In 2020, defense didn’t live in Corvallis or West Lafayette. In terms of quantity of defense played, both teams excelled, unfortunately, good defenses trend towards quality of the defense played over quantity of defense played. Much like my “Offense by the Numbers” article, I’m going to hit you with a bunch of 2020 stats. If you’re not interested in the scroll on down the bottom for my take away from the stats.
Oregon State 2020 - Defensive Coordinator
Oregon State is in the middle of attempting a rebuild with Coach Smith, and decided to run it back with Tim Tibesar, even after a lack luster 2020 for the Beaver defense. Tibesar is a name that should be familiar with Purdue fans after his one year stint as the defensive coordinator with the Boilermakers in 2012. In a funny side note, when asked about Oregon State’s defense, Jeff Brohm repeatedly brought up Tibesar’s time as the outside linebackers coach at Wisconsin, without mentioning the fact that he was a former defensive coordinator at Purdue. I’m not sure Jeff has studied much late Danny Hope era Purdue film, and I don’t blame him.
Tibesar is a grizzled veteran in the coaching profession. He’s been a defensive coordinator at an FCS school, multiple FCS schools, he’s coordinated a defense in the Canadian Football League, and been a position coach at an FCS school and the NFL. His tenure at Oregon State started in 2018, and is still a work in progress, but Coach Smith must like the direction the defense is heading to keep him on after a rough 2020. To be fair to Tibesar, the talent level at Oregon State was abysmal when he arrived, making it hard to evaluate his overall performance.
He employs the same shifting, odd man front, linebacker heavy defense he utilized at Purdue. While not the defensive coordinator during his 2015-2017 stint at Wisconsin, he coached linebackers for a Wisconsin defense that also regularly utilizes odd man fronts as well. New Purdue...uhm...co defensive coordinator (?) Brad Lambert used similar fronts during his time at Marshall, and I expect to see some of the same concepts utilized this year at Purdue.
2020 Oregon State Defense vs Purdue Defense
*All Rankings are 2020 National Rankings
Scoring Defense (Points Per Game)
Oregon State - 33.29 (93rd)
Purdue - 29.83 (67th)
I’m going to start this out with a bit of a controversial statement. In terms of points allowed, Purdue’s defense was slightly below average. It’s convenient to blame the Purdue defense for all the issues last season, but in terms of national rankings, the offense (73rd) was worse than the defense. Considering the defense was without George Karlaftis much of the season, I’m not sure how much better, in terms of scoring defense, they could have been. At the same time, it wasn’t so much that defense was “bad” (again, pretty much average in terms of national rankings) but how it was bad, that caused the problems.
Oregon State, on the other hand, was bad...like real bad. They consistently gave up points. It’s not a couple of blow outs skewing the numbers, they were bad in every game. Their best defensive performance was giving up 27 points against Washington, California, and Stanford. Their worst was giving up 46 points to Arizona State.
Purdue was significantly better, especially when at full strength. Their best defensive performance was in the opener, holding Iowa to 20 points. Their worst two performances occurred in the last two games, giving up 37 points to both Rutgers and Nebraska.
Total Defense (Yards Per Game)
Oregon State - 442.3 (95th)
Purdue - 399 (56th)
Again, Purdue wasn’t terrible in total defense last season. In fact, they were slightly above average in terms of national rankings.
Oregon State was abysmal, getting gashed by pretty much every team on their schedule.
3rd Down Defense
Oregon State - 46.7% (106th)
Purdue - 43.7% (93rd)
This is where Purdue was bad last year. I tried to tell y’all that Brohm brought in a classic “bend, don’t break” defense, and it looked exactly like I expected. Diaco played the same soft zone he utilized his entire coaching career. Purdue was bad on 3rd down, but some of that was by design. Coach Brohm spent the 2020 offseason talking about not giving up the big play, and the way you avoid giving up the big play is playing 2 deep safeties over the top with a soft zone underneath. That’s what happened. It was frustrating to watch, but it’s what he ordered.
