Pete Carroll’s not just another pretty face.

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.


Filed under College Football, Stats Geek!, The Blogosphere

20 responses to “Pete Carroll’s not just another pretty face.

  1. The Realist

    Losing at Oregon State the way they lost at Oregon State (on national television, with Jacquizz Rodgers running rampant) basically eliminated them because the Ohio State game was two weeks prior. Two of the shutouts were not all that impressive considering they were against Washington State and Washington. The third was against Arizona State, a team that had lost three straight to UNLV, Georgia, & Cal. A 7-point win at Arizona & a 17-3 win versus Cal is not going to get you over the hump. Had the OSU game been near the end of the season, they might have made a case, but they had no media momentum, and the Big XII was sucking up all of the attention with their bushels of TD’s raining from the skies.

    USC vs. Florida would have been an incredible game. Florida’s formidable defense against a rather anemic USC offense, and Florida’s offense versus USC’s all-star defense. Rey vs. Tebow… I can only imagine.


    • Every year good teams get to school one or two crappy teams, so I don’t think that’s necessarily that big a deal. Florida had its share, too.

      Your point about the Big XII sucking all the oxygen out of the media tent is an excellent one. There just wasn’t anything particularly compelling about USC’s season – after it lost, of course.


      • The Realist

        My point with the shutouts is that they didn’t garner any attention because of who they were. I’m not saying their schedule was this or that, but merely the games that you can point to as games where their full dominance was on display were only meh… aside from Ohio State. That’s why they were left out of any real conversation. More a victim of circumstances than anything.


  2. Darryl Strawberry

    We will get to see the remaining pieces of that defense (which include Taylor Mays) face off with Teabow and Co. in this years NC.

    I’m looking forward to it.


  3. Macallanlover

    It would be foolish for anyone to underestimate how good that defense was (8-9 starters expected to play on Sundays with relief from another 5-6 with similar potential), but it is hard to explain how Oregon State just rolled them. Sometimes there are just fluke upsets, but that game was dominated by OSU running game and that is hard to explain. I should mention that an eight team playoff would have, once again, given us a better feel about who deserved the title. I do think the BCS had the right two teams based on the current system because USC’s loss was just the worst of the three contenders.

    I do have an issue with some of the strength of schedule rankings, including Sagarin. Since 70% of the games a conference team plays is against conference opponents, if you assign a baseline that is too high to that conference, you are going to have an inflated SOS for teams within that conference. I have to think that a PAC 10 that got decimated one Saturday in September by the Mtn West should have been penalized top to bottom. That is what is wrong with SOS rankings to me, I don’t know of any that start everyone at the same baseline. Shouldn’t all 119 teams have a beginning ranking of 100 (or something equal) with the interactive play determining where they go from there? I want to respect them more but currently have little regard for Power rankings.


  4. DawgBiscuit

    Stats, schmats. Of course you’ll have better stats than SEC teams when you play weaker competition. You’ll recall that Oklahoma’s 700 point Greatest Offense Of Our Era could only manage two touchdowns against UF’s defense.

    I’m not saying USC isn’t a great team, or that they couldn’t compete in the SEC. I’m just saying that they wouldn’t have such gaudy stats, which is why such stats don’t mean a whole lot.


    • Biscuit, here’s the 2008 national rankings in total offense for the member schools of the SEC: 15, 22, 29, 49, 55, 63, 97, 104, 106, 113, 115 and 117. That averages out to 73.75.

      And here they are for the member schools of the Pac-10: 7, 11, 30, 33, 47, 67, 100, 111, 116 and 118. The average national ranking for the conference is 64.

      I don’t see where the average SEC team was significantly better offensively last year than was the average Pac-10 team. In fact, the stats argue the opposite. Now you can say that’s because SEC defenses were better than their Pac-10 counterparts, and there’s some truth to that, but do you really that explains everything here?

