If you've spent two seconds perusing any Ohio State Buckeyes blogs, you'll have no doubt read about the poor Oregon defense. This has been quite infuriating, simply because the analysis provided has been woefully ignorant. Case in point, a post from Buckeye Battle Cry, which will be joining SBNation on January 1st (Welcome guys!).
With a few exceptions at the beginning of the year, the Oregon D has been allowing apposing offenses to rush for pretty close to their season averages.
The crown jewel of this chart is Stanford’s #11 ranked rushing offense and the 236 yards they gained on the ground against Oregon, which of course led to a 51-42 defeat of the Ducks.
The good and still improving #17 [OSU] rushing offense (198.92 ypg) against the #40 [Oregon] rushing defense (130.64 ypg) that gives up basically whatever the offense wants to take.
Sounds good to me.
What we can take from all of these posts is the infatuation with all things "total." Total yards, total points, total defense, etc. I've even seen some commenters go so far as mention time of possession. And if you're looking at the Ducks through this narrow lens, of course Oregon will not stack up.
Yet on January 1st, Buckeye Nation will be in for a rude awakening.
The first thing we need to do is get past this idea of total yards or rushing defense as a good indication of the Oregon defense. Oregon simply runs too many plays on both sides of the ball. Over the course of the season, the Oregon defense defended 864 plays. The Buckeye defense defended 773. This is a difference of about 8 plays per game, and is due mostly to the difference in pace that Oregon plays compared to most other teams.
To get a good feel for how these teams actually play, we really need to look at how they perform on a down-by-down basis. The best way to do this is to go to our friend Bill Connelly with RockMNation and Football Outsiders.com, who has done a great job breaking down these statistics.
And, if you've been reading this site for a while, you know I'm going straight to S&P+. For a full explanation of what these numbers mean, check out Bill's primer, and further post on Football Outsiders. Basically, this statistic is a great indicator of just how good teams are on a per-play basis.
Now, I'm not gonna sit here and say that Oregon's defense is better than OSU's. It's not. But, it's a lot closer than any Buckeye fan is willing to admit. Looking at these statistics, Oregon has the 15th ranked defense in the country, and beyond that has the 10th ranked rushing defense in the country (mostly because they have faced a lot of really good rushing teams). These results really shouldn't be a surprise. Oregon is giving up only 4.6 yards per play on the season, good for 11th nationally. And they are giving up only 3.41 yards per rush, good for 24th nationally (again, let's remember that S&P+ takes into account opponent strengths).
This Oregon team is where it is because of its defense. It faced potent offenses over and over throughout the season, and gave the offense an opportunity to succeed through strong defensive play.
We'll be getting into the matchups more in the week before the Rose Bowl, but the crux of Buckeye arguments thus far have been that the Duck defense just isn't that good. Nothing could be further from the truth.