Targets and Deflections: Tracking WSU's secondary against Auburn

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

WSU's coverage unit wasn't tested a lot against Auburn, but how did the Cougars fare? That and a look ahead to the matchup with USC.

I've been tracking WSU's wide receivers for more than two years, but this season I decided to take a closer look at the other side of the ball and see how WSU's secondary held up in coverage.

Now, tracking wide receivers is relatively easy because we have a good idea what their assignment is on any given play. Zone coverage and man-to-man make things a little bit more difficult with coverage so this is more of a rough estimate than a definitive chart. Without attempting to assign coverage responsibilities from the outside, I took the simple approach and treated the closer defender to the receiver as the man in coverage. That is going to be correct more often than not, but there will be times when a player is given a defense target when the player catching the ball was not his responsibility.

I also eliminated any pass behind the line of scrimmage from specific players. The point of all of this is to attempt to track coverage and a running back catching a swing pass in the flat is more about timing, tackling and getting off blocks than it is about coverage. Those plays are still in the data, but are listed as Team.

With the background covered, here is a look at the coverage chart against Auburn.

Players

Yds

Tgts

Comp

Drop

INT

PD

Pen

Pen Y

1st D

TD

Tgt%

Catch%

1st%

INT%

YPT

Rating

Brown

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

5.00%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00

0.00

Carpenter

34

3

1

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

15.00%

33.33%

33.33%

0.00%

11.33

128.53

Horton

29

4

3

0

0

0

0

0

2

0

20.00%

75.00%

50.00%

0.00%

7.25

135.90

Monroe

5

2

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

10.00%

50.00%

0.00%

0.00%

2.50

71.00

Team

19

5

4

1

0

0

0

0

1

0

25.00%

80.00%

20.00%

0.00%

3.80

111.92

Sagote

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

5.00%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00

0.00

Taliulu

12

2

1

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

10.00%

50.00%

50.00%

0.00%

6.00

100.40

Washington

0

2

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

10.00%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00

0.00

Totals

99

20

10

2

0

1

0

0

5

0

100.00%

50.00%

25.00%

0.00%

4.95

91.58

Those numbers are actually quite good, but I feel like that table needs a giant asterisk of *played against a RB masquerading as a quarterback. WSU defenders were beat for long touchdowns three times, only to not have Auburn connect. If even one of those hits, the chart above looks a lot worse.

To get into the numbers a little deeper. All 34 yards against Anthony Carpenter came on the long pass where the receiver may or may not have caught the ball. Damante Horton was targeted the most, but he was also the only corner to play the entire game.

Nolan Washington looked very good early -- and registered WSU's only pass deflection -- before leaving the game early in the second quarter. The only pass Daquawn Brown defended was on the broken play where Auburn's offensive line didn't move.

That 0.00 interception percentage may make you sad, but the zeroes under penalties and yards should make up for it.

Looking ahead at USC

While WSU held up well in coverage against the Tigers, it wasn't really tested either. Auburn threw a total of 15 passes beyond the line of scrimmage. USC doesn't chuck it around like WSU does, but the WSU defenders will likely face at least double the attempts on Saturday.

The big challenge is, of course, Marqise Lee. This will be the first time WSU has gone up against Lee, so if you are unfamiliar, think of him as Marquees Wilson against San Diego State, but he plays like that every week. Lee was targeted 262 times during his first two college seasons and he caught 73 percent of those targets. He was targeted on nearly 40 percent of USC's pass attempts last season and still averaged 10.2 YPT. Lee is really freaking good.

I don't know what WSU has up its sleeve to cover Lee and the rest of USC's receivers, but if the Cougars hold USC to 4.95 yards per target like they did Auburn, I will gladly eat a hot dog covered in mayo on top of a shoe.

Moving forward

This is obviously the first time I've produced a defensive target chart. I tinkered around with the data some during and after collection, but I'm more than open to ideas. Is there a stat you'd like to see added to the chart moving forward? Something I'm missing? Feel free to share.

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