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Is OSU’s Defense Really That Bad?



Photo Attribution: Icon SMI

You’ve all heard the numbers: the 68th best scoring D in the nation, even worse in total yards at an even 100. But to watch this team, to watch the last six teams…they look different than in years past.

They make game-changing plays, get huge stops, and always come up big when they need to. After the Texas game, Jamie Blatnick said:

It’s just one of those things that when it’s time to go and get it done, we get it done.

Is that true though, or is it just the politically correct thing to say?

The OSU fan’s defense (no pun intended) to the negative national backlash thus far has been “but wait, the starters are never even in games. How can you count something that isn’t even really happening.”

Well one group of football analysts smarter than everyone reading this blog combined (including myself) says you can’t.

Football Outsiders has devised a formula called S&P+ that is, essentially, a true measure of how good/bad your team is during games while the outcome of those games is still in the balance. Here’s the three-part formula:

1. Individual play success (as measured by  whether or not a play gained 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down (usually just 5 yards), 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

2. You basically give every yard line a point value (based on how many points you would be expected to score from that yard line) and then score each play based on how much closer a team got to the end zone.

3. Numbers 1 and 2 are compared to the expected output based on opponents and opponents’ opponents. In other words: schedule adjusting.

Here’s the biggie though (and what OSU fans have been complaining about all year) – stats are only compiled when a game is within 24 points in the first quarter, 21 in the second, and 16 in the second half.

“Finally!” you might be saying, but let me remind you that this means the formula didn’t count anything beyond the first quarter of the Kansas game.

Here’s how OSU stacks up:

S&P+ offense: 9th

Teams ahead of them: Wisconsin, Oregon, Bama, Baylor, Boise, Notre Dame, Michigan, Texas A&M.

S&P+ defense: 9th (in the country!) (NOT A TYPO)

Teams ahead of them: Boise, LSU, OU, Alabama, Penn State, Michigan State, Stanford Notre Dame.

Sure, this is a little askew with only seven weeks of college football under our belts and it hurts the offense a little bit because you can’t not count defensive performance in blowouts but keep the offensive numbers.

However it brings to light two things. The first is that this disparity in what the old-school stats say and the new-school stats say means that OSU’s defense is getting a TON of rest because it also means they aren’t on the field very much. As reader Htownpoke pointed out yesterday, that’s huge for a team like OSU that isn’t as deep as some other national powers.

The second is the point that I was making yesterday: this is not the best defense in the country, but it is improved (30th in the country in S&P+ defense last year) and it’s good enough to win a national title.

Huge thanks for this post: the guys at Football Outsiders (seriously, check out their work) and CowboysRFF for bantering back and forth with me on statistical analysis like we were a couple of crazed sports bloggers. Which we are.

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