OSU vs. Big 12

Written by OKC Dave

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OKC Dave will be taking a deep dive into some really intriguing stats surrounding your Cowboys once a week during football season. I asked him to keep it simple for the laypeople among us [raises hand]. I’ll also be providing the footnotes so I hope you guys enjoy.

@pistolsguy gave me the good idea of looking at how OSU’s offense and defense has compared to the Big 12 in the Gundy era[1. Honestly probably where you get the majority of your ideas…]. I think the best way to look at it is to use data from conference play only. This levels out the playing field, removing all of the Savannah State-type games.

I evaluated each offense and defense by two measures: yards/play and points/play. Looking at each unit on a per-play basis removes the bias you see when looking at total yards due to some teams using more up-tempo styles[2. Lot of discussion around this between me and OKC Dave. It’s fun to look at points and yards per game and season but the true story can be found in yards and points per play. Remember that when you need to defend the OSU defense.]. This gets down to how efficient each unit is.

Things to consider as you look at the charts

-All of the figures in the chart are from conference play only.

-OSU is the orange dot…every other team in the Big 12 is a gray dot. The line is the average for the conference excluding OSU’s numbers[3. Strong data work by Dave here, does Jonah Keri need any help?].

-The charts run from 2005 to 2011 (Gundy era)[4. The charts in the 90s would be unbearable.]. The years are at the bottom of each chart along with the initials of the coordinator for that year. I did not include 2012 this time around, but I will come back to this later this year.

-This goes for every chart: the closer to the top, the better the unit did that season.

Offense has always been the first priority in the Gundy era, so let’s start there.


The charts tell a story we all know pretty well by now. Aside from 2005 and 2009, OSU’s offense has been well above average and outstanding in some cases.

A few things stand out to me:

-In conference play last year, OSU averaged 7.3 yards per play. Think about how impressive that is. It is the highest figure for any Big 12 offense in this time period. Baylor averaged 7.6 yards per play when they gained 700 yards against West Virginia this weekend. Imagine sustaining that over an entire conference season[5. This is stupid, I don’t think we’ll ever truly appreciate how sick that squad was for another decade or so.]. The average for all teams not named OSU during the Gundy era is 5.5.

-The undisputed three best offenses in recent conference history are 2005 Texas, 2008 Oklahoma, and 2011 OSU[6. Would be a fun round robin tournament.]. Two out of the three featured teams that played for the national title. If we beat Iowa State, all three of them do. I will never get over that loss. Who thinks WVU will move into this elite neighborhood this year?

-What caused the league-wide decrease in offensive production in 2009? Graham Harrell, Chase Daniel, and Josh Freeman went to the NFL, Sam Bradford and Zac Robinson got hurt, and Dez got suspended. Colt McCoy was really the only quarterback that made D-coordinators nervous that year.

-Big 12 offenses have shown improvement since the dip in 2009, and by all indications 2012 could battle with 2008 for the best offensive year in recent history.

-OSU is the best offensive program in yards/play and the second best in points/play over this entire time period (we narrowly trail UT in points/play)

-The best individual offense? 2011 OSU in yards/play at 7.3. 2005 Texas in points/play at 0.69

-The worst individual offense? 2010 Kansas in yards/play at 4.0. 2009 Baylor in points/play at 0.19.

It’s fun to look at our offensive numbers because we’re always good. But you already know that. Let’s spend a little more time looking at the defensive side of the ball. Again: the closer to the top of the chart, the better the defense.



Okay, what can this tell us?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably had a conversation or several where you talked about how all we need is an average to above-average defense to compete in this conference. The way our offense produces you don’t need an elite defense to contend for conference titles (unless you’re trying to prove to the media that you belong in the title game).

Well, over the last four years OSU has had an above-average defense in the Big 12 in both yards/play and points/play[7. I’m so geeked up (and geeked out) over these charts and numbers. Great, great work.]. I bet not many would have guessed that. Football Outsiders agrees, by the way. In their S&P ratings, our defensive rankings from 2008-11 are 58, 24, 32, and 17 (we are currently #49 this year).

We have never really been great on the defensive side of the ball under Gundy. But I think in the high-powered Big 12 it is hard to be really good on the defensive side of the ball. Our backup QB just torched the best defense in the conference for 8.6 yards/play.

The good news for OSU fans is the trend line. While Big 12 defenses have generally declined[8. Who thinks this is going to continue this year? (every single person reading this raises hand).] in performance over time, the OSU defense has clearly improved, particularly under Bill Young’s reign. You may not agree with some of his defensive philosophies, but you can’t argue with the numbers. We are not elite, but we are above-average in our own conference — and I think many would sign up for that for the next four years.

It’s too early to say where we are this year on D, but I’ll revisit this later on in the year. I know the 3rd- and 4th-down conversions were frustrating on Saturday, but we allowed 5.5 yards/play (the league average was 5.7 last year) and 0.51 points/play (league average: 0.43). So we’re not off to an awful start despite playing one of the best teams in the league.

