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Kansas Football Defensive Numbers: Beyond the Basics

An in-depth look at the stats on the defensive side of the ball for this year's football team

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

We all know the football team is struggling, and given this, the discussion among Kansas fans has shifted from debating the quality of the play on the field, to the potential causes for the team's problem. It's an important discussion, but we shouldn't stop looking at the team's execution entirely. Over the next couple of days, in effort to delve a little further into exactly where the team's performance stands right now, I will be going over a more detailed analysis of the team's measurable performance so far. We see points scored, yards allowed, turnovers, etc. thrown around pretty frequently, so my focus is on some of the numbers the TV broadcast might not always show you. Today, we look at the defense


*DISCLAIMER: I almost considered holding off until next week to do this, but ultimately decided it would be a better piece at the halfway point of the season. Why did I think about waiting? We play Baylor this weekend, so all these numbers are subject to significant change, as Baylor has the ability to put up 800 yards and 70 points at any time.

To start, we'll look at the numbers that are most frequently used to illustrate the defense's performance: yards and points allowed.

Big12 rank Team Yards/game Natn'l rank
1 Oklahoma 293.4 9
2 Baylor 317.3 11
3 TCU 340.4 19
4 Oklahoma State 355.2 28
5 Texas Tech 358.3 32
6 Kansas State 381.2 52
7 Kansas 402 72
8 Texas 431.7 91
9 West Virginia 452 104
10 Iowa State 492 119

Big12 Team Points/game Natn'l
1 Baylor 16.2 7
2 Oklahoma 17.1 9
3 Oklahoma State 18.3 14
4 Texas Tech 18.7 16
5 TCU 21.7 31
6 Kansas State 26.2 57
7 Kansas 27 65
7 Texas 27 65
9 West Virginia 29.7 84
10 Iowa State 36.7 111

Nothing to really hang your hat on there. We're in the top portion of the bottom half of the conference and FBS (125 teams total) in both categories. I don't like using these numbers as the sole factor in determining how good a defense is, but they definitely give you an idea of how they're doing. For reference, last year we were 8th in the Big 12, surrendering 36.1 points per game, and 9th in allowing 481.8 yards. So at least at the halfway point, we would seem to be showing progress (especially since we gave up 516.4 yards and 43.8 points per game in 2011).

For the metrics crowd out there, I also wanted to include some more advanced rankings. Unfortunately, football analysis lags behind baseball and basketball in the array of intricate statistical analysis available (though it's coming around). My favorite site for this is Football Outsiders, where the next two numbers come from. First, we'll look at their FEI defensive ranking, which is a defensive efficiency measure incorporating a number of factors, including the quality of offenses a team has faced, the quality of possessions allowed to the opponent (expressed as "explosive" and "methodical"), among other measures of general efficiency.

Team Big12 Natn'l
Kansas 5 37

Well there's some good news! The computers like us on this measure. 5th in the Big 12 and a very solid 37th nationally is a big deal. We finished last season ranked 83rd overall in the FEI, so here we're showing not only improvement, but a respectable national standing. Helping us in this metric are the defensive SOS, defensive efficiency, and the relatively few "explosive drives" we've allowed (again, with no Baylor on the schedule).

Next we'll check FO's S&P+ rating, which for some reason, does not yet include this past week's game, so our performance against OU is not taken into account. That said, the OU game only changed our FEI ranking by 2 spots, so I wouldn't expect an enormous swing.

Team Big12 Natn'l
Kansas 9 85

Ouch. From the Big 12, only Texas sits below us in the S&P+. What's killing us in this metric is a bad run defense. Not only is its assessment of our run stopping very low (104th), the S&P separates plays into "standard downs" (where either a rush or pass could be reasonably expected), and "passing downs." With our pass defense being the strength of the unit (67th in S&P), our performance on standard downs is terrible (94th).

So the computers are somewhat split on us. We'll go back to more standard measures for the next few stats.

Team Rush yds/attempt Big12 Natn'l
Kansas 4.56 yards 8 87

Team Pass yds/attempt Big12 Natn'l
Kansas 6.00 yards 3 12

Team Opp Completion % Big12 Natn'l
Kansas 57.90% 7 52

It doesn't take more than a glance to see which type of offense we struggle with more. We saw this play out very vividly against Texas Tech. Tech tried to execute their normal air raid style of offense out of the gate and saw little success early. As soon as they remembered that running is still an option in modern football, things went downhill. What's interesting about this is that just last year, we feared pass-happy teams and felt we matched up much better with teams like Texas and ISU. We have four new starters in the secondary, but so far the performance against the pass has been very much improved. Last year we allowed opponents to complete 67.4% of their passes (119th nationally), and gave up 8.5 yards/attempt (118th). At this point, you'd have to tip your cap to Dave Campo, Clint Bowen and staff. If you're curious, last year we gave up 5.22 yards per rush, 114th nationally.

So we're respectable against the pass and lacking against the run. How has this mixture of strength and weakness shaken out in yards per play? Yards per play, to me, is a better number than yards per game, as it factors in pace and style of offense to some extent. A spread offense could rattle off 85 plays in a game, while a balanced attack only runs 65. If you give up the same number of yards to each team, the performances shouldn't be considered equal.

Team Yards/Play Big12 Natn'l
Kansas 5.24 6 38

Not bad! Compared to last year's 6.78 yards/play (122nd nationally), this number has me doing cartwheels.

Team Sacks/Game Big12 Natn'l
Kansas 2.33 3 40

Team TFL/Game Big12 Natn'l
Kansas 7.33 3 22

More happy stats. Our 5.5 tackles for loss last year ranked 73rd, while our .92 sacks ranked 121st. Last, we look at turnovers.

Team TOs Forced Big12 Natn'l
Kansas 14 5 30

I don't love looking at turnovers (a very inconsistent stat year-to-year), but it is another area where the defense is doing fairly well.


There is a lot to consider here. I'm a bit hesitant about some of these numbers for a few reasons. Again, we haven't played the offensive juggernaut that is Baylor yet, so there's little doubt the defense won't look quite as impressive statistically at this time next week. Another issue is that in so many categories, we rank high nationally, but middle-of-the-pack within the conference. This would seem to indicate what we already know: this isn't a tough offensive conference this year. With that in mind, better numbers are easier to obtain. Still, the improvement over last year (so far) is undeniable, and cause for some optimism on this side of the ball. Tomorrow we'll look at the offense, and I think we all know things won't look so rosy.