Defending the Run vs Defending the Pass

Warren_medium

Yes please.

via 3.bp.blogspot.com

Over the past several weeks I've had two types of thoughts regarding our secondary: "our starters at the corners should be solid" and "holy @#%@# who's going to play safety and we can't even spell depth".  Such are the vascillations of a cautiously excited/nervous fan, yay college football indeed.

For those of you that haven't yet read The Obscene Diaries of a Michigan Fan by Craig Ross, consider this your recommendation of the day.  The genesis of this post comes from his examination on the difference between interceptions and fumbles, "are all turnovers created equal?" in which he examined 113 Michigan games:

Michigan record when even fumbles and more interceptions: 1-8 (11.1%)

Michigan record when even fumbles and fewer interceptions: 15-1 (93.75%)

Michigan record when even interceptions and more fumbles: 4-3 (57.1%)

Michigan record when even interceptions and fewer fumbles: 8-3 (72.7%)

For the moment I am left with the conclusion that an interception is a more consequential occurrence than a lost fumble [...] 

Thankfully this particular passage was penned well before last year's fumble fest.  In sitting there thinking about such breakdowns, I started to wonder if there was an appreciable difference between teams with defenses that were better at stopping the run vs those that ranked highly against the pass. Stats being stats and all I still found the following somewhat interesting.... with some obvious caveats:

1. Top 25 defenses in either category are, well, top 25 defenses... Michigan's D last year ranked 87th in pass defense and 50th in rush defense, which goes against the "trend" demonstrated here as you'll see in just a second.  This is a complex way of saying, if your defense is all around bad, it doesn't much matter if it is "less bad" against the run.

2.  This is not to suggest that a team can focus soley on one aspect and get away with it.

Statistics from the wonderfully detailed NCAA football statistics database.

2008 Pass Defense leaders:  180 wins vs 127 losses

Rank Name Games Patt Pcomp Papct Ydscmp Int Intpct Yds Ydsatt TDs Ydspgm CM Wins Losses Ties
1 Southern California 13 382 199 52.09 8.78 19 4.97 1747 4.57 6 134.38 0 12 1 0
2 South Carolina 13 328 189 57.62 10.95 14 4.27 2070 6.31 9 159.23 1 7 6 0
3 New Mexico St. 12 300 176 58.67 10.87 9 3.00 1913 6.38 14 159.42 0 3 9 0
4 Tennessee 12 332 186 56.02 10.35 17 5.12 1925 5.80 8 160.42 0 5 7 0
5 Northern Ill. 13 338 208 61.54 10.07 6 1.78 2094 6.20 13 161.08 1 6 7 0
6 Florida St. 13 342 175 51.17 12.06 9 2.63 2111 6.17 15 162.38 0 9 4 0
7 Miami (Fla.) 13 336 172 51.19 12.52 4 1.19 2153 6.41 15 165.62 1 7 6 0
8 UCLA 12 332 177 53.31 11.37 11 3.31 2012 6.06 19 167.67 0 4 8 0
9 Connecticut 13 368 196 53.26 11.16 18 4.89 2187 5.94 9 168.23 0 8 5 0
10 San Jose St. 12 356 187 52.53 10.93 16 4.49 2043 5.74 9 170.25 0 6 6 0
11 TCU 13 384 193 50.26 11.50 15 3.91 2219 5.78 8 170.69 0 11 2 0
12 Clemson 13 428 239 55.84 9.38 19 4.44 2243 5.24 14 172.54 0 7 6 0
12 Wake Forest 13 382 199 52.09 11.27 18 4.71 2243 5.87 15 172.54 0 8 5 0
14 Tulane 12 288 184 63.89 11.27 9 3.13 2074 7.20 18 172.83 0 2 10 0
15 Vanderbilt 13 362 193 53.31 11.78 20 5.52 2274 6.28 15 174.92 0 7 6 0
16 Virginia Tech 14 343 181 52.77 13.54 20 5.83 2450 7.14 12 175.00 1 10 4 0
17 Mississippi St. 12 324 169 52.16 12.54 8 2.47 2119 6.54 13 176.58 0 4 8 0
18 Boston College 14 435 244 56.09 10.15 26 5.98 2477 5.69 9 176.93 0 9 5 0
19 Auburn 12 369 199 53.93 10.78 11 2.98 2146 5.82 19 178.83 0 5 7 0
20 Florida 14 456 242 53.07 10.40 26 5.70 2518 5.52 12 179.86 0 13 1 0
21 Bowling Green 12 354 206 58.19 10.53 15 4.24 2170 6.13 13 180.83 0 6 6 0
22 Oregon St. 13 354 183 51.69 12.85 13 3.67 2352 6.64 15 180.92 0 9 4 0
23 Arizona 13 407 228 56.02 10.37 16 3.93 2365 5.81 12 181.92 0 8 5 0
24 Purdue 12 359 202 56.27 10.89 10 2.79 2199 6.13 14 183.25 1 4 8 0
25 Ohio St. 13 440 253 57.50 9.43 15 3.41 2386 5.42 12 183.54 1 10 3 0

