Texas a Top-Five Defense

Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz likes to focus on advanced metrics when judging defenses.

And it makes sense. With the whole Bill Jamesian statistics movement, all sports are seeing a numerical revolution of sorts. Baseball has statistics like OPS+, which not only adds on-base percentage to slugging, but then filters it for the ballpark in which the player played, and through leave averages. Basketball has used metrics like plus-minus, simply enough, the measure of how much better, or how much worse, a team is with a certain player on the court.

And statisticians are always tinkering. Before OPS+, there was OPS — on-base plus slugging — at one time considered an advanced metric. And Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has suggested that the Rockets use a tweaked plus-minus that varies from simply adding and subtracting point margins.

All of which brings us to an outstanding Football Outsiders metric that measures a defense's success on a play-by-play basis, while also looking at play explosiveness, caliber of competition, field position and situation. It's called the S&P+

According to Football Outsiders, there are three main components to the S&P+ rankings: Success Rate, EqPts Per Play (PPP) and opponent adjustments.

Success Rate measures whether a team gains 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

PPP determines the point value of every yard line, and assigns a value to every play of a given game. So scoring from the 40 would be worth more points than scoring from the 20.

Opponent adjustments is a schedule-based adjustment that rewards teams for playing tougher schedules.

And the stats are only looked at in competitive games, defined by Football Outsiders as being within 24 points in the first quarter, 21 points in the second quarter and 16 points in the second half. There are other nuances that we won't get into here, but I'll encourage you to follow that link to learn even more.

By standard measures, the Longhorns were a top-third defense last year. The Longhorns were 33rd nationally in scoring defense and just outside of the top-10 (No. 11) in total defense. No big deal, right? I mean, just the previous year, the Longhorns were No. 6 in total defense.

Except that, by the S&P+, last season was the best defense Texas has fielded, dating back to the statistic's first year, in 2005.

That's not a typo. Last season, Texas had the fourth-best defense in the country according to the metric, barely topping a fifth-place finish in 2008. And the 136.2 rating was the Longhorns' best over that seven-year period. Texas was ninth in 2005, 29th in 2006, 21st in 2007, fifth in 2008, ninth in 2009 and 20th in 2010.

Only Alabama, LSU and Boise State had better defenses in 2011, three teams that combined to go 37-3 last year. And the Longhorns did it by following the Diaz philosophy: winning running plays and then smothering teams on late downs. Texas was third in the country against the run, just behind Alabama and Boise State. And when Texas was able to force teams into passing downs — second down with eight or more yards to go or third or fourth down with five or more yards to go — the Longhorns were second only to the National Champion Crimson Tide.

While those were the strengths, Texas was pretty hardy all around on defense. The Longhorns were eighth against the pass, and were eighth on standard downs — defined as any non-passing down. And they were tops in the Big 12 in each of those categories but one. Oklahoma was No. 3 nationally on standard downs.

It's also interesting to note that a team like Oklahoma State comes out pretty well according to those ratings. The Cowboys were maligned for their offense, a somewhat unfair charge given that the offense's tempo put them on the field a lot. The Cowboys had the No. 17 defense in terms of S&P+ nationally, and the third-best Big 12 defense, one spot ahead of Texas A&M.

So for all of the talk about the poor Big 12 defenses, the conference placed four in the top-18 teams in S&P+, just as many as the vaunted SEC. The SEC did have three top-five defenses: Alabama (1), LSU (2), and Georgia (5), but just one other in the top 25. The Big 12 had Texas (4), Oklahoma (7), Oklahoma State (17) and Texas A&M (18).

Diaz has talked about winning each individual play, stuffing the run and then putting teams into unmakeabe long situations. If the Longhorns continue to meet his standards, they should have another top-10 defensive season … and maybe next year it will be by the more "mainstream" measures as well.

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