Defense Wins Music City Bowls

This is not the position you want your safety to be in...again. - Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Defensively, a perusal of statistical leaders from N. C. State and Vanderbilt reveals a lot of similarities. For example:

  • The Commodores have a corner named Trey Wilson who does not pick many passes, but when he does he always takes it to the house, much like C. J. Wilson in his Pack career (until this year anyway).
  • Vanderbilt and N. C. State both excel at knocking offenses off schedule, ranking among the FBS leaders in tackles for loss. The Commodores drop opponents for a loss on over 11% of their snaps and rank 5th in the FBS with 7.75 tackles for a loss.
  • The Pack stop opponents for a loss on 10% of their snaps and rank 12th nationally with 7.33 tfl per game.
  • The Pack are 19th with 2.67 sacks per game; Vandy is 37th with 2.33 per game.
  • Both teams rely on a lot of guys to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Pack have 21 players credited with at least .5 a tackle for a loss; the Commodores have 23. Vandy has 14 players that have registered a sack; State has 13.
  • Both teams' starting safety tandem rank 1-2 on the team in tackles (actually, in Vandy's case the safeties tied for the team lead in total tackles, while State's tied in solo stops).
  • Both teams get off the field: State is third in opponent third-down conversion rate (27.17%); Vandy is 16th nationally (31.91%).
  • Vandy turned safety Karl Butler (6-1, 215) into a smallish outside linebacker, much like State has done in recent years with Rodman Noel and D. J. Green.
  • State ranks 38th in the Football Outsiders' defensive efficiency metric; Vandy is 42nd.

For all the similarities, there are some notable differences, most of which seem to favor the Commodores. For one, Vandy ranked 15th in scoring defense (18.3 points per game), which is kind of the most important bottom line defensive stat. The Pack ranked 45th, allowing about a touchdown more per contest (24.6 ppg), which is a big deal. Vanderbilt's performance is somewhat inflated by games against the likes of Presbyterian and UMass, among other highly deficient offenses, as noted in more detail further down the stream.

Possibly the biggest advantage for the Commodores, though one that could once again be misleading due to their schedule, is that they allowed over a yard less per snap defensively than did the Pack (4.69/5.72). Vandy was 15th in the FBS in opponent yards per play; the Pack were a somewhat embarrassing 75th. However, the Commodores played just four FBS teams with a winning record, and those teams banged out 5.87 yards per play (and the ‘dores lost all four games). Alas, the Pack only faced four winning FBS programs as well, and they spilled out 6.92 yards per snap in those games, so no solace there.

While both teams like to play a disruptive, aggressive style of defense, Vanderbilt does so with more discipline. The Commodores managed to apply pressure without giving up the big play; they ranked 36th in the country in surrendering plays of 20+ yards (45). The Pack seem to pay when pressure does not lead to negative plays, or they too often have communication breakdowns or inexplicably quit on plays. It all adds up, as in adds up to 64 plays of 20+ yards surrendered on the season, the 100th worst total in the FBS. The bigger the play, the worse it gets. State surrendered 20 plays of 40+ yards, 115th worst in the FBS.

Individually, you will find more red-clad defenders among the national leaders, though that is not necessarily a good thing. For example, Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop are tied for 26th in the FBS in solo stops with 67, and Wolff is 43rd with 110 total tackles. While Wolff often roams into the box and makes plays at or near the line of scrimmage, it is still a little concerning that the tandem charged with being the last line of defense has had to make so many stops. Definitively positive individual leader stats for the Pack include Darryl Cato-Bishop's 6.5 sacks (which ranks 54th), Rickey Dowdy's 13.5 tfl, which ranks among the top 50 nationally, and David Amerson's five picks. Amerson ranks ninth nationally in INTs a year after leading the college ranks.

The most acclaimed individual on Vanderbilt's defense is tackle Rob Lohr, a Lombardi and Nagurski watch list nominee. Lohr, a senior who has made 37 consecutive starts, has posted 11 tfl thus far in 2012. Lohr gives the ‘dores a definite advantage over the Pack in interior line play, where State's sophomore tandem suffered from inconsistency. Corner Andre Hal likes to get his hands on balls and led Vandy with 11 pass breakups. As his anagram (Hand Earl) would seem to indicate, he would have more picks if his hands weren't prone to spitting up. Middle linebacker Chase Garnham (Each Nag Harms) led the squad in quarterback nags with six.

The chart below displays individual leaders in a number of key defensive stats. For offensive and special team leaders, look here and here.

N. C. State

Stat

Vanderbilt

Earl Wolff (110)

Tackles

K. Ladler, J. Marshall (80)

Rickey Dowdy (13.5)

Tackles for loss

C. Garnham, K. Butler (11.5)

D. Cato-Bishop (6.5)

Sacks

Chase Garnham (6)

Art Norman (7)

QB hurries

Walker May (6)

David Amerson (5)

INT

A. Hal, T. Wilson (2)

David Amerson (11)

Pass break ups

Andre Hal (11)

Brandan Bishop (2)

Forced fumbles

10 tied with 1

Rickey Dowdy (2)

Fumble recoveries

5 tied with 1

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