Watching our team dominate Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl, I loved seeing our front 6 dominate the line of scrimmage against an ACC opponent. With the news that Josh Jones is going pro, and Bradley Chubb may soon follow, I wanted to look reflect on this year’s biggest success as a jumping off point for next year’s team. NC State’s defense was ranked number 4 nationally against the run in 2016, which is quite a feat, and it provides a great talking point for the coaching staff during final recruiting push.
But was our defense elite against the run in 2016, or is there more to the story when you sift through the numbers? According to www.teamrankings.com NC State played the 32 nd hardest overall schedule in 2016, and our out of conference strength of schedule was ranked 51 st . It should be noted that those rankings include our bowl game against Vanderbilt. Given how weak our out of conference schedule turned out to be this year, I decided to look at our 8 conference games this season and compare NC State’s defense to its peers. In my opinion, this was the best way to do an apples to apples comparison because these statistics were generated playing against the teams we are comparing NC State to.
In conference play, NC State was not the number one ranked rushing defense based on average rushing yards/game. Louisville was number one with 103.9 yards/game and NC State was second with 108.8yards per game in their 8 conference games. To NC State’s credit, they did hold teams to a 3.4 yards/carry average over those 8 conference games, which was the second best only behind Louisville.
It should be noted though, that NC State may have had the second lowest rushing yards per game because the NC State defense faced the fewest number of rushing attempts (258) in the ACC during conference play.
In terms of total defense in conference play, NC State was quite average, finishing at number seven with 403.1 yards per game. NC State had the second worst ACC pass defense at 294.4 yards/game, finishing only ahead of Pitt who gave up 360.8 yards/game in the air. NC State faced the second most pass attempts in ACC play (309), again only finishing ahead of Pitt (368). So, it is fair to say that ACC Offensive Coordinators chose to abandon the run game in favor of the passing game, picking on NC State’s passing defense that was ranked 9 th in ACC pass defense efficiency.
At the end of the day, the goal of the defense is to prevent the other team from scoring and in ACC play NC State gave up 25.9 points per game, good for 7 th in the conference, the same ranking we achieved in total defense based on yards/game. This mediocrity is even more amazing when you dig deeper into our red zone defense. Our red zone defensive efficiency was ranked 11 th in the ACC allowing opponents to score 87.9% of the time they entered the red zone. NC State actually gave up 135 points in the red zone, ranked tenth, only finishing ahead of Pitt, BC, UNC-Ch, and Syracuse. Only UNC-CH, Syracuse, and Pitt allowed more trips to the red zone in conference games than NC State. The one bright spot is that NC State had the lowest touchdown percentage of all of the ACC teams, at 48.5%, but opposing kicker were 13-14 in FG attempts, which leads us to a different discussion about kicking.
After reviewing the statistics, it is reasonable to conclude that the overall NC State defense was just average in conference play; the result of an above average run defense and a below average pass defense. If Dave Doeren wants to improve his 9-23 career ACC record or his 1-22*record against Power 5 Schools with a winning record, his coaching staff will need to improve the defense against the pass.
This may be a tall order given the loss of Josh Jones and potential loss of Bradley Chubb, who accounted for approximately 1/3 of NC State’s sacks in conference play.
*Possibly 2-22 if Wake wins their bowl game today.
Here is the referenced spreadsheet