Gary Doran

Pac-12 South Defenses: Stopping Opening Drives

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Recently, we published an article on the offensive productivity of the South Division teams on their very first drive of the game and also the first one after halftime (the two opening drives). We are now back looking at how those same South Division teams did on the defensive side of the ball against their opponents’ opening drives at the beginning of the game and the first drive after halftime. Let’s take a look.

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The Sun Devils are extremely stingy against opponents’ opening drives of the game. ASU has forced their opponents to punt on all eight of the opening game drives this season, and have limited those drives to only 2.63 yards per play. That’s the lowest per play amount of any other South Division defense for either the beginning of the game or the drive right after halftime.

The opening drives after halftime are another story for the Sun Devils. In eight drives to start the second half, opponents have scored four times. In the four games up through the UCLA debacle, ASU gave up a field goal and a touchdown in four opening drives after halftime. Since the UCLA game, the new defense has also surrendered a field goal and a touchdown in four opening drives after halftime. Thus, opponents are scoring against the ASU defense half the time coming out of halftime.

Another issue is the big margin between the yards per play given up in the first quarter opening drives and the yards per play on opening drives after halftime. There is over a four yard per play difference, which is almost double the beginning of the game opening drives. The per play average after halftime is a bit skewed because of the one-play 80 yard touchdown pass in the UCLA game. If that one play were removed, the average would drop from 6.81 to 5.37 yards per play. That’s still high, but a little more respectable.

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Arizona mirrors ASU a bit in that there is a significant difference between the results of the opening drives of the game and the ones coming out of halftime. The Wildcats give up almost two yards more per play in the opening drives after halftime than they do in the opening drives to start each game. They have also given up four touchdowns in eight opening drives after halftime. Three out of four of those second half touchdown drives ate up double-digit plays and their opponents marched more than 70 yards on each drive.

Arizona gave up more points in the drives after halftime than any other South Division team in any of the opening drives. Arizona also faced more plays than the other division foes. The Wildcats averaged facing 7.3 plays per drive from opponents. They also gave up more total yards on the opening drives than all but one other division foe – Colorado.

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The Bruins have forced a punt in over 70 percent of the opening drives they faced so far this year. Like every other division team, the Bruins allowed more yards per play in drives after halftime compared to those at the beginning of their games, however, the difference was just over a quarter of a yard per play. Also, the Bruins didn’t allow a scoring drive to happen in over 70 percent of the opening drives against them; only three touchdowns and two field goals.

Only three teams, ASU, Oregon and Arizona were able to drive ten plays or more in opening drives against the Bruins. Additionally, almost 40 percent of the opening drives against UCLA resulted in a three-play and a punt series. ASU was the only team to score on the Bruins on both opening drives, however, both drives ended in field goals. Colorado, on the other hand had a three-play and a punt series on both opening drives against the Bruins.

USC-300x98 The Trojans faced three drives in which their opponents missed a field goal attempt. Two of those misses happened against Stanford. Those missed field goals helped USC hold opponents to just one touchdown and one field goal in 18 opening drives, which was the lowest points allowed on opening drives in the division. USC, along with ASU were the only South Division teams to hold opponents scoreless during either an opening game drive or after halftime opening drive.

USC gives up the second lowest yards per play on opening drives in the division. Additionally, the Trojans and the Bruins were the only South Division teams to face fewer plays in opening drives after halftime compared to those in the opening drive at the beginning of their games. The only touchdown USC gave up so far this year happened in the opening drive after halftime in the very first game of the year against Fresno State. That means, the Trojans have faced 16 opening drives since then and have only surrendered a field goal against ASU.

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The Utah Utes are the stingiest South Division team when combining both the opening game drives and those after halftime. In all the opening drives Utah has faced, they have allowed just 3.6 yards per play. That’s the lowest by a wide margin for the South Division. The Utes have only allowed three scoring plays in 16 drives, with the only touchdown given up in the first game of the year against Idaho State. Utah has limited opening drives to zero yards or less in five out of 16 drives they have faced.

The Utes faced 16 more plays in the opening drives after halftime compared to those in the opening game drives. That’s more than a 40 percent increase in plays. Even though they have faced more plays in after halftime opening drives, Utah still limited opponents to just over 3.5 yards per play then. ASU’s opening drive after halftime against the Utes last weekend was the longest opening drive that Utah had given up since the one against Idaho State in their first game of the season. Utah was able to cause four turnovers in the 16 opening drives they have faced. That is one out of every four opening drives. The Utah defense means business.

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The Colorado Buffalos have allowed opponents to score points on eight out of 18 opening drives so far this season. In opening drives after halftime, Colorado’s opponents have averaged over ten yards per play and almost eight yards per play in the opening game drives. Six out of the nine teams Colorado has faced this year scored on at least one of the two opening drives in their games.

In the 18 opening drives so far this season, only three of them have been a three-play and a punt series. Additionally, the 18 opening drives against the Buffaloes have averaged almost 43 yards for each drive. This season, Colorado has only forced punts in one out of every three opening drives. Clearly, the opening drives in each half are not going well for the Buffaloes.

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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