Analysis: The Trend Line of Oregon’s Defense

Evan Markel Analysis, Fish Reports

My friends, we have a new writer, Evan Markel, who will provide some statistical information about our beloved Ducks. For now he will focus his study on the Duck defense in a quest for answers. He has been charged with offering the data, yet keeping it simple for those of us mathematically impaired.  

Take the extra two minutes to soak up his numbers as you will find Evan has made the statistics easy to digest. We are fortunate to have a fellow Duck fan with a Masters’ Degree in Economics,  and is working on a Masters’ in Statistics and a PhD in Natural Resource Economics. We are in for some illuminating articles!  Charles Fischer

The Oregon Duck defense has been under fire this year. Attacks have come not just from opponents, but from fans, the media, social media, and you don’t even want to know what is being said on the message boards. So being the loyal Duck I am, I’ve set out to defend the honor of my beloved Ducks.

Besides, it was on the back of an interception that Oregon won in triple overtime against Arizona State. It was our defense that won the game in Palo Alto.

So I gathered game-by-game defensive statistics for the past ten years, and decided to inspect the 10-year trends. After Arizona State posted 742 yards, I thought it might be a good idea to first look at how many yards per attempt Oregon has given up over the past 10 years. First, let’s look at how Oregon has fared against the same opponent in the past two years.

Trendline Table 1

Have a look (above) at the average gain per play for Michigan State and Stanford. Those are not typos; the yards allowed per play were exactly the same in 2014 and 2015. In 2014, the Huskies gave up only 4.3 yards per attempt, but in 2015 that figure jumped to 6.2 yards per attempt. That’s not a typo either, I doubled checked that one (it is the Huskies, after all).

So far this year, the Huskies rank 10th in total offense in the Pac-12. Last year, the Husky offense was ranked, you guessed it, 10th in the conference. So the Washington offense was analogously anemic in 2014 and 2015, yet their yards per play increased 44% against the Ducks.

Well ok, but that’s just one team. Next let’s have a look at the differences between 2013 and 2014.

Trendline Table 2

While comparing years 2013 and 2014 (above), we can see that Oregon improved defensively against Colorado, Washington, Oregon State, as well as the second time the Ducks faced Arizona in the conference championship. Looking at the lowly Huskies, you might be tempted to say that Oregon’s defense actually improved between 2013 and 2014.

Luckily we did not attend Oregon State and thus have better judgment. In 2013, the Huskies had the 2nd-ranked offense in the Pac-12, trailing only the fabled Oregon offense. Holding them to just 5.1 yards per attempt in 2013 was quite the feat.

The wettest game ever?

Kevin Cline

The wettest game ever?

Before we exclaim the massive drop off against the Cal Bears, I thought I should remind you of the conditions in that 2013 game.

Even though the game was held in Autzen Stadium, the skies inexplicably opened up and a downpour ensued. This was the game Autzen patrons were to behold the arm of Jared Goff.

The Cal QB came into the game averaging 435.5 yards passing per game. At the end of the first quarter Goff had completed 3 of 6 passes for an astounding 11 yards before he was benched.

Sonny Dikes was quoted as saying, “The ball was slipping out of his hand. We’re not quite sure why but it was.” Well Sonny, it was raining. And unlike our beloved Marcus Mariota, Goff grew up playing in sunny Greenbrae, California.

Mariota fared much better and after the game Mariota was quoted as saying, “I’ve been playing in the rain since I was a little kid. Hawaii has its passing showers, so it really doesn’t bother me.”

You can probably see where this is going. There are many factors that impact the performance of a team on any given day. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to examine the data over time, we just need to expand our sample. So let’s look at yards allowed per play over a 10-year period.

Trendline Table 3

With the 119th Civil War just wrapping up, there is no denying that the trend is on the rise. Since 2014, Oregon has allowed an increasing number of yards per play. Before kickoff of the final regular season game, I had hoped the Oregon defense would ensure that trend had already peaked.

At the half, the Beavers had less than 100 total yards of offense. It looked as though the Oregon defense would have its statistical game of the season. In the second half, however, Oregon State rallied to bring the game within reach and finished with 427 total yards of offense, blowing the top off Oregon’s defensive lockdown. Once again the Oregon defense allowed a routine 6.8 yards per play.

Kiko sacking Wilson

Ducks Illustrated

Kiko sacking Russell Wilson.

Historically, it is not uncommon for Oregon to give up lots of yards per attempt. In 2011 against Wisconsin, the Oregon defense allowed 7.1 yards per play, which resulted in the men in green hoisting a Rose Bowl trophy.

Keep in mind the defense that allowed Wisconsin 7.1 yards per play is the same defense that was anchored by Eddie Pleasant, John Boyett, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan, all of whom went on to the NFL.

In 2012 against Southern California, the defense was torched for 7.7 yards per play and 484 yard through the air. The next time Oregon allowed over 7 yards per play wasn’t until 2015 in a triple overtime thriller in Tempe, Ariz.

Although this is not the first time in Oregon’s history that the defense has been porous, there is no denying that in the past two years, the yards allowed per play have seen a steady climb.

While I set out to defend my beloved Ducks, there is no denying it, no way to spin it. The data clearly show that in the past two years the Oregon defense has been on a steady decline, and it is frightening to imagine the Oregon defense if it continues on its current trajectory.

Evan Markel
Oregon Football Analyst for CFF Network/
Knoxville, Tennessee

Top Photo by John Sperry

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