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A reason for hope today



It seems to have been Bash on the Defensive Line week here at CougCenter, as both Grady and I have painted a pretty bleak picture of the state of our run defense. And I'm not going to sit here and say our boys didn't deserve it -- as Grady pointed out, the numbers don't lie.

But when it comes to numbers, we statheads have a favorite word when trying to explain how a team cannot possibly be as good -- or as bad, in this case -- as it appears.


What it means is that a performance is such a statistical anomaly -- so far out there in terms of  what years of historical data tell us we should be able to expect -- that it has no choice but to come back to more normal levels.

Friends, our defense is due for one serious regression.

Now, I still believe everything I wrote earlier this week. I don't think we have enough talent up front, and I don't think there's a magical scheme that can cover for that. But unless our defense is literally the worst in the recent history of college football, this team is due for a performance that is much, much better than anything it's shown since the first game of the season.

The Cougs are ranked dead last in the FBS in yards per carry allowed -- an almost unbelievable 7.15 -- and next to last in rushing yards allowed per game (269). How soutlandish is that first figure? Since 2004, the most a team has allowed in a season is Temple's whopping 5.97 yards per carry in 2006. The high in 2007 was 5.71 (UAB), 5.46 in 2005 (Illinois), 5.39 in 2004 (Hawaii), 5.4 in 2003 (Louisiana Tech)

In other words, there's virtually no way this defense can sustain this badness -- it's almost statistically unthinkable that the Cougs' rushing defense could continue to be nearly 20 percent worse than any rushing defense in the nation has been over the past five years. And if we went back farther than 2003 (which I can't do because I can't find a site that has yards per carry against farther back than that), I suspect we'd find much the same thing for the past 20 or so years as college football has moved away from being a primarily running game.

Why do I point this out right now? Because if we work from that assumption, regression could very well begin today.

Now, much has been made of the return of Kahlil Bell (above) for UCLA, and he undoubtedly is a talented running back. But let's not paint him as some kind of messiah. People are pointing to his return to the lineup last week and the Bruins' impressive rushing performance against ranked Fresno State as if it was some sort of cause-and-effect, but I certainly wouldn't go that far.

Yes, Bell rushed for two touchdowns. But he only had 73 yards on his 20 carries for an average of 3.7 yards. Take away his longest run of 13 yards, and he only checks in at just over 3 yards per carry. Derrick Coleman's numbers were inflated by one 44-yard run. And did I mention that quarterback Kevin Craft had 46 rushing yards, even though he's not a rushing quarterback?

Additionally, UCLA did it against a Fresno State defense that allowed 297 rushing yards the previous week ... by Toledo.

Again, our defense is still terrible. It still lacks size and athleticism, and UCLA has shown signs of life rushing the ball the past two weeks. I don't have any illusions that we're going to somehow shut down the Bruins, but there's reason to think that this just might be the week a team doesn't run wild.