Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Florida – Oklahoma: The Defenses

Second in a series of statistical comparisons between the BCS Title game opponents

Once again, conventional wisdom has the BCS title game as a match up of offense (Oklahoma) against defense (Florida), the unstoppable force against the immovable object. In our first part of this series we compared the offenses with the conclusion that the two teams were pretty evenly matched, with perhaps an ever so slight edge to the Sooners. In the second part of the series we will take a look at the defenses, and see what edge Florida might really have.

The Defenses

NCAA Scoring Defense Ranks

5. Florida – 12.8 ppg
57. Oklahoma – 24.5 ppg

The first defensive statistic jumps right out at you, with Florida 5th nationally verses Oklahoma a perfectly mediocre 57th. And, in points per game, Oklahoma surrenders nearly twice in every contest that the Gators do. The obvious – and far superior – edge seems to go to Florida here. Let’s look further to see how far this edge holds up.

NCAA Total Defense Ranks

9. Florida – 279.31 ypg
65. Oklahoma - 359.08 ypg

By yards surrendered per game the Oklahoma scoring defense at 57th is no aberration, with their yard per game surrendered an even worse 65th nationally. In the course of an average game Oklahoma gives up 80 more yards a game than Florida.

But as we did for the offense, this statistic bears a deeper look. In 2008 Florida defended a total of 826 plays, while Oklahoma faced 922.

Florida average yards per play surrendered – 4.43
Oklahoma average yards per play surrendered – 5.06

Much like analyzing the yards per play on offense showed a Florida team more even matched offensively to Oklahoma than first blush, Oklahoma comes away better on defense by this metric although Florida still leads. And once again the question of why Oklahoma has more plays – this time on defense – still looms, especially when the two teams have nearly identical time of possession - 29:46 for Oklahoma and 29:44 for Florida (72nd and 73rd in the NCAA).

Were we to rank the teams nationally by Yards per Play defensively, Florida would still be 9th in the nation (USC is 1st at an eye popping 3.38 ypp). Oklahoma however, by this metric, would improve to 46th. While still not terribly impressive, 46th is still better than the 65th in yards per game. It seems much of Oklahoma’s overall poor ranking in this category is a result of the number of plays allowed on defense.

NCAA Rushing Defense Ranks

16. Florida – 105.3 ypg
18. Oklahoma – 106.0 ypg

I must admit I was surprised this statistic was this close, and that Oklahoma is virtually the equal of Florida in stopping the run. When you make this comparison based on yards surrendered per rush we find -

Oklahoma average yards per rush surrendered – 3.24 (411 rushes)
Florida average yards per rush surrendered – 3.33 (425 rushes)

Oklahoma is actually more effective in defending the rush than Florida, though the statistic is very close. I very much doubt most people are aware of this, and I certainly was not.

NCAA Passing Defense Ranks

19. Florida – 174.0 ypg
99. Oklahoma – 253.08 ypg

According to this statistic Oklahoma has one of the worst passing defenses in the country, nearly as bad as 1 win SMU at 101st. Oklahoma had, as a member of the high flying Big 12, more passes attempted against it than Florida, at 497 to Florida’s 415. So if we look at it by the non-NCAA metric of yards surrendered per attempt -

Florida average yards surrendered per pass attempted – 5.45
Oklahoma average yards surrendered per pass attempted – 6.62

Were this an official NCAA stat, Oklahoma would rank 51st while Florida would rank 5th. Based on this we can say that Florida’s pass defense is significantly better than the Sooners.

NCAA Passing Efficiency Defense Ranks

2. Florida – 94.17
41. Oklahoma – 117.14

Florida, as one might expect from the above, ranks very well here, behind only defensive standout USC.

Overall Defensive Efficiency – Points per Play

A statistic I devised to demonstrate overall offensive efficiency is Points per Play which measures exactly as advertised – how many points a team scores for each play run. Conversely we can look at Points per Play on defense to see how effective a defense is overall. Since the NCAA doesn’t keep this stat, here are your top 10 (with ppp)-

1 Southern California 0.147
2 Boise St. 0.177
3 Iowa 0.197
4 TCU 0.199
5 Florida 0.202
6 Ohio St. 0.214
7 Penn St. 0.226
8 Alabama 0.233
9 West Virginia 0.245
10 Clemson 0.258

Once again USC’s numbers are really startling, and the Trojans might have had one of the best defenses this year ever.

Florida is 5th in the nation by this metric. Oklahoma, nowhere near the top ten, comes in 50th overall surrendering .346 points per play, or a point every third play.


In line with the conventional wisdom, Florida’s defense ranks statistically much higher than Oklahoma, though perhaps not as much as many think. Statistically, Oklahoma has not faced a defense nearly as tough as Florida’s, While Florida has faced several tougher than the Sooners, the only defense that ranks close to Florida Oklahoma has faced is TCU’s. Oklahoma did score 35 on the Frogs, the most TCU gave up all season, yet it was nearly 20 points worse than the Sooner’s season scoring average.

When you look at my Points per Play (Defense) statistic you find Ohio State 6th. The Buckeyes did a decent job of shutting down high flying Texas, as Ohio State was the best defense the Longhorns faced by far.

What does this mean for tomorrow? If Oklahoma were to score a similar amount on Florida as TCU (35), would Florida still win?

It ought to be one hell of a game.

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