Gary Doran

Analysis of Opponent Scoring Against Todd Graham’s Defenses ’06-’16


The 2016 season has come to an end, and again, the ASU defense gave up too many points, yards, big plays, you name it. To search for some answers to the defensive woes, ASU Devils Den decided to look back over the points given up each game by the eleven teams coached by Todd Graham starting with the 2006 Rice team through the 2016 Territorial Cup game.

Our analysis left off nine games that were against lower division teams, and also the bowl game for Pittsburgh after coach Graham left the program.  A total of 134 games were analyzed from coach Todd Graham’s teams with the following results:


There isn’t much difference between the two different defensive coordinators under Todd Graham in his eleven-year tenure. There is only a six-percent difference between the two in terms of the average points per game each had given up in their time as his coordinators.  The winning percentage is fairly close for the two also.

recordsThe opponents’ records are the season records minus the games against Graham’s teams

The big thing to notice is the opponents’ record against Graham’s Tulsa teams. In his four seasons there his teams won 66-percent of their games against like competition, however, those opponents had a winning percentage against other teams of only 47-percent. On the other hand, the competition against his ASU squads have been against teams with an overall win-loss record against other competition of 58-percent.


One thing that is not shown in the table is that in 134 games, no Graham coached team has shut out an opponent. Additionally, only about one in twelve games kept an opponent scoring ten points or less. In fact, there were as many games where the opponent scored more than 50 points as was held to ten points or less.


It is interesting that with three of the four programs Todd Graham has coached, the average points his defenses allowed per game is very similar between the games they lose (Pitt was the exception). As poor as the ASU defense has been the last two years, the overall average scores allowed when they lose a game is actually less than it was at Tulsa. The big difference was that there were fewer losses at Tulsa.  The defenses at ASU averaged allowing about half the points when they won, as when they lose.


Almost half the teams playing against Graham’s Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh teams won only five games or less in their seasons against the rest of their competition. For his ASU teams, only 30-percent of the games were against teams that won five games or less in a season against other competitors.

One very positive aspect for Graham’s ASU squads is that in games against teams that won between seven and nine games against other competition, he won 53-percent of those games, whereas at his other three stops combined, he only won 33-percent of those games.


Over the last five years, when Graham’s ASU teams faced an opponent that won 10 or more games against its other competition, his teams gave up an average of almost 42 points per game. Also, it was almost 40 points per game at the other three stops. A telling stat is that against teams with five or less wins a season against other teams, Graham’s teams still averaged giving up almost 26 points per game. Most of those teams had losing records for the season and still averaged scoring roughly 26 points against a Todd Graham coached team.

What the Numbers Mean

First, the comparison of the two defensive coordinators reveals what we all knew; Todd Graham has always been the real defensive coordinator of his teams. The numbers above helped prove that out.

The second item of interest is that the positive results for Todd Graham’s teams before arriving at ASU may have been helped by the fact that those teams played so many other teams that didn’t win all that many games. So many of the teams his squads played prior to arriving at ASU had losing records against the other teams (423-439).

The third item is that Todd Graham coached teams have always given up a lot of points per game, except one season at Pittsburgh. Also, the better the opponent, the more points his defense allowed. The numbers also point out that even against opponents that didn’t win a lot of games in seasons past, his teams still gave up a fair amount of points. There were no shutouts, and in the 134 games he has coached, there were only six times his defense held opponents to just seven points, and those six teams had a combined winning record against other competition of only 40-percent.

A fourth item the numbers seemed to reveal, is again, something we all knew; the competition Todd Graham has faced at ASU is much better than at his other previous stops. That is why the average points allowed by his defenses at ASU is about 15-percent higher than in the games before he arrived here. The competition he has faced at ASU won 58-percent of their games against other opponents, whereas prior to arriving at ASU the competition his teams faced won only 49-percent against other opponents.  It’s understood that the division levels were different, but it also shows that the teams he faced before his ASU job didn’t do as well against the same level of competition.

Simply put, a college football coach is paid to win games.  While Graham has a certain style he’d like his defense to adhere to, results are the bottom line.  While it would be nice for Graham’s teams to be among the conference leaders in scoring defense, it still comes down to results.  And with local media and Sun Devil Nation now questioning Todd Graham’s job security after his fifth season in Tempe, you’d have to assume this is a problem he’d want to correct sooner rather than later if he plans on far surpassing the tenures of any of the coaches hired by the school over the past 20 years.

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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