September 22, 2012; Morgantown, WV, USA; Maryland Terrapins defensive lineman Joe Vellano (72) on the field against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the fourth quarter at Milan Puskar Stadium. The West Virginia Mountaineers won 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

How Much Better Is Maryland Football's Defense

A lot of hubbub has been made about Maryland’s defense this season since Brian Stewart took over as coordinator this offseason, and rightly so. Just in terms of raw statistics, the Terrapins are ranked by the NCAA as 11th in the nation in total defense, giving up 288 total yards per contest,  with opponents averaging a mere 4.32 yards per play (Florida is holding opponents to 4.1 yards per play, for comparison). There is no question that Maryland’s defense isn’t Alabama, but just by basic metrics you can clearly see that the Terrapins are much, much, improved from last season. How much?

Well, last season through seven games was not nearly as peachy, to put it lightly. Through seven in 2011, the Terrapins had given up 3,094 total yards on the defensive end, 27 touchdowns in total (versus 16 this season so far), and had six of their first seven opponents score 21 or more points on them (compared to this season, where only three of the first seven have done so). Granted, the opponents were ranked teams like West Virginia, Clemson, and Georgia Tech, the Terps were still getting gashed by every opponent (including Temple). The result was that the Terrapins went from 2-5 to a 4-3 that could very, very, easily be a 5-2 (but that part we won’t dwell on, sparing Craddock this time).

But if you really want to get a gauge on how good this defense has become, advanced metrics can give an even better picture on what you see on the field. For that, I like to rely on a site called FootballOutsiders.com, who do a fantastic job compiling every single play of every game and bringing them together in a nice metric called the Fremau Efficiency Index (or FEI, for short). It takes into account the following:

(from their website)

  • DFEI: Defensive FEI, the opponent-adjusted efficiency of the given team’s defense.
  • DE: Defensive Efficiency, the raw unadjusted efficiency of the given team’s defense, a measure of the actual drive success of its opponents against expected drive success based on field position.
  • FD: First Down rate, the percentage of opponent offensive drives that result in at least one first down or touchdown.
  • AY: Available Yards, yards earned by the opponent offense divided by the total number of yards available based on starting field position.
  • Ex: Explosive Drives, the percentage of each opponent offense’s drives that average at least 10 yards per play.
  • Me: Methodical Drives, the percentage of each opponent offense’s drives that run 10 or more plays.
  • Va: Value Drives, the percentage of each opponent offense’s drives beginning on their own side of the field that reach at least the team’s 30-yard line.
  • DSOS Pvs: Defensive Strength of Schedule to date, the likelihood that an elite defense (two standard deviations better than average) would have an above-average DE rating against each of the offenses faced to date.
  • DSOS Fut: Defensive Strength of Schedule remaining, the likelihood that an elite defense (two standard deviations better than average) would have an above-average DE rating against each of the remaining offenses to be faced.

I’m going to condense the tables used here to show the Top 15 (which Maryland is not in) and then the five teams above and below Maryland in the rankings (to get an idea of where they stand).

DFEI DFEI
Rk
Team FBS
Rec
FEI
Rk
DE DE
Rk
FD FD
Rk
AY AY
Rk
Ex Ex
Rk
Me Me
Rk
Va Va
Rk
DSOS
Pvs
Rk DSOS
Fut
Rk
-.748 1 Stanford 5-2 9 -.425 24 .580 18 .341 14 .068 20 .102 21 .272 17 .143 10 .409 36
-.727 2 Alabama 7-0 3 -1.003 1 .500 1 .224 1 .059 17 .059 3 .161 1 .377 55 .552 67
-.716 3 Michigan State 4-4 29 -.581 11 .576 15 .343 16 .054 15 .098 19 .232 7 .131 6 .430 43
-.694 4 Oregon 6-0 4 -.717 4 .611 25 .343 15 .069 21 .139 62 .288 26 .404 60 .428 42
-.669 5 Florida State 5-1 8 -.556 16 .536 4 .294 4 .043 8 .116 31 .177 4 .270 24 .559 68
-.662 6 Oklahoma 4-1 2 -.794 2 .640 39 .291 3 .020 4 .060 4 .167 3 .254 23 .050 2
-.637 7 Cincinnati 3-1 15 -.564 14 .614 29 .389 30 .091 36 .114 28 .310 34 .581 97 .294 22
-.622 8 Kansas State 6-0 1 -.324 30 .611 26 .376 29 .019 3 .222 114 .327 41 .345 44 .063 4
-.602 9 Rutgers 6-0 14 -.564 13 .592 21 .373 28 .099 38 .099 20 .286 24 .352 46 .369 32
-.567 10 Notre Dame 7-0 6 -.742 3 .583 19 .347 18 .014 1 .181 95 .258 15 .601 102 .354 29
-.558 11 Florida 7-0 5 -.583 10 .544 6 .326 11 .051 12 .190 103 .280 21 .482 80 .667 85
-.548 12 Boise State 6-1 27 -.600 9 .645 43 .350 20 .039 6 .171 86 .243 11 .689 114 .519 60
-.547 13 South Carolina 6-2 25 -.704 5 .616 30 .314 9 .047 9 .128 47 .235 8 .451 71 .435 46
-.530 14 LSU 6-1 11 -.651 7 .538 5 .264 2 .050 11 .075 8 .164 2 .471 78 .409 37
-.511 15 Oregon State 6-0 7 -.394 25 .667 58 .396 32 .107 40 .147 67 .304 31 .310 33 .531 65

