The Toolbox: Defensive Success Rates

We continue yesterday's conversation by ... well, picking up a comment I made yesterday in regard to teams whose success rates and leverage rates somehow ended up rather far apart in the rankings despite sort of measuring the same thing:

While success rate and leverage measure basically the same thing, it’s still a bit different.

  • Let’s say you gain exactly three yards every play. A gain of three on first-and-10 is not successful, but it results in a “standard down” of 2nd-and-7. Gain three more on 2nd-and-7, and it is not successful, but it results in another “standard down” of 3rd-and-4. Gain three on 3rd-and-4, and it’s not successful but again results in a “standard down” of 4th-and-1. Gain three on fourth-and-1, and it’s a success. That’s a 25% success rate and a 100% leverage rate.
  • Let’s say you lose six yards on first down. Unsuccessful, results in a passing down. On 2nd-and-16, you gain 11 yards. Successful, results in a passing down. Gain six yards on third-and-5; success!. That’s a 66.7% success rate, 33.3% leverage rate.

So if a team ranks a lot higher in success rates than leverage (Missouri, Arkansas, Miami), then that perhaps suggests that they were having to recover from occasional first-down issues? Maybe? Just spitballing. If that’s true, then that would suggest that teams with high leverage ranks and lower success rates (Navy, LSU, N.C. State) were able to avoid big losses but had to rely on third down conversions.

I'm going back and forth as to whether that's a valuable way to look at differences in leverage and success rates. I'm open to the idea that this is a purely anecdotal theory, worthless in the overall picture

Anyhoo, just thought I'd put that at the top of the page to continue that line of conversation. Now, to defenses.  Which defenses dominate in the efficiency department, leveraging their opponents into 2nd- and 3rd-and-uncomfortable situations?  Which ones do a little too much bending for a bend-don't-break to work?

We start with the same type of anchor data that we looked at yesterday (only, without the single-game list since ... well, you could just flip "best" with "worst" and see the defensive lists).

Ten Best Single-Season Success Rates
1. TCU (2008): 28.0%
2. Virginia Tech (2006): 28.5%
3. TCU (2009): 28.7%
4. West Virginia (2010): 30.2
5. Alabama (2005): 30.4%
6. Alabama (2009): 30.7%
7. TCU (2006): 31.1%
8. Virginia Tech (2005): 31.3%
9. Oregon State (2007): 31.5%
10. Boise State (2010): 31.7%

TCU, Virginia Tech and Alabama in multiple spots?  Yeah, that sounds about right.  Though Alabama did their biggest damage under two different head coaches, the presence of TCU and Virginia Tech does hint at something I've noticed through quite a few other observations: while offense is cyclical and based on innovation/tinkering and specific sets of talent ... defenses seem to exist at a more consistent level despite turnover on the field.  To drastically over-generalize, talent matters most on offense, coaching matters most on defense.

Ten Worst Single-Season Success Rates
1. UNLV (2010): 57.7%
2. Washington State (2009): 54.9%
3. North Texas (2008): 54.7%
4. Air Force (2006): 53.7%
5. Washington (2008): 52.1%
6. Western Kentucky (2009): 52.0%
7. Texas A&M (2008): 51.7%
8. UTEP (2008): 51.6%
9. UNLV (2009): 51.4%
10. Colorado State (2010): 51.3%

Three major conference teams make the list -- two from the Pacific Northwest and a Texas A&M defense that was most completely victimized by the ridiculous Big 12 offenses of 2008.  (Note that defensive coordinator extraordinaire Tim DeRuyter has now taken over -- and turned around -- two horribly inefficient defenses, first at Air Force, then at A&M.  He's good.  Not sure what A&M's ceiling is at this point, but it's higher with DeRuyter than without him.)  Your only repeat offenders: Bobby Hauck's UNLV Rebels.  Incoming defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson has nowhere to go but up with that unit.