Purdue struggled with their 3rd down defense, because their scheme was designed to struggle with 3rd down defense. Oregon State didn’t have the same schematic issues, they simply weren’t any good. They tried to get off the field, but couldn’t achieve that goal. Teams often found themselves in 3rd and short because the Beavers gave up 5+ yards a carry.
Rushing Defense (Yards Per Game)
Oregon State - 217.6 (110)
Purdue - 144.8 (44th)
These numbers are a bit deceiving. Purdue was decent in rushing yards per game because their pass defense was softer than newborn baby poop. They invited teams to throw the ball, and teams threw the ball at will. They focused on holding the line of scrimmage and closing run gaps instead of getting the backfield and causing trouble for the quarterback. If you play run defense 95% of the time, you’re usually decent at stopping the run.
Oregon State was putrid in run defense. All but 2 teams on their schedule rushed for over 200 yards. They deployed significant resources in an attempt to stop the run, but still couldn’t get the job done. Their defensive line was particularly terrible.
Yards Per Rush
Oregon State - 5.56
Purdue - 3.43
The data base I’m using doesn’t provide national rankings for yards per rush, but 3.43 isn’t bad at all. Most teams on the first page of stats (teams 1-50 in rushing defense) gave up something similar. In fact, Purdue comes in on the lower end of the average. Indiana had the 34th ranked run defense, but gave up 4.03 yards per rush. Northwestern had the 46th best run defense and gave up 4.45 yards per rush. I know it didn’t feel like it, but Purdue’s run defense was solid last season.
Oregon State wasn’t not solid. They were the opposite of solid (can a defense be considered a gas?). 26 out of 127 teams gave up more than 5 yards a carry last season. On the last page of rush defense (101-127) only 10 allowed more than the Beavers.
Passing Defense (Yards Per Game)
Oregon State - 224.7 (55th)
Purdue - 254.2 (94th)
Here we see the inverse. It’s not that Oregon State’s pass defense was great, but their run defense was so porous that throwing the ball against them was an unwarranted risk in most games.
Purdue played one of the most predictable, soft zone defense I’ve seen college football, and one of the worst passing defenses in the nation was the result. Running the ball against Purdue was silly because they didn’t rush the passer, and didn’t particularly try and stop receivers from getting open.
Yards Allowed Per Completion
Oregon State - 12.29
Purdue - 12.97
This stat also didn’t bode well for the Diaco led defense last season. Not only were they giving up a ton of completions, those completions were averaging close to 13 yards a catch. Teams didn’t have much success throwing the ball over the defense, but there was so much room in front of the defense, that it didn’t matter.
Oregon State gave up fewer completions, mainly because they couldn’t stop the run, but still gave up 12 yards a completion. When teams got bored of running the ball against the Beavers, they didn’t find passing that much more difficult.
Sacks (Per Game)
Oregon State - 1 (120th)
Purdue - .83 (123rd)
Not a great look for either team, as both were at the bottom of the NCAA in getting pressure on the quarterback. For Purdue, it was by design. The defense last year wasn’t much different than any other Bob Diaco defense in terms of getting pressure on the quarterback. Again, for better (or usually worse) the defense Purdue bought, was the defense they received last year.
The Oregon State defense has been more aggressive in the past, but last season, it was awful. At the same time, it’s hard to sack the quarterback when the other team is running the ball down your throat on seemingly every snap. The Beaver defensive line was non-existent in the run game and the pass rush game. Not a great combination if you plan on winning football games.
Tackles for Loss (Per Game)
Oregon State - 3.9 (122nd)
Purdue - 5.5 (84th)
Once again, this is on par with past Bob Diaco defenses. The defensive line focused on holding the line of scrimmage and closing run gaps. They did a good job of that, but that means they weren’t in the backfield putting the other team behind the chains. In my opinion, modern college defenses are at their best when they get the opposition off schedule in the run game, and then unleash their pass rush on 3rd and longs. Purdue rarely had a team in 3rd and long last year, and when they did, they tended to give up 8 yard stick routes for first downs to any team with that route in the playbook.
