The 2014 season was a major shift in the defense under 2nd year coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. The Bulls went from the traditional 4-3 front and moved to a 3-4 front for their base formation. It was done for various reasons (well touch on that after the jump) and it took time during the year to adjust to. Let’s dig into the numbers and compare this year’s unit to last year’s unit and see how they did.
The defense shifted to the 3-4 for two major reasons. For one, they simply didn’t have the depth at defensive end to field the 4-3 effectively to begin the year, so the 3-4 was a natural move. Secondly, the Bulls added several athletic linebackers and several players that could rush off the edge in the offseason. The 3-4 front would allow the coaches to get more athletic players on the field, allowing for more rushing and different coverage looks as well. As we go through the numbers, we have to keep in mind in the shift from the 4-3 to the 3-4. It was a different system and had its pros and cons. So with that said, let’s dig into the numbers.
This year, the USF defense allowed a total of 324 total points, averaging 27 PPG. In 2013, USF allowed 343 points overall, 28.6 PPG. So the Bulls improved by 1.6 PPG this year in points allowed. The defense allowed a total of 258 first downs during the season, 114 of them on the ground and 127 through the air. In 2013, they allowed 238 first downs, 100 on the ground and 114 through the air. Overall, they allowed 20 more first downs. In several games, the defense had issues with rushing attacks that went right up the middle against them (3-4 weakness) which lead to the higher numbers this year.
On the ground, the Bulls gave up 2195 yards this year on 487 carries. They allowed 4.5 yards per carry, 182.4 yards per game and gave up 22 rushing touchdowns. Last year, the unit gave up 1677 yards total on 435 carries. They allowed 3.9 yards per carry, 139.8 yards per game and allowed 16 touchdowns. Across the board, the numbers are worse this year against the run. They allowed 518 more yards this year, 6 more rushing touchdowns, and allowed 42.6 more yards per game. The numbers are bad and show the run defense took a major step back. However, there are some reasons for it. The team did lose 4 defensive ends at the end of last year. Starters Todd Chandler and Elkino Watson missed time during the year to various injuries, putting young players in the new 3-4 system right into the mix and the results were not pretty. Putting aside these factors, the end results show the Bulls were not effective in stopping opponents’ rushing attacks.
The secondary gave up 2642 total yards passing this year. They allowed 7.3 yards per pass and 10.6 yards per catch. They allowed 220.2 yards total per game and allowed 16 touchdowns. In 2013, they allowed 2532 yards passing with 7.4 yards per pass and 11.8 yards per catch. They allowed 211 yards per game and 19 touchdowns overall. The numbers are fairly similar to last year’s totals. They allowed 3 fewer touchdowns this year, but did allow 9 more yards passing per game. They did lower the yards per catch by 1.2 yards, showing that opponents relied more on a slightly shorter passing game against them at times. The USF secondary played fairly well this year considering the youth movement that continues with the group and the number of freshmen that played during the year.
Overall, the Bulls allowed a total of 4837 yards on 850 plays. This equals out to 5.7 yards per play and 403.1 yards per game. Compared to last year where they allowed 4209 yards on 777 plays. They allowed 5.4 yards per play and 350.8 yards per game. A 53 yard per game increase is not a good sign and a major increase on total plays allowed of 73 shows the struggles the unit had getting off the field on third downs and allowing opponents to extend drives and take more time off of the clock.
USF struggled in critical situations this year. They allowed opponents to convert 78 out of 173 attempts on third down, a 45% conversion rate. Last year,they allowed just 60 out of 155 attempts, 39% (up 6% this year). Even on 4th down, the unit struggled to make a stop when it mattered most. They allowed opponents to convert 10 out of 12 attempts, 83%! They allowed just 5 out of 9 last year, good for 56% (27% increase).
Things didn’t get much better for the Bulls in redzone defense either this year. They allowed opponents to convert on 39 out of 44 attempts in the redzone to come away with points (89%). They allowed 28 out of the 44 attempts to go for touchdowns, 66%. Last year, they allowed 35 out of 45 attempts to score, 78% (it went up 11% this year, not good). They also allowed 24 out of the 45 to score a touchdown, 53% (it went up 13%, again, not good at all). The Bulls simply could not get off the field when in the redzone and opponents usually came away with a touchdown.
The Bulls did force 14 fumbles this year (13 last year) and had 6 interceptions, which is down from 11 they totaled last year. With the amount of youth and shifting in the secondary, the lack of interceptions can be understood to a degree.
So, what can we make out of all these numbers? Overall, it wasn’t a good year (duh, 4-8). The defense shifted to a new scheme, had to replace a lot of veteran players at key positions, and the team struggled. Opponents held onto the ball longer, got more yards on the ground, scored more touchdowns, and were able to convert on more third down conversions and redzone visits.
It seemed time after time, opponents would convert on third and long plays, running right up the middle and chewing up the yards. The Bulls struggled to get pressure all year, totaling just 20 sacks (24 last year) and didn’t make the stops in the backfield like they did last year. USF totaled just 70 tackles for loss this year compared to 92 last year. No pressure, more running lanes, and more open receivers in space led to a long year for Coach Bresnahan and his unit.
It was hard to watch this year and it seemed to repeat each week. The defense wasn’t the only reason the team went 4-8 this year, but it did factor into many of the games the Bulls dropped. It will be a long off-season for this unit to learn, get better and prepare for the 2015 season.