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Havoc rates, NC State, and the ACC at large

Andy Lyons

NC State's defense not only is struggling on a down-to-down basis this season, it's also having trouble creating good luck in the form of turnovers. State has 11 takeaways in eight games this season, or one takeaway for every 51 plays from scrimmage. Last year, State turned opponents over 21 times in 12 games--once every 38-39 plays, on average.

With all that in mind, I was looking over defensive havoc rates (a Bill Connelly invention) to see if State's defense really wants for disruptive plays as much as it seemed. Turnovers are one form of disruption, but we can go further than that. Havoc is a straightforward measure of hell raisin', as BIll puts it:

Havoc rate is a pretty simple method for looking at how much hell a defense is raising. Add up tackles for loss (which includes sacks), forced fumbles, and defensed passes (picks and break-ups), divide it by total plays, and voila: havoc rate. The national havoc average in 2013 was 15.9 percent.

And here are NC State's havoc rates this season, along with overall defensive S&P+:

Wolfpack Defense Def. S&P+ (Nat'l Rank) Havoc Rate Front 7 Havoc Rate DB Havoc Rate
100.9 (81) 14.9% (78) 9.5% (66) 5.4% (92)

In addition to a modest defensive turnover rate, the Wolfpack also ranks just 65th in tackles for loss per game--given those two things, it's not surprising that the team's overall havoc rate is in the bottom half of FBS. The low havoc rate is not a capital-P Problem for the defense, it's really more a symptom for the component factors (inexperience, lack of depth, powerful sense of helplessness, etc.) hurting the team this season. These havoc rates reflect a team's defensive philosophy to a significant degree, and while they do correlate with better defensive play overall, a great havoc rate isn't essential for having a great defense.

While I'm here, might as well have a gander at havoc rates of the rest of the ACC.

ACC Team Havoc Rate (Nat'l Rank)
Virginia Tech 23.5% (1)
Louisville 22.5% (2)
Virginia 22.0% (3)
Clemson 21.7% (6)
Wake Forest 20.3% (13)
Boston College 18.3% (29)
Syracuse 17.6% (42)
Florida State 17.2% (48)
Georgia Tech 15.5% (70)
Miami 15.4% (71)
NC State 14.9% (78)
North Carolina 14.4% (87)
Pittsburgh 14.3% (91)
Duke 12.9% (105)

Five teams in the top 15 nationally, with four of the top six, including both teams from Virginia. I guess that makes the state of Virginia the current havoc capital of the college football world. You won't see that on any signs at the state borders, which feels like a missed opportunity for their tourism industry.

Looking at the six teams with havoc rates below the national average, three have defenses that are passable or better (Duke and Pitt both rank around 50 in defensive S&P+; Miami is in the top 25), while the other three have defenses that are varying levels of terrible.

I'm just glad it ain't only us down at the bottom of the barrel; Georgia Tech and UNC are actually ranked lower than NC State in defensive S&P+. Brothers in struggle, let us weep together that the burden may seem temporarily less significant!

As one final note, I applaud the non-effort efforts taken by UNC, Pitt, Duke in the havoc category--these programs clearly see the chaos rampant in the Coastal Division and have in one small way said "no more!" It's a losing battle but their principled stand is admirable.