STILLWATER — Even after the Oklahoma State defense shut out Texas Tech in Saturday's 66-6 rout in Lubbock, the Cowboys' overall performance on that side of the ball this season continues to draw the most criticism when analyzing the No. 2 team in the BCS standings.
OSU ranks 101st out of 120 teams in the nation in total defense, allowing an average of 442.20 yards per game.
But one set of alternative rankings does not find the Cowboy defense all that terrible. In fact, it says the only defense better is LSU's.
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), which was developed by Brian Fremeau of footballoutsiders.com, has OSU's defense ranked No. 2 in the nation, behind the Tigers and in front of No. 3 Penn State, No. 4 Illinois and No. 5 Rutgers.
Rather than looking purely at raw stats like total yards allowed, Fremeau makes three main adjustments for pace of play, “garbage time” and strength of schedule based on the efficiency of opposing offenses, which adds more context to the defense's performance.
“That's how you can effectively compare teams,” said Fremeau, who has been working on this formula since 2003. “Is it a better way to look at things than raw stats? I think, just in general, yeah.”
To adjust for pace of play, Fremeau uses a per-drive measurement rather than a per-game measurement. This takes into account factors such as the yards available to gain on a possession and the expected number of points an offense should score based on the drive's starting point.
This applies to OSU because of its quick-strike offense, which is part of the reason the Cowboy defense has been on the field for 825 plays through 10 games. Compare that to Alabama's defense, which has only been on the field for 575 plays this season, or almost three fewer games.
“A team that has a lot of possessions is obviously going to have more opportunities to score,” Fremeau said. “And therefore, their defense is on the field for a lot more possessions, and perhaps giving up more yards and more scores.”
“If we adjust for that and measure things based on a per-possession basis, that can change our perception of what those yards mean in the first place.”
OSU is giving up an average 40 percent of available yards per possession, which puts the Cowboys in the top third of the nation. And while the OSU offense averages 3.7 points per possession, the defense gives up just 1.4.