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Belk Bowl Preview: Part I - Defense

Evaluating the Belk Bowl Defenses

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Peeps, in just two days the Mississippi State Bulldogs will clash with the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the 2015 Belk Bowl. NC State finished the 2015 regular season with a record of 7-5 while MSU finished 8-4. But the real question State fans have is "What does NC State look like?" Fear not, for I have the answer. Today, we'll look at both the Wolfpack and Bulldog defenses.

Defense

Scheme:

MSU: The Dawgs were a base 4-3 defense for most of the season. However, State did start one game in a 4-2-5 alignment. If the Dawgs open in their traditional 4-3 look, expect JT Gray to draw the start as an OLB. Should the Dawgs choose to work from a 4-2-5 against NC State, look for Jamal Peters to draw the start. While State will operate primarily from these two looks, you can expect to see a little bit of everything from this unit, including a 3-3-5 look in obvious passing situations. The Dawgs love to blitz and will bring pressure from everywhere.

NCSU: The Wolfpack operate from a base 4-2-5 look. This should give them an extra edge in defending State's spread attack on offense. Expect them to be aggressive and fast, as you'd expect from a team playing 5 DBs.

A couple of things jumped out at me after a quick look at the depth chart. First, this is a true Nickel D. Their extra DB is not a S/LB hybrid like most teams that employ this scheme. It's an extra CB, listed at 5'10" and 208. Second, this is a very young NCSU D. They start 7 sophomores and 6 of their second string group are either sophomores or freshmen.

Statistical Overview:

MSU: State finished the 2015 regular season ranked 58th in Total D, giving up 388 YPG in 2015. Individually, State was 56th against the pass, giving up 216.8 YPG in the air and 72nd against the run, allowing 171.7 YPG on the ground. But what matters is points, and State was good in that aspect. The Dawgs finished tied for 36th in Scoring D, giving up just 22.8 PPG.

A look at some advanced stats, thanks to our friends at footballstudyhall.com show the Dawgs D was better in 2015 than the traditional stats would indicate. (For definitions, click this link) State has a defensive S&P+ of 24.4, which ranks 41st nationally. Broken into component parts, State's rushing S&P+ is 102.4, which ranks 60th. State has a passing S&P+ of 106.1, ranked 44th. Again, not great, but better than the traditional metrics imply.

Two advanced rushing stats worth noting are Stuff Rate and Power Success Rate. The national average Stuff Rate is 19.1%. State's D has a SR of 23.1%, which ranks 28th. Power Success Rate is a good metric when measuring short yardage situations. The National PSR is 66.4%. State has a PSR of 58.5%, which ranks 28th.

State's D is also good at creating negative plays. As a team, the Dawgs have a Havoc Rate of 18.3% compared to a national average of 16.5%. This places the Dawgs at 34th nationally as a team. Looking at individual units, the Dawgs DL is flat nasty, generating a Havoc Rate of 6.8% compared to a national average of 5.2%, ranking them 25th. The LBs and DBs are both very average, each .1% above the national averages of 4.6% and 6.5% for their respective positions and ranking in the mid-50s.

NCSU: The Wolfpack finished the 2015 regular season ranked 19th in Total D, giving up just 333 YPG. The component pieces show NCSU ranked 22nd against the pass, allowing just 188.5 YPG, and ranked 40th against the rush, allowing 144 YPG. NCSU is 43rd in Scoring D, allowing just 23.8 PPG.

Advanced stats paint a different picture of the Wolfpack D. NCSU has a defensive S&P+ of 23.5, which ranks 34th nationally. When looking at the component pieces, NCSU has a rushing S&P+ of 105.9, ranked 46th. The Wolpack has a passing S&P+ of 95, ranked 82nd nationally.

Advanced rushing stats show the Wolpack with a SR of 28.8%, which ranks 3rd. And NCSU's PSR is 50%, ranking 6th. This is a team that is extremely hard to run on with any consistency, especially in short yardage situations.

NCSU ranks 30th as a team with a havoc rate of 18.6%. Their DL is elite, ranking 3rd, with a HR of 9.5%.

WMD's Thoughts:

These defenses are very similar. While schematically different, both get results. Both teams are very nasty up front on the DL. State is slightly better at keeping teams off the board. But NCSU is better at creating negative plays and winning short yardage situations. State has the better LBs. DBs are a push. NCSU has the edge on the DL. The youth for NCSU should be a big source of concern when facing a QB as experienced as Dak Prescott. Despite the raw numbers, the Wolfpack seems like they might be vulnerable against the pass. And that theory seems to have some merit, considering how their arch-rival North Carolina lit them up in the season finale. With State being a pass heavy offense in 2015, that could be a good matchup for the Dawgs.

Pull the Rope,

WMD