Like I did with the 2014 offensive stats, I reviewed the defensive stats to see if there were any particular stats that would improve our team the most. Unlike offense, almost every defensive stat was ugly. That was bound to happen when we had the coaching turmoil that we had last season and for the last several years for that matter on the defensive side of the ball. I defy anyone to uncover a team with a successful defense when changes at the defensive coordinator level happens for several straight years. Teaching, learning and implementing a new scheme every season will never be a recipe for success, no matter how much talent you have on the roster. Having said all of that, let's look at the stats.
As I mentioned everything is ugly. We were almost in the top half in the country in sacks which is the only semi-bright spot. The hope is that with an improved defensive line that we can at least maintain if not improve in that area but let's take a look at successful defenses from last season and find out if their are any stats that define their success. Turnovers seem to be a big topic of discussion with Gibbs coming board so let's start there.
I was not surprised, I was shocked to see where the top defenses ranked in turnovers gained. I figured they would rank much higher. I am focusing only on defense in this article, but I couldn't help to look at turnover margin as well, because my assumption was that if you don't turn it over as much you can live without creating as many turnovers. I was wrong about that as well. Let's move on to first and third down defensive ranks of the top defenses.
It is interesting to see that just because a team is good on first down doesn't mean they were successful on third down. My takeaway from this is that you have a much better chance of success by setting your opponent up in 2nd and long than relying on stops on third down. Teams can afford to give up a first down on third down if they are putting them in bad spots occasionally on first down. This leads me to look at tackles for loss. Sacks are included in TFL stats, but I included their rank separately as well as the difference between the two rankings.
This is more what I was expecting when comparing turnovers to top defenses. There is a similarity between TFLs and top defenses. An interesting note is that sacks count as TFLs, so while Tech did decent in the sack category, there was a difference of 28 spots between their sack rank and their TFL rank. Of the top defenses, only Michigan State had a bigger disparity between their sack rank and TFL rank. Basically this means sacks represent a larger share of Tech's TFLs last season than should have been. In a nutshell if weren't sacking the QB, we weren't creating negative plays. Let's look at it another way.
In most cases Tech is a full TFL (minus sacks) per game behind the top defenses. Now imagine that TFL was a negative three yard loss on first down versus Arkansas. We throw them off of their gameplan and the deck is in our favor. Lastly, this stat is more of personal touch on my part, but I wanted to look at time of possession and how it relates to top defenses. This makes complete sense in the fact that the less time an opponent has the ball the less time they have to score. At the same time, that has to affect your offensive output.
As you can see a few teams (Mich St & Wisconsin) had a high success in time of possession and offensive output, but by in large teams that possess the ball more put up lesser offensive numbers. I still contend that if we were to slow down our offense just a bit it would help our defense immensely. Granted we aren't going to turn into Arkansas offensively, but just slowing down between plays would help. The theory behind fast paced offenses is that we wear the opponent's defense out thus making our offense more successful. I would contend in our case, slowing down our offense would help our defense more than hurt the other team's defense based on our current lack of depth defensively.
The stats tell me that the biggest key to success for us in 2015 is winning first downs and that means more negative plays. While the stats are interesting to dig into there isn't a magic bullet to any of these stats. I wish there were, but all three facets of the team impact the success or failure of a team. Next week I will look at Gibbs' numbers from Houston the past three seasons to see how he was able to improve the Houston defense so dramatically from his first season to his third season.