One Last Look at the Defenses

The relative value of the two defenses in this BCS title game has been the most pervasive and contentious debate. It’s what both teams have been mouthing off about the most, and it also is perhaps what has inflamed message boards the most (other than the generic Conference Wars woofing).

Something I’ve see brought up a lot in recent days is that one reason why Oklahoma gives up more points and yards than Florida does is because of the fast pace of its games. More plays per game means more points and yards allowed, you see. Another thing I’ve heard is that Oklahoma tends to give up a lot of points when the game is out of hand, skewing their numbers.

I went through the play-by-play of each teams’ games (throwing out each’s game against a I-AA opponent) to see how much this was true.

I counted up how many full drives each faced. I threw out any drives that ended halves with something other than a score or punt from the drive count totals.

I also counted up how many yards and points each defense surrendered. Defensive penalty yards were included in the yardage count because it would have taken too long to pull them out. Plus those are yards the defense allows the offense to move, so they are relevant in that sense.

The twist is that I recorded what the point margin in the game was at the time the yards and points were given up. That way, I could draw some sort of conclusion on the part about Oklahoma giving up a lot of points when the game was out of hand. For points, I recorded the margin before they were scored. So for example, if a touchdown was allowed when the game was 14-0 in favor of OU or UF, the recorded margin goes down as 14.

What makes a competitive game is subjective of course. However, in my casual observation I have noticed that teams generally don’t change their strategy until the opponent’s lead is more than 14 points. That can change as the course of the game goes on, but they certainly do change strategy when the lead is more than 21. Those became the two benchmarks for the “out of hand” analysis.

Here is a handy table organizing my findings:

Defense, Oklahoma and Florida
Oklahoma Florida
Drives 156 136
Points 301 153
% Drives Scor 29.5% 18.4%
% Drives TD 24.4% 9.6%
Yards/Drive 31.27 23.29
Points/Drive 1.93 1.13
% Pts, 14 & under 45.8% 45.8%
% Pts, 21 & under 52.8% 56.9%

So it was true that Oklahoma had to defend more drives than Florida did. Twenty more, to be precise. You can see in the yards and points per drive what happens when you smooth out the difference in drive count. The yardage difference is there but not great, but the Sooners allow almost a full point per drive more.

We can also see that Oklahoma allowed its opponents to score on almost 30% of their drives, as compared to Florida’s defense allowing opponents to score on just 18% of their drives. You can also see in the next row that OU allows touchdowns quite a bit more often than Florida does. That fact is something that can be attributed to the Gators’ incredible red zone defense and its propensity to hold teams to field goal attempts.

The real juicy stuff comes on the last two rows. Each team allows the same proportion of its points when they lead by 14 or fewer points, and the difference when the margin was 21 or less is only very slight.

So while Oklahoma gives up a good number of its points when the game is out of hand, Florida basically gives up the same percentage of its points when the game is out of hand too. Because of that fact, you then have to go back to the chicken-or-egg fight about offensive and defensive strength in the two conferences to settle this one once and for all. That battle is not something I intend to get into here, because there is no ultimate, satisfying answer.

The Sooner players have done an admirable job at defending their defense, and some others have brought up some interesting points about game pace and the timing of when points
are given up.

However, those arguments don’t cut it when it comes to explaining why Oklahoma gave up more points than Florida did this season.

Appendix

If you prefer graphics and pretty colors, here are pie charts for what the margin is when these two teams give up their points.

ou-points

florida-points

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