Can your defense stop explosive offenses?

February, 24, 2011
2/24/11
1:30
PM ET
Earlier today, we took a look at the number of explosive plays every offense in the Big 12 had last year. In short, that means plays from the line of scrimmage longer than 20 yards.

But what about the defense? Here's how many each team gave up, courtesy of our friends at ESPN Stats & Info:

2010 season

Texas -- 39
Iowa State -- 39
Nebraska -- 43
Oklahoma State -- 44
Missouri -- 48
Colorado -- 50
Kansas -- 50
Baylor -- 56
Texas A&M -- 56
Texas Tech -- 58
Oklahoma -- 61
Kansas State -- 69

A few notes and observations:
  • Seriously, how much more evidence do we need to support the idea that you win in the Big 12 with offense? Four of the top five teams in offense shared a division title. The top two teams in defense here went a combined 10-14.
  • Meanwhile, the bottom five teams all played in a bowl game, and two of the bottom four tied for the Big 12 South title, one of the toughest divisions in college football.
  • I was pretty surprised at how few plays Kansas gave up. It seemed like they struggled preventing big plays a lot more than they actually did.
  • Kansas State, however, is another story. Look no further than this number (although, the Wildcats were last in quite a few other defensive categories) for the biggest reason why fans were frustrated with the defense. I'm not sure, but I think 48 of those 69 plays came in that game against Nebraska. I've pointed to their lack of speed defensively in the past as the biggest reason why all these problems are happening. This number supports that. It's not like they're getting gashed for 8-12 yard runs up the middle as much as just giving up tons of big plays.

Now that we've got that out of the way, here's what is more indicative of wins: The offense-defense differential in big plays gained vs. big plays given up. Here's a look. Again, this number is amount of plays that resulted in a gain of 20 yards or longer, subtracted by the number of plays 20 yards or longer given up:

Offense-defense differential in 2010

Oklahoma State -- (+31)
Nebraska -- (+23)
Missouri -- (+15)
Oklahoma -- (+14)
Baylor -- (+13)
Texas Tech -- (+1)
Texas A&M -- (Even)
Iowa State -- (-7)
Colorado -- (-7)
Texas -- (-12)
Kansas State -- (-12)
Kansas -- (-18)
  • That's pretty dang close to an exact replica of the Big 12 standings, no? It's not perfect, but other than Kansas State and maybe Texas A&M, there aren't a lot of outliers in that group. Oklahoma won the league, but all four of the top teams in differential had two losses each in league play.
  • So, more than anything, we can take this away: Gaining big plays is more important than stopping them, but that differential will tell you a lot about where your team will finish in the Big 12.

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