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By The Numbers: BYU's defense gets off the mat against Middle Tennessee

Revisiting the numbers on the Cougars' defensive struggles after a win over the Blue Raiders.

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, I detailed a few stats behind BYU's struggling defense after the Cougars got freight-trained by Nevada in the second half. I wasn't even up to the task of doing an update after Boise State did anything it wanted and more. Skepticism of Bronco Mendenhall and Nick Howell was at a fever pitch.

After a 27-7 win at Middle Tennessee, I want to revisit those numbers both in the spirit of fairness to the team and to help shed light on whether or not the defense actually performed well. A large contingent of fans wrote off the game as something that "should happen against a bad team" without giving much though to anything other than surface-level analysis of their cursory knowledge about MTSU.

Let's look at total offensive yards for each team against BYU compared to their average against other FBS opponents.

TOTAL YARDS

vs. BYU

Avg vs. other FBS teams

UConn

355

278.3

Texas

258

374.6

Houston

324

362.0

Virginia

519

389.9

Utah State

457

372.1

UCF

389

316.8

Nevada

411

384.7

Boise State

637

485.0

Middle Tenn

228

453.3

Before the Middle Tennessee game, BYU allowed 6 of 8 opponents more yards than their average against other FBS teams. Those 6 teams averaged +90.2 yards over their average against FBS teams. BYU held Middle Tennessee to -225 yards its average against FBS opponents.

One of the areas I highlighted in the previous piece was BYU's suffering pass defense, a story I told using opponent's QB ratings.

Passer Rating

vs. BYU

Avg vs. other FBS teams

Texas (Swoopes)

116.4

121.2

Houston (O'Korn)

126.3

76.2

Virginia (Lambert)

99.4

109.6

Virginia (Johns)

126.0

118.8

Utah St (Garretson)

223.5*

139.4

UCF (Holman)

117.6

133.2

Nevada (Fajardo)

133.1

112.0

Boise (Hedrick)

224.6*

143.7

Mid Tenn (Grammer)

79.1^

144.3

*Season High | ^Season Low
(UConn's Casey Cochran omitted, his only game this seasons was against BYU)

Before Middle Tennessee, the best BYU could really do was hold a quarterback to about his season average, and at worse was getting absolutely torched. It's worth noting Austin Grammer's rating was nearly identical to Darrell Garretson's and Grant Hedrick's, who both passed for season-high ratings against BYU, but the Cougar defense turned in an entirely different performance against MTSU.

In my previous piece, I finished with points allowed, which is ultimately the point of the game.

PPG

vs. BYU

Avg vs. other FBS teams

UConn

10

17.7

Texas

7

24.1

Houston

25

25.3

Virginia

33

23.3

Utah State

35

24.7

UCF

31

22.3

Nevada

42

28.4

Boise State

55

32.0

Middle Tenn

7

32.4

BYU began the season with a decent performance, a really good performance, and then the wheels came off -- until Middle Tennessee. In back-to-back weeks, BYU faced QB's with identical passer ratings against other FBS teams and offenses with identical PPG averages against other FBS teams -- one scored 55, the other 7.

Is the defense fixed? Who knows, though we will probably still witness a few rough patches. Still, let's give players and coaches some credit. Against a capable passer, an offense that can score, and some talented skill-position players, the BYU D was facing a knockout punch on the road. Instead, it answered the bell, got off the mat, and won a round.

Four rounds remain.