FanPost

Hurry Up Defense (Part 1)

Are you ready to get your geek on? Oh, I know you are. Well, here comes a post that would make my math teacher in high school blush. Ok, not really. Actually if you can read a chart and understand what a percentage is, you’re good.

You’ve probably seen the theory that "offense affects defensive performance" before but, probably nothing like this. I have been working on this most of the season so, I realize there is a lot of stuff here. I had a lot of questions that I wanted answered so, I just kept digging and digging.

This is divided into 5 parts.

My goal here is much like Shakin The Southland. I want us to all better educated football fans (myself included) so that our grief, elation, and/or influence is (mostly) directed to the right areas. I also invite you to tell me what you think, let me know what I might could add to this, and where you think I’m wrong.

Sources: cfbstats.com, teamrankings,com, FootballOutsiders.com, Rivals.com

This post is about perspective.

This is not a "defending Kevin Steele" post. It’s an "It is what it is" post designed to help create perspective. It may not look like it at first but, I will try to show you that we should be doing better defensively but not necessarily in ways that show up on a National Ranking. I do not take issue with Kevin Steele being fired for job performance.

I’m also not trying to convince you that you didn’t see what you saw with your own eyes on a play-by-play basis on Saturdays. If you didn’t see that our defense had problems, you should probably seek litigation against your optometrist immediately. We can be better.

I know there are a few people out there that think Clemson’s defense should make the ’85 Bears look like the front row of an Adam Lambert concert every year. I might not be able to help you there.

Also, this is not about schematics or player assignments. Shakin The Southland has done an absolutely excellent job at explaining those issues we had under Steele. My goal here is to do the exact opposite and step as far back as I can and look at the big picture. I appreciate them allowing me to post all this here.

Ok, let’s get started.

As you already know, the big picture plan for Clemson to win games is for the offense to gas/stress/speed up the opposing defense, aggressively lengthen the game by number of plays and possessions, and impose our will against an abnormally fatigued and stressed defense.

Chad Morris’ wants "80 to 85" plays a game to create "5 Quarters" of football for the opposing defense and for his offense to be the aggressor.

The logical question is, "How do you play "5 Quarters" of offense and only "4 Quarters" of defense?" The most logical answer would be that you don’t. How do you intentionally speed up your own offense and at the same time, not give the ball back to your defense at a faster rate, not have them on the field longer, and not have them defend for more possessions per game?

The end result of Morris’ philosophy is that we were ranked 105th in the country (of 120 teams) in time of possession this year. In other words, our defense isn’t exactly over there drinking Gatorade and smoking a cigarette on the sidelines for extended periods of time like say, Alabama’s and LSU’s are.

This year, Clemson had 104 offensive drives that lasted under 2 minutes. By contrast, LSU had 54, Alabama 49, and South Carolina 59. In fact, we average 13.1 drives per game and more than half of our offensive possessions (7.4 per game) were less than two minutes long.

LSU by contrast averaged 10.8 drives per game and 3.8 drives under 2 minutes. That’s 3 less chances to score for the opposition per game and half of the "sudden change" situations that we have. This equates to less opportunity and more rest for their defense.

Alabama had 137 drives this year, 49 drives under 2 minutes, and 40 drives over 4 minutes long. Clemson had 181 drives, 104 under 2 minutes, and 18 drives over 4 minutes long. It’s clear that we have succeeded in both getting that "5th quarter" and creating one for our defense.

It seems though, that the tendency by everyone that watches football is to want to judge all defensive plays and series by every team across every year equally. Of course, football isn’t played in a vacuum.

If defensive play couldn’t be fundamentally broken down by fatigue and stress, there would be no "Hurry Up No Huddle" concept in the first place.

So, what is the actual quantitative effect on a defense that has to support an offense that runs a lot of plays, has shorter drives, and creates more possessions for the opposition?

I notice that a lot of people are fond of using National Rankings (and often only national rankings which is silly to me #NoVaccum) to judge success/failure, so why don’t we start there.

These are the top 10 teams from BCS (AQ) conferences in "offensive plays run per game" for 2011-12 in games against FBS schools (FCS matchups are removed). In the two right columns are their defensive rankings nationally in both "yards allowed" and "scoring."

Team

Natl. Plays
per game rank

Natl. Defense
Yards
rank

Natl. Defense
Scoring Rank

Texas Tech

1

114

117

Oklahoma

2

55

31

Baylor

4

116

113

Texas A&M

5

59

70

Iowa St.

7

95

82

Arizona

8

110

107

Northwestern

9

81

66

Clemson

10

71

81

Oklahoma St.

11

107

61

Washington St.

17

82

95

Averages

89

82.3

I’d like to add that over the last 5 years, the average defensive rankings for the top ten FBS teams in "offensive plays per game" is 62.6 in yards and 60.3 in scoring.

