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- Boney Fuller’s Best of 2016
- BYU v. Wyoming Poinsettia Bowl Preview
- BYU v. Boise State Game Preview
- Boney Fuller Week in Review: West Virginia
- Former Cougars Rep the Y
- Stats: Going For 2 a Losing Decision…Every Time
- Boney Fuller Week in Review: Utah
- BYU v. Utah Game Preview
- 3rd Down With the Clown: At the Gathering With Swoop
- Boney Fuller Week in Review: Arizona
- By the Numbers: 2016 Season Preview
- A Boney Fuller Interview With Wilbur Wildcat
- Boney Fuller’s Season Preview 2016
- Boney Fuller’s 7 Cougars You Should Know
Season review: Defense, not injuries, had BYU bottoming out in October
- Updated: December 3, 2014
BYU coaches and players rightly celebrated beating a California team with a great offense, on the road, on Saturday. Winning on the road in the Pac-12 is no easy task. Before this year, Utah had won three road conference games in 13 tries.
With the regular season complete, fans and writers alike are looking back and evaluating what happened. There’s a narrative emerging on the BYU season that puts the October collapse at the feet of the unforeseeable injury to star quarterback Taysom Hill.
The narrative goes something like this: Things were rolling, then Hill got hurt, then BYU started losing, then BYU rebounded and pulled things back together.
It’s true, but also incomplete.
BYU’s defense was struggling well before Hill got hurt. The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) tracks not only opponent-adjusted drive efficiency, but also accounts for the contribution to a win or a loss from each side of the ball, called Game Splits.
“Game Splits data are a function of possessions in FBS vs. FBS games in the given season, excluding first-half clock kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. Game Splits represent the scoring margin components of a game, the value contributed to the margin of victory or defeat. The value contributed by the offense, defense, and special teams units.”
Below is a chart of BYU’s FEI Game Splits for the 2014 regular season. These numbers say the defense’s best game was Texas and their worst games were Nevada and Cal. The offense’s best game came against Cal and their worst was against UCF.
BYU’s offense (blue) does take a big hit as the losses of Kurtz, Hill, and Williams added up over the season. Hill’s loss in particular is obvious with the drop in the Utah State and UCF games.
The narrative that BYU’s team suffered a huge loss when Hill went down, struggled, and then bounced back is not without merit. Other than Utah State, where Hill was hurt during the game, and then the short week with a trip all the way across the country, the offense performed well. Boise State is the only other possible exception, but they are also both the best team and best defense BYU played.
The other story of BYU’s season is the defense, shown in the chart as the green line. Overall for the season, FEI rates BYU’s defense as an average college defense when adjusting for the strength of the opponent. After trouncing Texas in an amazing all-around performance, things started to go downhill. Starting with what originally seemed like a fluke Hail Mary at the end of the first half to Houston, BYU’s passing defense followed up that game with another less-than-stellar effort against Virginia.
At the time, some were worried. Some hoped that with a bye week to prepare for Utah State, things would get sorted out. BYU then allowed Darell Garretson to complete 19 of 25 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns; an insane 223.5 passer rating. FEI ranks BYU’s defensive performance versus Utah State as the 1104th-best performance of a college defense in 2014 out of 1412 college games played so far. It was bad.
Knowing the offense was hurting, the defense bounced back and gave a huge effort and one of its best games against Central Florida, but the team came up short in Orlando as BYU got some bad turnover luck and less than friendly officiating at the end of the game.
Some fans wonder if BYU could have beaten Nevada with Taysom Hill. BYU’s offense put up huge numbers without him and still lost. Looking at the FEI numbers, it is very clear that offense wasn’t the problem against Nevada.
Bronco Mendenhall then took over play calling duties from first year defensive coordinator Nick Howell before the Boise State game, but the problems seemed to run deeper than just which plays were being run.
Looking at these stats, especially the defensive numbers, I think the only game fans can truly set at the feet of a very unfortunate injury is UCF.
Once BYU did get the second bye week and the month of November to prepare for Cal, things got better. Getting better is hard. Cal scored a lot of points on a lot of teams this year, and although the defense wasn’t exactly world-beaters, the players did enough to win. They closed out the year strong and should be proud of it.
There’s still one more game to play in the 2014 season, but in the wet cement of the narratives of what this year was about, the defensive numbers are impossible to ignore.
BYU has oddly gone from having a shaky offense and strong defenses from 2011 to 2013 to the opposite in 2014. Being good at both is obviously really hard.
Rather than asking “what if,” I imagine the coaches and administrators will be busy laying the ground for 2015 and asking what can be learned from the defensive collapse of 2014 and what can be done to avoid it in Taysom Hill’s senior campaign.