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Has Oklahoma State faced any good defenses?

This post is sorta a rebuttal to this post by Billgrip over at Corn Nation.  Not trying to pick a fight or say he is wrong here, his post just got me thinking and I decided to look at the numbers a different way.

The main contention of Billgrip's post is that Nebraska will shut down Oklahoma State's passing attack based on the premise that Oklahoma State hasn't faced a good defense, and specifically a good pass defense.  Now Billgrip isn't the first person to say that Oklahoma State hasn't played anyone, and that maybe our numbers are inflated by the shortcomings of opposing defenses, but the thing that has been bugging me is that all of these comparisons have been based on season yard-per-game stats and where teams are ranked based on those stats. While these stats are a decent benchmark, they don't really tell the whole story.

The thing is, by some weird coincidence... Oklahoma State's schedule thus far has featured all opponents that run quick paced offenses... meaning they run a high amount of plays per game on both side of the ball, so at a per-game level the stats become misleading.

Click the Jump for some tables that make the Cowboys look good.


Check out the table below for the rundown of average plays per game Oklahoma State opponents run, and are run against them, and their national rank for each (out of 120 teams).

Team Offensive plays per game Rank Defensive plays per game Rank
Washington State 67.7 60 71.6 93
Troy 78.3 8 75.0 113
Tulsa 78.4 6 72.1 97
Texas A&M 85.8 2 71.5 91
Louisiana-Lafayette 72.3 23 71.8 96
Texas Tech 79.7 4 76.5 117

The national average for plays per game is 135.4, yet Oklahoma State's opponents average 150.1 plays per game.  And to take it to the defensive side, the national average is that the defense is on the field for 67.7 plays per game, yet Oklahoma State opponents defenses are on the field for 73.5 plays per game.

To summarize all that...Oklahoma State's opponents average a lot more plays per game than the national average, on both sides of the ball, meaning they play at a faster pace, meaning that stats at a per-game level aren't all that useful in evaluating their defenses.

So since the pace of play is so drastically different for Oklahoma State's opponents compared to the national average, I decided to go to the play-by-play data.  And when you go to play-by-play data, you have to go to Football Outsiders.  The main play-by-play performance based ranking they use to rank defenses is S&P+.  The fact that it bases the rating on a per play basis means that it really doesn't matter if a defense is on the field for 50 or 100 plays that game, the rating will still be even across all teams.... and here are the ratings as of 10/16. (check out the explanation of S&P+ at the top of that page)

And here they are for Oklahoma State's opponents. (in the last column are the per-game pass defense rankings for comparison)

Overall RK Team Overall defensive S&P+ Pass Def S&P+ Pass Def RK Pass def per game rank
60 Washington State 97.8 94.1 72 102
56 Troy 99 97.6 59 109
99 Tulsa 86.5 81.3 108 120
12 Texas A&M 120.4 112.6 19 101
66 UL-Lafayette 96.5 94.4 69 113
62 Texas Tech 97.4 92.1 81 117

So while the originally used per-game Total Passing Defense stats average out to a ranking of 110th for OSU opponents... with pace of play removed and using the S&P+ ranking, the average Pass Defense ranking for OSU opponents is 68th. 

Sure, at the per-game level it appears that Oklahoma State hasn't played any good defenses, and especially not any decent passing defenses, but the oddity of the scheduling working out to where all of Oklahoma State's opponents thus far play at a staggering pace skews that stat quite a bit.  So when it is looked at on a play-by-play level, it turns out we have actually faced some decent defenses this season.  Sure we haven't faced any "great" defenses and Nebraska will be better statistically than any thus far, but the defenses we have faced certainly aren't as bad as the per-game yardage stats show.