      The Gators did a great job holding Oklahoma’s offense in check. Are you arguing that Southern Cal wouldn’t have been at least as impressive?


      • DawgBiscuit

        “Now you can say that’s because SEC defenses were better than their Pac-10 counterparts, and there’s some truth to that, but do you really that explains everything here?”

        Arizona State and Stanford both shut out Washington State. Even Georgia’s much maligned defense held Arizona State to 10 points in Tempe. That’s the same defense that allowed 41, 38, 49, and 38 against SEC teams, and gave up 45 to Georgia Tech. That tells me that a defense doesn’t have to be anything special to stop a Pac-10 team, and it diminishes USC’s accomplishments.

        “The Gators did a great job holding Oklahoma’s offense in check. Are you arguing that Southern Cal wouldn’t have been at least as impressive?”

        The reason I brought up Oklahoma was to demonstrate that gaudy stats don’t mean that you’ll dominate anybody. They just mean that you dominated the teams you played against. But since you asked, no, I do not believe that USC could have held Oklahoma to 14 points.


        • So what does it tell you when UCLA scores 27 points against Tennessee and was held to less points by the following Pac-10 teams: Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, Cal, Oregon State, ASU and Southern Cal? Or that Florida was held to less points by two of its non-conference opponents than by any SEC defense it faced last year?


          • DawgBiscuit

            Tennessee losing to 4-8 UCLA a year after losing to 7-6 Cal tells me that Phil Fulmer deserved to be fired for embarrassing the SEC.

            UF played Miami before Tebow cried and the Gators got cranked up, plus they didn’t need to run up the score because they weren’t trying to impress voters to get back in the NC picture at that point. The other side of that coin is that UF’s defense held Miami to 3, which seems to support my theory. As for Oklahoma, I give them credit for preparing well and playing good defense to hold Florida to a season low 24 points, but once again, the other side of the coin is that UF held OU to 14.

            A week before Florida held the #1 offense to 14 points (just above their AvgPtspgm of 12.9), USC allowed 24 against Penn State’s #11 offense (nearly triple the USC AvgPtspgm of 9.0). Overrated, perhaps?


  5. Hobnail_Boot

    All I remember about the ’08 Trojans is that they got embarrassed in front of a less-than-capacity crowd in Corvallis by a guy smaller than me, and that Mark Sanchez threw his helmet afterwards.


  6. Pete Carroll teams, aside from 2004-2005, are really good at dropping trou against demonstratively inferior competition at least once a year. Sometimes, it’s astonishingly inferior competition. Imagine Georgia losing to Kentucky. Annually. Welcome to USC.


  7. Oh, and even though Texas wasn’t an inferior opponent in 2005, USC still looked poorly coached (Reggie Ball’s wacky lateral, the lousy 4th-and-1 call, no remote attempt at tackling).


  8. Sparrow

    “Reggie Ball’s wacky lateral…”

    I knew Reggie was bad, but I didn’t realize his negative impact was on a national scale. I miss Reggie…


  9. NRBQ

    Yes, Bluto, I would say if Pac10 teams played the equivalent of SEC-caliber defense nearly every week, their offensive ranks would suffer a startling dip.

    Look at how they did against the Mountain West. Is that a big, scary defensive conference?

    And how do their offensive numbers look when you throw out USC?


    • About like the SEC’s do without Florida. 😉


      • Macallanlover

        Not sure if this is what you meant, but USC is much, much more dominent in the PAC 10 than Florida is in the SEC. In fact, Florida doesn’t dominate the SEC and never has with exception of 3-4 years when Spurrier was there. I think they have the same number of SEC titles as do UGA and LSU in the eight years Richt has been at Georgia. Florida was pretty dominent in 2008, but struggled with everyone in 2006 when they won. USC is far and away the best team in the PAC 10, despite their annual toe-stubbing to some big underdog.


    • By the way, I’m not sure how far you want to go with that Mountain West thing. The SEC was 0-2 versus the MWC last season.