Wednesday, January 30, 2008

For the Defense

The Sunday Morning Quarterback has begun his annual postseason analysis of the relevance of various college football statistics. Much like his previous work, the SMQ has found several defensive statistics among the most highly correlated towards determining whether a team is successful or not during the previous year.

Any reader of this Blog knows the paramount importance we (I) place on defense. Early last season (on September 27th) I called out several teams (including Louisville, Cal, Oregon, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Florida) as teams with below championship caliber defenses. At the time every team cited was undefeated (except Nebraska which had lost to USC), and we took quite a bit of heat by the way of comments from the fans of teams like Cal. We also pointed out in that same September 27th post that LSU likely did have a championship caliber defense.

Then after the season we noted that Florida’s 2007 defense as one of the “worst ever” in terms of average points surrendered per game.

In looking at the SMQ’s work, he found the highest correlation of success (using win percentage of top 20 versus bottom 20) to the rankings of a team’s Rush Defense. In order of top 5 stats to success he found –

1. Rush Defense
2. Pass Eff. Defense
3. Total Defense
4. 3rd Down Offense
5. Turnover Margin

The other two defensive statistics – 3rd Down Defense and Pass Defense, ranked 8th and 9th respectively for correlation to success (of 16 total statistics)

As I went to look to see where the 2007 Gators placed in each of the above categories I found the work had already been done for me by Senator Blutarsky at Get the Picture.

Florida has a pretty solid rushing defense in 2007, but was sub par elsewhere defensively. By defensive ranking in 2007 the Gators were (national ranking) –

Rush Defense – 10th
Pass Eff. Defense – 71st
Total Defense – 41st
3rd Down Defense – 75th
Pass Defense – 98th

It comes as perhaps little revelation that our pass defense was atrocious in 2007, as anyone who witnessed our corners being burned can attest to (especially in Jacksonville…). But 98th in the nation, or1 slot behind 1- 11 Idaho? It is a marvel we only lost 4 games.

In my most recent post on the 2007 defensive woes (The Defensive Point) I noted the “average margin” (points scored – points against) of Gator teams in the modern era (since 1990) and that, even with the 4th best Gator offense ever in PPG last season, the average margin ranked only 9th because of our point surrendering defense. Let’s look at that another way, or the Win-Loss records of Gator teams since 1990 based on points per game surrendered on defense –

In no season when the Gators allowed less than 18 PPG did Florida have any more than 2 losses. Broken down by points surrendered to average records –

Less than 15 PPG: 11 wins - 1.66 losses
15 to 17 PPG: 10.33 wins – 1.66 losses
17-19 PPG: 10 wins – 2.25 losses
20-21 PPG: 9.75 wins – 3.25 losses
More than 21 PPG: 8.25 wins – 4.5 losses

2007 Season: 25.46 PPG equaled 9 wins – 4 losses

Unfortunately we can’t break down the stats the SMQ relies on for season past 2000 because the NCAA only keeps them for the past 7 years.

But the point is obvious – defense wins games, and defense wins championships. Offense is a crowd pleaser, but it is not nearly as important. Doubt that? Well, look at 2006 again –

2006 Season

Offense Rank (since 1990) – 15th of 18 (29.71 ppg)
Defense Rank (since 1990) – 1st of 18 (13.5 ppg)

We “won it all” with a mediocre offense and a historically great defense in 2006. Defense makes all the difference.

Which is why I had little problem calling out teams like Louisville, Cal and even Florida early on in 2007 as teams that had no shot at a “national” title. When Louisville, an early poll darling (ranked 9th after the 2nd week), gave up 42 points to Middle Tennessee state, we predicted they would lose “several” games in 2007. (And Oh! the hate mail).
Likewise with Cal giving up an average of 24.5 PPG after their first four games , or Florida giving up 31 points to Troy – you simply don’t win championships when you give up 30 plus points to opponents in any regular season, non-overtime game.

I’ll be back at it again next season, calling out the defensive frauds early on. When you give up 30 plus points to any team early on, or average over 20 points per game surrendered after only a couple of games, you simply aren’t a contender, and all the whining in the comments section won't change that.

It’s also why it is so important Florida rectifies its defensive situation immediately – or the second starting year of an already Heisman winning quarterback will be also be squandered.


Gator Duck said...

Nice job, Mergz. You hit the nail dead center on the head.

Gator KGB said...

Uh, that is unless you're a member of the 1996 MNC team that gave up an average of 24 ppg in the last 5 games of the season, including the Sugar Bowl and scored an average of 33.2.

In those 5 games, no fewer than 20 were surrendered to Vandy, South Caroling, FSU, 'Bama and FSU again.

Also, 21 were surrendered to a very poor La. Tech team and 29 to a good UT team.

Gator Boys said...

You must be proud to have your predictions turn out so right. Congrats

Henry Gomez said...