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More Thoughts on 2008 Big 12 Defense

This is kind of a follow up to Huck's post- trying to get a handle on the state of defenses in the Big 12. We've discussed the spread formation a lot, and how the Big 12 offenses went from a fairly pedestrian run-oriented and conservative lot 12 years ago to the craziest collection of high-scoring outfits in the land. Disagree? Which conference has more offense? The PAC-10? Please. Scoring 30 points per game won't get the job done in the Big 12. The Mountain West? Maybe 20 years ago. The WAC? I'll see your Boise State with a Texas Tech, and raise you with an OU, and I've still got a Texas in my stack of chips.

Given that, what are we to make of Big 12 defenses? Texas was rated the best last year, in yards per game, even though it was ranked in the 50s, nationally. Texas was also the best in scoring defense. How good were the Longhorns really? What were the best defenses? Let's jump into the numbers and see.

The traditional measure of a defense is yards/game and points/ game. The problem with using those metrics is that yards/game doesn't account for the spread (no pun intended) in numbers of plays different teams have on defense as a result of the offense's choices. For example, no-huddle teams like OU end up having to defend more plays per game than typical teams. Plays defended per game in 2008 ranged from 62/game (NU) to 78/game (Missouri). Let's look at yards/game and yards/play on defense:

Texas 342.9 5.26
NU 349.8 5.66
OU 367.7 5.17
CU 381.6 5.48
TT 382.6 5.58
BU 393.2 5.30
KU 396.7 5.56
OSU 405.5 5.61
Mizzou 411.5 5.27
ISU 453.2 6.74
TAMU 461.9 6.36
KSU 479.1 6.21

Huh. We see that although Texas allowed the fewest yards per game, the Sooners actually allowed fewer yards per play. Mizzou is right behind Texas, but because they had more plays on defense than any other Big 12 team, they were 9th in Big 12 yards/game allowed. This helps answer the question many have had about why Missouri didn't have a good defense with all of those good players- they did. They were just on the field too much (Scipio's comment on Huck's post notes that Missouri was last in Big 12 TOP). Also, it's fair to say that the Big 12 offenses have figured Gene Chizik's defense out. Yikes.

How about scoring defense? We'll again adjust for variation in plays defended and make another adjustment too. Since we're trying to measure defensive performance, let's remove points scored against the offense and special teams. This still leaves in situations where the opponent got the ball on a team's 5 yard line after a turnover, so the numbers aren't perfect. They should be better. So here you go- points allowed/game, points allowed by the defensive unit/game, and points allowed by the defensive unit/play.

UT 18.8, 17.5, .269
OU 24.5, 22.9, .289
Missouri 27.2, 27.1, .347
TT 27.8, 26.6, .388
OSU 28.1, 28.1, .389
NU 28.5, 26.8, .433
KU 28.8, 28.8, .404
CU 29.2, 28.3, .407
BU 29.3, 28.6, .385
ISU 35.8, 34.7, .515
KSU 35.8, 35.3, .457
TAMU 37.4, 35.1, .483

The Big 12 had two defenses head and shoulders above the others- Texas and OU. That's not a revelation. Missouri, Tech, and OSU were in the next group. Nebraska may be a great example of a defense getting a hand from the offense shortening the game (as long as the offense is productive while doing so, I suppose). Nebraska was great in TOP last year.

The next thing I like to look at is how good a defense is defending the run and the pass. To understand the stats, the first thing you have to do is back the defense's sack stats out of the rushing totals. For some reason, the NCAA records a QB sack (an unsuccessful pass play) as a run. Here are the run defense totals for the Big 12- called runs, yards, yards per run, but only counting runs that were called as runs:

UT 309, 1469, 4.75
OU 427, 1919, 4.49
TT 423, 2024, 4.78
OSU 399, 1917, 4.80
BU 442, 1807, 4.09
TAMU 491, 2736, 5.57
Mizzou 478, 1998, 4.18
KU 381, 1991, 5.23
NU 383, 1783, 4.66
ISU 419, 2229, 5.32
KSU 482, 2731, 5.66
CU 433, 2160, 4.99

We see that Texas was nowhere near as good at defensing the run last year as advertised. The stats were skewed by the nation-leading number of sacks (more on that later), and the fact that teams didn't call many runs against Texas. Was this due to opponents trailing, or due to Texas' reputation for being stronger against the run than the pass? We see that Baylor and Missouri were very good at defending the run. We see that TAMU and KSU were wretched in run defense, with ISU just slightly better (remember how Chizik sacrificed pass defense at Texas to emphasize run defense? Keep that in mind for later).

Let's look at pass defense now. Remember those yards we added in from the sack totals? Let's take them out of passing yardage totals, and add the plays in as called passes (i.e.- plays are pass attempts plus sacks, and yardage is passing yardage minus sack yardage). Here are called plays and pass yards allowed/play.

UT 538, 5.56
OU 569, 5.67
TT 468, 6.30
OSU 540, 6.27
BU 448, 6.50
TAMU 381, 7.37
Mizzou 615, 6.12
KU 546, 6.16
NU 420, 6.58
ISU 388, 8.27
KSU 444, 6.79
CU 403, 6.00

Wow. UT may have had the best pass defense in the conference, not the best run defense. OU is close. All of the others can be lumped together except for two wretches at the bottom- the Aggies and Cyclones. It looks like the Ags could defend neither the run nor pass, so opponents elected to run. Maybe they should load up against the run, schematically. ISU was poor against the run, and significantly worse against the pass (he must have been running the same scheme as he did with Texas). Maybe the Ags shouldn't load up against the run schematically.

They say I am a madman, but I tell you my theories are right!

I checked these numbers for the SEC teams, and they were notably lower in run defense and a little lower in pass defense. It's a different game in the Big 12. What can we surmise for the future? Well, Texas has to figure out a way to shore up the rush defense after losing Miller, Orakpo, and Melton from last year's team. If the young secondary really has improved as much as hoped for, maybe Muschamp can do some things schematically against the run. The Red Raiders and Tigers will be hard-pressed to stay as good after their off-season losses. OU will be one of the best defenses in the Big 12 next year, but I don't know that they'll be better than Texas.

Baylor had a better defense than many thought last year, arguably as good as Tech's and OSU's. Bear DC Brian Norwood may be doing the best job nobody knows about. The Ags need to figure something else out. Their stats would have looked a lot worse if opponents weren't happy to call mostly running plays against them. I read a couple of articles today noting that OSU was near last in the nation on pass defense last year. Looking at the numbers above, you see they really were a little more competitive against the pass than the run, relative to their Big 12 peers.