The Tremendous Improvement of Baylor's Defense in 2013

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

We've talked a lot about the offense this year for obvious reasons. Now it's time to give Phil Bennett's defense some time in the spotlight.

My plan is to do this a couple of different ways, starting with the more widely-known traditional stats.  Know going in that we're not really comparing apples to apples here-- the teams being compared obviously play different schedules and have, in some places, completely different players.  Even the conference opponents we played both years are, in some situations, very different from one year to another.  Still, the point of this is to see just how far Baylor has come, and as flawed as the stats are, they probably show that pretty well.

I tried to find as many categories as I could that might show something we could use.  The numbers outside the parenthesis are ranks; inside are the absolute values (or percentages) for a given stat.  For the change column, I used + to mean a positive change, - to mean negative.

Traditional Stats:

Category

2012

2013

CHANGE

Total Defense 119 (502.23)
17 (344.0)
+102 (+158.23)
Yards Per Play 6.05 4.53 +1.52
Scoring Defense 110 (37.23)
19 (21.2)
+91 (+16.03)
Passing Defense 119 (323.54)
23 (207.8)
+96 (+115.74)
Rushing Defense 78 (178.69) 25 (136.3) +53 (+42.69)
Pass Eff. Defense 87 (139.34) 8 (105.97) +79 (33.37)
Red Zone Defense 67 (83%) 12 (73%) +45 (+10%)
First Downs Defense 120 (344) 15 (213) +105 (+131)
Interceptions 12 (18) 13 (17) -1 (-1)
Sacks 96 (1.46) 25 (2.67) +71 (+1.21)
Tackles for Loss 103 (4.46) 7 (7.9) +96 (+3.44)
3rd Down Defense 119 (52.11%) 21 (46.7%) +98 (+6.04)
Plays > 10 yards 123 (230) 9 (132) +114 (+98)

So that's pretty incredible.  Baylor's defense improved by double, sometimes triple, digits in every categories except interceptions.  Once one of the two worst defenses in the country by total defense, now the Bears were in the top 20.  They were also in the top 25 against both the pass and the run.  If you spend enough time looking at the "change" portion of this chart, it might actually make you crazy.  I'd upload a pretty graph if I wanted all your heads to explode simultaneously.  I might still do that.

It's truly astounding how much Baylor was able to improve in some of these areas, including plays over 10 yards allowed, tackles for loss, and first downs allowed.  Sure, the 2012 numbers were drawn out over 13 games versus just 12 this year, but the point remains.  In the normalized stats like total, rushing, passing, red zone, and third down defense, the improvement is simply undeniable.  We saw last year what happens when a good offense has to constantly overcome a bad defense.  This year, we had an elite offense and a legitimately good, if not great, defense.  Phil Bennett deserves a Nobel Prize.

Advanced Stats:

Remember, you can mouse over the categories on the left for explanations.

Category

2012

2013

CHANGE

Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk
85 (.238) 19 (-.395)
+66 (+.633)
Raw OE/DE
114 (.430) 17 (-.389)
+97 (+.919)
First Down Rate 109 (.755)
9 (.571) +100 (+.184)
Available Yards Rate 109 (.561)
16 (.367) +93 (+.196)
Explosive Drives 105 (.189)
43 (.107) +62 (+.082)
Methodical Drives 120 (.210) 13 (.107)
+107 (+.103)
Value Drives 102 (.480) 20 (.300)
+82 (+.180)
Offensive/Defensive S&P+
60 (99.0) 15 (127.5)
+45 (+28.5)
Play Efficiency
85 (94.7)
23 (114.0) +62 (19.3)
Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 69 (98.7)
27 (112.6) +42 (+13.9)
Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 90 (89.9) 21 (120.6) +69 (+30.7)
Rushing S&P+ Rk 71 (96.3) 26 (114.7) +45 (+18.4)
Passing S&P+ Rk 77 (94.6)
29 (113.3) +48 (+18.7)
Drive Efficiency 45 (108.5)
13 (141.0) +32 (+32.5)
Difference in Net Points
49 (-.652)
13 (-2.03) +36 (+1.378)

Now we get to the stuff I really love: FootballOutsiders' advanced metrics.  Once again Baylor improved by double digits in every single category and by triple digits in a few.  Where last year, we gave up either a first down or a touchdown on 75.5% of opponent drives, we did so this year on just 57.1%.  We improved a similar amount, nearly 20%, in the available yards given up on each drive.  Explosive drives, while still a bit of a weakness this year, went down nearly 10% from 2012.  The percentage of methodical drives allowed was cut in half.  Far from bend-but-don't-break, Baylor's defense neither bent nor broke on the vast majority of drives, giving our offense the ball back quickly when things were going well and giving us time to regroup when they weren't.

There's not really much more I can add to these charts than the numbers themselves.  Some, particularly the raw numbers in the S&P portion of the graph, probably don't make sense without context and across years.  That's fine.  In this situation, the ranks themselves communicate enough meaning.

If you have questions about what any of the numbers mean or anything up here looks wrong to you, feel free to let me know in the comments.  The point I was trying to make in this post is that we probably saw one of the great turnarounds in CFB history this year on the defensive side of the ball, something that seems to have gone largely unappreciated in both the general narrative of the sport and the specific just about Baylor.  Hopefully, if more people see just how far this defense has come, that will change.  You're talking about a unit among the very worst in so many ways last season that became one of the very best.

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