And it raises a very valid question...
How do you define "good" defense in this day of fast paced, pass happy offenses?
Much has been done in the world of stats in the past few years to try and take this change in offensive production into consideration when evaluating a team's defense. The old school of yards and points per game can no longer be looked at in a vacuum, as a team's offensive system can have a huge negative affect on the defensive numbers.
Pistols Firing and the Tulsa World renewed that debate in the past week.
Statistically speaking, OSU's 2012 defense was better (much better in some categories) than it's 2011 and 2010 versions.
But then OKC Dave posted an article about the best season performances by wide receivers.
That's right. An article about wide receiver stats clarified for me what defines a good, or great, defense. Or offense. Or player.
Regardless of the numbers.
There are lots of college receivers that put up better numbers, even way better numbers, than Justin Blackmon.
But I can't recall a college receiver who, in the biggest moments, even when EVERYONE in the joint knew the ball was coming his way, could be MORE dominant than he was in normal game situations.
Just ask Stanford...or Kansas State...or Texas A&M...or Texas...or just about any other opponent he faced in 2010 & 2011.
Stats do not define good or great. Stats AND performance do.
Which brings us back to the defense.
Oklahoma State's success is predicated on offense. Overwhelming firepower.
But sometimes the guns misfire, and that's when the defense needs to make a play. Three and outs. Turnovers. Punts. Goal line stands. Stops on 4th down.
In other words, GET OFF THE FIELD.
The offense of 2010 and 2011 didn't do much misfiring, but the defense was still pressured to get off the field quite often in order to save the day. When they needed to, they made plays.
2010 Troy (the fumble)
2010 Texas A&M (the final interception)
2011 Texas A&M (2nd half turnovers)
2011 Baylor (gobs of turnovers and 4th down/goal line stands)
2011 Kansas State (the goal line stand)
2011 Iowa State (sorry, had to include this)
2011 Oklahoma (the overwhelmingly dominant performance)
2011 (actually 2012) Stanford (the overtime)
Out of 9 opportunities to save the day, those squads came through 7 times.
The 2012 version made one big successful stand that I can recall, and it was against....Kansas.
While statistically better, 2012's defense didn't get off the field as much as they needed to, and the offense, which misfired quite a bit more than 2010 and 2011, put them in that situation just as often as the previous 2 seasons.
So, with 4 chances to save the day, this group got it done once (I'm not counting Arizona because of this)
Don't misunderstand, I'm not saying they failed for lack of trying. These guys left their last drop of blood on the goal line at OU.
It just didn't happen for them, and the biggest reasons were the lack of turnovers and allowing big plays.
Given OSU's emphasis on offense, I'm a little more in the camp of "the offense was a bit more of the issue than the defense in 2012." The Cowboys were not very efficient with their red zone possessions, as witnessed by the stats that show nobody kicked more FG's in the red zone than OSU, and only 2 teams (TCU & Kansas) had a worse red zone TD%. While scoring on almost 90% of their RZ possesions, which was 2nd in conference play, OSU settled for FG's just under 40% of the time. Just two more TD's in the red zone could have completely changed last season's outcome (TX & OU). Think about that.
But I digress.
The definition of good or great is made in moments of excellence, or shear overwhelming dominance. Barry Sanders was overwhelming, game in and game out. Justin Blackmon made his best plays in the biggest moments. Defenses get off the field when they most need it. Offenses convert and/or score when they most need it. That makes them good or great, and stats will back that up.
2010 and 2011 saw big plays in big moments from defenses that were otherwise not very stingy.
2012 saw a defense that improved statistically, but minus turnovers couldn't get off the field enough to make up for the offense's more frequent struggles. That does not qualify as "better." While I still say the offense was more of the issue, all the stats in the world can't take away Texas, OU, and that 3rd down vs Baylor...
If this year's version can continue to improve statistically AND come up with a few more big stops than last season, plus the offense becomes even a little more efficient in scoring TD's, it could be another banner year for the Cowboys.
Minus that we will have a 2012 redo on our hands, and the debate will continue...