2013 College Football Defensive Line Rankings: Who Had the Best Defensive Line In the MAC?

Jayrone Elliott led the nations best group of sack artists in 2013 according to advanced statistics. - Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

The MAC isn't known for imposing defense, and by and large advanced statistics show that was true for the Conference's defensive lines in 2013...but Holy Toledo were the Rockets good at terrorizing quarterbacks.

Yesterday we took on the task of showing you which Mid-American Conference offensive line units performed the best (and worst) in 2013, and because we're all about equal opportunities here at the Belt, we're doing the same today with the offensive line's mortal enemies: defensive lines.

Once again we're working off the backbreaking effort from Football Study Hall's stat guru Bill Connelly to take a look at which MAC defensive units terrorized their opponents the most. After all, if the offensive line is the backbone of the offense, than the defensive line is too. It starts with the battle in the trenches, and there were some MAC squads who were always ready to eviscerate their competition.

Because most of us probably couldn't pass high school algebra, Connelly has provided us with a working set of definitions to explain his black magic. They are as follows:

Adj. Line Yards: An opponent-adjusted version of the line measure derived from the formula found here. The idea is to divvy credit for a given rush between both the runner and the blockers.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, and fourth-and-4 or fewer. These are the downs in which the offense could conceivably either run or pass and therefore has an overall advantage over the defense. Offenses typically run about 60 percent of the time on standard downs.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more, or fourth-and-5 or more. These are downs in which passing is easily the most likely option for gaining the necessary yardage, and defenses hold the upper hand. Offenses typically throw about 67 percent of the time on passing downs.

Opportunity Rate: This is the percentage of carries in which the offensive line "does its job" and produces at least five yards of rushing for the runner. (Generally speaking, the first five yards are considered the line's responsibility, the next five are split evenly between the runner and the line, and anything over 10 yards is all on the runner.) See Highlight Yards and Adj. Line Yards for more information.

Power Success Rate: As used in Football Outsiders' pro line stats, this is the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.

Stuff Rate: This is the percentage of runs where the runner is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Since being stuffed is bad, offenses are ranked from stuffed least often (No. 1) to most often (No. 125); for defenses, the opposite is true.

Adj. Sack Rate: An opponent-adjusted measure of sack rates.

Basically, we're using the same stats from yesterday, but looking at them from the opposite side of the ball.

Defense Adj LY Rk SD LY/ Carry Rk PD LY/ Carry Rk Opp. Rate Rk

Power Succ. Rate

Rk Stuff Rate Rk
Buffalo 104.6 45 2.78 41 3.16 49 37.90% 47 71.00% 88 21.60% 32
Akron 101.5 55 2.73 38 3.9 115 36.70% 39 65.10% 52 21.10% 40
Toledo 98 72 3.28 102 3.43 77 41.80% 94 65.30% 54 16.50% 95
Bowling Green 94.4 86 2.94 64 3.78 109 40.10% 76 61.20% 28 19.90% 50
Ball State 90.5 102 3.2 98 3.78 109 40.30% 78 67.80% 70 15.80% 103
Western Michigan 87.2 113 3.38 115 3.53 87 44.60% 112 67.30% 64 17.10% 92
Massachusetts 86.4 115 3.38 115 3.01 31 45.10% 115 64.90% 51 17.50% 85
Kent State 86.2 116 3.54 121 2.76 17 47.00% 119 80.60% 119 15.40% 107
Northern Illinois 85.8 118 3.29 103 3.36 71 38.40% 54 70.90% 87 12.80% 125
Central Michigan 84.3 121 3.58 125 3.03 37 41.50% 88 71.40% 90 17.80% 83
Eastern Michigan 83.8 122 3.36 112 4.19 124 44.60% 112 68.10% 72 12.50% 126
Ohio 80.2 124 3.06 79 4.22 125 38.20% 49 80.00% 115 15.20% 110
Miami (Ohio) 78.7 126 3.3 104 3.9 115 51.00% 125 65.40% 55 18.80% 69

What we see here is by and large, MAC defensive lines were not good at preventing positive gains from the offensive line units in 2013. All but four were ranked 100th or worst in terms of adjusted line yards allowed. Even the best defensive line unit in terms of opportunity rate (the percentage at which an offensive line unit does its job), Akron, still allowed opposing offenses to succeed in this category almost 40 percent of the time.

