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A Look at Louisville’s Defense

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Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Every head coach has a philosophy about the flow of a game. Coach Bobby Petrino’s has always been, get the ball first, score, put pressure on the other team, and attack on defense. Yesterday’s article on offensive miscues brought to light the "self-destruct" element of the Louisville offense to score points and more importantly, preserve drives and points. In short, the Cardinals are giving away over 10 points per game because of offensive miscues. Oddly enough, looking at last year’s offensive performance, the same was true as well. Louisville’s offense gave up 10.7 points per game due to the same miscue criteria.

The difference between this year’s team and last season’s is the defense. Last year, the defense was able to negate 8.6 points per game off of those miscues and coupled with the number 2 defense, in terms of efficiency, several of those 9 wins rested squarely on their shoulders. Thus far, this season, the defense can only negate 1.6 points per game giving a net of 9.3 points per game the Cardinals are spotting opponents. Last season the net effect was only 2.1 points per game. This difference accounts for 2.5 wins per season (based on the 2014 season).

This year is different defensively in many categories. Last season, the Louisville defense had a starting field position that ranked 110th in the FBS. Opponents had to go 66.9 yards to the end zone; in 2015, that ranking is 47th with opponents starting 71.3 yards from the end zone. That does not seem like much of a difference, but it is. That difference gives an 11.7% better chance of stopping the opponent from scoring and an 8.9% better chance of stopping a drive.

After looking at drive data, a simple breakdown of percent of drives over 10 yards versus those at 10 yards or less.

% 10+ Yards

% 10 Yards or Less

FBS Rank

National Average

61.9%

38.1%

Louisville 2014

46.9%

53.1%

3

Louisville 2015

70.0%

30.0%

101

This is an alarming statistic. Granted, this is against three very good teams, but it is something that is surprising given the expectations of the defense this season. For opponents to sustain drives at this rate, it is not an inconsistent defense, it is a consistently below average defense to this point in the season. Last season’s defense allowed only 14.2 first downs per game; this season is 20.6.

Side notes for the readers’ thoughts: How many times in the last 3-4 prior seasons have we seen the Louisville defense consistently stuff the runs up the middle? When teams would try to go wide with a screen, the defender shed the block and blew up the play? Dink and dunk passing games were eventually sniffed out and stopped. As fans, we came to expect this type of play consistently.

Rush Defense

Stopping the run is coaching 101 in successful defenses. Last season the Cards were ranked 10th giving up 108.9 yards per game and 13th allowing 3.26 yards per carry. This season they are T-100th at 206 yards per game allowed and 89th allowing 4.48 yards per carry. Digging deeper, will give a much clearer picture of the differences.

Category

2014

2015

Rushing 1st Downs Allowed Per Game

5.7

11.0

1st Downs / Total Rushing Attempts (%)

17.1%

23.9%

Opp. 3rd Down Conversions Rushing

25.0%

52.6%

Opp. 3rd Down Conversion Rushing on Short Yardage (1-3 yds.)

52.1%

80.0%

Opp. Yards Per Carry on 3rd Down

1.01

5.95

Opp. Yards Per Carry on 3rd and Short Yardage

4.04

8.9

% of 3rd Downs >6 Yards to Go

52.6%

41.3%

More than half of the first downs given up by Louisville have come on the ground versus 40.1% last season. The yards per carry on third down at 5.6 absolutely has to be the focus of the front seven of Louisville. With 8.9 yards per carry given up on 3rd and short plays is even more disturbing. The 2014 team improved on run defense with each down in yards per carry allowed; this season is the opposite:

Down

YPC 2014

YPC 2015

1st

3.84

4.18

2nd

3.51

4.38

3rd

1.01

5.95

As pointed out by one of my esteemed colleagues, the YPC statistic last season is skewed due to the number of tackles for loss and sacks. He is indeed correct. But those TFL’s and sacks are also the sign of an attacking defense and not one that is simply trying to react and minimize gains. It is the difference between an athlete making plays versus one trying not to make a mistake. (Aggressive versus tentative.) If the defense is to play up to its ability, they have to get back to the level of discipline they can play to in stopping the run and making those drive-ending tackles for loss once again.

Passing Defense

Overall, the pass defense of Louisville has been solid. There are a few differences but still solid.

Category

2014

2015

INT / Game

2.0

2.0

Opp. Completion %

53.9

64.0

Opp. QB Rating

105.65

128.89

Opp. Yards Per Attempt

6.33

6.65

The one statistic that is partially contributing to opponents sustaining drives is completion rate. But, through 3 games most of the plays are very short passes and screens to get players into space. Louisville needs to do a better job shedding blocks on those screens, stay disciplined and turn those plays to the inside.

Louisville’s opponents do have a 4th quarter QBR of 190.03 with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. However, the opponents have had such success running the ball, they are only attempting 4.7 passes per game in the 4th quarter. Last season, teams could not run the ball and attempted 8 passes per game in the 4th quarter; their QBR was 113.89 with 5 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.

Final Glaring Statistic: Last season, opponents obtained 35.3% of their yards by running the football on Louisville; this season, 51.9%. Pretty simple focus going forward; but easier said than done.

Thanks to www.CFBStats.com and www.FBSDrivestats.com for providing raw data.