Gary Doran

Weekly Stat-Pac: Defense Week 9

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It’s All About the Score

This comes as no surprise, but Stanford is the leader in scoring defense again through Week Nine giving up an average of only 12.5 points per game. Utah is the next stingiest defense in giving up only 21.6 points per game. USC is third at 23.3 points per game.

ASU’s next opponent Utah is getting downright stingy in the first half, as they have only given up 58 total points in seven games this year. That’s just a bit more than a touchdown and a two-point conversion for an entire half. ASU isn’t doing too bad itself in only giving up 79 first half points so far this year. It helps that the Devils have shutout their last two opponents in the first half.

How bad are the defenses of California, Colorado and Washington State? Those three teams average scoring more than 36 points per game. That is more than a five-touchdown average in scoring per game, yet they have a combined eight wins and 16 losses for a 33.3 winning percentage. They are scoring that many points and yet only winning a third of their games, because the three together average giving up almost 40 points per game.

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Defense by the Yard

Stanford is the leader again in the conference in limiting opponents’ yards per game. After allowing ASU more than 350 yards two weeks ago, the Cardinal put the brakes on the Oregon State Beavers last week in only allowing 221 total yards. Notre Dame and ASU have been the only two teams to gain more than 300 yards against the Cardinal defense so far this year. Let’s see what happens this week against the offensive-minded Oregon Ducks.

The Ducks are a surprise on the defensive side in yardage surrendered, as they are giving up an average of over 460 yards per game so far this season. That is not an attribute of an elite team, no matter how good the offense appears to be. That type of defense can lose some games for you when the offense isn’t totally clicking, just ask the Wildcats.

After two good defensive games over the past two weeks, ASU has now joined Stanford as the only two defenses in the conference to have back-to-back games in which they held opponents under 300 total yards. Week Nine saw five different teams gain 500 or more yards against Pac-12 defenses. That means over 40 percent of the defenses in the conference gave up at least 500 yards in their games this past weekend.

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First Defense

The Stanford Cardinal defense only gave up 12 first downs to the Beavers last weekend. That’s roughly half of what they allowed the week before to ASU. That effort kept Stanford at the top of the conference in not allowing opponent first downs. The Cardinal defense is allowing just over 15 first downs a game and making opponents take 4.4 plays in order to gain a first down. ASU and Utah are next in that both are making opponents run 3.6 plays before giving up a first down. On the generous side, California is only making opponents run 3.0 plays before giving up a first down, while Arizona and Colorado are giving up a first down, on average, once every 3.1 plays.

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Third Time’s a Charm (A New Graph)

Stanford, Oregon State and USC all three keep opponents from gaining a first down when they are in a third down situation roughly two-out-of-three times. Interestingly, the Oregon Ducks allow opponents to gain a first down in almost half the third down situations. That is the most generous in the conference. Utah and Washington State are the only other conference teams to allow a first down in a third down situation in greater than 40 percent of the time.

This week, we looked at the number of plays each of the defenses have faced to date, and then how often teams get opponents into third down situations. The smaller the number, the sooner an opponent is facing a third down situation. At Week Nine, Stanford is doing the best getting opponents into third down situations at once every 4.11 plays. Surprisingly, ASU is second in this new metric getting opponents into a third down situation once every 4.52 plays. Utah is third at once every 4.58 plays. It’s good these teams get opponents into third down situation quickly, and then the next step is to stop the third down play from gaining a first down.

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TFLs – A Lost Cause

Week Nine saw more TFLs by the conference defenses than any other week so far this year. The amount was helped significantly by the ASU-Washington slugfest in which the two teams registered over 30 percent of all the TFLs for the week. ASU led the conference this week with the most TFLs at 13, followed closely by Washington with 12 TFLs.

Utah leads the conference with a TFL once every 8.3 plays by its opponents. Stanford is next with a TFL once every 8.8 plays. ASU is third with a TFL once every 9.2 plays. In the last three games ASU has played, the defense has averaged over nine TFLs per game, which ties Utah for the most TFLs in that span. At the opposite end of the scale, California is averaging a TFL only once every 17.7 plays. UCLA is next only registering a TFL once every 14.5 plays.

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Sack It Up

Utah again leads the conference in the number of sacks per pass attempt at one sack every 7.8 attempts. Washington is next with one every 8.5 pass attempts, while Stanford is third with a sack once every 9.7 pass attempts. As a note, ASU is a distant fourth with a sack once every 13.4 pass attempts.

