Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Defensive Warning Sign?

One thing I have noticed over the past several years of compiling statistical data is a reasonably reliable indicator that a team is headed for trouble – the giving up of significant points in any single game (not including overtime).

How so? In this decade there have been six BCS conference teams that have gone undefeated. Of those teams, none gave up more than 31 points in any single regular season game. Their worst point surrendered by individual game were –

2000 Oklahoma – 31
2001 Miami – 27
2002 Ohio State – 21
2004 Auburn – 28
2004 USC – 28

Now look at Oregon this season, recently said to be playing “the best football of anyone”. But were they really? How about that second game of the year where they beat Purdue 38-36. In giving up 36 points to the Boilermakers, the Ducks surrendered more than any unbeaten team this decade did in the regular season (yes, I know they had already lost, but the point is whether they might lose again).

I first noticed this “warning sign” in 2006 when Ohio State beat Michigan in “the game of the century” 42-39. What I saw in that game was a defense that had the prospect of surrendering 39 points, not an offense that scored 42. And in their very next game, the BCS title game, they gave up even more.

There are many examples of this occurring over the past several years. Besides giving up 45 in their loss to Texas last season, Oklahoma also surrendered 35 at Kansas State and 41 at Oklahoma State.

I have noted variations on this phenomena in the past, starting in early 2007 in regard to then highly ranked Louisville, who would later go on to lose several games. Likewise I have pointed out that California and Oregon flashed warnings, only to succumb later on in similar fashion.

This season you might have seen it with Southern Cal in their win over Oregon State when the Trojans gave up 36 points to the Beavers (not to mention 482 yards). It was a precursor to their 27 point blowout loss to Oregon.

It is important to note that NOT having a “warning game” doesn’t mean you are bound to be undefeated either. It is just a significant indicator of what seems to happen when you get to the point where you face superior talent (like Ohio State did in 2006). I remember watching the much heralded Big 12 earlier last season giving up huge points in games and thinking, “These teams are going to be in trouble sometime”. And eventually, they were.

Likewise, 31 points given up in a single regular season game (not including overtime) is the highest for every 1 loss BCS Champion of the decade. The exception was LSU, who played 2 overtime games that skew their statistics. The maximum points given in a single contest by the other champions were -

2003 LSU - 24
2005 Texas - 29
2006 Florida – 28 (Arkansas SEC Championship)
2008 Florida – 31 (the Ole Miss loss)

For which of our current undefeated teams might this be a problem? Here are the highest points surrendered by each of the unbeaten –

1 Florida 20
2 Alabama 24
3 Texas 24
4 TCU 21
5 Cincinnati 45
6 Boise State 35

If giving up a high number of points in any single game is an indicator of a fatal flaw and future failure, then Cincy and Boise are in trouble somewhere down the line. In the Bearcat’s case West Virginia and Pitt loom large. As for Boise State it may not be until their bowl game that their defensive weakness is revealed.

But I’m guessing in Cincinnati’s case, they are very close to getting exposed.

Now I’m not suggesting this is some magic bullet, but thus far this decade it has played out this way. I’m also not suggesting 31 points is a hard-and-fast rule. But giving up a large number of points in the 30’s seems to be a valuable warning indicator, at least when it comes time to play high level talent.

I’m going to do some further work on this from a historical standpoint. One place it seems to hold up – the 1995 and 1996 Gators. In 1995 Florida did indeed have a “warning game”, when they twice gave up 30 plus points in wins – (62-37 over Tennessee, and 49-38 over Auburn). We know how that season ended – a 62 to 24 blowout loss to Nebraska. However in 1996 with a better defense, the worst points given up was 30 to Arkansas in the SEC Championship game (29 regular season).


corey said...

Newsflash: Defense wins championships. Thanks for the added proof . . .

Rob said...

The undefeated GT 1990 MNC team gave up 31 to Duke and 38 to UVA in the two games immediately following the 13-13 tie to UNC.

I think only scoring 13 was the warning sign for them, they scored in the 40s in 5 of the 6 remaining games (pulling out a 6-3 squeaker again VPI in the other).

On the other hand, this year's GT team has given up 31 to Miss St, 44 to FSU and 31 to Vandy, which I guess were the warning signs for the early season loss to Miami.

Im also wondering about the BYU MNC team in 84?, did they hold the WAC to low scores or did they win shootouts?

jimcaserta said...

That Tennessee game in 95 was not a warning but a harbinger of what would come with UF's offense. UT took an early lead 30-14. UF scored a TD at the end of the half and then unloaded early in the 2nd half. UT's last TD was a garbage TD after they were down 4 td's.

The 95 defense wasn't super, but that 95 Nebraska team was pretty vicious. UF & Neb were clearly 1/2 going into the fiesta bowl and there wasa clear dropoff to 3/4 - mostly because UF had beaten those teams handily.

The thing this year's defense has in common with the great gator defenses is the ability to score and come up with the big play. How big was Torrey Davis's stop vs OU? Say they get a TD there, the game is totally different. Trattou comes up with the INT and big return last week. So many different players make big plays.

It's amazing that Bama and UF could play a 1-2 game for the SEC crown again this year!

orca17 said...

Regarding the 1984 BYU team - BYU surrendered 38 points in a 41-38 win over Wyoming in Provo. Apart from that game and a 30-25 win over Air Force at Colorado Springs, the BYU defense played pretty well in terms of points surrendered. No other team scored more than 17 points against them, and four times they held an opponent to less than ten points, including a 48-0 shutout of New Mexico.