Despite the difference in points allowed, UCF’s defense has actually been better in the first half than the second: I used analytics to explain

UCF has had two close calls this season and in both, they were trailing at halftime after allowing 30 and 34 points in the first half. In the second half however, they allowed 0 and 6 points in those two games.

There has been a lot of talk about how Randy Shannon’s second half adjustments have been unbelievable and what not.

However, after charting the Temple game, I kind of realized that maybe that’s not the case. In my opinion, which I’ll back up with factual data, the defense has actually played significantly better in the first half than the second half.

There probably won’t be anyone who agrees with me and everyone will say go look at the PPG allowed difference and you’re right about that. I think UCF gives up like 2.3 ppg in the 3Q which is insane.

But, raw data and in particular points per game, don’t tell the whole story. There are so many more things that factor into scoring and allowing points.

Field position, turnovers, number of possessions are the primary ones that stick out to me and that I took a look at.

*I did not include the UConn and SMU game because they were both 3 possession games at HT*

Overall Success Rate:

I think success rate is the best way at looking at performance as a whole. With every play factored in, it gives a true picture of overall success in a large sample.

If you take a look at the first half numbers, you’ll see that they’re actually pretty good. The only bad one that jumps out is the 5.32 ypc. A 36.45% success rate against on pass attempts is really good and a 6.37 ypa is very low.

A 44.66% success rate on runs is pretty good as well. Without the Memphis game it is right around 40%. The 5.32 ypc with a low success rate, makes me think a lot of successful runs are turning into explosive plays (10+) yards which can be a major reason for the 1h points allowed to be higher than the overall defensive performance. This is something I’ll get into in a little.

Now, take a look at the 2h numbers:

Everything is worse, except for YPC, which would have been worse without the Memphis game. So, obviously in the Memphis game, the 2h defense was much, much better than the 1h defense, but that is the only game this is true for. This leads me to believe that the heavy rain played a major factor in slowing down Memphis rather than UCF’s defense.

Overall success rate is almost 10% higher, that’s a pretty significant amount with a large sample of plays.

I have come up with a couple of ideas as to why the points per half difference is so drastic despite the overall defensive performance being better in the second half.

Field Position/Turnovers:

Starting field position has a lot to do with scoring. The better the field position, the less amount of successful plays you’re going to need to score for the most part.

On 35 first half possessions, the average starting field position for UCF’s opponents is their own 26.66 yard line.

On 30 second half possessions, their average starting field position is their own 24.93 yard line.

I know what you’re thinking, “1.5 yards is nothing”. It may seem like nothing, but for an average with 30+ numbers, it is actually pretty significant. On top of that, the one drive that has started in UCF’s territory all season, came in the second half, and the starting field position is still worse.

For comparison’s sake, 24.93 would be the worst in the NFL by .2 yards and the difference between best and worst in the NFL is 6 yards according to football outsiders.

Turnovers also play a huge factor here. A lot of the turnovers off the top of my head, UCF has forced, have come in the second half. To me, almost all turnovers are because of offensive mistakes rather than defensive schemes. There are some turnovers that are caused by defensive schemes and coverage designs, but I don’t think you can argue that maybe more than one of UCF’s has been because of this.

Let’s take a look at all 35 of UCF’s first half defensive drive results:

Only 6 of 35 possessions have ended due to an offensive miscue (missed FG + turnovers). That’s roughly 17% of possessions.

UCF has forced 13 punts on the remaining 29 possessions which is bout 45% of possessions and have only allowed 9 first half touch downs which is only 25% of total drives. The obvious game that sticks out as bad is the Memphis game and technically, if UCF didn’t commit a million penalties, this wouldn’t be the case.

Now for the second half:

First off, only 30 possessions. By my math, which isn’t the best, is 5 less than 35 and 5 x 7 = 35 which is the amount of possible points more opponents could have scored in the 1h rather than 2h just solely based on number of possessions.

Last time I checked, points allowed averages doesn’t give a crap about possessions which is just another reason raw stats are misleading.

Of those 30 possessions, 14 of them have ended in either a turnover, missed FG or a turnover on downs. That’s almost 50% of possessions ending because of offensive miscues. Every turnover on downs has come on pretty good offensive drives, but time and score had an effect on kicking a FG or going for it.

This leaves 16 possessions where opponents didn’t hurt themselves, that is significantly less than the 29 in the first half.

Yes, turnovers are a part of football, I’m not saying anything in a bad way, all this is, is pointing out why the 2h points allowed is much lower than the first half.

Defensive adjustments have nothing to do with opponent starting field position and for the most part, turnovers. It just so happens that a large majority of turnovers have come in the 2h.

Explosive Plays/Missed Tackles:

A good way to score points of offense, without having a lot of overall success, is to have explosive plays.

Of the 46 successful runs against in the first half that UCF has allowed, 19 of them have gone for more than 10 yards (41%). On those 19 runs, UCF has allowed 338 yards of rushing offense. They have also missed 12 tackles which accounted for an extra 171 yards of offense on those 19 runs.

Tackling has played a huge role in the offensive success against in the first half so far. I don’t think the players are learning how to tackle at halftime.

Of the 45 successful runs in the second half, 14 of them have gone for 10+ yards (31%) and UCF has missed 7 tackles for 92 yards on these.

Of the 39 successful first half pass attempts, 28 (72%) of them have gone for 10+ yards.

OF 51 successful second half passes, 33 (65%) of them have gone for 10+ yards. Not a huge difference here, but it is still a difference.


Obviously everyone is going to point out that I’m wrong because the points allowed per half difference is so drastic so how in the world could the defense actually be playing better in the first half.

If I were to show you the data that I just did, without telling you which half they were from, you would say everything is flipped. Every second half stat should be for the first half and vice versa if you solely look at points allowed.

Overall, my point is that raw stats can be kind of misleading on overall performance. The numbers would be even more in favor of the 1h without a heavy rain in the 2h of the Memphis game.

The bottom line is, I expect UCF’s defense to be better (points allowed wise) in the first half going forward and worse in the second half.

They are about to head into their toughest 3 game stretch after the Navy game and teams like Cinci, USF (well maybe USF), and Houston are not going to have the offensive miscues that ECU with a true frosh QB or some of the other UCF opponents have had when the game gets tight.


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