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Most/Least Improved Pass Defenses of the L/20 Years

Today’s blog will continue with my series of analyzing the most/leas improved units over the last 20 years. Each day this week I will have a new offensive or defensive statistical category to examine and today I will breakdown total defensive yards.

There are many factors that contribute to a significant change in pass defense. First, a team may see significant improvement if they return a bunch of experienced starters especially in the defensive backfield. Naturally a team that loses a bunch of starters especially their cornerbacks and safeties could see a significant drop in pass defense.

Another factor maybe how many starters are back on the defensive line. In many cases the ability to put pressure on a quarterback on a consistent basis determines the overall success of the pass defense. If a team cannot put pressure on a quarterback and the QB is given ample time to find an open receiver, it does not matter how good a defensive secondary is.

Finally, the way a team performs in allowing rush yards plays a big part. For example, if a defense is allowing a lot of yards rushing, their pass defense numbers may be better since teams are less likely to throw when they are already controlling the line of scrimmage. Also teams that score a lot of points offensively may allow a lot of defensive pass yards since teams will be trying to play catch up on the scoreboard. 

Whatever the case may be here are all the teams that improved by at least 100 ypg of pass defense compared to the prior season. Quick note for many of the smaller schools in the WAC, MAC and Sun Belt: My data only goes back to 1995 for those teams so it would include the last 15 years instead of the last 20.

Most Improved Pass Defense YPG L/20 Years

Rk School Year YPG Less
1 N Carolina St 2004 -165
2 LSU 2002 -128
3 Wyoming 1997 -119
4 Alabama 2004 -115
4 Tulane 2008 -115
6 Texas A&M 2006 -114
7 Wisconsion 2006 -112
8 Ohio Univ 2006 -111
8 Memphis 1999 -111
10 Mississippi St 2004 -109
10 Stanford 2006 -109
10 W Virginia 2001 -109
13 UNLV 1994 -108
14 W Michigan 2006 -104
15 Pittsburgh 2005 -102
15 Michigan St 1991 -102
17 C Michigan 1998 -100

The most improved pass defense of the last 20 years was Chuck Amato’s 2004 NC State Wolfpack. In 2003 the Wolfpack returned just four starters from a 2002 defense that gave up just 17.0 ppg and 176 pass ypg. However, NC State fell dramatically to allow 284 pass ypg and 29.6 ppg. In 2004, the Wolfpack returned 9 starters and their numbers improved significantly allowing just 119 pass ypg, a 165 ypg improvement.

At #2 is the 2002 LSU Tigers. That year the Tigers returned 7 starters from a 2001 underperforming defense that gave up 281 pass ypg. However, in 2002 those numbers improved significantly as they allowed just 153 pass ypg.

At #3 is the 1997 Wyoming Cowboys who had a new coach in Dana Dimel who gave more attention to the defensive side of the ball and the Cowboys improved to allow 119 pass ypg less than the year before.

Now here is a look at all of the teams who gave up at least 100 pass ypg more than the prior year. Keep in mind again that my data only goes back to 1995 for some of the smaller schools.

Least Improved Pass Defense YPG L/20 Years

Rk School Year YPG More
1 Mississippi St 2003 129
2 UNLV 1996 122
3 Memphis 1998 119
4 Colorado 1993 117
5 S Mississippi 1993 115
5 Akron 1997 115
7 Syracuse 2002 113
8 Kent St 1996 111
9 N Carolina St 2003 108
9 Tulsa 2007 108
11 San Jose St 2005 107
11 UTEP 2006 107
13 E Carolina 2007 105
14 Oregon St 2005 103
15 Georgia Tech 1997 102
16 Wyoming 1996 101

The least improved pass defense of the last 20 years is the 2003 Mississippi St Bulldogs who in Jackie Sherrill’s final year gave up 283 pass ypg which were the most in his 13 years at the helm and 129 ypg more than his ’02 sqaud.

The #2 least improved pass defense is the 1996 UNLV Rebels who returned just 5 starters back from a defense that allowed 152 pass ypg in 1995. In ’96, the Rebels gave up 274 pass ypg and overall allowed an incredible 544 total ypg and 45.9 ppg!

The #3 least improved pass defense is the 1998 Memphis Tigers who returned 8 starters from a defense that allowed 162 pass ypg in ’97. Shockingly, the Tigers would allow 281 pass ypg in ’98 but would improved the following year by 111 ypg.

Make sure you visit the PhilSteele.com homepage and check out several of the new features added in the past week including Phil Steele VideosPlayers Lost for the SeasonFacebook Forecasts and a Week-by-Week Schedule complete with up-to-date TV times.

I will be back on tomorrow with a look at the most/least improved total defenses from the last 20 years.

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  • TheProfessor

    How many teams do you include in your database for how many seasons, e.g. total number of team-seasons from which you draw your top and bottom lists?

    What is the average year to year change in each of the categories you have presented in your blog, e.g. 0 yd/gm average change year to year?

    What is the standard deviation of year to year change for each of your reported categories, e.g +/- 50 yds/gm?

    I believe that the top 10 and bottom 10 represent rare occurrences that are 10 of perhaps 1000 or even 2000 team-seasons, thus only the top 1% or even top 1/2% of the entire data base. While such accomplishments are noteworthy, they do not represent the levels of change that occurs in the vast majority of teams in the vast majority of year.

  • http://www.philsteele.com Phil Steele

    My database includes the 1990-2009 seasons for a total of 20 years. Currently it has 2,178 teams seasons or an avg of about 109 per year. As far as the year-to-year changes in each of the categories, I will have to do some further research and do the avg of all the teams for those specific seasons. Look for this in a future blog.

    Naturally, I would estimate that the avg rush ypg by team has gone down over the past 20 years with more reliance on the passing game. While I agree with you that these teams do not represent the vast majority of teams, that was not really what I was aiming for in the blogs as I wanted to feature those teams that have improved or have weakened dramatically over the past 20 years.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful and insightful response and look for your information in a future blog in August.


  • TheProfessor

    Thanks for your reply to my comment and questions. I look forward to learning more. I have taken a look at Kentucky's last 20 years and posted it at Kentucky Ink, a fan message board


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