A few more notes on the defensive charts

-The only defensive units I would call elite (excellent in both categories) during this time period are Texas in 2005, Oklahoma in 2006, and OU and Nebraska in 2009. We’ve had one really good defense in the last 6 years in this conference, and I don’t see any signs of one this year

-The best defense? Ndamukong Suh and Nebraska allowed 4.1 yards/play in 2009. That same team also allowed 0.19 points/play, good for #1 in that category and less than half of the league average of 0.40. This was the last elite defense we’ve seen in the Big 12.

-The worst defense? Iowa State allowed 7.1 yards/play in 2008. Texas Tech allowed 0.59 points/play last season[9. ’11 O-State vs. ’08 Iowa State, who you got?].

  • CowboyKS

    OKC Dave – Great work. Always love to see a bit of Quant to go with all of our Qual hype. Have you considered “vs Ranked Opponents”. It’s more of a national relativity as opposed to a conference ranking.
    Each HC has a different philosophy. Gundy will give up literally truckloads of “trash” points and yards to get our 3’s and 4’s experience against, say a HT winner or 0-9 conference opponent. Other teams don’t and it makes them look out-of-this-world amazing.

    • @okc_dave

      That would be interesting as well. Ultimately there will be a downside to any approach — smaller sample size would be my issue with stats against ranked teams. Also, this is why I really appreciate the analysis done at Football Outsiders. The S&P and FEI rankings are the best thing out there in my opinion.

  • scott

    smoke and mirrors. here’s what i know. Mack went for it on 4th down 3 times saturday because he knew they’d pick it up. our defense is not average (gave up a billion points to AZ and Oregon blanked them). Our sweet corners couldn’t cover my grandma without being flagged. Something needs to change. 3rd and 5? Don’t give a 10 yd freaking CUSHION Bill Young!

    • You realize he didn’t do 2012 numbers, correct?

    • @okc_dave

      I did not set out to prove that we have a great defense and I don’t think the numbers say we do. I’m also not really saying anything about our 2012 D.

      One issue, though: Mack went for it on 4th down three times:
      1) 4th & 4 on our 38 (because they have a terrible kicker and punting doesn’t do much for you here.
      2) 4th & 2 on our 29 (same)
      3) 4th & 6 on their 29 (because they had to)

      I agree with you on the 10-yard cushion.

    • CowboyKS

      Looks like we’ve found our next Defensive Coordinator…

  • Jeff in Tulsa

    Excellent analysis. You’re never going to convince some yahoos that we have a decent defense because they’ll scream and yell about certain individual plays. But as you point out, we’ve been decent, but not elite, on defense.

    • scott

      your definition of decent must be different from mine. remember all those defensive meltdowns against Texas over the past decade? If you can’t protect a 30 point lead over 2 qtrs (time and time again), you’re doing something wrong. And some of those can’t be blamed on Young so I’m not sure what the cause of the problem is. I’m guessing it’s the horrifyingly bad prevent defense we go to that gives up 15+ yds a play.

      • @okc_dave

        I think the main point of this post is that over the last four seasons our defense has been better than average in the Big 12 — that said, the Big 12 has produced some pretty bad defenses (or really good offenses, depending on how you look at it).

        As a fan It’s not a very satisfying conclusion. But if you want to have a good defense, you better not play in the Big 12.

  • APYauk

    Great work. I really enjoyed this post. Keep up the good work!

  • OSUaggie

    I confess to being a bit of a stats geek, and while I totally understand what you’re saying, I also understand the frustration Scott has; it’s shared by a lot of us. We’re still, AFTER the UT loss, ranked as the best offense in the country which adds to the frustration. I’m hoping WVU beats UT this weekend because I’m pretty sure that we’ll beat WVU; we’ll probably destroy the scoreboard, but it’s the #1 and #2 scoring offense against two Defenses that are in the bottom 10% of the country. I think with Lunt we just flat out-score their butts…..No one get’s a pass and makes it through the B12 this year undefeated so technically, we’re not out of this just yet…..

  • Sean

    Do the points per play / yards per play include special teams? That kick off return for 100 yards not only would skew the stats, but ended up being a big factor in the game.

    You can’t really separate the offense from the defense. If your D gives you the ball at the opponent’s 20, That should still be three free points even if you run three plays for negative yardage. Your defense did good, it just had no margin for error.

    Scott got me thinking about those other big come-from-behind wins by Texas: It wasn’t just that our defense kept giving up points and yards. Our offense could not stay on the field to eat clock or flip the field position to make Texas go on long drives. We lost those because of offensive and defensive adjustments by Texas (or maybe they just finally decided to show up and play).

    • @okc_dave

      Special teams yardage is not included, but points scored in special teams are included in the points/play data.

      You are correct about not separating the offense from the defense. An offense can put a defense in a bad spot, just as a defense can put an offense in a great spot.

      I think we’re over the Texas-wild-comeback days. The last one was 5 years ago.