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Protecting the Football: Can Our Defense Actually Help Our Offense?

When Pruitt was hired to take over the defense we heard that he would bring with him a multiple approach to defense that would be much more aggressive than our prior defensive approach. At the time I wondered if being forced to fight daily in practice against a more aggressive defense would impact our offensive players on game day.

This change in defensive philosophy came on the heels of three seasons of watching the more passive strategy of a defense that bent but didn’t break that was employed so effectively under Stoops. During that time I noticed a tendency of our defenders to focus on sound tackling and rarely attempting to strip the ball. That was the right approach at the time as our players needed to focus on fundamentals but I hypothesized that this lack of aggressiveness likely bled over to the practice field and I believed that could subtly condition the offensive players to be slightly less cautious in protecting the ball. If this is true then could you also be conditioned to better protect the ball by constantly having defenders swiping at it during practice (I"m looking at you O'Leary)?

My interest in this has been piqued recently after reading offensive players making comments that they feel like the best team they have faced all year is when they face the first team defense every day in practice. Now that we have almost a full season of experience with practicing against Pruitt’s defense I figured I would take this slow time between the ACCCG and the bowl season to test my hypothesis.

I am long time lover of quantitative analysis so I took a stab at testing this hypothesis via a standard 2 Sample t-test. My hypothesis was that the average frequency of offensive fumbles for the 2013 season would not equal the average frequency of offensive fumbles for the 2010-2012 seasons. Specifically, I believed we would fumble at a lower rate in 2013.

I’m not going to get into all of the details of my analysis to keep this somewhat succinct but if you are interested let me know in the comments section and I can provide additional details.

For context the exact metric I used was the rate of fumble per play to help account for the fact that this year’s offense ran fewer plays than the previous years. I assume this difference in number of plays is due to the fact we have been hitting big plays more frequently but quite honestly I was too lazy to confirm this.

From 2010-2012 FSU fumbled the football on 2.6% of offensive plays but in 2013 FSU fumbled the football at a rate of only 1.2% of offensive plays. After running the t-test I confirmed with a 95% confidence level that there is a statistically significant difference between our average fumble rate from 2010-2012 as compared to 2013 (i.e. we are fumbling at a significantly lower rate this year than the previous three seasons).

Is this solely because they are now practicing against a more aggressive defense? Not likely but I believe it is certainly a contributing factor.

One other theory I had was to just blame EJ. Everything was his fault, right? I took a look into this as well as found that EJ fumbled at roughly the same rate as Jameis. It turns out the difference in fumble rate wasn’t at the QB position. In fact in 2013 Jameis accounted for 45% of the team’s fumbles compared to EJ accounting for only 20% of the team's fumbles last year. It was everyone else that did a better job of protecting the ball.

The more I thought about the EJ/Jameis information I started thinking that finding actually lent additional credence to my original theory. I assume the QB’s still get to wear a red jersey during practice. If that is true then Jameis would’ve been less exposed to this newfound practice aggressiveness. That could mean he would not experience the same ball protection conditioning as his teammates.

Or maybe it has nothing to do with the defense and this year was just a wonderful idyllic blip on the turnover radar. I don't know but I’ll definitely look again after next season to see if the trend continues.

I guess what i'm saying is I don’t know that facing a more aggressive defensive every day in practice makes you less susceptible to fumbling the ball on game day but I suspect it does. Does anyone else have any ideas of what could’ve contributed to our ball protection prowess this season?

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