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Getting Off The Field

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:

Att Comp Comp% Rating Yds/Att 1stDown%
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.

Here's 2010:

Att Comp Comp% Rating Yds/Att 1stDown%
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'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?