"You can look at the stats, and they can tell you a story."
- Coach Pete
Well, in the first time since the beat down against Southern Miss, Coach K deployed the 5 DB, true nickel D as our base defense this last week. The results? The same as the only other time we used it this year, a meager 7 points allowed! That would be good enough for 1st in the nation in scoring D. The average points allowed in our other 8 games, where we employed the 3 LB set for a vast majority of the snaps, 27.5 (65th).
A few more comparisons between our true nickel (base D in 2 games) and our 4-3/4-2-5 defense (8) w/approximate would be national ranking in parentheses:
Average interceptions per game: 2 (2nd) / 1.125 (48th)
In 8 of the 10 games this season, our corners have made up just 2 of our 11 defenders, yet they have had 8 INTs. Conversely, our LBs (usually 3), have combined for just 1 on the season. I have been unable to locate data on pass break-ups, but strongly believe that those numbers would reflect an equal, if not greater imbalance. These numbers would be more palatable if our LBs were consistently stunting on passing downs. In my opinion they have not, but rather have been far more likely to drop back into their statistically ineffective zone coverages once they've determined it to be a pass play.
Average sacks per game: 3.5 (2nd) / 2.375 (38th)
By not allowing the free release of their slot receiver, we rob the savvy QB of the quick-hitter. By covering the WRs a little tighter, we have given our D-line those precious extra seconds to break down the pocket and perhaps force the QB into a bad decision. My conclusion, an extra DB on the field has, and would give our D-line the continued opportunity to make more plays in the back field.
Ah, but the rush defense will suffer.
Average opponent rushing yards per game: 79 (3rd) / 177.5 (75th)
I think that adding an additional DB takes some pressure off our safeties and allows them more opportunity to crash down in run support when need be. Even the bubble screens, that seem to regularly go for 5 plus yards, are much more likely to get stuffed near the line of scrimmage with the added speed on the field.
Obviously, it would be hard to hang your hat on one performance against a hapless Southern Miss team. But Wyoming represented a potent offense led by a dangerous duel threat QB. We suffocated their WRs, limited them to 55 yards on the ground, and beat up and contained their QB. While I don't for a minute think our nickel D would've held UW, FSU, or BYU to 7 points, I do believe that they would've made a few more plays for us - whether that would've been a couple more pass break-ups, interceptions, coverage sacks, or 3rd down stops.
While I'm sure that what I don't know about the subtle (and maybe not so subtle) wrinkles within our defensive schemes could fill an airplane hanger, I have attempted to give an honest and objective assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of our D as seen from the comforts of my armchair. I've been on the 5 DB bandwagon to counter the spread offense for most of the year. After this last weeks exceptional performance, I think I'm going to double down on that.