Interceptions 2020

Oct 15, 2020

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Happy July, everyone! Every July, er, October, I publish my yearly INTERCEPTIONS post. I guess I forgot three months ago. Blame Covid.

But the season is about to start, and I don't think a season can start without publishing this post, so I finally sat down and ran the new numbers. Here's how it looks through 2019.

Actually, first, here's why I do this. I write this every year so I'll just cut and paste from last year's post:

I started tracking this in 2012. I ran the numbers and the Illini were the worst in the nation at grabbing interceptions over the previous 10 seasons. 120-some teams, dead last. Want to improve the Illini defense? Start grabbing interceptions.

The first year I tracked it from that starting point (2003 to 2012) and then I kept running the numbers each summer. After about five years of that, someone suggested it should be a running total. Remove the pin in 2003 and just run the previous ten years. Because when you include the atrocious numbers from the mid-2000's, we weren't really going to get anywhere (besides that glorious day in around 2015 when we passed Eastern Michigan to be second-to-last on my list).

I want to emphasize that again. I ran the numbers from 2003 to 2012 - seasons that span Turner to Beckman - and we were dead last in Division I. The worst. The single worst team when it came to interceptions. The team at the very back of the line. Last. We're the school of Al Brosky and his 29 career interceptions in 27 games (certain headline had the blog been around in 1952: "Brosky. Wow. WOW."), and then we're suddenly the worst in Division I.

Now? Here's the numbers from 2010 through 2019. If a team wasn't in the FBS when I started doing this (like Appalachian State or UTSA), they're not going to be on this list. The leaders through last year:

Oregon 167
Houston 162
Alabama 160
Ohio State 159
Louisiana Tech 158
Clemson 153
Oklahoma State 152
San Diego State 152
Florida 150
Michigan State 147
Boise State 146
Iowa 146
TCU 144
Arizona State 143
Arkansas State 143
Ohio 143
Virginia Tech 143
LSU 141
Washington 141
Northern Illinois 140
Northwestern 138
Mississippi State 137
Utah 137
BYU 136
Kansas State 136
UCF 135
Florida State 134
Wisconsin 133
Boston College 132
South Carolina 132
USC 131
West Virginia 131
Louisville 130
Tulane 130
Utah State 130
Baylor 129
Florida Atlantic 127
Georgia 127
Miami (Florida) 127
Nebraska 126
North Carolina State 125
Oklahoma 125
Western Kentucky 125
Missouri 124
Stanford 124
Texas 123
Kent State 122
California 121
South Florida 121
Tennessee 121
Toledo 121
Cincinnati 120
Memphis 120
North Carolina 120
Arizona 119
Notre Dame 119
Troy 119
Miami (Ohio) 118
Tulsa 118
Marshall 116
Penn State 116
Auburn 115
Central Michigan 115
Georgia Tech 115
Washington State 115
Mississippi 114
SMU 114
Purdue 113
Western Michigan 113
Middle Tennessee 112
UCLA 112
Florida International 111
Fresno State 111
San Jose State 110
Southern Mississippi 109
Virginia 109
Connecticut 108
Hawai'i 108
Rutgers 108
Syracuse 107
Texas A&M 107
Maryland 106
North Texas 106
Temple 106
Bowling Green 105
Minnesota 105
Texas Tech 105
Wake Forest 105
Ball State 104
Louisiana-Lafayette 104
Nevada 104
Oregon State 104
Duke 103
Michigan 103
Buffalo 102
Wyoming 102
Louisiana-Monroe 100
Pittsburgh 100
Vanderbilt 100
Kentucky 99
Navy 98
Akron 97
East Carolina 96
Iowa State 96
Kansas 95
Illinois 94
New Mexico State 92
Air Force 91
Indiana 90
Arkansas 89
Colorado 89
Army 88
Colorado State 83
Rice 77
Eastern Michigan 74
New Mexico 74

<) )/ out
/ \

\( (> of
/ \

<) )> the bottom 10
/ \

If you've followed me on Twitter for a long time, you know that I made it a big deal way back when that we were dead last behind Eastern Michigan. I'd give weekly updates (and even corrections) of where we stood:

EMU is now out of the basement themselves. UTEP is dead last. Somewhere there's a UTEP blogger pulling his hair out.

Here are the Illinois numbers factoring in here. 2010 through 2019:

2010 - 11 interceptions
2011 - 10
2012 - 7
2013 - 3 (!!!)
2014 - 7
2015 - 13
2016 - 7
2017 - 9
2018 - 15
2019 - 12

Six years before Lovie: average 8.5 interceptions per year
Four years of Lovie: average 10.8 interceptions per year

So if you average that out over 10 years it would be 108 interceptions playing Lovieball. That would be... tied for 77th with Rutgers and UConn. That's... probably not what was expected from a turnover-preaching coach?

Now, I'm sure Lovie would make the argument that the 7 and maybe the 9 shouldn't count against him. He had to recruit his own players and install his systems and everything else. The last two seasons his defenses have been 20th nationally (in 2018) and 31st (in 2019) in interceptions. That's much closer to what is expected from a coach who preaches takeaways as the central theme of his defense.

I should note, though - that crazy INT year still hasn't shown up yet. When you look across the spreadsheet I keep (data goes back to 2003), nearly every team has that one crazy year. Arizona had three consecutive seasons of 8 interceptions, then 20, then 7. Army's last five years: 6-17-6-5-7. Indiana is on a roller coaster: 13-7-13-5-13-7.

And, of course, there's the crazy unlucky outlier year. From 2012 to 2018 USC went 19-17-14-14-14-16-4 (four?). Washington State over the same seasons: 15-16-3-13-12-15-12. Same coaches, same scheme, consistent forced turnovers over seven seasons, but for whatever reason it just doesn't happen that one season.

So we could see either of those this year? Could be. Hopefully the "crazy lucky INT year". Of course, this is a Covid-shortened season. Only nine games (as long as none of them are canceled). So the numbers will be a bit screwy. Some teams might play 12 games and some teams will play six. So there will need to be an asterisk next to the numbers in 2020 when I do this next July.

But hopefully it's some wild and crazy "Illinois 21, next closest team 16" or something when I put together that list. Led by Nate Hobbs with six interceptions in nine games.

A guy can dream.


Nabor568 on October 15, 2020 @ 12:48 PM

I’m trying to imagine what it’s like to regularly watch 3 interceptions every 2 games and I just.....can’t....

Nashvegas Illini on October 15, 2020 @ 01:55 PM

The interesting thing is to overlay the interception numbers with the Defensive changes. First 2 years were Hardy Nickerson and a ton of man coverage. Last two years have been Lovie and more zone.

IlliniBobLoblaw on October 15, 2020 @ 04:19 PM

In this list we rank (ignoring ties) ~106th, but if you instead compute interceptions per game then we're ~105th! Yeah, that's not much, but in some cases, like Georgia, it's a position change of ~18 spots (~40th overall, ~58th per game).

For Lovie's tenure the last four years, we're something like 66th place overall and 57th place per game. Almost in the top half.

GilThorpe on October 15, 2020 @ 04:27 PM

not to minimize the importance of interceptions, which you can pretty much correlate to who usually wins the game, but what about adding in fumbles to give us a tally of total turnovers caused by defense.
Lovies teams have been known as ferocious when it comes to fumbles caused.
Do we move up the list much then?

IlliniBobLoblaw on October 15, 2020 @ 04:49 PM

Don't mean to steal Robert's thunder, but I don't know if he has those numbers readily available. It's something like 35th place over Lovie's four years and 10th in the last two.

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