2010 FBS Offenses, Ranked by Success Rate+
Team Success Rt. Rk SR+ Rk Leverage Rt. Rk
Boise State 0.317 2 134.7 1 0.613 3
Oklahoma 0.348 5 127.9 2 0.632 7
TCU 0.335 3 126.2 3 0.608 2
Ohio State 0.364 10 123.9 4 0.615 4
Miami-FL 0.349 6 123.4 5 0.635 9
South Carolina 0.386 23 121.8 6 0.661 32
West Virginia 0.302 1 120.7 7 0.604 1
Alabama 0.358 8 119.6 8 0.641 11
Texas 0.365 11 119.2 9 0.668 42
Nebraska 0.347 4 119.1 10 0.672 48
Notre Dame 0.395 38 118.8 11 0.687 77
Illinois 0.390 29 118.7 12 0.673 51
Virginia Tech 0.380 18 118.0 13 0.627 6
Arizona 0.390 30 116.1 14 0.659 27
Texas A&M 0.382 19 115.7 15 0.656 22
Clemson 0.357 7 115.5 16 0.658 23
Mississippi State 0.389 27 115.3 17 0.642 13
California 0.406 47 114.9 18 0.660 29
Utah 0.379 17 114.8 19 0.659 28
BYU 0.390 28 112.3 20 0.639 10
Oregon 0.394 37 111.3 21 0.642 12
Arkansas 0.407 49 111.0 22 0.671 46
Florida 0.391 32 110.9 23 0.647 14
Southern Miss 0.377 16 110.0 24 0.662 33
Arizona State 0.411 54 109.5 25 0.667 39
Fresno State 0.397 39 109.3 26 0.686 75
Missouri 0.387 24 108.8 27 0.673 50
Maryland 0.389 25 107.9 28 0.633 8
Wisconsin 0.403 44 107.8 29 0.658 25
Stanford 0.403 44 107.6 30 0.674 54
Iowa 0.442 85 107.5 31 0.681 64
Texas Tech 0.416 59 107.3 32 0.678 61
Michigan State 0.412 56 107.1 33 0.652 18
LSU 0.402 43 107.1 34 0.675 57
Boston College 0.392 34 106.8 35 0.666 37
Oregon State 0.462 105 106.5 36 0.697 91
Georgia 0.410 52 106.2 37 0.669 43
Oklahoma State 0.401 41 106.0 38 0.679 62
Florida State 0.392 35 105.7 39 0.658 26
Miami-OH 0.367 12 105.6 40 0.661 31
Auburn 0.441 82 104.6 41 0.664 34
South Florida 0.371 13 104.4 42 0.653 20
Louisville 0.385 22 104.3 43 0.665 36
Ole Miss 0.410 53 104.3 44 0.671 45
NC State 0.400 40 104.2 45 0.664 35
Penn State 0.439 79 103.2 46 0.691 83
North Carolina 0.404 46 103.1 47 0.674 55
Marshall 0.416 58 102.7 48 0.666 38
Central Florida 0.392 36 102.2 49 0.648 16
Nevada 0.383 20 102.1 50 0.650 17
Troy 0.392 33 101.8 51 0.667 40
UCLA 0.442 83 101.8 52 0.706 95
Purdue 0.441 81 100.7 53 0.684 72
SMU 0.452 92 100.4 54 0.728 112
USC 0.461 102 100.2 55 0.681 63
Tennessee 0.420 65 100.2 56 0.660 30
Northern Illinois 0.374 15 100.1 57 0.653 21
Tulsa 0.421 67 99.8 58 0.693 86
Kent State 0.359 9 99.5 59 0.624 5
Florida International 0.385 21 99.4 60 0.652 19
Minnesota 0.458 98 99.2 61 0.694 87
Air Force 0.416 60 98.9 62 0.683 70
Colorado 0.453 94 98.6 63 0.700 92
Syracuse 0.372 14 98.6 64 0.647 15
UAB 0.418 64 98.6 65 0.682 66
Vanderbilt 0.434 77 98.3 66 0.667 41
Kansas State 0.433 75 98.1 67 0.686 74
Hawaii 0.433 73 97.9 68 0.690 81
San Diego State 0.406 48 97.5 69 0.658 24
Rice 0.466 108 97.4 70 0.700 93
Washington 0.453 94 97.4 71 0.677 60
