Did the Buzzfeed-esque headline work? Well here is a too-long-didn’t-read version as compensation.
TL;DR – The numbers bear out the narrative that we have been an average ACC defense over the last 3 seasons, and our 2015 and 2016 OOC schedules made our defense look way better than what it really was, especially in ACC play.
First, let’s start off with the basic defensive stats from the last 3 seasons in addition to the national rankings:
So as you can see here, we had a top 30 nationally ranked defense in 2015 and 2016 in terms of total yards allowed per game. Additionally, we had a top 30 scoring defense in 2016. You will notice the numbers from 2017 do not appear to be as strong as the 2015 and 2016 numbers, but it should be noted NC State has 2 more games to play (UNC+Bowl) so there is the opportunity for these numbers to improve or worsen.
So why are the numbers worse in 2017? The simple answer is: because of the statistics from the 2017 out of conference (OOC) games. Overall, we played a stronger OOC this year than we did in 2015 and 2016. Additionally, 2016 had the Hurricane Matthew game to skew the stats in the favor of our defense.
The 2015 OOC featured Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion, and South Alabama which is very different from South Carolina, Notre Dame, Marshall, and Furman.
This is evident in the outcomes of the games (2-2 vs. 4-0) and in the underlying statistics from those games. The regular OOC schedule accounts for 4/13 games or 30% of the schedule, which means the regular season OOC can drastically affect defensive statistics on a per game basis.
In 2017, NC State’s defense has allowed 38% more total yards to opponents than in 2016, and 47% more points to regular season OOC opponents. The increase is more drastic if you compare 2017 to 2015.
So now we must discuss how we can more fairly assess NC State’s defense given the regular season OOC variability.
Yes, all Power5 Conference schools play cupcakes in their regular season OOC schedule.
Yes, the NCAA has changed the rules regarding OOC scheduling to reduce the number of cupcakes on the regular season OOC schedule.
The simple solution is to look at statistics only from ACC conference games, and to compare those stats to other ACC teams. This makes sense on many levels because every season we play 7 fixed opponents (UNC + Atlantic div) and 1 rotating Coastal Division opponent thus giving us a level of consistency. Additionally, the ACC is our peer group, so we should compare ourselves to the schools we are competing against each week on the field and off the field.
When you look at NC State’s defense vs. ACC opponents, a picture begins to emerge of a defense that is not in the upper 25% like the national rankings would suggest, but it is instead just an average ACC defense in terms of yards per game allowed and points per game allowed.
If you want to point out that the Atlantic Division is more competitive than the Coastal Division, I showed how NC State’s defense ranks compared to other Atlantic Division teams, with 7 being the worst team. Of note, over the 3 years, Syracuse consistently had the worst defense in the division.
As I outlined a year ago, teams are choosing to attack our defense with the pass instead of running the ball. In 2016 against ACC teams, NC State’s defense saw the fewest number of rushing attempts in conference, and in 2017 we have seen the second fewest.
Our defense is allowing a stingy 3.9 yards per carry in 2017, but that ties us with 3 other schools, and puts us ahead of 7 other schools. Just as in 2016, NC State’s defense is on pace to face one of the highest numbers of pass attempts in the ACC during the 2017 campaign.
Although the yards allowed per game has decreased slightly, it should be noted that there is a significant reduction in points per game allowed to ACC opponents over the last 3 years. This lends itself to the “bend don’t break” defensive narrative that surrounds Defensive Coordinator Dave Huxtable.
In 2017, NC State has the 3rd worst passing defense, in terms of passing yards allowed per game, BUT we are tied with Duke for 2nd best in the fewest passing TDs allowed (8) and we are in the middle of the pack for the number of rushing TDs allowed (11). So that is how you end up with a scoring defense in the middle of the ACC pack my friends.
*This is a guest post from friend of the program StatboyMatt. In future posts we will take a look at explosive plays and the record number of guys who have career days against Huxtable’s defenses.