2008 Rushing Defense Leaders: 247 wins vs 83 losses

Rank Name Games Carries Net Avg TDs Ydspgm Wins Losses Ties
1 TCU 13 355 612 1.72 9 47.08 11 2 0
2 Alabama 14 391 1038 2.65 5 74.14 12 2 0
3 Texas 13 356 1086 3.05 8 83.54 12 1 0
4 Mississippi 13 411 1112 2.71 9 85.54 9 4 0
5 Southern California 13 416 1136 2.73 8 87.38 12 1 0
6 Nevada 13 377 1152 3.06 17 88.62 7 6 0
7 Boston College 14 454 1277 2.81 14 91.21 9 5 0
8 Penn St. 13 430 1212 2.82 12 93.23 11 2 0
9 Iowa 13 397 1222 3.08 7 94.00 9 4 0
10 South Fla. 13 436 1238 2.84 12 95.23 8 5 0
11 Utah 13 415 1289 3.11 10 99.15 13 0 0
12 Tennessee 12 444 1237 2.79 6 103.08 5 7 0
13 Louisiana Tech 13 435 1350 3.10 12 103.85 8 5 0
14 Virginia Tech 14 451 1462 3.24 12 104.43 10 4 0
15 Florida 14 440 1476 3.35 9 105.43 13 1 0
16 Connecticut 13 423 1427 3.37 16 109.77 8 5 0
17 LSU 13 421 1432 3.40 17 110.15 8 5 0
18 Ohio St. 13 406 1433 3.53 7 110.23 10 3 0
19 Cincinnati 14 481 1610 3.35 13 115.00 11 3 0
20 Oklahoma 14 469 1627 3.47 19 116.21 12 2 0
21 Nebraska 13 418 1514 3.62 24 116.46 9 4 0
22 Boise St. 13 476 1534 3.22 9 118.00 12 1 0
23 Oregon 13 503 1552 3.09 18 119.38 10 3 0
24 Georgia Tech 13 432 1564 3.62 13 120.31 9 4 0
25 California 13 495 1589 3.21 16 122.23 9 4 0

Seven teams appear on both lists: USC, Tennessee, UConn, TCU, Va Tech, Florida, and Boston College.  Their combined record was 68-25.  So taking out those seven teams leaves the records as thus:

Passing D: 112-102 (52.3%)

Rushing D: 179-58 (75.5%)

I don't know about you but I'd call that an appreciable difference.  Again I'm not trying to suggest that a team that can get by with a poor secondary, but given the choice of having a lockdown D against the pass or the run, it's apparent that you'd rather be solid against the run.  

How does this bare out in the Big 10?  Well the top 4 teams in pass defense last season were as follows: Purdue, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin.  Rush defense?  Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State, and Northwestern.  Doing the same thing we did with the top 25 D's, remove PSU and OSU and you get a breakdwon of 11-14 vs 18-8.  

Should Michigan fans still be concerned about the state of the secondary?  Certainly.  Is it possible that this can still be an effective defense if it is able to excel against the run?  Moreso than I previously thought...

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