Ok, let’s continue examining the "faster the pace, the more of an effect it has on your defense" theory further. In fact, let’s look at the reverse of the above chart. Let’s examine the 10 best scoring defenses in college football this year in the same way.

2011 Team
(Overall,
no major conf.)

Natl. Plays
per game rank

Natl. Defense
Yards
rank

Natl. Defense
Scoring Rank

Alabama

97

1

1

LSU

118

2

2

Temple

108

13

3

Florida St.

111

4

4

Penn St.

80

20

5

Michigan

102

17

6

Virginia Tech

53

10

7

UCF

78

9

8

Rutgers

31

12

9

South Carolina

74

3

10

Averages

85.2

9.1

5.5

As you can see, this chart backs up the above chart and is probably even more convincing.

It’s very clear that: Running a lot of plays on offense increases the likelihood of poor statistical defense. No surprise there. In fact, the averages here suggest that we should expect our defense to be somewhere around the bottom half to bottom third nationally.

The next thing you should notice is that even with the West Virginia demolition, Clemson’s defense fits right in with the rest here and is performing statistically better than the averages in 2011. Note: Before West Virginia went medieval on us, Clemson was ranked 61st in yards and 66 in points.

I think we haven’t seen Clemson run an offense at this kind of pace before and our expectations should be different. Steele didn’t get the benefit of that perception this year but, the next guy should.

Statistically this is the worst defense in a long long time at Clemson. The charts above suggest that it certainly should be. Of course, there are other issues on the table as well.

Many predominant theories seem to suggest that Kevin Steele taught poor fundamentals; his scheme was too complicated; and that the top 20ish defenses the past two years were a mirage caused by great talent. I think there’s a lot of truth there. However, it can’t be considered the major problem because almost every school that runs a lot of plays has a DC with a similar problem. Many of these DCs, even more so than Steele, are proven successes in different situations.

The outlier above is Oklahoma, who is the only team here that ranks in the top half of the NCAA in yardage allowed and top third in scoring. On the surface, that seems like one hell of a defensive job. If you combine the chart above with the fact that they play in a conference where the average offensive rank is 35.3, it’s pretty impressive. For perspective, Clemson’s average opponent was ranked 60.2 (obviously the lower the number the better there).

The DC at Oklahoma is (with Bob Stoops oversight) Brent Venables, who was of course, a former candidate for the Clemson head coaching position. Good eye TDP? He pretty consistently has the top (or 2nd) rated defense among the top ten "average plays run" teams. Maybe we should borrow some defensive ideas from him…or just get him (#$$$).

Interestingly, one of Oklahoma’s losses was to the only team that ran more plays per game than them this year, Texas Tech. Texas Tech’s defense ranks a horrific114 and 117 nationally and they are, of course, coached by the notable defensive mind, Tommy Tuberville.

If you rely on the "coaching ability logic" to explain poor defensive performance for these type of teams…{Sarcasm Alert} Clearly, Tommy Tuberville’s cameo in the "Blind Side" has him way too Hollywood to remember how to coach defense. You can also see above that Mike Stoops of Arizona has forgotten how to coach defense as well and yet, Urban Meyer just tried to hire him to run his defense at Ohio State and Oklahoma just did hire him to be a co-DC with Venables.

Sadly, I should mention that Paul Rhoads at Iowa St. had an SEC defense at Auburn that ranked in the top 15 nationally just three years ago, but he has already forgotten how to coach. DC Mike Hankwitz of Northwestern had the #2 scoring defense at Wisconsin just 5 years ago but he too has already forgotten how to coach apparently. Oklahoma St. DC Bill Young took the defense from 77 to 31 in his first year two years ago but now has, you got it, forgotten how to coach (Note: OSU was 53rd in plays run that year. Now their defense is statistically worse but the team is better and finished #3 in the AP poll…More on Mr. Young in a minute). Texas A&M DC Tim DeRuyter will be forgetting how to coach defense with a pay raise as the head coach of Fresno St. next year.

So, you either believe that all of these formally successful defensive minds all have severe talent shortcomings on their roster, are incompetent schematically, or, there is a simple, broad, big picture answer for their futility: Their teams’ Offensive Philosophy.

Yes, teams have certainly had strong statistical defenses before while running a lot of plays up-tempo. It is just not likely and takes more than just a strong defensive performance.

Oregon finished 12th in scoring defense in 2010. Oregon 2010 only played 5 teams with a winning record (we played 8 last year). Their conference opponent’s average offensive ranking was 65.2 and they were #2 in the country in turnovers forced and also among the national leaders in turnover margin (7th) which helped their offense keep its foot on the gas. So, that proves that a National Championship caliber team in both talent and coaching (on both offense and defense), that forces an incredible amount of turnovers (37), with a favorable schedule can pull it off.

