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2021 Defensive Review: Part 3 - The Games

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The mark of a great defense is how it affects other teams. Can it hold great offenses below their averages? Can it dominate bad teams?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Iowa State at West Virginia Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well that was quite the exciting week. We get the whole Jaguars beat the Colts and the Raiders and Chargers might tie!, only to watch the Chargers call a timeout and the Raiders to kick a middle-finger field goal with 2 seconds left. Georgia finally wins their first national championship in 40 years, in a dramatic fashion where I would have said the game was over at 18-13. A Pick-six to stomp on Bama. Then the Mountaineers hired Graham Harrell to be their offensive coordinator and Neal Brown is stepping back and stepping up as CEO of the Mountaineers. Can I call him CEONB instead of HCNB? Let’s work on the moniker.

Obviously all of the excitement, along with my general laziness kept me from getting to Part 3 as soon as I wanted to. So here I am doing my diligence because football offseasons are B-O-R-I-N-G and we all need something to read.

We’ve reviewed the stats of the defense individually and collectively. We’ve gone through and seen that the defense was good. They were generally top 40 in almost every category, yet despite finishing top 40, they were never in the conversation as best defense in the conference. They tended to rank between 4-7 in most categories and from watching games, it felt like they never affected games. My hot take in sports is that our 2015 defense is the best defense we’ve fielded once you consider competition. They finished 3rd in Rushing S&P+, 14thing in Passing S&P+, 13th in Rushing Success Rate and 13th in Passing Success Rate. They were a damn good defense. DAMN good.

One of the things I really liked about that defense was the fact that they tended to affect teams. They held teams below their averages and often made teams play to them, rather than reacting to how teams were playing them. As a man who prefers to make the first move and to dictate anything, I’d rather be the team attacking than reacting. Punch versus counterpunch. I get the feeling I would have joined Cobra Kai instead of Miyagi Do.

In 2015 I broke down how that defense fared against its competition’s averages. So I did the same here. It could be termed “The Baylor Effect” or “The Alabama Effect”. Both work off the same premise which is that a great offense, such as the mid-teens Baylors or highly dominant defenses, such as Alabama, cause their opponents averages to suffer by skewing them past their norms. Baylor tended to increase teams overall defensive averages by around 15% and Alabama decreased opponents offensive averages while often seeing team have a “hangover effect” the following week. So I wanted to see if the 2021 defense had the same effects.

WVU Defense vs Team Averages

Stats UMD VT OU TTU BU TCU ISU OSU KSU UT KU UM
Stats UMD VT OU TTU BU TCU ISU OSU KSU UT KU UM
Rush Yards / Game 136.2 185.5 187.5 159.1 219.3 194.2 160.7 185.5 162.4 199.3 139.5 198.1
Rush Yards / WVU 164 110 57 80 171 149 239 103 161 203 87 249
Difference 27.8 -75.5 -130.5 -79.1 -48.3 -45.2 78.3 -82.5 -1.4 3.7 -52.5 50.9
YPC (Season) 4 4.5 5.4 4.7 5.4 4.9 5.1 4.2 4.8 5.2 3.8 4.3
YPC (WVU) 3.7 2.7 2 2.7 5.3 4.4 7 3.2 4 7.3 3.2 4.9
Difference -0.3 -1.8 -3.4 -2 -0.1 -0.5 1.9 -1 -0.8 2.1 -0.6 0.6
Pass Yards / Game 304.6 176.4 263.5 257.2 203.1 236.5 263.8 231.9 199.9 225.4 184.8 162
Pass Yards / WVU 332 223 256 266 354 244 185 182 138 152 249 109
Difference 27.4 46.6 -7.5 8.8 150.9 7.5 -78.8 -49.9 -61.9 -73.4 64.2 -53
Yards / Pass (Game) 8.1 7.3 8.5 8.6 7.8 9.2 7.7 7.3 8.4 7.8 7 8.2
Yards / Pass (WVU) 9.2 7.2 7.1 7.6 11.4 9.4 6.9 5.9 7.3 5.1 7.8 8.4
Difference 1.1 -0.1 -1.4 -1 3.6 0.2 -0.8 -1.4 -1.1 -2.7 0.8 0.2
Yards / Game (Season 440.8 361.9 451 416.3 422.4 430.7 424.5 417.4 362.3 424.8 324.3 360.1
Yards / Game (WVU) 496 333 313 346 525 393 424 285 299 355 336 358
Difference 55.2 -28.9 -138 -70.3 102.6 -37.7 -0.5 -132.4 -63.3 -69.8 11.7 -2.1
Points / Game (Season) 29.3 23.7 39.1 30.3 31.6 28.7 31.3 31.1 27.5 35.3 20.8 25.5
Points / WVU 30 21 16 23 45 17 31 24 34 23 28 18
Difference 0.7 -2.7 -23.1 -7.3 13.4 -11.7 -0.3 -7.1 6.5 -12.3 7.2 -7.5
West Virginia’s Defense vs Team Averages Jake Lantz

Maryland

First game of the year on the road against a Power 5 opponent and the defense didn’t “struggle” and its not fair to put the onus on the defense but in terms of affecting an opponent this was statistically the worst game for the defense against a team’s averages. West Virginia allowed Maryland to rush for more yards than their average, pass for more yards than their average, score more than their average and put up more yards than their average. The only stat that WVU was better than was the YPC and that was only a 0.3 difference.

Long Island

Because Long Island is FCS its not included in these stats.

Virginia Tech

In the Black Diamond Trophy Game, the Mountaineers held VT to some significant disadvantages. The Hokies, who rushed for 185 yards a game in 2021, only managed 110 against the defense. Predictably the Hokies were forced to pass more so they went over their average there but fell short of their total average. Thanks to the holding the hokies to fewer yards, the Hokies fell short of their season average in points.

