What an internet meltdown looks like. It's easy to forget, sometimes, the uncertainty surrounding the Texas football program in December of 2010. At one point, attrition of the staff left the program lacking: both offensive and defensive coordinators, offensive and defensive line coaches, defensive back and linebacker coaches, a quarterback's coach, a wide receiver's coach, and I suppose if you care to count it, a special teams coordinator. In the midst of the rumor mill, Texas feared losing Major Applewhite, losing Jerry Gray, and losing Mack Brown himself.
All of this uncertainty makes analysis of the last year particularly interesting; we as fans get to vet the new coaches with the results on the field. To that end, I've recently begun compiling a database of every play Texas (and for that matter, every other team) logged for the last several years. I hope to use this dataset to write a few posts on last season in the context of how Texas has performed historically as well as relative to the college football landscape as a whole. Consider the next couple of articles preliminary; I'll delve into more advanced and (hopefully) interesting analyses later.
After the jump, let's take a look at the defense.
Some background on the defense. Texas allowed 306 yards per game on defense last season, good for #11 in the country. Texas allowed teams to rush for 3.8 yards per carry against them, and pass for 6 yards per attempt; these are good for #11 and #9 in the country. These are good numbers, and they're basically unchanged from 2010. In fact, in almost every standard metric, the Texas defense in 2011 looks more or less like the Texas defense in 2010: interceptions, scoring, sacks, it's all basically a wash. Since the 2010 defense was allowing a paltry 4.6 yards per play, this is meant to be a compliment. However, there are some differences resulting from Texas Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz's almost incessant blitzing.
Manny Diaz more than just a blitz-happy fool. To paraphrase Wescott, Manny Diaz is indeed more than just a blitz happy fool. Although, it seems, if that's all he is, then he is a good blitz-happy fool. My favorite statistic from this last season is that a full 20% of rushes against Texas never made it back to the line of scrimmage, and 30% went for 0 yards or less. This is an astonishing number of negative runs. The difference in philosophy with Will Muschamp is most evidenced here, as the 2010 Texas defense only stopped a running back behind the LOS 2% of the time. These are substantive philosophical differences evidencing themselves in the data. I like it. You might expect that the flip side of the coin would be that Texas was giving up more long plays due to the aggressive nature of the blitz. This is only very slightly true: In 2011, the Texas defense allowed 2 more big plays (plays of greater than 10 yards) per game than in the year before. Furthermore, all of the difference is in the passing defense (+3 long plays per game allowed vs. 2010). The rushing defense was actually better at preventing big plays in 2011 (-1 long plays per game allowed vs. 2010). My intuition tells me that trading stopping 1/3rd of all rushing attempts behind the line with 2 big plays given up per game is a win for the Texas defense. I'd bet Diaz agrees.
The team-by-team breakdown. One relatively simple thing to do is to examine game-by-game defensive statistics. In the chart below is the defensive performance against each of Texas' 13 opponents. On the vertical axis is our opponents' yards per pass attempt; on the horizontal axis is yards per rush attempt. As a Texas fan, the farther a team is to the left and to the bottom the better. Keep in mind the averages are about 4 yards per rush and 6 yards per pass attempt -- right in the middle of that big cluster of teams. However, two absurd outliers are Oklahoma State and Baylor. Oklahoma State managed to exploit wide open running lanes and mistimed tackles on their way to averaging over 8 yards per carry. Baylor is the opposite story -- Robert Griffin absolutely torched the Texas secondary through the air at a video game clip of 15+ yards per pass attempt. Since he also led the country in yards per attempt at 10.7 (for some context, that is the highest mark for a QB in any of the last five years), I'm not terribly embarrassed by this. If only he had been good enough to play quarterback at Texas.
Adjusting for opponent quality. The natural thing to do is to consider how well Texas defended an opponent relative to the opponents' own averages. The plot below depicts these adjusted defensive performances; Texas' opponent's averages have been subtracted from their performance against Texas. So, for example, Rice averaged 1 more yard per carry against us than on average, but passed for 3 fewer yards per attempt than their season average. Let's examine what these numbers tell us. First of all, note that the relative positions on the chart of these teams don't change very much. In particular, I noticed that the Oklahoma game, as painful as it was to watch, was basically an average performance from the Texas defense (the offense on the other hand is a different story for a later date). Oh and Texas absolutely obliterated Kansas, with 40% of Kansas' rushing attempts not even making it to the line of scrimmage -- solid effort there.