Buffalo, Bowling Green and Akron were the only three teams to be ranked in the top 50 in stuff rate (the percentage of run plays at which the defensive unit tackles the runner behind the line of scrimmage). That's right, the Zips actually had a damn good front line.

Buffalo's was the most consistent, ranking in the Top 50 in all but one of the above statistics, but Akron's defensive line unit may have been the best using the above metrics. It was the best in the MAC at stopping offensive lines on standard downs, and preventing offensive lines from successfully doing their job (opportunity rate). The Zips even stuffed the runner on more than 20 percent of run plays, an impressive clip.

Bowling Green's defensive line was was also one of the better ones in the MAC, which surely played a big role in the Falcons stuffing Jordan Lynch in the MAC Championship. The Falcons held opposing offenses to a power success rate of just over 60 percent. This means that about 40 percent of the time when the Falcons were trying to hold a third or fourth down of two yards or less, and a first-and-goal or second-and-goal of two-yards or less the prevented the offense from converting for a first down or touchdown. This is far better than say NIU, which allowed offenses to succeed in such scenarios 70 percent of the time.

Actually, for the most part, MAC defensive line units did a decent job in this crucial category, then you have Ohio and Kent State. These two were miserable in such situations allowing opponents to convert 80 percent of the time. A defensive line that can't hold its own on those crucial periods isn't worth much. Actually, one could argue that Ohio's defensive line, not Miami's was the worst in the MAC. The 'Cats were way worse at holding on short-yardage third and fourth downs and goal line stands. They were also substantially worse than the redHawks at stopping runners behind the line of scrimmage. They were only better than Miami at opportunity rate and holding on standard downs. The 'Cats were worse on passing downs, too.

Another surprising revelation is that UMass actually possessed not only the MAC's top defensive line on passing downs, but one of the nation's best. The Minutemen's defensive line succeeded at preventing offenses from gaining more than three yards a carry on these downs.

But while no MAC units were spectacular at preventing offenses from gaining ground, there were two that were amazing at getting after the quarterback, including the nation's best pass rush.

(Reminder, the tables are sorted by national rank. Click on a statistic to sort the chart by that specific figure):

Defense Adj Sack Rate Rk SD Sack Rate Rk PD Sack Rate Rk
Toledo 171.9 1 8.20% 3 13.00% 1
Buffalo 150.7 9 7.50% 8 10.80% 6
Bowling Green 129.4 18 4.40% 66 8.70% 27
Eastern Michigan 124.7 24 5.00% 50 9.00% 23
Ohio 111 39 5.80% 33 8.00% 38
Ball State 109.9 42 4.50% 60 6.40% 7
Northern Illinois 109.4 44 5.90% 30 5.80% 88
Kent State 109.2 45 5.90% 30 5.10% 101
Akron 103.3 57 6.80% 19 5.30% 96
Central Michigan 91.2 79 2.40% 113 8.60% 29
Miami (Ohio) 62 116 2.00% 120 5.10% 101
Western Michigan 46 124 1.40% 125 3.00% 122
Massachusetts 43 126 3.20% 102 2.40% 125

Adjusted sack rate takes into account the opposing offensive line's performance and calculates its numbers after that. This way a defensive line going up against an awful offensive line isn't rewarded the same as a defensive line going up against an above average unit. While Buffalo led the MAC 38 sacks caused, it's Toledo who actually comes out on top in the adjusted sack rate, undoubtedly due to facing a much stiffer level of competition both in and out of conference.

Toledo actually possessed the No. 1 adjusted sack rate in the nation in 2013. Overall Toledo's pass rush was the best in the nation according to these advanced statistics. The Rockets were able to sack the quarterback more than eight percent of the time on standard downs—downs in which offenses run the ball substantially more than throwing it—which is third best in the nation. UT also successfully sacked the quarterback on 13 percent of passing downs, tops in the nation.

Buffalo's defensive unit was also one of the better ones in the nation, ranking in the Top 10 on all the three sack-related statistics. Ohio, which struggled in terms of giving up yards, was much better in terms of getting after the quarterback, but UMass and WMU were awful, with almost no real presence of a pass rush they both ranked near the bottom in the nation in these statistics.

Well there you have it, on the whole MAC offensive line units performed better than the defensive line units in 2013, but there were a few bright spots, including Toledo's dominance in its ability to sack the quarterback.

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