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Beyond the Box Score: Getting Defensive

A deep dive on what the Cowboy defense has done so far

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at South Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2017 football season kicked off, there was no doubt that the Oklahoma State offense was going to stuff box scores full of stats and fill highlight reels. While a powerful offense can lead to a lopsided scoreboard, it can also result in misleading stats for a defense. So here’s where things stand in the world of advanced analytics as we enter week three of the college football season. (Note: Drives and stats in garbage time are excluded.)

The Offense

Through two games, Mason Rudolph is completing 72.6% of his passes for an average of 10.3 yards per completion. Six of his 45 completions, 13%, have resulted in touchdowns at an average of 41.8 yards per completion.

James Washington has been on the receiving end of three of those touchdowns which have averaged 61 yards per TD catch. The Rudolph to Washington connection is averaging 30.4 yards per completion.

Excluding garbage time, the Oklahoma State offense is averaging 8.07 yards per play with average time of possession per drive coming in at 2:12. While OSU’s defensive opponents haven’t been as stout as those remaining on the schedule, the average TOP per drive may become concerning if those drives only result in a quick turnaround for the defense rather than points for the offense. The good news is that the Cowboys are scoring efficiently at 66%, or 12 out of 18 drives.

The Defense

The Oklahoma State defense has heard its share of criticism over the years. In 2011 it was figured that the defense played the equivalent of three additional games based on the volume of plays for which they were on the field; a direct result of a record-setting offense that routinely scored at will. This season may be no different so it will be interesting to analyze the results as we progress through the 2017 schedule.

Again, the caliber of opponents hasn’t been intriguing but if the casual fan looked at the box score from the Tulsa game they would come away with the impression that the Cowboy D gave up 24 points. In reality, the defense gave up 10 points which include a field goal after Tulsa took over at the OSU 24 yard line, and a touchdown on TU’s only methodical drive in non-garbage time.

To date, OSU’s defense is allowing 3.6 yards per play, getting off the field in an average time of 2:34 per drive, and has only allowed opponents to score at an efficiency rate of 10%. Out of the 20 drives the defense has faced, they have forced 4 turnovers, two of which resulted in defensive touchdowns.

The primary concern after the home opener was the lack of 3rd-down efficiency by the defense. Tulsa finished 16/26 on third down conversions with 5 of those coming in garbage time, 3 on their sole touchdown drive, and 3 on a drive which the Cowboys forced a fumble which was recovered for a touchdown. Oklahoma State followed up at South Alabama by allowing the Jags to convert on only one of ten third downs.

Next Up: Pitt

The Cowboys travel to Pittsburgh for their toughest test of the early season. While it took overtime for the Panthers to defeat Youngstown State, they kept it respectful on the road the following week at #4 Penn State. The Oklahoma State defense will face an offense designed to ground and pound and create short-yardage situations on third down. In fact, Pitt has even attempted eight 4th-down conversions, seven of which were successful. Thus, the OSU D will likely be on the field for longer drives than they have experienced to this point. To offset this, the OSU offense will need to sustain drives to maximize success for the defense, while hopefully continuing to score at that 66% rate of efficiency and creating separation on the scoreboard.