Some other outliers can be explained by overachievement by conference. Often, the outliers all come from the same conference, which of course, means that the offenses were probably down conference-wide that year. For example, the highest national defensive ranking in the past few years for Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma St. all came in the same year, 2009. Coincidence?

That year, the average rank of the Big 12 offenses dropped to their worst average offense ranking in the past five years of 55.1. For perspective purposes, the ACC offenses that season actually finished better with an average rank of 55.0.

In 2010, the Big 12 rebounded offensively to a 49.35 average ranking and then in 2011 the Big 12 had a ridiculous average offense ranking of 35.3 …and, of course, down went all the defensive ranks with it. This just pokes more holes in the validity of using only national rankings to evaluate OCs and DCs.

The perspective here that I take regarding Brent Venables is that his defenses produced a #9 ranking in what would’ve been a good year for ACC offenses (2009; Steele had the 27th against equally ranked competition) and dropped to #33 against what was an excellent year for Big 12 offenses (2011). From what I’ve seen statistically, this is not only good, it is consistently good. My only concern would be how much of this is a product of Stoops’ scheme and excellent talent?

The best performance I’ve seen, though, was by Kansas in 2007. The DC that year was the aforementioned Bill Young who is at Oklahoma St. right now. That team went 12-1 and beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Kansas ran the no-huddle and finished with the #4 ranked scoring defense.

Here’s the catch. Kansas was #1 in the country in turnover margin that year. They didn’t have to play Texas, Oklahoma, or Texas Tech that year. They only played 5 teams with a winning record, and out of 8 conference games, faced the 4 worst offenses in the conference that ranked 111, 111, 62, and 57. Their conference opponent’s average offensive ranking was still 52.5 though, which makes this the best defensive performance by a hurry-up team I’ve seen in the past 5 years.

Again, same thing as Oregon, for this to happen you need help. You need your conference opponent’s average offense to be north of 50, you don’t turn the ball over, and you have BCS level talent on both sides of the ball.

By the way, we were 66th in turnover margin this year which means we turned it over more than we could create turnovers. Our 24 turnovers on offense this year had us ranked 72nd nationally.

Who was #1 in turnover margin? Oklahoma State. Bill Young’s defense at Oklahoma St. forced 44 turnovers. That’s insane (Clemson created 23 turnovers in 2011) and I don’t believe it’s an accident either. They were 1st, 5th, and 11th in creating turnovers over the past three years.

Here’s a Bill Young quote on the subject, "Nobody in the country works harder in forcing turnovers than we do and it's been a point of emphasis for the last three years…After practice each day if we haven't created five turnovers against the scouts, we have to run a gasser for each one we didn't get."

So basically, Oklahoma’s State’s defensive rank says they are terrible, but the truth is that they have a winning system. That system has them creating 3.1 "sudden change" situations for their hurry-up offense per game. An already tired opposing defense then has to go right back out on the field and face the OSU hurry-up attack. Again, this happens 3 times per game on average.

The numbers seem to show that this is a bigger part of winning with HUNH football than national defensive rankings. I think that the reason is because the HUNH is what I like to call "Offense First" football. Our offense takes liberties from our defense that they would like to use (rest time, lower # of drives, time of possession) and uses them to create their own advantage. Hence, Offense First.

If the defense can flip the possessions, the offensive effectiveness can snowball. On the flipside, if the opposing defense is getting long rests between series (or the offense turns the ball over) the whole strategy can backfire…and that’s why many experts correctly identify it as "high risk football."

The defensive coordinator that takes a few chances, can dial up a big play, and turns over the opponent is best working with the offense to impose their HUNH philosophy (I’m not talking about crazy blitzkrieg every play or unsound football here either, I’m talking about taking more chances than normal and not always worrying about keeping everything in front of you).

If the defense takes chances and gets a stop or turnover, the offense is right back out the field. If the defense takes chances and gives up a big play, than the offense is still right back out on the field. What you cannot have, defensively, are long sustained drives that allow the opposing defense to rest.

This is also the reason why I don’t think we want a guy like Vic Koening paired with Chad Morris. Koening’s national rankings might look good but our offensive effectiveness, and thus our wins, would likely decline in a "bend but don’t break system."

By the way, Venables’ defenses at Oklahoma were ranked 11th, 8th, and 28th in forced turnovers in the past three years. We were 11th, 72nd, and 49th the past three years.

Steele called 40 blitzes in 73 plays against South Carolina and we forced 0 turnovers. Is Clemson’s lack of forced turnovers scheme or talent? I don’t know, but I want to find out.

Next, Part 2: Auburn

These opinions are not necessarily those of the Proprietors of Shakin' The Southland.

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