It’s easy to overlook, distracted as we are sometimes by the shirtless cavorting with recruits and the fist bumping with Mickey Mouse, but the truth is that Pete Carroll is a helluva defensive coach (you don’t need to take my word for that, go wander around the old site of USC Trojan Football Analysis to see what I’m referring to). How good? Try this:
The slow season in college football is a great time to examine various trends and topics within the game. Something that jumped out about the 2008 season was the standout performance by Pete Carroll’s USC defense. It posted some of the best cumulative marks of the era in points (9.0), yards (222), pass yards (134) and pass efficiency defense (85.75) allowed. It pitched a trio of shutouts. It will likely send every starter into the NFL along with many backups.
Opponents punted nearly 100 times, at a rate of over seven a game. They scored just 14 touchdowns while tossing 19 interceptions, losing 10 fumbles and getting stopped on downs eight times. Plus they missed on five of 12 attempted field goals, including several blocks.
Not too shabby, in other words.
Brian points out one other stat that’s eye-popping.
… A statistic I’ve been looking at lately is points per possession. Points allowed per game is a fairly reliable piece of data, but it doesn’t factor in tempo and doesn’t exclude special teams and defensive scores that weren’t against a team’s 11-man defense. After factoring out those scores, plus meaningless kneel-down type situations at the end of halves, here’s what USC’s points per possession allowed totals look like the last four seasons:
2005 – 1.979
2006 – 1.240
2007 – 1.216
2008 – 0.748 [Emphasis added.]
You want some context on how outstanding that ’08 performance really is? Okay.
For comparison look at the defensive points per possession by the last three national championship defenses.
Florida 2008 – 1.130
LSU 2007 – 1.491
Florida 2006 – 1.033
And before you jump into any sort of factor-in-the-Pac-10-versus-the-SEC caveat, here’s how Sagarin ranked those four teams’ final strength of schedule:
- USC 2008 – 16
- Florida 2008 – 4
- LSU 2007 – 11
- Florida 2006 – 8
Good enough, I think. All of which begs the college football version of the question “if I’m so smart, how come I’m not rich?” If defense wins championships and this was an off-the-charts defensive season for Southern Cal, why didn’t we see the Trojans in the BCS title game this year?
It’s a fair question, and one that I’m not sure I’ve got a good answer for. Certainly they were a little unlucky in their timing this year, because there were a number of one-loss teams competing for the attention of the poll voters. (Had they pulled off this kind of year in ’07, the Trojans would have been playing for the MNC.)
In any event, it’s a shame. Judging from these numbers, it sure would have been interesting to see what Carroll would have done with a month’s worth of planning to defend Tebow & Company.