After former Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong succeeded defensively with the Louisville Cardinals, but then failed in the spread-heavy Big 12, it’s fair to wonder how new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will fare after leaving the Houston Cougars.
It may be too early to make any fair conclusions about the state of the conference next year with so many unknown relating to who exactly will be going to the NFL and who will be playing college football next year.
There are questions about the ability of any replacements for departed players to fill the voids left for their respective teams. Despite all of this, here is a feeble attempt at how the Longhorn’s new 3-4 defense will fair against their conference opponents next year.
It is also worth stating that after watching the San Diego State game, Houston’s defense played extremely well against a good offense. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply trolling the board. A review of the game and any intelligent statistical analysis of that game will prove that, and there is really no reason to say more.
In order to assess how the Longhorns look against the Big 12 offenses, first a statistical comparison of the offenses must be performed. For this analysis, the offensive S&P+ rankings were used for the 10 conference teams.
Clearly, the Longhorns will not play themselves, but it is important to include them in the analysis for ranking purposes. The conference rankings through games played December 3 are as follows: Oklahoma (47), Texas Tech (40.1), Oklahoma State (39.1), Texas (35.3), West Virginia (34.6), TCU (33.8), Kansas State (32.8), Iowa State (31.6), Baylor (31.4), and Kansas (21.3).
A look at the three teams ahead of Texas reveals that all three have a significantly better passing S&P+ ranking than they do rushing. The qualifying criteria for “significantly better” is a 10-point difference in the passing versus rushing rankings.
Oklahoma had a difference of 38.3, Texas Tech 24.3, and Oklahoma State 11.1. While TCU, Kansas State, and Kansas had significantly better run games as defined by the same criteria (only a negative 10-point difference or greater), the only other team to have a significantly better passing game according to the S&P+ was Iowa State with a difference of 10.5.
At first glance, this data seems to support the conclusion that while competing with most of the conference will require a balanced defense, focusing on stopping both the run and the pass, competing with the top two teams in the conference will require additional focus on the passing game. However, further analysis into how the offenses operate situationally is required to fully analyze the data.
To perform this analysis, a standard down versus passing down comparison must be made. This compares the standard down S&P to the passing down S&P, then compares the differences to the differences in the overall S&P. This analysis reveals that Oklahoma’s overall performance relatively consistent between their success in standard versus passing down situations.
I personally attribute this to teams selling out to stop the run, and even focusing on the run game a little more than usual in passing situations due to the talent they have at running back.
Looking at the talent level and statistics, there is no denying the Oklahoma has the ability to beat a team both running the football and passing the football. In fact, they led the conference in both rush and pass S&P, but what I believe led to the difference in their two statistical categories was teams focusing on taking away the run, then minimizing the impact in the passing game versus Oklahoma.
With quarterback Baker Mayfield already slated to return to the Sooners in 2017 and the likely event that running back Joe Mixon will return to the team as well, the Sooners look to have an equally balanced and potent attack in 2017, despite having to replace wide receiver Dede Westbrook due to graduation.
A look at the Houston game from 2016 reveals that Oklahoma had only 70 rushing yards on 26 carries, with 32 coming on a single run. Mayfield, who had 13 carries for -1 yards did have 5 sacks, resulting in losses totaling 25 yards, so accounting for sacks, the Sooners had 95 yards rushing in the game.
It is also worth noting that although Oklahoma had 393 yards of total offense in the game, 221 of them came on the first four drives, each of which included a play of 30 yards or more. Take away those three plays and Oklahoma had 237 yards of offense on their remaining 57 plays for the game. Oklahoma gained 177 yards rushing against Ohio State, but it is worth mentioning that that is still 60 yards fewer than Oklahoma’s season average.
Both teams were successful pressuring Mayfield, with Ohio State holding the quarterback to a rating of 23.4, including two interceptions.
Now on to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had a pass efficiency 11.1 points higher than their rush efficiency, but looking at standard down efficiency versus passing down efficiency, they were dead even. From this analysis, it appears that the Cowboys benefit greatly from using the element of surprise by passing the ball in standard down situations. They run a fairly balanced offense, which makes it unpredictable and leads to success both in rushing and passing situations.
The Baylor loss was an outlier for this season, based on the three lost fumbles by Oklahoma State. In the loss to Central Michigan, the Cowboys were held to 50 yards rushing, with 28 coming off for sacks. That gives them a total of 78 sack adjusted rushing yards. In the Oklahoma game, however, the Cowboys were able to rush for 217 yards on 37 attempts, but their passing game was relatively ineffective, with Rudolph only completing 11 of 25 passes for 186 yards.
Without further boring anyone with further statistical analysis, we can move on to the point. The first point is that the top offenses in the Big 12 are not one dimensional. The league’s offenses can run the ball just as well as they pass the ball.
Teams have been successful in taking away either part of that game from the offenses. One major thing we can learn from the Houston win over Oklahoma game is that the new Texas staff will make the in-game adjustments needed to stop an opposing offense. They are game planners, and they understand how to adjust their game, both offensively and defensively, to limit an opponents strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
Houston’s S&P numbers from 2015 and 2016 reveal that Orlando focuses on a few major affects in his defense in order to bring success, as the rush defense had an efficiency of 130.5 in 2016 with a pass defense efficiency of 111.4. In 2015, the Cougars had a rush defense efficiency of 112.8 with a pass defense efficiency of 95.7. It is also worth noting that Houston had a much better efficiency in passing situations versus standard down situations in both seasons. Why?
Orlando plays the odds. His goal is to play rush defense in rushing situations, limiting the big plays in the passing game with deep safeties, and then use his multiple scheme to bring pressure from virtually anywhere on the field to confuse and pressure the offense into mistakes. It’s strategic, but it all starts with stopping the runs and explosive plays in standard down situations.
Basically, Orlando’s scheme looks to accomplish the following objectives:
- Stop the run in run situations
- Limit big plays
- Pressure and confuse in pass situations
- Win the turnover battle
Yup its that simple. Anyone reading this probably thinks that it sounds like good, old-fashioned football. It is. That’s it — stop the run, limit big plays, get pressure on the quarterback, and win the turnover battle.
If you build a defense based on those things, which Orlando has, it all comes down to execution. He has proven this system works in the past against great offenses, and it will continue to work as long as the plan is executed on the field.
Every coach on the Division 1 level understands the basics of coverage and gap control. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there. What makes Orlando unique is his ability to get pressure on the quarterback multiple ways. That all starts with getting the defense into a situation in which you can take a low-risk gamble, betting on the pass, and implementing a proper pressure/coverage combination for that scenario. This will result in explosive plays for the defense, turning field position and winning the turnover battle, which is a major way football games are won.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that Texas ranked No. 59 nationally, and fifth in the Big 12 last year in defensive S&P+. The ‘Horns were relatively balanced defensively, struggling at times with both the run and the pass. With that said, a lot of those struggles are due to youth, and should be corrected with another year of experience.
Texas only graduated one starter defensively, so growth should be seen in this area. There is no reason to expect that Orlando and his staff will have any trouble implementing his defensive scheme in the offseason, as he has been successful in doing this in previous positions.
Given the talent level of this team and the multiple options Orlando has for various positions within his system to get the right personnel on the field for the right game situation, better performance for in 2017 defensively is a reasonable expectation, regardless of the competition level.