Oklahoma

This is, statistically, the best game of the year for the defense and one of two games where West Virginia held a team below their average in every category and yet, the team found a way to lose. Now it can be argued that playing Oklahoma early in the season does that but the Mountaineers held a team that averaged 451 yards a game to 313, a huge 138 yard difference. Since every offensive yard is worth about 0.07 points (or 7 points per 100 yards), West Virginia did even better in the points category, holding Oklahoma to 23 points below their season average. There was a reason the team was riding high after this game. If they had matched this output all season, we would have had a 10-win team.

Texas Tech

By and large, the Mountaineers played Texas Tech extremely well defensively. They held them to 70 fewer yards, which resulted in 7 fewer points than their season average. The Red Raiders only gained 80 yards on the ground and rushed for a paltry 2.7 yards per carry, a full 2 yards below their season average.

Baylor

If Maryland was our worst defensive game, it should come as no surprise that Baylor is the next one on the list. The Mountaineers held Baylor to 48 fewer yards on the ground than their season average, mostly because Baylor averaged over 219 yards on the ground and we gave up only 170. Where Baylor hurt the Mountaineers was through the air, torching the secondary for 150 more yards than their average. This resulted in 100 more total yards and 13 more points. This became one of four games where the defense allowed more than 0.07 points per yard.

TCU

Going into the TCU game, we all kinda thought this was an easy game. Now, having the benefit of hindsight, its impressive how good their offense was as a whole. Averaging 28 points a game and over 430 yards per game, the Mountaineers stifled a pretty good offense. They allowed TCU to pass for about their season average (236 vs 244) and right at their YPA average (9.2 vs 9.4) but they held the run game in check and really limited the scoring chances. 37 fewer yards resulted in 11 fewer points. That’s a great defensive effort.

Iowa State

The best win of the Neal Brown era through three seasons. It was everything we wanted in terms of Mountaineer football and oddly enough, its one of the game where the defense really wasn’t a factor. Iowa State ran the ball more effectively than they had all year, picking up nearly 2 more yards per carry than they would normally. That was offset by limiting Brock Purdy to 78 fewer yards. In a strange microchosm of a season, the Mountaineers gave up 78 more rushing yards to Iowa State while holding the Cyclones to 78 fewer pass yards. This meant that the Cyclones hit nearly all of their averages, including points. West Virginia was just better that day.

Oklahoma State

Talk about a kick in the groin. Statistically, this is the other game where the defense held a team below their season averages and yet, this game is probably the worst of the season. This is one where stats do not tell the whole story. Oklahoma State only ran for 100 yards, 80 fewer than normal. They passed for 180 yards, 50 fewer than normal. They totaled 132 fewer yards and scored 7 fewer points. This was also the second time that the defense gave up over 0.08 points per play. Oklahoma State didn’t gain a lot of yards because they didn’t need to and scored early enough they didn’t run a lot of plays.

Kansas State

Did you feel like Kansas State was a game we should have won. This was a game that I think really turned the tide for a lot of people and looking at the stats you can see why. The defense did its job. 60 fewer passing yards. 1 yard less per pass. Nearly a yard less per carry. And yet Kansas State scored 0.11 POINTS PER YARD. A touchdown, two point conversion AND a field goal per 100 yards. You aren’t winning those games.

Texas

You could, and likely should, argue that the Mountaineers played both Oklahoma and Texas at the best possible times. The Longhorns, by all measures, were a fairly prolific offense. They were second in the conference in points per game, second in rush yards per game, second in yards per carry, yet when they played the Mountaineers, the Longhorns were without Bijan Robinson, which severely hampered their gameplan. The lack of Robinson makes the 203 yards the Mountaineers gave up on the ground surprising, especially since it surpassed Texas’ season total. West Virginia did their damage by taking away the passing game, holding the Longhorns to 70 fewer yards in the air, which resulted in 12 fewer points. Texas averaged over 0.08 points per yard and West Virginia held them to 0.06.

Kansas

Would you guess that after Maryland, this was the second worst statistical game for the defense? Kansas bested their season average in nearly every category. Kansas struggled to run the ball but made up for it by gaining 60 more yards through the air on nearly a yard more per attempt. Kansas was super efficient at scoring, gaining 8 more points than their season total making them the fourth team this year to average 0.08 points per yard against the Mountaineers

Minnesota

A tough matchup to be sure, Minnesota used their ground game to control the Mountaineers. Already a prolific rushing team, the Golden Gophers gained 50 more yards on the ground and averaged over half a yard more per carry. Because of the ground game’s dominance, the Gophers didn’t need to throw the ball yet still managed to be close to their average on yards per attempt. West Virginia did a good job limiting the score given how dominant the ground game was, holding Minnesota to a touchdown less than their average.

West Virginia vs Season Averages

Stat Average Difference
Stat Average Difference
Rushing Yards -29.52
Yards per Carry -0.49
Passing Yards -1.59
Yards per Pass -0.21
Total Yards -31.1
Points per Game -3.68
How West Virginia’s defense affected teams Jake Lantz

Above is what you get when you start averaging all of those numbers to figure out exactly what and who West Virginia’s defense was in 2021. The team, with a defensive line that was the best of the positions, was pretty stout against the run, limiting teams to 83% of their normal run game output and reducing their yards per carry by nearly half a yard. Half a yard over 30 or 40 carries is significant and can put teams behind the chains more often than not.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise but the pass defense was a non-factor. Teams generally got their averages against West Virginia and threw for their average yard per attempt against West Virginia. The cornerbacks and safeties will need to take a big step in 2022.

The defense, which ranked 5th in the nation in redzone scoring, only kept teams on average 3.5 points below what they would normally get. This would seem to say that we had several long busted plays.