Pittsburgh 0.417 62 97.1 72 0.674 53
Michigan 0.442 83 96.8 73 0.714 103
North Texas 0.407 50 96.8 74 0.690 80
Rutgers 0.426 70 96.5 75 0.700 94
UL-Monroe 0.417 63 96.5 76 0.682 65
Connecticut 0.413 57 96.5 77 0.671 47
Western Michigan 0.391 31 96.3 78 0.677 59
Utah State 0.443 86 96.3 79 0.691 85
Duke 0.441 80 96.2 80 0.689 79
Toledo 0.424 69 96.1 81 0.720 107
East Carolina 0.458 99 95.3 82 0.695 88
Cincinnati 0.412 55 95.2 83 0.674 56
Buffalo 0.407 51 94.9 84 0.676 58
Arkansas State 0.443 87 94.8 85 0.721 108
Virginia 0.420 65 94.7 86 0.672 49
Kentucky 0.430 72 94.7 87 0.685 73
Louisiana Tech 0.459 100 94.4 88 0.719 106
UL-Lafayette 0.446 89 94.2 89 0.683 69
Georgia Tech 0.436 78 94.2 90 0.714 104
Indiana 0.449 91 94.1 91 0.711 101
Tulane 0.433 74 93.5 92 0.686 76
Memphis 0.470 110 92.8 93 0.696 89
Army 0.430 71 92.8 94 0.674 52
Navy 0.460 101 92.1 95 0.710 99
Akron 0.421 67 92.0 96 0.690 82
Houston 0.468 109 91.9 97 0.722 109
Temple 0.417 61 91.5 98 0.669 44
Washington State 0.510 118 90.8 99 0.727 111
Baylor 0.448 90 90.8 100 0.689 78
Middle Tennessee 0.402 42 90.6 101 0.683 67
Florida Atlantic 0.434 76 90.3 102 0.697 90
Idaho 0.455 97 89.8 103 0.708 97
San Jose State 0.485 112 89.8 104 0.729 113
Northwestern 0.464 107 89.6 105 0.707 96
New Mexico State 0.463 106 89.3 106 0.683 68
Central Michigan 0.454 96 89.3 107 0.710 98
Wake Forest 0.452 93 89.2 108 0.691 84
Western Kentucky 0.461 103 88.2 109 0.710 100
Wyoming 0.461 104 88.1 110 0.712 102
Kansas 0.476 111 87.6 111 0.734 117
Iowa State 0.487 114 87.5 112 0.732 115
Ohio 0.389 26 87.2 113 0.684 71
Bowling Green 0.486 113 84.0 114 0.731 114
Colorado State 0.513 119 83.8 115 0.753 119
Eastern Michigan 0.489 115 83.4 116 0.727 110
New Mexico 0.502 117 83.3 117 0.752 118
UNLV 0.577 120 82.1 118 0.765 120
Ball State 0.444 88 79.9 119 0.714 105
UTEP 0.491 116 75.9 120 0.732 116

So to revisit the thesis from the top (we'll call it a thesis to make it sound more official), if offenses with higher success rates than leverage are teams who aren't losing yardage but might not be getting enough on first downs, then defenses that allow higher success rates than leverage (Mississippi State, Oregon, Florida) are in the same vein -- teams who don't make too many tackles for loss but stay rather stiff early in downs.  They were disciplined but perhaps lacking an extra playmaker or two?  Meanwhile, defenses allowing higher leverage rates than success rates (Nebraska, Notre Dame, Illinois) per haps had the opposite problem -- they made some big plays but sometimes let opponents off the hook?  Does this make sense to anybody other than just me?

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