2 per game — same as Alabama — here we come, natty!)
  • Pass yards per game national rank: 58th (241.30 per game)

This should all come with one jumbo asterisk to say that comparing Princeton’s offense to the Oklahomas, Boise States, Houstons and Washington States of the college football world is not exactly apples to apples. That aside, the pure production of seeing that points scored and touchdowns through the air would rate in the top-15 nationally is a positive sign. Apples to melons comparison, of course, but it does provide some context as to how Gleeson’s offense operated last season. For those who enjoy the fancy graphs more, here’s a look at the names Gleeson’s offense produced like last season sorted by total offense (points scored per game).

RANK TEAM PPG COMP/G PASS ATT./G PASS YDS/G PASS TDS/G
1 Oklahoma 48.4 19.6 28.6 322.9 3.1
2 Utah State 47.5 23.3 35.8 294.2 2.5
3 Princeton 47.00 19.5 29.2 241.30 2.4
4 Alabama 45.6 20.1 29.2 323.6 3.5
5 Clemson 44.3 21.8 33.9 278.7 2.5
6 Houston 43.9 21.8 36.5 295.5 3.5
7 UCF 43.2 17.2 30.2 257.5 2.2
8 Memphis 42.9 18.3 29.5 243.2 2.0
9 Ohio State 42.4 28.2 40.0 358.7 3.6
10 Toledo 40.4 16.9 30.4 227.9 2.5
11 West Virginia 40.3 24.3 37.1 351.3 3.2
12 Syracuse 40.2 20.8 35.6 264.7 1.7
13 Ohio 40.1 14.2 23.9 208.2 1.9
14 Oklahoma State 38.4 22.5 37.8 308.7 2.5
15 Georgia 37.9 17.3 25.5 226.9 2.4
16 Washington State 37.5 36.8 52.1 373.5 3.0
17 Texas Tech 37.3 30.1 44.6 352.6 2.3
18 Appalachian State 37.3 15.1 24.5 190.6 2.1
19 Missouri 36.6 21.6 34.7 279.4 2.2
20 Texas A&M 36.0 19.5 34.0 252.6 1.9

And how about the rushing production? This seems like the most exciting potential change Gleeson can implement. When I think of Princeton football, smashmouth ground-and-pound doesn’t exactly come to mind, but … Princeton was kind of a smashmouth, ground-and-pound team! Here’s a similar exercise comparing how Princeton’s production would have looked if you compared them to FBS statistics from last season.

  • Yards rushing game: 3rd (295.5)
  • Yards per carry: 3rd (6.5 YPC)
  • Rush attempts per game: 12th (45.7)
  • Rushing touchdowns per game: 1st (!!) at 4.0 per game

I’ve sorted the rushing stats below on a per-game yardage produced basis, and Princeton, which you can see above was pretty respectable as a passing team, compares with the likes of some FBS programs that almost exclusively run the ball and control the clock. And best yet: the efficiency here was pretty awesome. On a yards-per-carry basis, Princeton, if compared to FBS programs last season, would have ranked third.

Rank Program Yards Rushing/G Rush Att/G YPC Rush TDs/G
1 Georgia Tech 325.1 57.3 5.7 3.5
2 Army 312.5 63.4 4.9 3.6
3 Princeton 295.5 45.7 6.5 4
4 Air Force 283.7 59.4 4.8 2.8
5 Memphis 279.9 43.9 6.4 3.4
6 Navy 276.6 56.1 4.9 2.8
7 Wisconsin 273.4 43.9 6.2 2.5
8 Georgia Southern 266.8 49.1 5.4 2.7
9 UCF 266.1 45.6 5.8 3.2
10 Ohio 258.7 42.7 6.1 3.1
11 Clemson 249.3 37.8 6.6 3.3
12 Oklahoma 247.9 37.3 6.6 2.9
13 Illinois 244.8 40.8 6.0 2.1
14 Florida Atlantic 241.8 47.2 5.1 2.9
15 Appalachian State 240.4 41.5 5.8 2.4

What does this all mean? Probably not much! But it’s a fascinating study to potentially imagine what a Gleeson-led offense could do statistically at the Power 5 level.

For a more serious look, Kyle Cox in January did a similar look using FCS ranks, and the numbers were pretty impressive, too. Using 2017 stats … it was pretty uniformly stellar. (You can follow that link to look at rushing and passing data, or you could take my word for it when I say it was pretty much nails across the board. I imagine Gundy probably had the mullet hairs on his neck stand up with excitement when he first caught glance at some of these.)

Total Offense 2017 FCS Rank 2018 FCS Rank
Scoring Offense 38.2 3 47 1
Total Offense 483.0 4 536.8 2
Yards Per Play 6.6 5 7.2 5

All the more incredible about Gleeson’s top-notch offense in 2018 is that it was entirely different from what he did in his first year calling plays in 2017. In his first year as OC, Princeton averaged 351.4 yards passing per game (would have ranked in the top 5 nationally last season), and all while running the ball sparingly (33 attempts in 2017 per game vs. 45.7 attempts in 2018 per game). And yet the results were still pretty great: 38.2 points per game, 30 touchdowns in 10 games (on a 5-5 team), 6.6 yards per play, 483.0 yards of offense per game.

If there’s anything we can glean from what Gleeson did at Princeton, it’s that he can make an iguana seem like it’s having a hard time blending in. He made the most out of what he had at Princeton. When his personnel favored a run-first approach, they ran. When it was pass-first, they flung it all over the yard. If that teaches us anything about what to expect this season, it’s that points will be scored in bunches, Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace are almost certainly in line for career years, and OSU’s offense, with a 30-something pulling the strings, is in young-but-talented hands for years to come.

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