At the other end of the spectrum, Cal only registers a sack once every 33.5 pass attempts. UCLA is next with a sack only once every 32.3 pass attempts. Last week, three teams, California, Colorado and UCLA did not register a sack in their games. Since Colorado and UCLA played each other, it means that there were a total of 85 pass attempts between the two teams without one sack.

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Turnover Beethoven

For as solid as the Stanford defense plays, it is surprising how few turnovers the Cardinal defense creates. They are tied for next to last with Colorado in takeaways, with only eight in eight games. On a per play basis, Oregon State leads the conference in getting a turnover once every 33.6 plays. Washington is next with a turnover once every 38.2 plays. Utah is third with a turnover once every 42.3 plays. ASU is tied with California in creating the most turnover in the past two weeks with five. In the same time, Stanford is the only conference team not to create a turnover. Also, last week saw the most turnovers by the conference teams since the first week of the season.

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Red Zoning Out

There are three conference teams that have kept opponents from scoring red zone touchdowns more than half the time opponents enter their red zones, Washington, USC and Stanford. ASU is just outside that in only allowing 52 percent of the opponents’ red zone trips to end in a touchdown. Even though Utah has a stellar defense, the Utes are allowing over 70 percent of their opponents’ trips into their red zone to end in a touchdown. The positive aspect to this is that the Utah defense isn’t allowing many trips into their red zone, less than two and a half per game.

A team that is somewhat generous in allowing teams to enter their red zone and then score a touchdown is the Arizona Wildcats. They allow just under 70 percent of opponent red zone trips to end in a touchdown. Oregon is not far behind allowing just under 69 percent of red zone trips to end in a touchdown. Also, Oregon is right there with Colorado and California in the high number of red zone touchdowns their defense has allowed. As a comparison, ASU and Utah have allowed roughly half the red zone touchdowns that those three teams have allowed so far this year.

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Havoc Rate (the aggressive defenses)

In Week Six when we first started tracking the Havoc Rate, ASU stood at a 16.62 percent rating. Since that time, they have increased their rating to 20.36 percent. That is a 3.74 percent increase. Over the same time period, the next highest increase is UCLA with a meager 0.75 percent bump. In fact, seven of the twelve conference teams have seen their Havoc Rates decrease since we started tracking the rates back in Week Six. When we started tracking, ASU was 10th out of 12 teams in the conference in their Havoc Rate. As of Week Nine, the Sun Devils have moved up to sixth, right behind number five Oregon State.

The Stat-Pac articles have highlighted the conference’s performance in TFLs and sacks, but how are the teams doing with the other measurable that make up the Havoc Rate? Washington leads the conference in forced fumbles with 13. The next closest is Oregon with nine. Oregon State and USC lead the conference in interceptions with nine. The top spot for pass breakups belongs to Oregon with a total of 44 in eight weeks. That’s 5.5 per game.

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Havoc Rate developed by Bill Connelly at Football Outsiders

Next ASU Opponent: Utah

Here is a look at ASU’s next defensive opponent Utah comparing how the team has done so far this year versus the results from all of 2013.

Points allowed per game….2014—22……..…..2013–28
Yards allowed per game…..2014—377…..……2013–398
Turnovers per game…….….2014—1.9……..…2013–1.3
Giving up red zone TDs…….2014—71%……….2013—58%
3rd down conversion rate…2014—42%……….2013—36%
Completions % allowed…….2014—60%……….2013—59%
Havoc Rate……………….…..2014—25.6%…….2013—21.1%

This is the third week in a row that ASU will be facing a defense that is putting up better numbers than it did the previous year. Utah is doing much better in holding down the scoring compared to last year’s squad with a decrease of roughly a touchdown and missed PAT. They are also allowing roughly 20 fewer total yards per game. This year’s Utah squad is getting a few more turnovers, but holding opponents’ red zone touchdowns success and third down conversions are not as good. Overall, the Utes appear to be a stingier defense than the one that virtually shut down the ASU offense last year. We’ll see what happens late Saturday evening.

Let us know what you think of our weekly Stat-Pac for the defenses in the conference, and also our new Havoc Rate. Impacting the opponent’s offense and quarterback is a mainstay of a Todd Graham defense, and why we began tracking the Havoc Rate for ASU and the conference.

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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