That’s the Top 15. Now here is where Maryland stands

DFEI DFEI
Rk
Team FBS
Rec
FEI
Rk
DE DE
Rk
FD FD
Rk
AY AY
Rk
Ex Ex
Rk
Me Me
Rk
Va Va
Rk
DSOS
Pvs
Rk DSOS
Fut
Rk
-.289 31 Virginia Tech 3-4 47 -.166 42 .671 62 .436 50 .118 50 .118 35 .387 61 .178 15 .727 98
-.278 32 Texas Tech 5-1 10 -.199 38 .661 53 .400 33 .068 19 .136 59 .353 50 .368 50 .053 3
-.277 33 Minnesota 3-3 70 -.202 37 .667 59 .410 36 .111 44 .153 72 .295 28 .447 69 .483 53
-.263 34 Mississippi State 6-0 30 -.556 15 .594 22 .351 21 .047 10 .188 102 .279 20 .765 119 .281 18
-.251 35 Northern Illinois 6-1 41 -.103 46 .727 86 .475 67 .078 26 .247 121 .417 74 .508 83 .774 108
-.249 36 Maryland 3-3 57 -.443 21 .554 9 .313 8 .084 33 .120 41 .243 10 .612 105 .255 15
-.243 37 Toledo 6-1 31 .033 67 .773 110 .508 84 .205 111 .114 29 .407 69 .278 27 .678 88
-.243 38 Wake Forest 3-3 75 -.066 53 .676 66 .433 49 .108 42 .108 24 .317 36 .401 59 .269 16
-.242 39 Missouri 2-4 81 -.174 39 .645 44 .426 44 .158 77 .105 22 .328 42 .524 85 .333 26
-.234 40 Fresno State 4-3 45 -.459 18 .521 2 .310 6 .117 49 .074 7 .221 6 .587 99 .520 61
-.212 41 Purdue 2-4 74 .013 65 .703 78 .461 62 .081 31 .149 68 .364 56 .173 13 .306 23

I know that’s a lot to take in, but I’ll try to explain it a bit better for you now. What stands out to me? That the Terrapins fell as far as they did to 31st. It isn’t bad, but basic statistics would suggest that the Terrapins are a lot better than 31st in the nation given how well their defense has been playing. Part of that is because these statistics are harsh on teams that play creampuff schedules and do not completely dominate weak teams. So far, the Terrapins have played one elite team (West Virginia, kind of), and they lost while giving up points in the thirties. This is not to knock the defense, it just means that the schedule isn’t working in their favor on some of these metrics (like the overall score which places them thiry-first in the nation). It does, however, compliment the Terrapins in a lot of good categories.

In particular, the Terrapins are 9th in the nation in First Down Rates at .554, the percentage of opponent offensive drives that result in at least one first down or touchdown. Wisconsin, TCU, LSU, Florida, and Alabama are teams ahead of them in that statistic, so if we are cherry-picking statistics, the Terps are incredibly good at forcing teams to punt early and often. Considering how often the offense stalls out, this number is particularly impressive as the defense is constantly on the field. As we saw against N.C. State, though, regardless of field position the Terrapins are incredibly effective at forcing the opponent’s offense to rely on the pass, and then proceed to break up everything in sight.

Another good statistic that the Terrapins are very good in is Available Yards. This number represents the yards earned by the opponent offense divided by the total number of yards available based on starting field position. By this metric it has the Terrapins ranked 8th in the nation, at .313. Again, this is a stat that almost shows how good this team is at bending a times, but never breaking. The field position they are given is rarely good, and yet they still manage to keep opponents from scoring or gaining many yards at all. When you account for all the awful punts Maryland has had that gives opposing offenses the ball around their 40 yard line, it’s a telling stat for the Terrapins. Bottom line? These guys do not quit, regardless of the field position.

