2007 SEC Defensive Sack Rates

One of the statistics I tracked last year at the old blog was sack rates. Basically, despite all of the hype, defensive sacks created on its own is a pretty meaningless number, and only takes on real meaning when you put it into the context of pass attempts. Long story short, a team that piles up a lot of sacks can be a relatively poor pass rushing team, and a team that has only a relatively few sacks can in fact be a good pass rushing team, depending on how many passes they have thrown against them.

So, what I have done is taken the total number of sacks created by a particular team in SEC play in 2007, and divided that by the total number of pass attempts against the same team. That division yields a percentage of passing plays that I call Adjusted Sack Rate, which of course is the percentage of passes that resulted in a sack. Bottom line, by looking at rates instead of raw numbers, we get a more accurate picture of which teams actually rushed the passer the best in 2007.

The following is how the SEC teams ranked in terms of Adjusted Sack Rate in 2007:

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One other metric to consider is the average yards lost per sack. It goes without saying that all sacks are not created equal; some sacks have big losses of yardage, while others often lose very few yards. So let's look at the SEC in 2007 in terms of average yards lost per sack:

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Now, a few general thoughts on a handful of teams:

  • Georgia led the conference in ASR, and did so with a highly impressive posting. The interesting thing about the Dawgs, however, is that they are the ultimate tale of two seasons. In the first four SEC games, they couldn't get to the quarterback at all, getting only four sacks on 124 passing attempts (3.2% ASR). In the final four conference games, however, UGA went on an absolute tear, racking up 17 sacks on only 108 passing attempts, giving them a whopping ASR of over 15%. And then, of course, they racked up 13 more sacks against Georgia Tech and Hawai'i on only 89 passing attempts. Bottom line, the way that we UGA rushed the quarterback in the second half of the season was simply done at a level that I have not seen before.
  • LSU posted a good ASR, but it's a bit suspect in a lot of ways. In 2006 they posted an Adjusted Sack Rate of almost 11 percent, but this past year they barely came in at a seven percent rate. Moreover, the pass rush was highly inconsistent. If you take away the Fifth Annual Alabama Sack Fest Alabama game, LSU is left with only 12 sacks on 230 passing attempts, putting them with an ASR of 5.2%, below the league average. Bottom line, despite having a ton of talent and a huge game against the Tide, LSU was often a team in 2007 that struggled to generate a consistent pass rush. Moreover, though I do not have a strength of schedule metric devised yet, if I did LSU's ASR would only fall further. Their conference schedule included six of the seven worst offensive lines, but did not include Tennessee, the team that had the lowest offensive sack rate perhaps ever (it should be noted, of course, that LSU did face Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game, where they did not get a single sack on 40 pass attempts).
  • Vanderbilt surprisingly finished second in the conference in ASR, but the number isn't as impressive once you go a bit deeper. First and foremost, they did finish dead last in the conference in average yards per lost per sack. However, perhaps more telling is that Vanderbilt had a poor pass defense -- more on that later -- and that points to the notion that while Vanderbilt may been piling up a bunch of sacks, they were doing so with a lot of heavy blitzes that, while it did result in a lot of sacks, also resulted in a lot of success for their opponents as they threw the football.
  • Alabama, despite switching to an aggressive, blitz-heavy defensive scheme in 2007, barely saw it's ASR budge from 2006 levels, when we ran the soft zones of the 3-3-5. During the season, I often noted that the athleticism in the front seven simply wasn't there, and I still feel that to be the case. Darren Mustin provided no pass rushing threat, Rolando McClain was a tad bit big to rush the passer effectively, neither Bobby Greenwood or Brandon Deaderick got anything going, and Gilberry got by on pure effort alone. Keith Saunders, manning the hybrid end / linebacker position designed to rush the passer off the edge, ended up with zero sacks and zero quarterback hurries in conference play. The problem is, I'm afraid none of the aforementioned shortcomings are going to get much better in 2008.
  • The Tennessee pass rush was quite possibly the worst we've seen in modern times in the SEC. It's not just that they finished dead last in the SEC in Adjusted Sack Rate, it goes deeper than that. Before racking up six sacks on 62 pass attempts against Kentucky in the season finale, Tennessee had gotten only six sacks on 237 passing attempts. In other words, in the first seven games of conference play in 2008, Tennessee had an Adjusted Sack Rate of 2.5 percent. And making matters even worse, in the rare situation that they did actually generate a sack, it generally went for very short yardage. All told, the Vols finished next to last in the conference in average yards lost per sack. I don't have very much historical data for these metrics, mind you, but it's hard to imagine a pass rush being any worse than this. And for all of the talk among the Tennessee people about their struggles in the secondary, I don't care if they have four All-Americans in the defensive backfield, if they cannot rush the passer any better than this, the results won't be pretty.
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