Oregon State may have been the least disruptive defense in the nation last year. They spent little to no time in the opponents backfield, and considered it a win when their defensive line only got pushed 3 yards off the line of scrimmage. It’s extremely hard to win football games when the other team is always on schedule, and if you played Oregon State, if they happened to get you into a 3rd down situation, it was usually 3rd and 3.
Red Zone Defense
Oregon State - 89% (104)
Purdue - 81% (50)
Purdue’s red zone defense wasn’t terrible last year. They actually ended up slightly above average, which surprised me a little. The other team had the ball in the red zone 32 times against the Boilermakers, and came away with 12 rushing touchdowns, 7 passing touchdowns, and 7 field goals. That’s not awful. It’s not great, but it’s not awful. Unfortunately for Purdue and Bob Diaco, if you’re going to play “bend don’t break” defense, you need to be great in the red zone.
Once again, Oregon State was one of the worst teams in the nation in red zone defense. The opposition made it to the red zone 28 times against the Beavers and came away with 12 rushing touchdowns, 5 passing touchdowns, and 8 field goals. That’s almost identical to Purdue, in terms of points allowed, but Purdue managed to keep the other team from scoring a few more times.
Passes Per Interception
Oregon State - 203 passes / 5 Int = 40.6
Purdue - 192 passes / 3 Int = 64
I had to come up with this stat. It’s not how the database I use calculates interceptions, but it’s an important factor in Bob Diaco no longer being the defensive coordinator at Purdue. His Louisiana Tech defense led the nation in interceptions. His Purdue defense was one of the worst. In theory, if you play zone, you can keep an eye on the quarterback, break on the ball and pick off passes. In practice, Purdue’s zone was too soft for the defensive backs to get to the ball, and on the rare occasion they did manage to get in front of a pass, the Boilermaker defensive backs showed why they play defense and not offense. There are passive defenses, and then there is Purdue’s 2020 defense, quite possibly the most passive defense I’ve seen deployed in modern football.
So long Bob, I hope you’re investing your buyout wisely.
Oregon State was significantly more opportunistic than the Boilermakers. They picked the ball off at a decent clip, and they will need to continue that to have a shot on Saturday.
My Take Away
Both teams struggled on defense last season. Purdue’s solution was to gut the entire staff and start again. Oregon State is banking on their players improving in the same system. Jeff Brohm bought a passive defense in 2020, and got it in spades. That gives me hope for 2021, because he’s been preaching aggression all off season. That means the Boilermakers will inevitably give up more big plays, but won’t die a death of 1,000 cuts while David Bell and company stretch on the sideline. As a Clemson far, I’ve watched Brent Venables deploy his, “get the defense off the field by any means necessary” attack to perfection over the last decade, and I hope to see a version of it this year with Purdue. It’s hard to draw many conclusions from the 2020 Boilermaker defense, because I expect to see an entirely new defense in 2021...and thank God.
Oregon State, on the other hand, will deploy the same scheme that was gutted in every game in 2020. They’re hoping player development and added talent can pull them out of the suck that was last season. I’m not sure it works unless Purdue plays along. The Beavers best case scenario is Purdue abandoning the run and going exclusively with a passing attack. I also expect them to try and protect their defense by getting their run game working and eating clock. I don’t see them winning a shoot out with Purdue, and I don’t expect them to try unless they get down early.
If Purdue runs the ball against Oregon State, like they should, I don’t think the Beavers have much of a chance. If they abandon the run and throw the ball 50 times, I think Oregon State will be ecstatic.
I expect a more aggressive brand of defense from Purdue this season. I don’t think they’ll spend nearly as much time on the field as in 2020, but I’m not sold on the secondary being able to keep teams from torching their man coverage. I think Oregon State will hit a few big plays, but not enough big plays to win.