Traditional football statistics are created unequal. They can be skewed not just by differences in schedule strength, but also variations in weather conditions, opposing styles of offense, kicking game issues, differences in penalties, differences in turnovers, average field position, all sorts of factors.
Take, for example, style of offense. Florida's offense had 10 possessions at Texas A&M on Saturday. Missouri's opponents have averaged 16. Missouri has allowed 4.2 yards per play on defense; the Aggies gave up 4.7 to the Gators. But the difference in possessions could hide which defense is better.
That's why, in Gartner style, I have created a "magic quadrant" for SEC defenses. On the X axis, touchdowns allowed per opponents' possession. The leaders quadrant (upper right) includes teams with the best combination of stopping yardage and denying touchdowns. LSU, Alabama and South Carolina are in the leaders quadrant, as expected entering the season. Surprise names there are Mississippi State and Tennessee.
Admittedly, Mississippi State probably benefits way too much from its opposition -- Jackson State and Auburn. In Saturday's 28-10 victory, MSU held Auburn to 3 offensive points (plus a TD scored on special teams) while intercepting Kiehl Frazier four times.
It's hard to draw many distinctions in schedule strength so far between LSU (North Texas, Washington) and Alabama (Michigan, Western Kentucky). Assuming the opponents were fairly equal, LSU looks like the best defense in the SEC so far in 2012. The Bayou Bengals, despite all their lost secondary talent, have allowed a league-low 0.9 first down per possession, just 17 yards per drive, and only two touchdowns.
On the other end, five teams sit in the laggards quadrant (lower left). In order of increasing ineptitude: Florida, Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas and Kentucky. The Razorbacks have surrendered an SEC-high eight touchdowns, more than one in every four possessions. Perhaps the Aggies should get a pass given that their only game has been against Florida.
On the bright side, Arkansas gets to play again three of the worst defenses this season.
Let's update where the Hogs stand in rushing and pass defense.
Arkansas rates in the middle of the pack for yards allowed per rushing attempt, with sacks adjusted out. This number jumped up after Louisiana-Monroe went 32-162, a 5.1-yard average. To remind, the Hogs have allowed 5 yards per carry on run defense for five straight seasons.
On a per-play average, Arkansas does not look horrible on pass defense. This doesn't tell any of the other key statistics: The Razorbacks have given up an SEC-worst five touchdown passes and 60 completions, while getting only one interception in 105 throws.
Arkansas rates mid-pack on yards allowed per opponents' offensive play. The number of big gains allowed hasn't been ridiculous. The Hogs' defense has forced 14 punts, nearly one-half of total possessions. That's slightly below SEC average but not awful. Problem is, if Arkansas did not force a punt, opponents scored touchdowns on more than half the surviving possessions -- worst in the league. Worst in the league, while playing Jacksonville State and ULM.
Arkansas's D has not failed on every drive, but opponents have gotten a few too many first downs. JSU and ULM converted 38% of their third down attempts, but of course the real problem was ULM's 6-of-7 on fourth downs. Here they were, in order:
2. Browning 19-yard scramble on fourth and 10.
3. Browning 13-yard pass to Tavarese Maye on fourth and 11.
4. Browning 1-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Steed on fourth and goal.
5. Browning 23-yard touchdown pass to Brent Leonard on fourth and 10.
6. Browning 16-yard touchdown scramble on fourth and 1 in overtime.
A couple of those were pretty hard to stop, but giving up fourth down and long three times speaks of serious schematic flaws, something Arkansas fans have been pained to watch through a blizzard of defensive coordinators for a long, long time.