I wanted to take a bit of a different look at the Texas defense, and I feel like FootballOutsiders.com's S&P+ statistic — and the split-out statistics that accompany it — gives us a chance to do just that. Some of this may come as a surprise, while some will simply reinforce what we already knew. But here are three general points to consider when looking at the Texas defense.
Level of Competition
This is the primary benefit of S&P+, being able to take the statistics adjusted for the competition you're playing. Because let's be honest: total yards and scoring offense is pretty relative. If you allow 400 yards and 25 points to Kansas, your coach is probably pretty infuriated. If you allow 400 yards and 25 points to Oklahoma State or West Virginia, he's probably taking a champagne bath.
And, simply put, this is what's saving the Longhorns' dinner as far as S&P+ goes. The Longhorns have the nation's No. 12 defense (and the Big 12's No. 2 defense) by the advanced metric, but largely because of the competition they've played. Take out that element, and you'd see a vastly different story.
There are three main components to S&P+. The first is success rate. Simply put, this is a measure of how many plays were successful, versus how many plays were run. FootballOutsiders uses a bit of a different metric than some here: it takes an offense getting 50 percent of the necessary yardage on first down to be a successful play, whereas a lot of success rates only require four yards on first down to be successful. Second down is 70 percent of the necessary yardage, and the obvious 100 percent on third or fourth downs.
The second is EqPts Per Play, a point value associated to every play of a game, based on the yard-line. This adds an explosiveness measure. Because while four yards might not be a successful play on first down by this measure, it's not exactly the same kind of failure as a two-yard loss. Just as a six-yard success isn't the same as a 20-yard success.
And the third is the opponent adjustment, basically measuring production versus expected production, given the opponent.
And while games against West Virginia (No. 1 nationally in offensive S&P+), Ole Miss (5) and Oklahoma State (6) have given the Longhorns a massive upgrade in the last category, Texas's results have been less than stellar with the non-adjusted data.
Texas is allowing opponents to be successful on 36 percent of their plays per the above measurements, and that's 92nd in the nation, or eighth in the Big 12, ahead of just West Virginia and Baylor. Alabama is the country's top defense in success rate, at 5 percent, to let you know of the gap there. To be a top-25 defense, Texas would have to lop 11 percent off that rate to match Kansas State's 25 percent. The Wildcats are No. 25 in the country in success rate.
And the Longhorns are slightly worse in EqPoints Per Play. Texas ranks 96th nationally in that category, putting the Longhorns ninth in the league. Like with success rate, Baylor is the Big 12's worst defensive group, coming in at 114th nationally.
So Texas is 92nd and 96th nationally in the two defensive measuring points for S&P+, but have the nation's No. 12 defense almost entirely because the Longhorns have played three of the country's top six offenses in their first five games.
Run Versus the Pass
If you look at traditional stats, the Longhorns appear to be much better against the pass than versus the run. The Longhorns are fourth in passing yards allowed in the league, and are ninth in the league in both rushing yards per carry and in yards per game. Texas does take a bit of a hit in passer efficiency rating, coming in eighth in the league, but it would definitely seem that Texas is better against the pass than against the run, correct?
As Lee Corso would say, not so fast, my friend. When looking at rush defense S&P+, Texas comes in 10th nationally. That's 16 spots better than Iowa State, which is known for having a salty run defense, 19 spots ahead of LSU, which is considered to have an elite defensive line, and 24 spots ahead of Florida State, another squad considered to have a big-time defense. The Longhorns are the Big 12's top team in run defense S&P+.
And that's four spots higher than Texas ranks against the pass, though, it should be explained, that the Longhorns actually have a better S&P+ rating against passing (139.9) than they do against rushing (133.6). So while it isn't as big a difference as one would think, Texas does put up higher score against the pass, though their rank is slightly worse. The Big 12's best pass defense resides in Norman, with the Sooners ranking No. 2 nationally in pass defense S&P+. Texas ranks third, with Iowa State coming in second at No. 11 in the national rankings.
Defense by Situation
And last, but not least, we look at the Texas defense by situation. One of my favorite parts of S&P+ is the fact that they break it down into passing downs (second and eight or longer and third or fourth down and five or longer) and standard downs (any down not a passing down). This, in my mind, enables us to look at two very different defensive types. Simply put: how well does a specific defense play when they don't know what's coming (standard downs), and how well do they slam the door when they do (passing downs).
Often, you get defenses that are excellent at both (see: Alabama). But on others, you see one-dimensional groups. Check out Kansas, which is 108th (!) in the country on standard downs. But the Jayhawks are actually a top-20 defense, ranking 17th nationally, when they put opponents into passing downs. While there probably aren't as big of swings the other way (it's obviously easier to defend when you know the pass is coming), there are some teams who are better on standard downs. Typically, those are groups that are dominant against the run, like BYU and Michigan State. Washington is one of the bigger outliers, ranking 11th nationally on standard downs and 76th on passing downs.
Of course, Texas, as you would expect, is much more effective on passing downs. The Longhorns are 22nd nationally on standard downs, so they aren't bad there. But once the Longhorns force passing downs, it's advantage: Texas. The Longhorns are second in the country at passing downs defense (behind only Alabama).
Of course, if you take away the statistics, that's exactly what you would think would happen. The Longhorns have the athletes on the back end and the pass rushers up front to close things out once they get into a for-sure passing situation.