Finally, we’ll look at another statistic that really shows how good the Terrapins are at stopping opponents on the defensive end using the Value Drives statistic. This one is the percentage of each opponent offense’s drives beginning on their own side of the field that reach at least the team’s 30-yard line. For this, the metric has the Terrapins ranked 10th in the nation at .243. It goes along with the bend-but-don’t-break mentality that the Terrapins defense has. They stop teams regardless of field position, and ensure that even if drives go ten or more plays,opponents have to fight for every single yard.

We notice this one a lot when the Terrapins play opponents who end up at the 50 yard line, but have to settle for field goals because the Terps are so good at busting up plays with less field. This defense swarms, and they are versatile in that plenty of their players (Hartsfield, Tate, Drakeford) can play more than one position. This is a fast unit that, when there are less yards to be had on the field by the offense, uses its speed to cover more field. Not a bad thing for the Terrapins.

Of course, with statistics, you have to show the good and the bad in order to get any real perspective on how good the stat itself is. Without boring you with details, these rankings scold the Terrapins for their schedule thus far. One metric, DSOS Pvs ( Defensive Strength of Schedule to date, the likelihood that an elite defense (two standard deviations better than average) would have an above-average DE rating against each of the offenses faced to date), suggests accurately that the Terrapins haven’t faced anyone that an elite defense wouldn’t tear up either. It has them ranked 105th, and suggests that .612 percent of defenses would have great games against the opponents the Terps have faced. As much as I want to take weight into this statistic, the reality is that any team has to play their schedule. Thus far the Terrapins have played admirably against everyone they have faced, and quite frankly I am satisfied with that.

Now in the second half of the schedule, the Terrapins have a much tougher task at hand. Florida State, Clemson, and Georgia Tech all score quite a bit, so we can really get a good gauge of just how impressive (statistically, at least) this squad is. There is a statistic for this, called DSOS Fut, which applies the same standard as the previous paragraph, only with future teams. Feel free to look at the table for that number (it’s 15th in the nation), but I am going to have to ignore that one.

What do all these numbers tell us? That Maryland is very good on defense to this point, but they have a tougher task ahead of them. Compared to last year, though, how improved are they? Well, I’ll just let the chart speak for itself on that matter:

2011:

DFEI DFEI
Rk
Team FBS
Rec
FEI
Rk
DE DE
Rk
FD FD
Rk
AY AY
Rk
Ex Ex
Rk
Me Me
Rk
Va Va
Rk
DSOS Rk
.010 61 Georgia Tech 7-5 43 .132 79 .645 46 .480 79 .149 78 .157 83 .427 81 .129 54
.012 62 Wake Forest 5-7 55 .041 70 .705 88 .471 72 .158 87 .151 80 .411 74 .185 74
.018 63 Arizona State 5-7 42 .054 72 .710 92 .497 84 .159 88 .131 62 .422 79 .089 34
.043 64 Ohio 9-4 58 -.093 52 .636 38 .420 44 .110 44 .117 34 .364 53 .349 103
.048 65 SMU 7-5 70 -.105 46 .638 39 .447 59 .092 29 .131 60 .418 77 .103 39
.053 66 San Diego State 7-5 75 .066 75 .664 59 .462 65 .150 80 .171 99 .380 59 .171 70
.077 67 Marshall 7-6 85 -.093 51 .651 51 .432 52 .138 68 .125 46 .373 57 .138 55
.084 68 East Carolina 5-7 92 .055 73 .706 89 .511 92 .127 58 .183 104 .437 86 .146 57
.096 69 Miami (OH) 4-8 76 -.078 55 .667 60 .432 51 .078 18 .163 86 .345 41 .248 90
.101 70 Utah State 6-6 65 -.021 63 .688 76 .459 63 .132 62 .118 36 .406 71 .437 111
.121 71 Miami 5-6 26 .065 74 .714 94 .501 87 .105 40 .248 119 .444 90 .186 75
.134 72 Louisiana Monroe 3-8 86 -.089 54 .648 49 .425 48 .128 59 .120 40 .355 48 .476 113
.148 73 Oregon State 3-8 91 .314 98 .707 90 .517 94 .138 67 .147 77 .429 82 .047 14
.148 74 Maryland 1-10 81 .370 104 .758 106 .559 104 .156 83 .188 109 .491 105 .051 17
.152 75 Western Kentucky 7-4 87 -.044 59 .645 47 .430 50 .177 100 .105 22 .383 60 .323 102

By every statistic, we can say that Brian Stewart has improved this team. And for that we commend him for the job he’s done, and hail praise upon the 3-4 (for now).

—————-

Later this week, we’ll be breaking down the 3-4 defense and what makes it so effective by doing a little film study, so be sure to stay tuned into the site.

Next Terrapins Game Full schedule »

Tags: Defense Maryland Football Maryland Terrapins

comments powered by Disqus