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Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

2012 Sooners Season Preview: Tempering expectations about the defense

Brent Venables
C'mon - it wasn't that bad.

Guerin Emig, the Tulsa World's Oklahoma beat reporter, had an item about the Sooner D in his blog last week that drove me nuts.

Emig compared OU's pass defense from 1999 to 2003 when Mike Stoops first served as defensive coordinator with the period after he left (2004-2011). It's a good idea, especially given all the painful memories of the sSoner secondary getting torched all too often last fall. Unfortunately, Emig used OU's rankings in passing yards allowed as his baseline statistic for comparison, which provides a highly skewed picture of how the defense performed against the pass under Brent Venables since 2004.

Mike's first stint as defensive coordinator predates the spread revolution in the Big 12, which naturally inflated those aggregate passing stats for offenses and to the detriment of defenses. Here's a very simple illustration of how the shift in offensive strategy has played out using Big 12 stats from 2003 and 2011.

Big 12 Passing (2003, 2011)
Year Avg. Pass Attempts Yards per Attempt
2003 30.94 7.45
2011 35.56 7.53

On average, Big 12 teams threw five more passes per game in '11 than they did in '03. They did so with essentially the same effectiveness per attempt as they did back in the day. Even if you don’t believe the quality of offensive play has improved across the league since 2003 - they have - the sheer fact that the number of passes thrown per game rose almost invariably results in an increase in total passing yards allowed. That also doesn't account for the growing number of teams outside the Big 12 running the spread that have shown up on OU's nonconference schedule.

If the name of the game is just cutting down the total number of yards allowed through the air, there are a number of measures OU could take to accomplish that. The defense could loosen up and invite teams to run the ball all day. The offense could slow down its pace and run the ball more frequently. OU could stop winning so much, which forces opponents to throw the ball more when trailing.

The Big 12 has shifted to a pass-oriented conference. That doesn’t excuse Venables’ shortcomings, but they certainly haven’t been as glaring as misleading stats such as this would have you believe. In fact, some quants would have you believe OU’s pass D has been damn good in the last eight years.

Mike Stoops still carries his folk hero credentials in the Sooner State thanks to his work with OU’s defense. That was more than a decade ago now, though. Teams are going to throw the ball more and roll up more yards through the air as a result.

If you’re expecting to look through OU’s box score and see the same kind of defensive stats that everyone grew accustomed to in the early part of the decade, you’re setting yourself up for massive disappointment in Mike’s second defensive regime.