Hold Up. What’s Going on with Holding Calls?

I came across a recent stat on @HuskGuys account – Nebraska has drawn zero holding penalties through five games in 2020. As someone who has watched every game this year, I was not surprised when I first saw this stat. As someone who loves data, I wanted to look around the conference to see how much we stand out in this regard. Warning: this post contains mild statistical education.

A quick note about the methodology behind this analysis, I collected my play by play data from the cfbscrapR package. I looked at all plays where a team was listed as the “defense” on each play. In @HuskGuys original tweet he only looked at passing and rushing plays where Nebraska was the defense. I am also including special teams plays where a team was playing defense. This brings Nebraska’s total up to 450 plays with having a hold called on the opposing offense. This analysis also is only looking at offensive holding penalties.

The Big Ten has played 6329 snaps of football this season. On 68 plays a team has been called for offensive holding penalty. This is a holding penalty on 1.07% of plays in the Big Ten. The Blackshirts have drawn a holding penalty zero times. The next closest team is Wisconsin with two holding penalties. Because of several cancelled games due to Covid, the Badgers have played only 210 defensive snaps. Rutgers and Indiana lead the league in holds drawn with 12 and 11, respectively.

How unlikely is zero holds and 450 defensive plays? For the sake of argument, I’m going to make an assumption that holds are equally likely to be called on any play (as the saying goes “you can call holding on every play” so there’s a kernel of truth to this assumption). Thus, the probability that holding is not called is (1-holding%) on any single play. The probability of no holdings on back to back plays is found by taking (1-holding%)*(1-holding%). Do this operation 448 more times and we find the probability of no holdings on 450 plays – 0.77%.

Nebraska’s low holding numbers are clearly unusual compared to the rest of the conference. This week, Nebraska gets a matchup against the team held at the second lowest rate this season – Purdue.

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