I was poking around cfbstats earlier this afternoon trying to get some sort of handle on why the Pack's defense has been so much better in third down situations. I looked at both run and pass plays, and while the rushing stats reflect the larger trend, it's the passing stats that are interesting.
First, here's a look at how our opponents fared in 2009 when they threw the ball on third down:
|All 3rd downs||99||62||62.6||154.23||8.0||39.4|
|3rd down, 1-3 to go||12||8||66.7||174.67||9.6||58.3|
|3rd down, 4-6 to go||33||24||72.7||179.17||7.9||54.5|
|3rd down, 7-9 to go||24||13||54.2||142.22||7.2||29.2|
|3rd down, 10+ to go||30||17||56.7||128.20||8.0||23.3|
[1stDown% = percentage of opponents' 3rd down pass plays that resulted in a 1st down.]
Does any of that ugliness surprise you? No? You just had a horrible flashback to the Duke game? That's my bad. As you can see, opposing quarterbacks were especially effective in third-and-intermediate situations, which is not surprising. Since those are not clear-cut run or pass situations, the defense has to do more guessing. We were horrible guessers. We were also horrible expecters.
|All 3rd downs||51||18||35.3||68.31||4.7||27.5|
|3rd down, 1-3 to go||4||2||50.0||98.3||5.8||50.0|
|3rd down, 4-6 to go||11||5||45.5||66.22||4.6||45.5|
|3rd down, 7-9 to go||17||6||35.3||87.15||4.4||23.5|
|3rd down, 10+ to go||19||5||26.3||46.39||4.9||15.8|
This is absurd improvement and it's across the board--every statistic, every situation. The weird thing is our pass defense has been as bad in first and second down situations as it was a year ago (slightly worse, actually, if you go by passer rating). Opponents average 8.1 yards per pass attempt on first down, 7.1 on second down, and then...it's like a steel door slams shut. Completion percentage and output plummet. I have no idea how we're doing this. Scheme? Schedule? Good fortune? A higher proportion of obvious passing situations? Time machine? Bottled Tenuta rage?