Diving into the numbers: The struggling USF defense

Posted: November 6, 2014 in Football

The defense hasn’t been as sharp as they were a year ago. The numbers don’t lie.

The USF defense was fairly stout last year, becoming the strength of the team throughout the course of the year. First year coordinator Chuck Bresnahan brought a new attitude to the defense and had the unit playing at a higher level. They made more stops and came away with more takeaways, all positive signs for the unit. However, this season has not gone the same as the last. The scheme change and personnel changes have hurt the unit and have led to more yards and scores than a year ago. Let’s dig into the numbers to get to see the differences from last year to this season.

The defense changed its overall scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this year. This was done for various reasons. For one, the Bulls simply didn’t have enough experienced defensive ends on the roster to have a strong depth chart in the 4-3 look. Secondly, Coach Bresnahan made the moved to get linebackers and athletes on the field. He felt that having players that could stand up, rush while putting a hand on the ground, but also cover in zone schemes, would be more beneficial moving forward. This was all great in theory, but the numbers the unit is allowing so far this year is very concerning.

Overall points and first downs

Last year, the USF defense gave up a total of 343 points, allowing an average of 28.6 PPG. This year, with 3 games to go, they have given up 264 points overall, allowing 29.3 PPG. That’s a difference of 79 points between the two years (still have games to go this season). While the game against SMU may not add to the overall number of points, games against Memphis and UCF could push the total point total over the number from last season.

Now it gets fun. Last year, the defense gave up a total of 238 first downs. They allowed 100 of them on the ground and 114 through the air. This year, they have allowed a total of 203 first downs against them, with 90 coming on the ground and 101 through the air. They are on pace to allow more first downs, which means they are allowing more yards than last season. It seems time after time, just when the defense has an opponent on third down, they are able to get a first and chew up more yards and the numbers prove it. Last year, opponents where 60 for 155 on third down attempts, averaging 39%. They were also 5 of 9 on 4th down, converting 56% of the time. This year, the defense has allowed opponents to convert 59 out of 132 attempts on third down, good enough for 45%. They have also allowed opponents to convert 9 out 11 times on 4th down, good for 82%. The defense simply can’t get off the field in third down and even 4th down situations. Opponents are able to get the yards and keep drives alive.

Run over and passed over

Opponents are getting a lot of first downs on the defense and keep drives alive a lot longer than they did a year ago. But how are they getting these first downs? Last year, the defense allowed a total of 1677 yards of rushing offense against them. They allowed this on 435 total carries during the year, just 3.9 yards per rush and 139.8 yards a game on the ground. This year, they have allowed 1744 yards of rushing offense against them, 67 more yards than last season already with 3 games left. They have allowed this on 381 carries, allowing opponents an average of 4.6 yards per rush and a huge 193.8 yards per game against them. That’s 54 yards per game more than a year ago! The defense has also given up 19 rushing touchdowns compared to the 16 given up all of last year. We figured the 3-4 would struggle at times in rush defense, but it has been gashed more than ever. Opponents are wearing down the defense and eating up the clock in late game situations.

Through the air, its not much better. Last year, the defense allowed 2532 total passing yards against them. They allowed 7.4 yards per pass attempt and 11.8 yards per catch. They allowed opponents an average of 211 yards per game through the air and allowed 19 passing touchdowns all season. This year, they have allowed 2071 yards through the air. They are allowing 7.4 yards per pass attempt (no change) and 10.9 yards per catch. They are allowing 230 yards a game overall and have allowed 12 passing touchdowns against them. The yards per catch are slightly down but the overall yardage per game is up by 19 yards a game. Opponents are going to quick, short passing games in order to take advantage of the USF defense.

Overall, the unit has allowed 3815 yards total on 661 total plays from scrimmage, averaging 5.8 yards per play and 423.9 yards per game. Compared to last year, the defense gave up 4209 yards total on 777 plays, allowing 5.4 yards per play and 350.8 yards total per game. Opponents are holding onto the ball longer and the defense is not getting off the field on third downs. 5 times this year the Bulls have given up over 300 yards of total offense in a half (gave up 590 yards against Cincinnati overall, tying a school record). They can stop anyone and the lack of turnovers has not helped as well.


Coach Bresnahan preached turnovers and big plays last year for his defense and they responded. USF had 24 sacks last year and 11 interceptions, they also had 92 tackles for loss. Those are splash plays. This year, they haven’t been there. The defense has 18 sacks, 5 interceptions, and 53 tackles for loss, all lows compared to a year ago. The Bulls aren’t getting any pressure in the backfield with a 3-man front or with any kind of blitzes and the secondary is not forcing the turnovers. Quarterbacks have more time to throw and the quick passing game is eating up the defense. They simply can’t make plays and force the needed turnovers.

Redzone woes

Last year, opponents were 35 for 45 in redzone drives, which is 78%. Out of the 45 visits, 24 of them went for touchdowns, which is 53% of the time (not good). This year, opponents are 32 for 36 in redzone drives, which is an ugly 89%. Out of those 36 visits, 23 of them have ended in touchdowns for the opponents, which is 64%! Opponents are cashing in on more touchdowns when they enter the redzone this year compared to last year, a bad trend to see.

Final thoughts

The defense is allowing more yards this season, more first downs, more rushing yards, more touchdowns and has less turnovers, sacks, and interceptions. Things have not been good for this unit and they still have 3 more games to play. Why is the unit trending in the wrong way? For one, the personnel turnover from last year has hurt. Losing 4 defensive ends and veterans across the roster hurts the depth of the unit. Young players have had to step up and returning veterans haven’t had the years we thought they would. Then there is the scheme change to the 3-4 look. I was a bit wary of switching to the 3-4, not knowing if our returning defensive linemen would be able to get enough pressure or stop the run with 3 down linemen and I (like many others) were right to be wary. Opponents are running all over the field, opposing quarterbacks are keeping their jerseys clean throughout the game, and the defense can’t get off the field. The 3-4 has not worked out well and the unit as a whole has not lived up to the high expectations that were built up after this performances a year ago.

Coach Bresnahan has a lot of work to get done these final few weeks if his unit is going to post some better overall numbers at the end of the year. At this rate though, expect more drives, more yards, and more scores against them unless they shape up during this bye week.


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