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Tramel: OU's defense still lags in Big 12 defensive efficiency

Some things change. Some things never change. Some things could change but haven’t yet.

Like OU’s offense and defense.

Three games into this crazy Big 12 football season, the old standby is the Sooners’ ability to score and inability to stop opponents from doing the same.

Since leading the Big 12 in defensive efficiency, OU has ranged from mediocre to awful on defense, while having historically great offenses.

And that’s what we have in 2020.

Starting with the 2013 season, I have been rating Big 12 offenses and defenses via efficiency.

Here was my explanation from last season: Points are the currency that determines games. Points. Not yards. An offense’s job is to score. A defense’s job is to prevent the opponent from scoring. Allowing an offense to drive 30 yards and then punt is efficient defense. Driving 50 yards and committing a turnover is not efficient offense.

Football no longer is a field position game and hasn’t been in a long time. Football is a possession game.

Which is why several years ago, I started tracking offenses and defenses differently. How often do Big 12 offenses score? How often do Big 12 defenses prevent the opponent from scoring?

I don’t do points per game. That can be wholly unsatisfying. Already this season, several teams have had 15 possessions in a game. Texas vs. OU, for example. Other teams have had just 10 possessions in a game; OU vs. Iowa State, for example.

The same level of offensive efficiency by Texas vs. OU would have scored 50 percent more points than OU vs. Iowa State.

So I measure efficiency per possession. They tell us many things. Using this method, we know how historic OU’s offenses have been in recent years. And we know how decrepit OU’s defenses have gotten in recent years.

Here are a few things to know about my ratings:

* I only use conference games. What teams do in the non-conference is interesting and relevant. But it’s not equitable. OU played Missouri State, a non-competitive team. Iowa State played Louisiana-Lafayette, a legitimately competitive mid-major. And most years, the discrepancy in non-conference schedules is even greater.

Using only conference games allows us to compare bananas to bananas. The only variable is teams don’t get to play themselves. Eight of the nine conference games are the same, so the comparisons are quite similar.

* I always start the efficiency ratings after three weeks of conference play (though so far, OSU and Baylor have played just two league games). One or two games generally isn’t enough to get a good reading. If you’ve played only two Big 12 games, and one of them is against Kansas, your ratings are going to be disproportionately excellent.

* I count touchdowns as a full credit. I count field goals as half credit. Score five touchdowns in 10 possessions, that’s 50 percent efficiency. Score two touchdowns and kick three field goals in 10 possessions, that’s 35 percent efficiency. Allow two touchdowns and one field goal in 10 possessions, that’s 25 percent efficiency for the opposing offense.

* I rate defenses using their opponents’ offensive efficiency. That makes it easier to contrast offensive and defensive numbers.

* I realize it’s not a perfect system. A team could miss a 21-yard field goal. Another team could make a 57-yard field goal. Neither defense deserves what then comes. But those instances are rare.

And these efficiency ratings give us a great view on a program’s progression. 

And this year, the early Big 12 numbers are a little skewed, because the conference has been played in pods.

OSU, Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia have been playing only each other. The other six teams have been playing only each other. So the numbers will take awhile to balance.

But they give us a weekly view of how efficient a unit really is. Here are the rankings:


1. Iowa State .456: A surprise. The Cyclones have been better on offense than have the Sooners.

2. Oklahoma State .417: The Cowboys have done this in only two games, against a supposedly good defense (West Virginia) and a supposedly bad defense (Kansas). But OSU did it with backup quarterback Shane Illingworth. 

3. Oklahoma .378: This is a fine number and figures to improve as Spencer Rattler grows. It’s just not up to Lincoln Riley’s usual performance. Here is OU’s offensive efficiency starting with 2015: .496, .531, .542, .624, .536.

4. Kansas State .364: This number doesn’t figure to hold up, since a game-and-a-half of it was posted with Skylar Thompson at quarterback, and now he’s lost for the season.

5. Texas .360: Strange. I figured the Longhorns would be better. But no. OU’s defense actually stifled UT until the final five minutes.

6. Texas Tech .357: Most of this hay was bailed against Texas. 

7. TCU .282: An inept first half against Iowa State, when quarterback Max Duggan was on the bench, is partly responsible.

8. West Virginia .269: Not good offense. Not good offense at all.

9. Baylor .250: The Bears had 15 possessions against West Virginia and scored two touchdowns.

10. Kansas .115: Change coaches, change quarterbacks, change the time of basketball’s Midnight Madness. Doesn’t matter. The Jayhawks never rise.


1. Oklahoma State .120: Surprise, surprise. Not that the Cowboys are No. 1, but that the number is so low. It won’t last, as the competition increases. But still, an excellent start.

2. West Virginia .131: Same with the Mountaineers. They held down not only Kansas, but OSU and Baylor, too.

3. Baylor .167: The one common denominator among the best defenses? All got to play Kansas.

4. Kansas State .278: OK, now we’re seeing why K-State is 3-0 in conference play. The Wildcats held OU to five touchdowns in 13 possessions, then gave up five touchdowns in 23 combined possessions against Texas Tech and TCU.

5. Iowa State .279: This is an excellent number, considering the Cyclones have already played OU and Texas Tech.

6. TCU .311: Not a bad number, but Gary Patterson’s defenses usually are better. Interesting game Saturday against OU. 

7. Texas Tech .392: Not very good defense, but that’s nothing new. 

8. Texas .402: Oh my. If the Longhorns play this kind of defense, the season is going to get even longer.

9. Oklahoma .431: Here are OU’s defensive numbers, starting with 2015 -- .218, .333, .362, .458, .337. So Alex Grinch had the Sooners going in the right direction, but the start to this season is a setback.

10. Kansas .436: OSU’s offense scored three total touchdowns against Tulsa and West Virginia, then scored five (with four field goals) against KU.


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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›